Our Forefathers and Mothers
I found that two competing primacies were both the result of bishops claiming power: Rome and Constantinople (New Rome). However, there is a weightier sway of sanctity which more soundly solidifies the former claim. It is clear that the former claimed power based on Apostolic grounds at least since St. Stephen I (d. 257) which was affirmed by numerous individual saints and councils of bishops. They openly supported this universal primacy (including its infallibility) on both Apostolic and political grounds. ((Conspicuous examples in every century seem to be the following: the council of Nicea (325), Serdica (343), Pope St. Damasus I (d. 384) and St. Siricius (d. 389); the council of Chalcedon (451) and St. Leo’s papal ecclesiology (d. 461); the Formula of St. Hormisdas (517); St. Gregory’s papal power (d. 604), the papal ecclesiology of St. Maximos (d. 662) and St. Agatho I (d. 681), St. Wilfrid at the synod of Whitby and St. Bede’s witness of the same (664); papal power of St. Gregory II (d. 731), St. Gregory III (d. 741), and St. Zacharias (d. 752), and the papal ecclesiology of St. Theodore Studios (d. 826) among many others.)) These things were taught by saints. Witness the papal teaching of St. Leo:
In the whole world, Peter alone is chosen…so that, even if there are many priest and shepherds in the people of God, Peter may properly rule over those whom Christ also rules in an eminent way ((Sermo 4.2 PL 54, col. 149-150 qtd. in Fr. John Meyendorff, Imperial Unity and Christian Division, 151))
…even among the blessed Apostles, there was side by side with an equality of honor a distinction of authority; and though all were equally chosen, nevertheless pre-eminence was given to one over the others. On the same principle distinction is made between bishops, and the mighty design of Providence has ordered it that all may not claim every prerogative but that in each province there should be someone possessing primacy of jurisdiction over his brethren; and again that those presiding in the larger cities should receive a wider responsibility, that through them the care of the Universal Church might ultimately rest upon the one see of Peter and that no part should be anywhere be separated from the head. ((Works (ed. Minge, Paris 1846 etc.) I.676, qtd. in Soloviev, 132))
Peter does not cease to preside in his see and his consortium with the Eternal Pontiff never fails. For that steadfastness with which he was endowed, when he was first made the Rock, by Christ Who is Himself the Rock, has passed to his successors, and wherever any stability is manifest it is beyond doubt the might of the supreme Pastor which is in evidence. Could anyone consider the renown of bless Peter and yet be ignorant or envious enough to assert that there is any part of the Church is not guided by his care and strengthened by his succour? ((Ibid., 155-6 qtd. in Soloviev, 126))
Or how did St. Leo act in reference to the Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon, when by conciliarity the council declared that New Rome was elevated above Alexandria and Antioch?
The agreements of the bishops which are contrary to the holy canons of Nicea…we declare null and void, and by the authority of the blessed Aposle Peter we annul them completely by a general decree. ((Ibid., I.1000 qtd. in Soloviev, 130; it is telling that an Orthodox layman uses this very quotation against the primacy of Constantinople: “Canon 28 and Eastern Papalism: Cause and Effect?” http://www.aoiusa.org/canon-28-and-eastern-papalism-cause-or-effect/))
Shall we accuse St. Leo the Great of pride and an attempt to usurp the power of Christ? Even the preeminent Orthodox scholar Fr. John Meyendorff admits that St. Leo’s ecclesiology anticipates “in every way” the dogma of Vatican I. ((Fr. John Meyendorff, Imperial Unity and Christian Division (SVS Press, 2011), 153; Meyendorff relegates St. Leo’s papal ecclesiology to a “Janus complex.” Florovsky dismisses saintly deference to the “inviolable decrees” of the “Holy and Apostolic See” as “private opinions” (Bible, Church, Tradition, 84). See my article “Eastern Orthodox Caricatures of Western Orthodoxy” here: http://quiesincaelis.wordpress.com/2012/05/07/eastern-orthodox-caricatures-of-western-orthodoxy/)) If this was true, what becomes of our claim of Vatican I being heretical? Moreover, what shall we say to any pope who will annul, by petrine authority, the acts of an Ecumenical Council? He is imitating St. Leo the Great. We find ourselves fighting against the man whose sanctity turned back the hordes of Atilla the Hun. The wise in heart accept commands, but the chattering fool comes to ruin. ((Prov. 10:8))
Greater power was grabbed by Papa (starting with St. Gregory the Great, building upon the ecclesiological foundation laid by St. Leo) by necessity because of the Roman Emperor’s imperial ambitions (often heretical), and Papa turned to the Frankish kingdom to be his new Orthodox protector. This was the effort of Ss. Gregory II, Gregory III, and Zacharias (the latter two being Greeks). These were saints. Should I dismiss their wisdom?
The necessity of this action during Iconoclasm cannot be challenged except by claiming a nationalist Church where political loyalties become religious loyalties. The Roman Empire in the east took grave umbrage at this act by Papa, as if it were a heresy to not pledge allegiance to (heretical) New Rome. ((The Greek historian Theophanes himself states that at the time of the Iconoclasm of Emperor Leo, “Gregory, pope of Rome, caused Rome, Italy, and all the west to secede from both political and ecclesiastical obedience to Leo and his Empire” The Chronicle of Theophanes, Harry Turtledove, trans. (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1982), 408)) It would only be a heresy if nationalism had infected the Church of God to the point that New Rome was the only political allegiance a Christian could have. This is precisely what had happened. For the primacy of New Rome was grabbed not on apostolic grounds, but solely on political grounds (though an Apostolic mythos later developed). ((Detailed in Dvornik’s Byzantium and the Roman Primacy (Fordham, 1966) )) Betrayal of this primacy, then, became synonymous with political disloyalty, which confounds earthly politics with the Church of God. An unwise king will ruin his people. ((Sir. 10:3))
This resulted in, as Tia Kolbaba’s seminal works (( Inventing Latin Heretics Western MI, 2008 and The Byzantine Lists Illinois, 2000)) detail, a calculated effort by Roman patriots in Constantinople to destroy the religious (and thus political) credibility of the west by any and all means—including denouncing their patristic heritage of azymes, fasting rites, liturgical usages, and even the Latin language itself. ((As the racist comment of Emperor Michael III (d. 867) reveals when he said that “Latin is a barbarian and Scythian tongue,” and St. Photios also denigrates the Latin tongue (Mystagogy, 87). We should point out, however, that St. Gregory the Great expressed similar feelings toward Greek during his stay in New Rome (Andrew Ekonomou, Byzantine Rome and the Greek Popes (Lexington Books, 2007), 15). Fortunately for the west, this anti-Greek sentiment did not seem to become a pan-cultural policy. The same cannot be said of the east.)) Moreover, how many saints did this? Shall we pit St. Photios against St. Leo? How could I claim one as heretical over the other? Who am I to disagree with saints? And yet they disagree with each other.
But this petty bickering was tragically exacerbated when the western kings fell into this same base political game and responded in kind. To make matters worse, the Papacy, forgetting the wisdom of St. Leo III (in suppressing the filioque usage rather than the doctrine), allowed the filioque to be chanted in Rome, and the political schism began to coalesce. Then the hoped-for recovery of a Greco-Roman Christendom against Islam was destroyed in the Crusades, when the political loyalties imploded the Christian ones in the most terrible fratricide hitherto unknown. Is this not the most potent tool of the wicked man? The pride of kings and presidents and their ideologies and armies?
Despite all this, some of our Christian forefathers still held to the most salient point about wisdom. In the dialogue that occurred between Nicetas of Nicomedia and Anselm of Havelburg in 1136, we find this shown beautifully. These two great theologians disagreed vehemently on the doctrines of the filioque and such things, but they concluded that these disagreements did not impair salvation, and that they could be resolved by a consensus of the Latin and Greek Fathers. ((See Chadwick’s discussion of this important moment in his classic text East and West: the Making of a Rift in the Church Oxford, 2005)) But here is what I discovered. No such consensus exists. Or at least, has certainly never existed in the east. East and west both lost the other’s language, but only the west reappropriated Greek. In the process, she became more open over the centuries to Greek theology, to the point that from the Roman perspective, the Orthodox Church is completely Catholic, and is welcome to communion, if they will only reconcile with the Holy Father.
The east, however, has never regained Latin and appropriated the Latin patristics. ((One might claim, however, that the attempted ‘Latinization’ of Russia, especially during the 19th century, was an example of this. Some one more learned in this time period should comment on this aspect, which I know little about.)) Why am I then surprised that the east rejects the Latin dogmas? Since at least St. Photios (who knew no Latin) the east had had a strong party of anti-Latins, who wanted to “cover the shame” of the Latin fathers by essentially conforming them to the Greek. St. Mark of Ephesos (who also knew no Latin) wrote an entire treatise against Latin customs that were taught by the Latin fathers. ((For example, St. Mark’s treatise That not by the voice of the Lord’s words alone are the divine gifts sanctified, but because of the prayer and blessing of the priest, by the power of the Holy Spirit (PG 160:1080). This Consecration of the elements by the Voce Domini was taught by St. Ambrose in De Sacramentis, Bk. IV.23: “And before the words of Christ the cup is filled with wine and water; but where the words of Christ work, there is proved the blood which redeems the people. See, therefore, by how many great ways the word of Christ tranforms all things!” St. Mark is also opposed some centuries earlier by Greek theologian St. Nicholas Cabasilas in his work Commentary on the Divine Liturgy, which argues (in the face of Latin accusations) that the two consecration rites on substantially the same.)) Instead of following their own fathers, the Latins should follow the Greeks! ((See St. Photios’ Mystagogia of the Holy Spirit, 68, 70-72)) I could not bring myself to agree with this approach. How could God have inspired all the Latin tradition and let it be lead so far astray, cut off from the Greek? It made more sense to me that they must have been unaware of these things at the time, and made a mistake out of ignorance and pious zeal, rather than malice and wickedness. How could I claim that these saints had not vanquished the wicked man with them? Who was I to judge them?
Myopia of Spirituality
Ultimately, the real test for orthodoxy of the west was not the filioque, not the Papacy, not even the catechism. It was the sanctity of their saints. The whole purpose, after all, of every one of these dogmas, doctrines, ecclesiastics and philosophies and whatever else—it is one thing: union with Christ. Heresy, moreover, is always connected with spiritual death. The reason is because it is a rejection of humility and wisdom. It is as Cassian wrote above: “trusting in your own judgment.” Arius. Macedonius. Luther. Calvin. (( I should note, here, that we should empathize with Luther’s struggle and not necessarily brand him as an outright “heretic.” To do so would fundamentally misunderstand the basic thrust of Protestantism, and put Ecumenical reconciliation progress back one hundred years. Nevertheless, the basic form of the situation from a cultural standpoint is a sound point, I believe, even if noting this very thing is far beyond the scope of this small article.)) Each one chose his own judgment over both the wisdom of the forefathers, and the living authority of the Ecumenical Council.
It seemed to me that I could read no end of books to the weariness of the flesh, ((Eccl. 12:12)) but in the end I could still be trusting in my own judgment if I was not convinced by the sanctity of the western saints. Because to me, the most serious accusation one can lay to the west is that her saints are delusional. They could have all taught papal authority, but what if they were raving mad? I discovered that none other than St. Ignatii Branchininov, who had taught me so much, held this view, that all the post-1054 western saints suffered from spiritual “drunkeness.” Fr. Seraphim Rose made mention of this in his work Orthodoxy and Religion of the Future, in which he quoted St. Ignatii as saying of western spiritual classic, The Imitation of Christ that
There reigns in this book and breathes from its pages the unction of the evil spirit, flattering the reader, intoxicating him…the book conducts the reader directly to communion with God, without previous purification by repentance…from it carnal people enter into rapture from a delight and intoxication attained without difficulty, without self-renunciation, without repentance, without crucifixion of the flesh with its passions and desires (Gal. 5:24), with flattery of their fallen state. ((See Fr. Seraphim Rose, Orthodoxy and the Religion of the Future, 145))
I took these criticisms seriously. Fr. Seraphim Rose said that the Holy Fathers and Mothers spoke of two types of spiritual deception—false miracles and false feelings. Both had one goal: prevent the soul from repenting. In other words, reject wisdom and humility. I knew from experience that various divisions of Protestantism did precisely this.
I decided that the only thing to do would be to read the life of every western saint, to see if any of them truly fell into this delusion. From a few years ago, therefore, I began to collect the summaries of each saint’s life—east and west—from various online sources. I created a collection for every day of the year. I studied the actions of each saint and highlighted every element that seemed suspect—stigmata, mystical visions, ecstasies, etc.
In the process, I was deeply moved by the piety of the western saints, and found that none of them failed to preach repentance. All of them, without exception (from my reading) preached bare contrition and penance. Moreover, they worked innumerable miracles, through faith conquered kingdoms, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and women received back their dead, raised to life again. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated—the world was not worthy of them. ((Heb. 11:33ff.))
Then I discovered something else: after Florence, numerous Orthodox saints admired western saints and translated their works. For example, the incorruptible St. Dimitri of Rostov prayed the Rosary, was devoted to the passion and heart of our Lord, and filled his library with Bonaventure, Thomas à Kempis, and Peter Canisius among others. ((See the lecture of Archbishop Hilarion Alfeyev, “The Patristic Heritage and Modernity,” (The Ecumenical Review, Vol. 54, No. 1-2); accessible here: http://www.thefreelibrary.com/The+patristic+heritage+and+modernity.-a087425979)) He also spread a devotion to the sufferings of the Blessed Virgin, which originally was included in the (very conservative) ROCOR Jordanville prayer book, but was later deleted because it was too ‘western.’ ((This is the “Tale of the Five Prayers,” which was a revelation of our Lord Jesus to “one of the holy fathers” which included five meditations on the sufferings of the Virgin Mary, complete with spiritual promises attached to each one. Access the original prayer book here: http://www.myriobiblos.gr/texts/english/prayerbook/main.htm)) Is this just another example of private opinion? Not against the Latin fathers alone, but even our own incorruptible father? If St. Dimitri is incorruptible, then how can these works be filled with such evil? Would St. Dimitri concur with the sentiments of St. Ignatii? And other Eastern saints were also attracted to western spirituality. ((For example, St. Nikodemos of the Holy Mountain, who argued that Catholics should be rebaptized, helped translate the western text of Spiritual Combat with St. Theophan the Recluse. These eastern saints removed words that were not in their spiritual vocabulary, like “merits” and “satisfaction.” But these were used by Latin fathers St. Benedict and St. Peter Chrysologus.))
And I finally read The Imitation of Christ. I couldn’t believe that St. Ignatii could take offense at it. I could find no difference in spirituality to The Arena. I could find no instance of pursuing feelings over repentance, as was alleged. The following quotations from the work explicitly contradict St. Ignatii’s critique:
There is none other way unto life and to true inward peace, except the way of the Holy Cross and of daily mortification… For God will have thee learn to suffer tribulation without consolation, and to submit thyself fully to it, and by tribulation be made more humble…If thou wilt make any progress keep thyself in the fear of God, and long not to be too free, but restrain all thy senses under discipline and give not thyself up to senseless mirth…It is often better and safer for a man not to have many comforts in this life, especially those which concern the flesh. But that we lack divine comforts or feel them rarely is to our own blame, because we seek not compunction of heart, nor utterly cast away those comforts which are vain and worldly… Know thyself to be unworthy of divine consolation, and worthy rather of much tribulation. When a man hath perfect compunction, then all the world is burdensome and bitter to him. ((Bl. Thomas à Kempis, De Imitatione Christi, Bk II.12, I.11.4))
I realized that what had infected many Orthodox was a ‘myopia of spirituality’—an obtuse concentration on the outward forms of spirituality without the good sense to look beyond the externals. A perfect example of this is an article at the quasi-schismatic site ‘Orthodox Info’ entitled “A Comparison: Francis of Assisi and St. Seraphim of Sarov.” ((Found here: http://orthodoxinfo.com/praxis/francis_sarov.aspx)) It compares the spiritualities of these two great saints, but with a shallow prejudice against the former. In its dialectical approach, it reveals this myopia, essentially asserting that a spirituality that does not replicate 19th-century Ruso-Philokalian asceticism is necessarily heretical. It focuses closely on external manifestations of spirituality, rather than examining its inner substance. Why on earth should the spirituality of 19th century Russia look exactly the same outwardly as 13th-century Italy? This article, moreover, even distorts the eastern tradition, claiming, for example, that public penance is a sign of prelest, or that seeking visions is necessarily pride. Have you forgotten, my Christian brother, of the public penance of the Stylites? How much more public can you get than forty years on a three-story pillar in the middle of town? And the visions: have you forgotten St. Gregory Palamas’ prayer-mantra: “Lord, enlighten my darkness”? Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart. ((1 Sam. 16:7))
The Providence of God
In the end, I could not bring myself to conclude that the west was heretical, because of her saints. The saints had taught the Papacy, they had defeated the wicked man in their own bodies, and they could be nowhere else but Paradise, rejoicing in the all-Holy Trinity with all the saints from the east. It was because of this that I could not trust the Orthodox polemics anymore, because they challenged the Providence of God. They claimed that the Latin fathers were forged. If this is so, then prove it. But then we fall into endless historical debate. Where does this really lead? To accusations against brothers and distrust in the Providence of God. If they are not forged, then why did the Providence of God allow for a whole Latin tradition to develop, confessing the filioque, submitting to Papa, and make saints just the same?
Still, there remained one final recourse: prayer. I needed one final dewy fleece. I knew that I could read until my last breath and even then I would not have all the information (I couldn’t know all the saints). I turned to God. I made a vow. The first I have ever made. During the Triodion of this past year (the pre-Lenten season), I vowed to God that I would say a prayer fifty times a day to ask God to not lead me into temptation. This, in fact, was on the advice of St. Ignatii, who said that a monk should beseech the Lord to deliver him from deception. At the same time, I reexamined everything. I took a Master’s course called “Survey of the Eastern Tradition” as well as “Opposition to Ecumenism.” I read Florovsky, Lossky, Bulgakov, Louth, Meyendorff, Schmemann, Afanassieff, Staniloae, Zizioulas, Colliander, as well as Silouan, Arseny and Khomiakov, Philaret, Popovi, Rose, Romanides, Kalomiros, and Cavarnos, and I also studied St. Photios, and translated some of the works of St. Mark of Ephesos. I prayed and prayed that God would manifest my error and my deception. I trusted that God wills all to come to salvation and the knowledge of the truth ((1 Tim. 2:4)) and would not allow me to be lead into error. I besought Him with tears.
With God’s help, I fulfilled that vow. For the whole of Lent God did not speak a word to me. Then, during the last week, He brought great peace to my heart and showed me how to follow him. He lead me to the place I am now: an Orthodox Christian who has reconciled himself, in his heart, to the Holy Father, and to his western brothers and sisters, and to our holy fathers and mothers of the lands of the west. To put more eloquently, I will affirm the words of my favorite Russian writer coming to the same conclusions from within his Orthodoxy:
The manifest impossibility of finding or creating in the East a centre of unity for the Universal Church makes it imperative for us to seek it elsewhere. First and foremost we must recognize ourselves for what we are in reality, an organic part of the great body of Christendom, and affirm our intimate solidarity with our Western brethren who possess the central organ which we lack. This moral act of justice and charity would be in itself an immense step forward on our part and essential condition of all further advance. ((Soloviev, 81; Soloviev was an intimate friend of Dostoyevky, who based the characters of Ivan and Alyosha Karamozov on Soloviev. The latter, however, did not share his friend’s anti-Catholicism and slavophilism, and reconciled with the Holy Father. Bl. John Paul II read Soloviev’s works in Poland and helped to spread the name of this incredible Christian philosopher in the west. His classic text from which I have quoted here twice has been reprinted in an abbreviation under the name The Russian Church and the Papacy Catholic Answers, 2002))