The Siropoulos Project (iv)

The Forced Union of Florence
Episode 1 – Ferrara

Ferrara (conclusion)

The fact of the matter is that many  of the delegates, under the circumstances, were forced to leave the council and to literally flee. From Ferrara alone three priests returned to Constantinople at the onset of the plague in that city (Memoir 296). The delegates were under the strict control of the Emperor John VIII himself, who among the Orthodox was the main motivation for the entire idea of union with the Latins in order to politically and militarily salvage his empire from the Turks. Everything was made to serve that purpose. It would seem that no small number of the delegates, even the clergy, who were directly accountable to the throne for their positions, also shared this union with their sovereign. They were able to convince themselves of the desirability of compromise from the standpoint of economy. Their prime motivation, of course, was the preservation of the state, of the fatherland. Thus it is that Siropoulos in his memoirs often has reason to remark: “Without the will and decision of the Emperor nothing was done which concerned the Church” (Memoir 270). Some of the meetings of the council were suspended indefinitely without reason. There was open opposition to this. The Emperor, the main instigator of such suspensions, repeated often to the bishops, that they were there for the good of the Empire and that good could not be achieved easily but only through great labor and agony (Memoir 300).

One important attempt at escape from Ferrara was foiled. The brother of St. Mark of Ephesus who was the nomofilax (legal expert), Anthony the Metropolitan of Heraclia, and St. Mark himself had secretly left Ferrara and reached the town of Froncolino, from whence they were forcibly returned. From that point in time both the Emperor and the Patriarch  sought a way to move the council from Ferrara to a place further inland away from the sea. The intention was, of course, to isolate the easterners, making flight impossible. Thus, secret negotiations were entered into with the Pope with the goal of moving the council to Florence (Memoir 309).

Concerning the dispute over the questions of the Faith, the first discussions dealt with the innovations of the Latins, one of which was the teaching about the so-called purgatorial fire, which was supposedly experienced by some people after death. Caesarini’s explanation of this is interesting. This belief, he claimed, had existed in the Church from ancient times, being handed down by the Apostles themselves. The souls of the righteous, those free of filth and sin, such as the saints, after their death proceed immediately to heaven. If, however, after baptism Christians fell into sin and had not produced the fruits of repentance through penance they would be cleansed through fire, some slowly, other quickly. Those who died in mortal sin and those unbaptized would proceed to the judgment (Memoir  280).

Siropoulos continues his narrative by returning to the beginning of the Council. The first sitting of the council was held on the 6th of October 1438. The opening address was given by Andrew, Latin Bishop from Rhodes, in Latin. There followed an address by Metropolitan Visarion of Nicea in Greek. Both of these were translated by Sekundinos who was knowledgeable in both languages. Siropoulos gives us the text of the address by St. Mark of Ephesus which stressed the importance of love and peace, which must be re-established.

“It is impossible,” says St. Mark, “to establish peace, unless the cause of the schism is removed” (Memoir 326). He states categorically that the proof of the present teachings of the council must be shown by its agreement with the Ecumenical Councils, whose decisions must first be read so that: “We may demonstrate our concord with the Fathers and the agreement of this council with those” (Memoir 326). The Latins with their innovations, who had undermined the decisions of the Ecumenical Councils, refused to have the Conciliar decisions read at this council. Nevertheless it was conceded that they should be read, and this was done by St. Mark of Ephesus himself, who did so with commentary. During the reading the Latins did not pay close attention claiming that the decisions could not obligate them in any way. During the reading of the decisions of the Seventh Council the Latins presented in written form a document which stated: “From the Father and Son proceedeth (the Holy Spirit).” This took place at the third sitting of the Council held on 16th of October 1438. This fabricated document, totally unknown to the Greeks, was defended by the Latins who pointed to the original signatures and the antiquity of it. Cardinal Caesarini himself claimed that the document was very old and there could be no doubt as to its authenticity. “We have,” he continued, “an historian who has written much about it” (Memoir 330). He did not, however, mention the name of the historian, nor his work on the subject.

It might be of some interest to note that Siropoulos states that some Latin monks converted to Orthodoxy in Ferrara upon hearing the reading of the Ecumenical Councils together with the commentary. They made it at the time the following statement: “We have never known  nor have we heard about any of this. Our teachers taught us nothing about it. Now we see that the Greeks speak more truthfully than we do” (Memoir 332). We can believe that Siropoulos did not exaggerate this particular incident.

Of course, one of the main dogmatic points in the discussion was the Latin teaching of the “Filioque” (and Son). Siropoulos gives the major portion of his space to this subject: the procession of God the Holy Spirit. Already at the fourth sitting on October 20th discussion was held on that theme. The first to speak on the subject was the Roman Bishop of Rhodes Andrew. This false teaching had been accepted at the Synod of Toledo in Spain as an addition to the Nicene Creed. As a matter of fact that Arian council anathematized all who refused to accept it (Memoir 334). In further defense of their filioque teaching the Latins quoted a letter to St. Maximos the Confessor which includes the addition. The Latins also said that the addition caused no response from the Eastern Church at the time it was adopted. Furthermore, it was said at the fifth sitting of the council that the schism was not the result of the Filioque but rather other causes (Memoir 334).

As was the case in other disputes Cardinal Caesarini was in the forefront of this one. He stated that he was in complete agreement with the decisions of the Ecumenical Councils which state that it is not allowed to make any additions to the Creed which are opposed to the teachings of the Church. On the other hand it was allowed  to add things that were true or things that were of an explanatory nature. He goes on to say that the addition of the Filioque clause in the creed by the West was not an addition at all but an explanation, a clarification (Memoir 331).

The autumn session of the council in Ferrara ended at the close of November 1438. The council was interrupted without any explanation. Any further attempt at discussion, says Siropoulos, was terminated. Nothing at all was done. The representatives of the Orthodox Church found themselves in a very difficult position. They were running low on bare necessities and were not being provided with the promised funds. Many of the bishops were of the opinion that these new pressures were a deliberate attempt by their Latin hosts to motivate them to new concessions. For this reason they begged the Patriarch to approach the Emperor for permission for them to return home, “Since we are certain,” they said, “that we shall not be able to achieve a single ecclesiastical object here” (Memoir 348). To these objective difficulties must be added the pressure and prestige of the Emperor himself who had before him only the political and military interests of his now tiny state.

The Emperor was supported, for the most part, by the Patriarch who on one occasion was to state: “We cannot decide anything without the presence of the Emperor since it would seem  that there is a difference of opinion between him and us” (Memoir 346). Of course, at the same time, there was always to be found among the Greeks those who shared the opinion of Gregory the elder who argued that “The Church must deliberate and decide on that which interests the Church” (Memoir 346).

To be continued: Florence

The Siropoulos Project (iii)

The Forced Union of Florence
Episode 1 – Ferrara

Ferrara (continued)

According to Siropoulos the discussions concerning unity in Ferrara and later in Florence took a very log time and were, especially for the easterners, exhausting and extremely difficult. They remained in Italy almost three entire years. For them this was for the most part a new and strange world. The Orthodox upon arrival requested from the Pope that they be given a church where they could hold their services: “Now, since we are here, we request to have our own place to hold own own customary services, our own Holy Liturgy and everything in accordance with our habits.” The Patriarch was particularly concerned that such a church be in one of the monasteries. There was a great deal of disagreement among the Greeks themselves concerning the subject. One of the elders, the monk Gregory, candidly expressed how he felt upon entering a Latin Church: “When I enter a Latin Church, I do not venerate any of the objects found there, nor am I able to find the same Christ, the one I am familiar with. I respect only the sign of the cross and that I make upon myself but nothing else I find there” (Memoir 250).

Some of the delegates who stayed in Italy actually died there. Dionysios Metropolitan of Sardis passed away in Florence and was, at the request of the Patriarch, buried in one of the churches. The funeral service was held in the church of St. Julian but not the Liturgy (Memoir 250).

The council of Ferrara was opened in the church of St. George although many of the gatherings were held in other churches. The work of this council dealt with the many vital questions of union and was delegated to a number of subcommittees which met under the presidency of the Patriarch, Pope or the Emperor.

One of the most notable western individuals in the Memoirs is Cardinal Julian Caesarini. Some time near the beginning of the council this cardinal, not without reason, held a supper attended by Mark Evgenicos, Metropolitan of Ephesus, who took advantage of the invitation to address a letter to the Pope in which he thanked the pontiff for the pains he had gone to in organizing the council. He also expressed hope that the council, having begun, would reach a successful conclusion. He mentioned also, that should the Pope so desire, unity could be realized considering the immense prestige that the Pope had in the West as well as the fact that all the western kings were subservient to him. In the same letter, St. Mark does not forget to mention the major difficulty in achieving union: the addition to the creed which should, under no circumstances, remain (Memoir 258).

The letter was uncompromisingly written. Having received it, Cardinal Caesarini delivered it to the Pope, but not before, being dissatisfied with its contents, showing it to the Emperor. The Emperor was upset with the position Mark of Ephesus had taken in his letter, going so far as to attempt to have him punished by the council. Cooler heads prevailed, one of them being that of Metropolitan Visarion of Nicea who pointed out that the council should not concern itself with such things, that it was nothing of a dogmatic nature, and that he was entitled to his own opinion (Memoir 260).

At the very start of the council it was determined that there were actually four major points of dispute which could not be shelved or ignored. These were enumerated by Cardinal Caesarini:

1. The teaching of the Church concerning the Procession of the Holy Spirit
2. The question of leavened or unleavened bread in the Liturgy
3. Papal primacy
4. and the purgatorial fire after death.

Of these four themes the question of purgatory was approached first since the Orthodox considered that the questions of the procession of the Holy Spirit and of Unleavened bread were of such importance that only a council of the entire Church could decide them. It was only after this decision to discuss the question of purgatory that the delegates were given money to buy food and other necessities. Perhaps here is the place to mention, as Siropoulos so very often does, that this mention of demeaning the Orthodox delegates became a standard feature of the proceedings. Often they were short of money and the most necessary items. Many were placed in a position where they were forced to sell necessary items of clothing in order to eat. The stipend that had been agreed upon before the arrival of the delegates was given to them grudgingly, irregularly and sometimes not at all. Often it was withheld for long periods of time in order to coerce the delegates into agreeing to the demands of the Latins in council. Often the monies were dispersed selectively, the recipients of larger amounts being the Orthodox who were willing to give way to the demands of the Latins.

To be continued.

The Siropoulos Project (ii)

The Forced Union of Florence
Episode 1 – Ferrara

On the Eve of the Council

The head of the Vatican, at that time Pope Evgenius IV, called the East into unity with Rome. The Orthodox East, at that time personified by the Emperor John VIII Paleologus (1425-38) responded by saying that the idea was a good one which could, however, be actualized only by the summoning of an Ecumenical Council. Such a council should be held in the East, where indeed all previous Ecumenical Council have been held. Of course, such a council could be called only by the authority of the Emperor and no one else, as had always been the case in the past (Memoir 110). The Latins, however, at this time (15th century), considered that the calling of a council was an exclusively papal prerogative. Since the Roman Church was the Mother Church and the Eastern Church the daughter, it is the East which must be obedient to its mother (Memoir 114).

The easterners were acutely aware that the prevailing conditions surrounding the proposed dialogue with the Latins were not in their favor. This unequal status accorded them was obvious from the beginning. Knowing this, however, they were still willing to proceed.

They agreed to the prevailing Latin position that the council be held in the West, in Italy. This very fact tells us much. It is of no little importance that all all of the Ecumenical Councils were held in the East and not one in the West. This time, however, it became obvious that it was the westerners, taking advantage of the difficulties that the East was experiencing, that would dictate many important, and indeed fateful conditions for the work of the council. There were naturally many who were opposed to the entire idea. One of them, Hieromonk Joseph Brennios, who was to travel with the delegation, stood up in the council meeting at the Patriarchate and stated that he firmly believed that nothing good would come of this. He was not alone. Even the Patriarch himself forced into participation by circumstances completely out of his control, was well aware of the possible negative results of holding the council in Italy. Theological truth and the Faith itself were compromised by the very fact that the entire cost of the journey to the West, as well as maintenance and lodging of the numerous eastern delegates (700 persons), were paid for by the Latins. The Patriarch openly stated, having in mind these in no way insignificant details, that upon arrival in the West they would be treated as servants and hirelings, and as such would fulfill everything Latins sought from them. He reiterated his belief that the council should be held in the East since the conditions there made it much easier for them to travel and to support themselves (Memoirs 120).

At the same time in Constantinople, the possibility of covering the expenses for the council, should it be held in the East, was being seriously considered. Material assistance was expected from each of the Local Orthodox Churches. Siropoulos informs us that the Metropolitans of Kiev, Georgia and Serbia would donate substantial amounts (Memoir 122).


The delegates of the Eastern Churches were taken to Italy in papal ships and housed in the city of Ferrara. Siropoulos speaks in detail about the journey. He mentions earthquakes that happened on the way as a bad omen for the Orthodox. Of particular interest to us are the details dealing with the first meeting of the delegates with the Pope. Siorpoulos says, for example, that at the meeting with Evgenius IV, the archons kissed the papal feet while the bishops did not (Memoir 226). The Patriarch himself, Joseph II conducted himself with Christian courtesy. For example, before his meeting with the Pope teh Patriarch said: “If the Pope is older than I in years I shall treat him as my own father, if my age, then as a brother, and if younger than I then as a son” (Memoir 230). Siropoulos says that there were a number of discussions held before the meeting of the Pope and the Patriarch. The Latins were particularly insistent that the Patriarch should kiss the Pope’s feet. The Patriarch responded by saying: “We are brothers, we shall embrace one another.” One of the official delegates which came with such papal demands received the following response from the Patriarch: “Who gave the Pope such a right a right? Which of the councils granted this to him? The Pope claims to be the successor of St. Peter, and we are the successors of the other apostles…this is a total novelty. I cannot and will not accept such a thing, never! If, however, the Pope agrees that we should embrace, as is the ancient custom in the Church, then I will go to him” (Memoir 234).

To be continued.

The Siropoulos Project (i)

The Forced Union of Florence
Episode 1 – Ferrara

According to the memoirs of Sylvester Siropoulos, a participant in all of the sessions*

Sylvester Siropoulos, the Great Ecclesiarch of the Church of Constantinople, is a rare and extremely valuable source, witness and participant of the events that took place in the Italian cities of Ferrara and Florence, related to the attempted union of the Church with the Vatican. Not much is known about the high functionary of the Byzantine Empire. What is known for certain is that Sylvester Siropoulos was in the service of the Patriarchate of Constantinople and reached the high office of Great Ecclesiarch. He came from a clerical family of that city, and was the recipient of a rich and varied theological education, and as such rapidly received promotion in the service of the Patriarch.

The most notable and important of his works is his “Memoirs”, the critical edition of which, prepared by V. Laurent, was published in 1971 in Paris. In older manuscripts one finds this work under the title “History” or “Practica”. These Memoirs are a work of some twelve volumes. Volumes 1-3 describe the events which took place between the two sides and their positions before, as well as the dialogue which took place right up to the beginning  of the council itself. Volumes 4-10 are the most important part of the work since they are concerned with the council itself and its deliberations. The final two volumes deal with the return of the delegates from Italy to Constantinople, and to the East in general, as well as with events which resulted from the false union itself in the five or so years it following it. This final section is of great importance  since it reveals the reasons why it was impossible to enact the provisions of this infamous gathering in the life of the Church.

The Memoirs have great importance as a valuable and precious primary source especially for the Orthodox. The Great Ecclesiarch of the Patriarch of Constantinople, who from start to finish was intimately informed concerning everything that took place involving this attempt at union, is someone we are to a great extent able to believe. The author, as a theologically prepared and competent witness and participant in the dialogue that took place, is in a position to differentiate between the essential and the peripheral subjects of discussion. He was himself personally involved and highly motivated and interested in most of the discussions, and had the ear of both Patriarch and Emperor.

Following his well-documented exposition even the lay reader will have a clear picture of the events, conditions and atmosphere of this council. This atmosphere was in many ways  similar to that of previous attempts, and  indeed o falter ones, where the Church is forced into a union with Rome. For this very reason Siorpoulos’ Memoirs are of great importance to Orthodox Christians as tangible evidence of the experience of the Holy Church with the ongoing attempts of the Papacy at forced and false union.

The Memoirs are concerned primarily with personalities, their positions and opinions. An entire gallery of faces parades itself before us, one of them being Siropoulos himself. The writer has captured in his work, in connection with these events, the most notable personalities of the era, not only in the ecclesiastical sphere, but in the political as well. These individuals, in the final days of Byzantium, were attempting to accomplish the Church’s union with the Vatican, which they did not honestly believe to be possible or desirable under such circumstances. One is under the impression that everyone involved in this futile attempt was each in his own way given over to a certain lack of inspiration. That this was indeed the case was soon to be demonstrated. For it is a well established fact that subjects concerning faith as well as life, can be dealt with only in an atmosphere that is devoid of all pressure, and which is conducive to the peaceful and prudent resolution of its object. Needless to say, nothing of this, not the personal good will or interests of the participants, existed at the time of the council. The unrealistic and, in all honesty, misguided and insincere attempt at union at Ferrara-Florence, which took place in the years 1438-39, clearly supports such a conclusion.

The central theme of Siropoulos’ work is, of course, the council. Everything he writes about in the Memoirs exists only to give flesh to the skeleton of that theme. The author is complete and all encompassing in his approach. First of all he concerns himself with the background. What was it that caused the representatives of East and West to even attempt such a union? Four hundred years had passed since the Church had been anathematised by the Pope of Rome (1054-1438), who had continued to build up layer upon layer of innovation and change. Four hundred years of division, and even more of disagreement, were placed on the table to be rectified, perhaps, by the participants of the council. The delegates, however, were the children of the past, and Rome had changed much since 1054.

To be continued.

*This article is taken from Living Water, the publication of the Descent of the Holy Spirit, South Africa, under the jurisdiction of the Old Calendar Church of Greece

Turkey Day

For some reason (I guess I never gave it any real thought) I always thought the annual pardoning of the National Thanksgiving Turkey to be an old American tradition. Instead I discovered that, in fact, it’s quite new.  The National Turkey Federation and the Poultry and Egg National Board have been giving turkeys to US Presidents ever since 1947 at a White House ceremony. Instead of pardoning them, however, they usually ended up eating them. The first time it was pardoned was the first Thanksgiving of President George H.W. Bush in 1989.

Of course there are other stories. For instance, there is a tale which claims the tradition began much earlier, during the time of Abraham Lincoln when he pardoned his son Tad’s pet turkey. It seems as though that version – whether true or not – has more of the makings of a legend, a part of American mythology. But, oh well.

Happy Thanksgiving.