Something is wrong. Our boat is taking in water. This discovery is amplified by the two events that occurred towards the end of the previous century. Both the visit of the Pope at Fanarion and the pursuant crowing by the media that “the pope is armor-plating the Patriarchate”, as well as the transition of Archbishop Christodoulos (†) to the Vatican and his keen desire “to experience the complete union and to commune the Body and the Blood of the Lord from the same Cup of Life” give rise to a serious - and scalding for our time - Ecclesiological question: Is Papism a “Church”?
When observing the events taking place, one discerns with anguish that Ecumenism has done its job well. It has accentuated the positive aspects that Papism indeed has, and, amidst the welter of heresies and the maze of religions, it has presented it as something very akin to Orthodoxy. For example, who can doubt the papists’ noteworthy community services, both in Europe as well as the missions of America, Asia and Africa, where heroic statures of missionaries have suffered martyrdom for their faith? Who can doubt that – thanks to them – millions of people throughout the world are cultivating their relationship with God and living with piety and faith? Who doesn’t acknowledge their admirable performance in the arts and sciences, or their dynamic apology opposite materialism, atheism and faithlessness? But haven’t similar achievements also been displayed by Protestant offshoots – even by those very “Jehovah’s Witnesses”?
Who also is unaware of the favours and the services rendered by the papist “Church” to the Orthodox of the Diaspora, or the many scholarships that it provides, to Orthodox students and scientists?
But - is the personal evaluation of - and admiration by - certain privileged individuals really the prerequisite that can justify addressing the secular state of the Vatican as a “sister Church” and exchanging the liturgical greeting of love with the heresy’s leader, the pope?
As for the fact that the saints of the Papist “Church” are numbered in thousands and are entirely unrelated to the Orthodox Church – just as Orthodoxy’s saints are not recognized by the westerners – this alone underlines and intensifies the chasm that separates the two. In other words, whereas the saints of regional Orthodox Churches – for example the saints of Russia, of Serbia, etc. - are common to all the Orthodox, the same thing is not observed with the saints of the westerners, because quite simply, they do not belong to the one Church.
Furthermore, even if millions of papists give positive witness to the world, it still wouldn’t mean amnesty for the ugly behaviour of other papists - and in fact clergymen – and it does not constitute an honour for Papism. In fact, it incriminates it, because it is keeping well-meaning souls in the darkness of heresy.
For these souls, the Orthodox Church beseeches Her divine Builder, to “recall the strayed ones and attach them to Your holy, catholic and apostolic Church”. She also prays for “the union of everyone”, not “for the union of all the Churches”, for the simple reason that there aren’t many Churches, only One: the One that we pray all strayed souls will return to.
Consequently, all those (otherwise good and respected) Orthodox theologians and hierarchs - who so naturally and with such ease refer to Papism as a “sister Church” – are grievously at fault. Because by doing this, they are confessing that Orthodoxy and Papism together comprise the One Church and that the only difference that separates us from the papists is a topical one: we are in the East, while they are in the West!
A (now reposed) hierarch comes to mind; he was not discerned for his theological proficiency or polite manners but was well-known for his acute sense of duty as an Orthodox hierarch. Thus, every time he was in the company of theologians, he would ask: “Hey you theologians, can you tell me, is Papism a Church?” And whenever he received a negative reply, he would nod with satisfaction and say “I should say it isn’t!”
It was on account of a recent publication that I nostalgically brought this straightforward and clear-cut stance to mind, which - despite the clumsy manner - was nevertheless preserving the Truth intact.
Specifically, it was a book that I had read by an aged Bishop (whom I have respected from my childhood days and love for his education and his virtue), in which he had written the following: “The Western Church performs the holy Sacraments canonically, and the Roman Catholic faithful who partake of sacramental life are led to salvation. But for reasons of precision regarding matters of the faith, which came about on account of the Schism, sacramental communion (Intercommunio) between the Orthodox and the Roman Catholic Churches was interrupted. This interruption naturally constitutes the biggest scandal for the Christian church, and it mainly burdens the theologians and the leaders of the two Churches.”
The respectable author was more or less pinning the blame on our holy Church also, for the severing and the secession of the papists! It is, indeed, a “major scandal” – as he had characterized it – except that it does not burden the Church, but only those who had created the scandal, when they tore apart “Christ’s seamless robe” and injured the unity of His Church. In fact, this text presents “the theologians and the leaders of the two Churches” as the ones responsible for the departure of the papists from the One Church.
And as far as the theologians and leaders of the West are concerned, I won’t go into the details; but here, responsibility is pinned on the theologians and the leaders of the Orthodox Church also.
And who are they? Quite obviously, they are:
Photios the Great, who had safeguarded the Church from the pope’s dictatorship and had remained a symbol of Orthodoxy to the people; “God’s mercy and His inspiration have dispersed into the pure soul of the most holy hierarch such light, that it brightens and illuminates all of Creation.” (J. D. Mansi, Sacrorum Consilliorum nova et amplissima collectio, 17A, 484 - 485), as even the papist vicars of Rome had admitted.
Joseph Vryennios, who, albeit during difficult times had regarded the union with the papists an important element and salutary for the tormented Byzantine empire and a “second providence by God, after the incarnate one”, nevertheless stressed that if the differences that distanced the papists from the Church aren’t resolved, any union whatsoever will be “worse than the former Schism; a division, a sectioning and deception.”
Saint Mark of Ephesus – Vryennios’ student – who, when placing the freedom of the Faith above the freedom of the homeland had proclaimed: “Not only are the Latins schismatics; they are also heretics and our Church had maintained silence about this, for the reason that their kind was far stronger than we were; furthermore, we did not sever ourselves from them for any other reason, except because they are heretics and we must therefore not be united with them at all, unless they cast out the addition (=the ‘Filioque’) from the Symbol of Faith and confess the Symbol as we do.” (J. D. Mansi, Sacrorum Consilliorum nova et amplissima collectio, 31A,885DE).
Saint Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain, according to whom the Latins “are age-old heretics” as proven by “the books of the supreme Patriarch of Jerusalem Dositheus the pope-castigator” (Pedalion, p.55) to which he refers us.
Saint Kosmas of Aetolia, who, with his simple teachings, used to warn the Christians to “fear the pope”, because he was “the incarnation of the insidious figure of the antichrist”. (“The Apostle of the Enslaved Nation”, by S.N.Sakkos, Thessaloniki 1996, p.205).
Saint Nectarios, who, when studying the history of the papist schism, noted: “The unity of the Church is not founded by, or based on, one only person out of all the Apostles, but in the sole person of our Saviour Jesus Christ… Of the Ecumenical (=worldwide) Church, only the Roman Church has perceived the spirit of unity differently and has sought to attain it and has striven for it through other means. It was this different perception regarding the manner of unification that provoked the schism, which, having made its start from the very first centuries grew with time and progressed according to the measures determined by the principles of the Roman Church, until it arrived at the complete schism, because of the demands of the popes… In this lies the reason for the schism, which is truly a most significant reason because it overturns the spirit of the Gospel, and is a most important dogmatic reason, because it is the denial of the principles of the Gospel. The remaining dogmatic reasons - albeit very important ones – can be regarded as secondary and as the outcome of the first reason.” (A Historical Study Regarding the Causes of the Schism”, vol.1, Athens 1911, p.69).
Then there are Michael Kerularios, Gennadius Scholarios… It would be a truly long list of names, if we were to mention all the holy fathers and teachers of the Church who, in the twelve centuries that have gone by since the secession of the papists and to this day, have clearly condemned the papist heresy, without hatred and malice, but only with modesty and outspokenness.
I will pause for a moment on the name of Saint Gregory Palamas, who had courageously exposed Barlaam the Calabrian, the pro-papist representative of the Orthodox (a kind of Uniate of that time). Both uncompromising and unassailable, Saint Gregory had vehemently condemned the “perverted addition” of the procession of the Holy Spirit “and from the Son” (=Filioque”), along with all the papist cacodoxies, and had invited all the faithful to be watchful in matters of the Faith. “Silence,” he said, “in matters of the faith, is a third kind of atheism, following the denial of God and the rejection of Jesus Christ.”
Just how much Saint Gregory’s labours had resonated in the life and the tradition of the Church is evident from the fact that the Church has ordained that his memory be honoured on the second Sunday of Great Lent, following the Sunday of Orthodoxy. None of the other, ancient major Fathers and Theologians of the Church is commemorated during that period (for example Athanasius the Great, Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, e.a.), because during their time, the West had not yet severed itself; it still belonged to the one Church of Christ.
Later on, in order to buttress the fundamental and predominant dogma regarding the primacy of the pope’s person – which reared itself like a groundless and rickety minaret – the papists appended an entire galaxy of heretic dogmas. This was how they distanced themselves and completely broke away from Orthodoxy. Gregory Palamas is therefore honoured as the expression and the substantiation of Orthodoxy, because he struck a severe blow to Papism which at the time had already finalized it heretic fallacies.
And these holy Fathers of the Church – who had clearly stigmatized Papism as a heresy – are the ones whom we doubt nowadays and are even pinning responsibilities on…
May God have mercy on us, and may He safeguard His Church from… our own theology!!