The Orthodox Pages

email: pater@christopherklitou.com 

 TALK ON THE HISTORY OF

MANKIND AND THE CHURCH
PART 10

14th February 2008

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 FROM THE SACKING OF CONSTANTINOPLE

UP TO THE PRESENT DAY

 
At our last talk we saw the events that lead to the Great Schism of East and West that divided the Christian world into two Churches. Today, it being our last talk on the History of the Church, it remains for us to see what happened to the Orthodox Church after the Sacking of Constantinople up to the present day. Of course we cannot cover every event in detail in just one talk, just as we left out many other past events during our previous nine talks. Events like the Baptism of the Slavs – Bulgaria, Moravia (Czech Lands and Slovakia), Serbia, Romania, and Russia. Missionary work on these people began as we saw last week under Patriarch Photius in the Ninth century. Two brothers were selected to lead the mission - Sts. Cyril and Methodius, known as the Apostles of the Slavs. They were Greeks from Thessalonica, who were familiar with a wide range of languages including Hebrew and Arabic, but Slavonic was a language they had leant from childhood from Macedonian Slavs around Thessalonica, and they could speak it fluently. Their first task was to translate the Bible and the Church Services into Slavonic and to do this they invented the Slavonic Alphabet, which is known as the Cyrillic Alphabet after St. Cyril. It was based on the Macedonian dialect they had leant as children and up to this present day, it has remained the liturgical language of the Russian and certain other Slavonic Orthodox Churches. This is of the greatest significance because it shows that from the very beginning the Orthodox Church of Constantinople was concerned that people should hear and understand the Christian faith in a tongue they could understand. It has always been the policy of the Orthodox Church to hold services in the language of the people, unlike the Church of Rome which had until recently insisted that its services had to be in Latin.
These countries were at first under the jurisdiction of Constantinople, but in time became independent Churches with their own Patriarch. Bulgaria was the first to create a Patriarchate recognized by Constantinople in 927. The Patriarchate of Serbia was created in 1346 and recognized by Constantinople in 1375 and Russia, although independent from the Ecumenical Patriarchate since 1448, did not become a Patriarchate untill 1589. Other Churches headed by a patriarch are the Churches of Romania and Georgia. Romania, remained under the jurisdiction of Constantinople until 1885 when she was recognized as an autocephalous church and became a Patriarchate in 1925. The Church of Georgia on the other hand is one of the oldest Christian Churches and traces its origins in tradition to the missionary efforts of the Apostle Andrew in the first century. Historically it adopted Christianity with the missionary efforts of St. Nino of Cappadocia beginning in the early fourth century. Initially, the Georgian church was part of the territory of the Patriarchate of Antioch. The church was granted autocephaly by the Patriarch of Antioch in 466 with the title of Catholicos given to her first bishop. Subsequently, the Catholicos was given the added title of Patriarch in 1010, making the title of the primate of the Georgian Church the Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia. The Georgian Church remained autocephalous until 1811 when it was placed under the administration of the synodal Church of Russia. Following the 1917 February Revolution, the Georgian hierarchs restored autocephaly that was eventually recognized by the Church of Russia and the Church of Constantinople in 1989.
The largest autocephalous Orthodox Church today is the Rusian Church with members estimated near to 80 million. So how did Russia receive Baptism into the Orthodox Church? In 954 Princess Olga of Kiev was baptized in Constantinople. This paved the way for what is called the greatest events in the history of the Ukarainian and Russian church, the baptism of Vladimir of Kiev and the Baptism of Rus’ in 988. Undoubtedly influenced by his Christian grandmother and by a proposed marriage alliance with the Byzantine imperial family, Olga's grandson Vladimir (reigned 980-1015) was converted to Christianity and married Anna, the sister of the Byzantine Emperor. Orthodoxy became the State religion of Rus', and eventually Russia until 1917.
The chronicle says that before Prince Vladimir decided to adopt Christianity, he considered other faiths. Muslims came to him, but he did not like Islam. Also Jews from a neighboring Khazaria came to him to advocate Judaism. He asked them: “Where is your land?”. And they replied: “In Jerusalem”. The Prince asked in doubt: “Is it really so?” And they replied: “We possessed Jerusalem, but God took it from us for our sins” The Prince then got angry and said: “Do you wish the same for us?” and cast them away. It should be noted that Vladimir also refused to accept Latin missionaries of the German origin. We saw last time that before the Great schism, these missionaries were at work in the Slav countries together with Greek missionaries and came into conflict with each other. Vladimir chose to take Christianity from the Greeks. He had sent envoys to Constantinople and on their return told him about the beauty of the service in Hagia Sophia: “We did not know if we were on earth or in heaven”. Vladimir received holy baptism himself and ordered all the people of Russia to be baptized, which took place everywhere starting from Kiev.
Possibly the next most important event in the life of the Orthodox Church is what is known as the Hesychast Controversy. The Controversy was between the Athonite monks who practiced the Hesychast spirituality and supported by St. Gregory Palamas and a Greek monk named Barlaam from Calabria Italy who had come to Constantinople in 1330. To understand the conflict we must first understand what the Monks of Mount Athos practiced. Hesychast comes from the word Hesychia meaning silence or peace. The Hesychastic practice has often been compared to the mystical prayer or meditation of Eastern religions like Buddhism, Hinduism and Sufism and yoga, although this similarity is often over-emphasized in popular accounts and is generally rejected by actual Orthodox practitioners of Hesychasm. The practice may involve specific body postures, and be accompanied by very deliberate breathing patterns. However, these bodily postures and breathing patterns are treated as secondary by both modern Athonite practitioners of Hesychasm and by the more ancient texts from the Fathers. Today we know this practice as the Jesus Prayer that is practiced by both monks and lay people, which we have spoken about at a previous talk. Of course it is not just the practice of praying that caused the conflict with Barlaam, but also the fact that the monks claimed to have an experiential knowledge of God.
The Hesychast begins in solitude and retirement by repeating the Jesus Prayer – Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me a sinner. It should be noted that the Hesychast never treats the Jesus Prayer as a string of syllables without meaning, which would then just be repetitious and worthless. His pays extreme attention to each word of the prayer and collects his mind, not letting it wander, which is what usually happens when we start praying. In time the prayer is said continually 24 hours a day and the Hesychast’s aim is to bring his mind (his nous) into his heart. There are various stages to the prayer but eventually the goal is for the prayer to continue in the heart with the grace of God. At this stage, the Hesychast usually experiences the contemplation of God which is seen as light. It is this light that caused the controversy. What was it? Was it just a physical light or was it a contemplation of God? When Barlaam of Calabria encountered Hesychasts and heard descriptions of their practices, he was scandalized by Hesychasm and began to combat it both orally and in his writings. He had been trained in Western Scholastic Theology, unfamiliar with Orthodox spiritually and could not comprehend the possibility of material eyes physically beholding the immaterial God. How can a man see God’s essence with his bodily eyes? The light which the Hesychasts beheld, in his view, was not the eternal light of the Divinity, but a temporary and created light. He also believed that philosophers had better knowledge of God than did the prophets, and he valued education and learning more than contemplative prayer. As such, he believed the monks on Mount Athos were wasting their time in contemplative prayer when they should instead be studying to gain intellectual knowledge.
Hesychasm was defended theologically by St. Gregory Palamas, who was asked by his fellow monks on Mt. Athos to defend Hesychasm from the attacks of Barlaam. Contrary to Barlaam, Gregory asserted that the prophets in fact had greater knowledge of God, because they had actually seen or heard God himself. St. Gregory defended Hesychasm at several Synods in Constantinople in the 1340s and he also wrote a number of works in its defence. In these works, St. Gregory Palamas uses a distinction, already found in the works of the Cappadocian Fathers in the 4th Century, between the energies or operations of God and the essence of God. St Gregory taught that the energies or operations of God were uncreated. He taught that the essence of God can never be known by his creature even in the next life, but that his uncreated energies or operations can be known both in this life and the next, and convey to the Hesychast in this life and to the righteous in the next life a true spiritual knowledge of God. It is the uncreated energies of God that illuminate the Hesychast who has been vouchsafed an experience of the Uncreated Light. St. Gregory further asserted that when the Apostles Peter, James and John witnessed the Transfiguration of Jesus Christ on Mount Tabor, they were in fact seeing the uncreated light of God; and that it is possible for others to be granted to see that same uncreated light of God with the help of repentance, spiritual discipline and contemplative prayer. The event of the Transfiguration in the life of Christ has never really been understood by the Western Churches in the same way the Orthodox Church understands the event. Christ appeared to His disciples as God, the light that they saw was the uncreated light of God. But it was the human body of Christ that shone with this light: in other words it was man’s nature that appeared in the divine glory. Thus not only can the uncreated light of God be seen by human eyes, it can also be received by the human body. It brings as to that statement repeated by so many fathers: “God became man so that man may become God.”
The doctrine of Hesychasm was eventually upheld as the doctrine of the Orthodox Church at a Synod in Constantinople. Barlaam returned to Italy where he became a Roman Catholic bishop. Up to this day, the Roman Catholic Church has never fully accepted Hesychasm, especially the distinction between the energies or operations of God and the essence of God, and the notion that those energies or operations of God are uncreated. In Roman Catholic theology as it has developed since the Scholastic period, the essence of God can be known, but only in the next life; the grace of God is always created; and the essence of God is pure act, so that there can be no distinction between the energies or operations and the essence of God.
Gregory Palamas was consecrated Archbishop of Thessalonica. He died in 1359 and was glorified by the Orthodox Church in 1368. He is considered one of the greatest Theologians of the Church and is greatly venerated in Thessalonica as the cities second great saint after St. Demetrios.
Another important event in the History of the Church is the second reunion Council held at Florence in 1438-1439. At that time the eastern part of the Byzantine Empire had been conquered by the Turks. After the unsuccessful siege of Constantinople in 1422 by the Ottoman Sultan Murad II, the emperor, John VIII Paleologos, undertook negotiations with the Pope, Eugene IV, and made preparations for an ecumenical council in the hope for a reunion of the Churches. On November 27, 1437, seven hundred bishops, abbots, monks, priests, and laymen set sail for Italy. The Emperor John VIII attended in person, together with the Patriarch of Constantinople and representatives from the other Orthodox Churches. The Patriarchs of Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem declined to appear personally at the council, but grudgingly appointed representatives. The Patriarch of Alexandria chose for one of his representatives the Metropolitan of Ephesus Mark Eugenikos, whose theological works had gained him fame throughout the empire.

At the Council the primary issues in dispute were: (1) the procession of the Holy Spirit (that is, the addition by the Latin Church of the Filioque clause to the Nicene - Constantinopolitan Creed); (2) the primacy of the Pope; (3) purgatory; and (4) the use of unleavened bread (azymes) in the Eucharist. There was another important subject that some of the delegates wished to discuss, the distinction in Orthodox theology between the divine “essence” and the divine “energies,” which was the recent dispute between Gregory Palamas and Barlaam we mentioned earlier. The Emperor wanted to avoid getting into deep theological matters which might cause a deadlock and destroy any attempts of a reunion and so forbade the Greek participants to discuss this issue.

We saw in the previous talk the issues of the Filioque, the Papal claims, the use of unleavened bread. What we didn’t see was the new Roman Catholic dogma of Purgatory. They believe that all who die in God’s grace, but still imperfect, can still be saved after being purified in the fire of purgatory. In other words they say there are two kinds of hell fire, a temporal and an eternal. The elect go through this temporal fire that cleanses them which is entirely different to the hell fire which is the punishment of the damned. The Orthodox Church rejects the idea of two fires and believes rather that the temporal punishment of sinful souls consists in that they, for a time, depart into a place of darkness and sorrow where they are deprived of the Divine Light. However, they can be delivered from this place of darkness and sorrow through the prayers of the Church, the Holy Eucharist and deeds of charity done in their name, but not by fire. Thus, both churches affirm that the soul undergoes continued purification after death, but the Orthodox, because it is not supported by Holy Scripture, deny that a purgatorial fire is the means of such purification.
There were prolonged discussions at the Council, and a genuine attempt was made by both sides to reach a true agreement on the great points of dispute, but the Greeks were not really there to discuss theology: the political situation with the Turks had become desperate and the only hope of defeating them was with help from the west. This made things easy for the Roman Catholic Church to draw up a one-sided formula of reunion in exchange for the much needed military help. For the Pope this was not just helping a sister Church, but an opportunity to subject the eastern churches to his ecclesiastical authority.
Against the Emperors command to avoid heated disputes, St. Mark of Ephesus insisted that on the matter of the Filioque and the Papal claims, the canons of the Church pertaining to these disputes should be read aloud before anything else. He read the decrees of the Third, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Ecumenical Councils, as well as quotations from various saints, including several popes, all of which affirmed the original creed and forbid any changes to it. Many of the Latin monks present at the council, after hearing the decrees and acts of the Ecumenical Councils, together with Mark's explanation, confessed that they never heard anything like it previously. They exclaimed that the Greeks teach more correctly than their divines, and marvelled at Mark of Ephesus. Mark and another bishop Anthony of Heraclea were proving to be two fierce defenders of the Orthodox faith. The Emperor wanted the talks to proceed without problems that might jeopardise the reunion. He therefore forbid Mark to attend any more of the meetings and confined him to his cell and posted guards at his door to prevent him from leaving.

With Mark out of the way, a formula of union was drawn up in which the Orthodox accepted the Roman Church’s position on every disputed point of doctrine. The Florentine Union was based on a twofold principle: complete agreement in matters of doctrine and respect for the legitimate rites and traditions peculiar to each Church. Thus in matters of doctrine, the Orthodox accepted the Papal claims for supremacy; they accepted the Filioque; they accepted the Roman teaching on Purgatory. But so far as unleavened bread was concerned, no uniformity was demanded: Greeks were allowed to use leavened bread, while Latins were to continue to employ unleavened. This was then signed by all the Orthodox present at the Council except one, Mark, Archbishop of Ephesus. The Byzantine Patriarch Joseph had a private meeting with St. Mark to persuade him to sign the decree. But Mark was steadfast and said: “In matters of faith, there must be no concessions and no wavering.”
Eight days after, Patriarch Joseph died and the Emperor John took over the direction of the church, an action which St. Mark condemned: “Let no one dominate in our faith: neither emperor, nor hierarch, nor false council, nor anyone else, but only the one God, who both himself and through his disciples has handed it down to us.”
On July 5, 1439, the Florentine Union was confirmed. After the Greek bishops had signed the decree, and while Pope Eugene was signing, he inquired whether Mark of Ephesus had signed. When he was told that Mark had not, he exclaimed, “Then we have accomplished nothing!” Nevertheless, a service celebrating the union was held the next day, and the Greeks then returned to Constantinople. St. Mark’s achievements and fame had already reached the capital and the people were waiting to applaud their hero. On the other hand the faithful avoided the bishops that had signed and even cast insults at them. The clergy that remained in Constantinople also would not concelebrate with the unionists. In due time, the eastern Patriarchs announced that they were not bound by anything that their representatives had signed. The Union of Florence, although celebrated throughout Western Europe with bells ringing in all the parish churches, couldn’t be enforced on the Orthodox people. The decrees of the Council were never accepted by more than a minute fraction of the Byzantine clergy and people. The Grand Duke Lucas Notaras, echoing the words of the Emperor’s sister after Lyons, remarked: “I would rather see the Moslem turban in the midst of the city than the Latin mitre.”
The emperor John and his successor Constantine XI, the last Emperor of Byzantium, had hoped that the Union of Florence would secure them military help from the west, but small indeed was the help which they actually received. On 7 April 1453 the Turks began to attack Constantinople by land and sea. Outnumbered by more than twenty to one, the Byzantines maintained a brilliant but hopeless defence for seven long weeks. In the early hours of 29 May the last Christian service was held in the great Church of the Holy Wisdom. It was a united service of Orthodox and Roman Catholics, for at this moment of crisis the supporters and opponents of the Florentine Union forgot their differences. The Emperor went out after receiving communion, and died fighting on the walls. Later the same day the city fell to the Turks, and the most glorious church in Christendom became a mosque. It was the end of the Byzantine Empire. But it was not the end of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, far less the end of Orthodoxy.
In general, the fall of Constantinople in 1453 was a great misfortune for Christianity. As a result of the Ottoman conquest, the entire Orthodox communion of the Balkans and the Near East was suddenly isolated from the West. For the next four hundred years it would instead be confined within a hostile Islamic world, with which it had little in common religiously or culturally. Orthodox Russia alone escaped this fate.
How did Orthodox Christians fair under the Muslim crescent? It was not an easy transition: but it was made less hard by the Turks themselves, who treated their Christian subjects with remarkable generosity. The new Ottoman government that arose from the ashes of Byzantine civilization was neither primitive nor barbaric. Islam not only recognized Jesus as a great prophet, but tolerated Christians as another People of the Book. In Moslem eyes, the Christian religion was seen as not entirely false, but incomplete. People of the Book, were therefore not be treated as if they were mere pagans. According to Mohammedan teaching, Christians are to undergo no persecution, but may continue without interference in the observance of their faith, so long as they submit quietly to the power of Islam and pay their taxes which were heavy.
As such, the Church was not extinguished, but rather encouraged to continue in its administration. One of the first things that the Sultan Mohammed II did was to install the monk Gennadius Scholarius as the new Patriarch when the office became vacant. Gennadius was a determined opponent of the Church of Rome, and his appointment as Patriarch meant the final abandonment of the Union of Florence. Doubtless for political reasons, the Sultan deliberately chose a man of anti-Latin convictions: with Gennadius as Patriarch, there would be less likelihood of the Greeks seeking secret aid from Roman Catholic powers. The Sultan himself instituted the Patriarch, ceremonially investing him with his pastoral staff, exactly as the autocrats of Byzantium had formerly done. The action was symbolic: Mohammed the Conqueror, champion of Islam, became also the protector of Orthodoxy, taking over the role once exercised by the Christian Emperor. Thus Christians were assured a definite place in the Turkish order of society; but, as they were soon to discover, it was a place of guaranteed inferiority. Christianity under Islam was a second-class religion, and its followers second-class citizens. Christians were formally reduced to a ghetto existence: they were the Rum millet, or the "Roman nation" conquered by Islam, but enjoying a certain internal autonomy. They paid heavy taxes, wore a distinctive dress, were not allowed to serve in the army, and were forbidden to marry Moslem women. The Church was not allowed to undertake any missionary work, and it was a crime to convert a Moslem to the Christian faith. On the other hand, converts to Islam who returned to Orthodoxy were put to death. From a material and economic point it was enticing for a Christian to apostatise to Islam. In fact a great many did. We have in Cyprus many villages that are named after saints, or have Greek names, but the inhabitants were Turkish Cypriots. During the Ottoman occupation, they were originally Greek Christians, but accepted Islam so that they didn’t have to pay the heavy taxes.
Under Islam, the Patriarch of Constantinople received a considerable amount of power over the other Patriarchates. He became the “millet-bachi,” the head of the entire Christian millet, or in Greek the "ethnarch," with the right to administer, to tax, and to exercise justice over all the Christians of the Turkish Empire. The other Patriarchates within the Ottoman Empire, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem remained theoretically independent, but were in practice subordinate to Constantinople. The Churches of Bulgaria and Serbia likewise within Turkish dominions gradually lost all independence and by the mid-eighteenth century had passed directly under the Ecumenical Patriarch’s control. His power ceased to be purely canonical and spiritual but became political as well. To the enslaved Greeks, he appeared not only as the successor of the Byzantine Patriarchs but also as the heir of the Emperors. For the Ottomans, he was the official and strictly controlled administrator of the Rum millet. In order to symbolize these new powers, the Patriarch adopted an external attire reminiscent of that of the emperors: the mitre in the form of a crown, long hair, eagles as insignia of authority, and other imperial symbols. This system where the Patriarch was not only the spiritual head of the Greek Orthodox Church, but the civil head of the Greek nation, the ethnarch or millet-bashi, was enjoyed on a smaller scale by other bishops. This situation continued in Turkey until 1923, and in Cyprus until the death of Archbishop Makarios III (1977).
The new millet system had many significant consequences. Most important, it permitted the church to survive as an institution and made possible the survival of the Greek nation as a distinctive unit through four centuries of alien rule. But on the life of the Church itself, it led to a confusion between Orthodoxy and nationalism. The Orthodox faith should be universal and not bound to geographical boundaries, but to the Greeks of the Turkish Empire, Hellenism and Orthodoxy became so intertwined and fused together that even today when Greeks say they are Greek they also mean they are Orthodox and vice-versa- Orthodoxy means you have to be Greek.
Another sad result of the millet system was that the bishops became involved with worldly affairs and political matters and as a result fell prey to ambition and financial greed. Each new Patriarch required a berat (an imperial decree, a diplomatic certificate) from the Sultan before he could assume office, and for this document he was obliged to pay heavily. The Patriarch recovered his expenses by exacting a fee from each bishop before instituting him in his diocese; the bishops in turn taxed the parish clergy, and the clergy taxed their flocks. Under the Turks everything was for sale. When there were several candidates for the Patriarchal throne, the Turks virtually sold it to the highest bidder. And they made sure that the Patriarch was changed often so that they could benefit financially. The same man sometimes held office on four or five different occasions, and there were usually several ex Patriarchs watching restlessly in exile for a chance to return to the throne.
The Greek nation and the Church may have survived the Ottoman Occupation but they suffered for four centuries a spirituality decadence, which even today we witness among the people a great ignorance of the very basics of the faith they claim to be members of. But it is a miracle in itself that the Greeks managed to cling to their Christian civilization which they had received from Byzantium. They had very little opportunity to develop considering that in the first two hundred years of the occupation learning Greek was outlawed in the Ottoman Empire. Very few people had the benefits of a good education and even the majority of the clergy had just a basic and rudimentary education. During the occupation Greek boys were forced to learn Greek in secret schools taught often by monks and priests. Thus the Greek people owe a great deal to the Orthodox Church for the preservation of the Greek language and culture. Everyone in Greece and Cyprus knows the rhyme that the boys sung as they secretly went during the dark nights to the secret schools to be educated: Φεγγαράκι μου λαμπρό φέγγε μου να περπατώ, να πηγαίνω στο σκολειό να μάθω γράμματα, γράμματα σπουδάσματα του Θεού τα πράγματα. My little bright moon, shine that I may walk, that I may go to school, that I may learn letters, letters and studies of the things of God.
As we said earlier the Church under Islam was allowed to survive, but at the same time there were many cases of brutality and during those four hundred years of slavery, hundreds of Greeks, Bulgarians and Serbs received a martyr’s death because they remained steadfast to the Orthodox faith and denied the Muslim faith of their oppressors. With the Greek uprising in 1821 and the war of independence many more received the crowns of martyrdom. In Cyprus alone between the 9th and 14th of July 1821, hundreds of Clerics and laypeople were martyred by the Turks. They arrested and hanged the Archbishop of Cyprus Cyprian and beheaded the Metropolitans of Paphos Chrysostom, of Citium Meletius and Kerynia Laurence, the Abbots of Monasteries and many others.
With the new independent state of Greece, the Patriarchate of Constantinople began to lose its hold on the other Churches and soon one by one all received independence and recognition of autocephaly. The first was the Church of Greece which was recognized as autocephalous in 1850, then followed the Churches of Romania, Bulgaria, and Serbia. Today only a small fraction of Orthodox are under the Ecumenical Patriarchate and these mainly from the Orthodox Churches belonging to the Diaspora.
Looking back on the whole history of the Church we can say that it was indeed a miracle that the one true Church survived against the many enemies that tried to extinguish her existence. The Church survived the early persecutions from the Jews, then from the Romans, the heresies, the Arabs, the Seljuk, the Crusaders, the Latin Church, the Mongols, the Ottoman Empire and others we didn’t mention during our 10 talks on the history of mankind and the Church. St. Paul said that “It was given to us not only to believe in Christ but also to suffer for him.” (Phil. 1:29) This was very true for almost two thousand years, and the Twentieth Century was no exception. A new tragedy and misfortune befell the Church as had never been encountered in the past Centuries.
A new enemy with fierce demonic horns sprung up with the communist government of Bolshevik Russia after they seized power in 1917. None of the past regimes were ever as insistent as communism in its belief that religion must not be tolerated. According to Lenin, a communist regime cannot remain neutral on the question of religion but must show itself to be merciless towards it. There was no place for the church in Lenin's classless society. The Communist were not satisfied merely with a separation of Church and State, but sought to overthrow all organized church life and to extirpate all religious belief. The result of this militant atheism was that it transformed the Church into a persecuted and martyred Church. Thousands of bishops, monks, clergy, and faithful died as martyrs for Christ, both in Russia and in the other communist nations. Their numbers are said to even exceed the Christians who perished under the Roman Empire. Equally frightening for the Church was communism’s indirect, but systematic, strangulation policy. In the Soviet Union, in addition to the methodical closing, desecration and destruction of churches, ecclesiastical authorities were not allowed to carry on any charitable or social work. Nor for that matter, could the Church own property. The few places of worship left to the Church were legally viewed as state property which the government permitted the church to use. More devastating still was the fact that the Church was not permitted to carry on educational or instructional activity of any kind. Outside of sermons during the celebration of the Divine Liturgy it could not instruct the faithful or its youth. Catechism classes, religious schools, study groups, Sunday schools and religious publications were all illegal. We will probably never know the true extent of the Church’s suffering under the Communist government and there are those today who insist that it never even happened.
The twentieth Century was indeed melancholy for the Russian and other Slavonic Churches under the communist regime and as Christian brothers we must pray for their loss just as we also share in the glory of their many saints. But there is another side to the twentieth Century which is bright and sunny for Orthodox history.
In the past the Orthodox Church was almost unknown in western societies and was considered by many almost exclusively as an eastern church, confined by cultural and geographical boundaries. The Bolshevik Revolution, forced more that a million Russians into exile. This together with the migration of hundreds of thousands of Greeks, Greek Cypriots, and on a smaller scale, peoples from other Slavonic countries, to western countries like France, England, Canada, America and Australia, has pulled down these boundary walls. Today the Orthodox Church has attained such dimensions as to make her presence a significant factor in the religious life of non-Orthodox countries. Certainly the Roman Catholic, Anglican and other Protestant Churches, have sat up and taken note of her continuous growth. Their own churches have seen an alarming decline in the number of their practicing members, so much so that they have been forced to close down and sell many of their churches. The Orthodox Church, on the other hand, can boast a religious revival and is continually building new churches to accommodate the needs of her growing numbers. One need only attend a normal Sunday service to see that the church pews are full. On special Feast days one would be contented to find standing space and on Good Friday and the Easter Vigil, one would have to attend 2 or 3 hours before the start of the service so as not to find oneself amongst the hundreds [with some parishes thousands] standing in the church courtyard.
Orthodoxy today is relatively at peace and slowly but surely, with educated Priests and theologians, the Church is educating the faithful in the true faith, although there is even now a new enemy from the west. This enemy is probably doing more harm to the Christian faith than any other enemy that took arms against the Church. The Church now has to defend the truth against the many western teachings and heresies, ideas, superstitions and fantasies that have been portrayed in films, books and magazines; all of which have literally confused people’s minds.
Of all the events in the life of the Church the greatest misfortune that befell mankind was the Great Schism between Rome and the Ecumenical Church. The greatest blessing for which mankind can hope would be the reunion of East and West, the reconstitution of the great Christian unity. But after so many centuries of separation, is this a possibility? Certainly in recent years we have seen an increase of communication with Rome and other Churches belonging to the World Council of Churches. Many are striving for an Ecumenical world church, “a super church” or “The World Church” composed of all the different branches. For the Orthodox, ecumenism rests on the understanding that the Orthodox Church is the one, holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. It sees the encounter with the non-Orthodox as an opportunity to witness to Orthodox truth, and perhaps also learn something from aspects of the life of the non-Orthodox.

But the realities of the contemporary ecumenical movement are such that Orthodox find themselves in a minority and often have difficulty in being heard. The majority of the WCC is generally made up of people who have spent their entire lives as Protestants, and come from generations of Protestantism. Orthodoxy believes that it possesses both the unity and the faith which alone will produce the reunion that all Christians seek, and will not compromise the faith she has received from Christ and the Apostles and to which she paid heavily to keep intact and unimpaired. If there ever is a reunion of the Churches, I cannot see the Orthodox Church as a member, unless the many Protestant Churches eventually realize and accept that they came into their existence as illegitimate children of the Reformation or the Anglican Church, who in turn are the illegitimate children of the Roman Catholic Church, which broke away from the One True Catholic and Apostolic Church. God’s providence has always protected the truth and at all times has enlightened his true followers to speak up and defend it. Saintly men like St. Mark of Ephesus who even under pressure from the Emperor and the Patriarch to sign the decree which would have brought about a reunion, but a reunion with Latin false teachings, stood steadfast and said: “In matters of faith, there must be no concessions and no wavering.” Amen.