A Tale of Two Marks

Neo-Orthodox around the blogosphere and social media outlets have been offering up glowing praise for Moscow Patriarch Kirill’s recent Sunday of Orthodoxy homily. (For those unaware, the Sunday of Orthodoxy commemorates the Church’s triumph over Iconoclasm and is celebrated on the first Sunday of Great Lent.) The homily, which can be viewed over at the Byzantine Texas blog here, denounces “false union” with the Catholic Church while upholding Mark of Ephesus as a true champion of Orthodoxy. No doubt Kirill’s words were inspired in part by intra-Orthodox panic over his recent meeting with Pope Francis and the upcoming discussion of ecumenism which will be held at the Great and Holy Council this summer. According to the neo-Orthodox, Mark of Ephesus is a hero for his alleged anti-Latin stance and refusal to cave to “Latin innovations.” Mark, so the story goes, wanted nothing to do with the corrupt, heterodox Latin Church nor did he hold the Petrine Office in any particular esteem. While few neo-Orthodox have ever read a single word penned by Mark, almost all of them are 100% sure of what Mark stood for and why.

Complicating — or, rather, overturning — this simplistic and ahistorical image of Mark is Fr. Christiaan Kappes, professor at Ss. Cyril and Methodius Byzantine Seminary in Pennsylvania. Kappes latest effort to clarify Mark’s thinking for contemporary audiences, “Mark of Ephesus, The Council of Florence, and the Roman Papacy,” is included in the new SVS Press anthology, Primacy in the Church, and available online for free here. While Kappes stresses that Mark of Ephesus would have serious qualms about the nature of the present-day papacy and the over-centralization of ecclesiastical governance, Mark’s ecclesiology is hardly anti-papal. Moreover, as some of Kappes’s other studies on Mark make clear, the saintly bishop of Ephesus displayed a great deal of charity and respect toward the Latins during the tense debates at the Council of Florence, far more than many Orthodox feel compelled to offer toward their separated brethren today.

9 comments

  1. It’s extraordinarily well-documented and well-known by scholars that Mark of Ephesus, if alive today, would have made a great candidate for the most diligent and enthusiastic member of the North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation. He was, in short, an ecumenist: the sort that the Orthodox Information Center loves to hate.

    Why can’t my fellow Orthodox figure this out? There is almost a purposeful campaign of misinformation impugning this great saint as some kind of cantankerous Catholic-hater.

    1. Saying no at the end of a rather extended, in depth ecumenical conference does not wash away the fact that one attended such a conference. He actually participated and engaged in dialogue and disputation, and I got that from reading “Against False Union”. It’s not hidden. I seem to remember him coming to agreement with Rome on a number of counts where the Orthodox of today would seem to balk. St. Mark of Ephesus was a Defender of Orthodoxy, as much for his participation in ecumenism as for his refusal to approve what he believed would have been a false, incomplete ecumenical union. I’m looking forward to finishing the piece by Fr. Kappes.

      Coincidentally, I was looking for a nearby Orthodox church in Boston recently while visiting friends. I didn’t need to look to know what Saint Mark of Ephesus Orthodox Cathedral represented, but I did and I was right.

  2. I’ll have to read the paper you linked to, I’m intrigued. The only thing I’ve ever read of his was excerpts from his discussion against Purgatory that are part of the late Father Seraphim Rose’s book about The Soul After Death. The excerpts were not very polemical at all, rather they were calm and understanding, calmly explaining why the Greeks could not see how purgatory as explained by the Latin Church was acceptable. If his writings were anything like that,he’s probably not so bad.

    At any rate thanks for the interesting topic!

  3. Another key difference is that St. Mark’s stance was politically inconvenient. Pat. Kirill’s posturing just happens to line up with Kremlin policy goals.

  4. What I find so disturbing about this is the absolute insincerity of virtually all ecumenical conversations between the Byzantine Orthodox and the Roman Catholic Church, on both sides.

    To dredge up a bunch of issues of centuries ago and not deal with modern realities of Roman Catholicism on the Orthodox part is more than insincere, it is dishonest. Questions about the Filioque are not serious, there is a perfectly Orthodox explanation of the Filioque and this is well known since we even studied it in seminary, the fact that it does not belong in the Creed is another issue (Even Pope St Leo was convinced of this reality). Real issues today are the post-Vatican I proclamation of the personal infallibility of the Pope and universal jurisdiction and the manner in which the Doctrine of the Immaculate Conception was declared dogma without recourse to a Council. The issue of a completely non-Apostolic Latin tradition simply composed by a committee is a real issue as well that is also never mentioned (although in private many Orthodox, often on very high levels, do speak about the demise of the Western tradition and its replacement with liturgical banality, this is often a topic of conversation, but usually in the realm of dismissiveness of a Church that happily killed its own tradition). Why do the Orthodox then continue this endless conversation that will lead no where? They are hoping that some-how, some-way Rome is going to force the especially large Ukrainian Greek Catholics to return to submission to Moscow. None them believe that it is possible to reunite with modern Rome. Even the canonical issue would be problematic, not only of marriage and divorce, but jurisdiction and what of the thousands of married lay Catholics who converted and then were ordained Orthodox priests? By modern canon law they would not be permitted to function as clergy (I personally know such a priest, who when he approached returning to Rome, was told he could only be accepted to function as a layman).

    Rome is also fairly dishonest. They must know that no Orthodox is going to accept the modern pronouncement of Papal infallibility or the Immaculate Conception. They have made no move to remove, everywhere, the filioque in the Creed. And the whole liturgical movement continues in a Protestant direction; and if liturgy, taken very seriously by both Orthodox and some Catholics, expresses the Faith of the whole Church, any visit to most Roman Catholic parishes of the novus ordo will show that most certainly Orthodoxy and Catholicism do not share the same faith, in any form whatsoever. If the new rite shows anything, it is that Catholicism is much more at home with a banal, yet authoritative, Protestantism. So Rome is just as much to blame as is Orthodoxy. Rome speaks of union with Orthodoxy, but its whole mindset is directed towards Protestantism.

    1. So true. The problem is, we have a “Theological Commission” of dialogue between RC and EO where they talk about the filioque and the two understandings of marriage, but not a “Let’s Get Real Commission” where they talk about guitar masses and pro-abortion nuns.

      However, those who are most open to theological and ecclesiological dialogue with Orthodox are not those who take issues like liturgy and lay catechesis the most seriously: namely, Catholic traditionalists. Those guys are about as anti-Orthodox as it gets.

      1. Actually, i would maybe argue the opposite. Catholic “traditionalists” in general are just reactionaries: they are justly incensed at the Novus Ordo, yet think the 1962 rite is just dandy, when it is also problematic, just not as much as the Novus Ordo. Many still don’t know St. Prosper’s adage concerning the rule of prayer and the rule of faith.

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