The Forced Union of Florence
Episode 2 – Florence
The “Union” that was signed in Florence was in accordance with the Latin concept and understanding of union. Siropoulos remarks that the vast majority of both Greek and Latin delegates who signed the document did so without reading it or without even being fully aware of what it contained (Memoir 518). It was soon to be demonstrated, as it had been in the past, and it would be many times in the future, that any business conducted in this manner was to be of little fruit. Theoretical union without the necessary spirit of repentance and removal of error could not bring lasting results. This was soon to be demonstrated in this case.
The eastern delegates returned to Constantinople by way of Venice. While there they celebrated Divine Liturgy. Anthony, Metropolitan of Heraclia, was the celebrant. The Liturgy was celebrated in a Latin Church and, as Siropoulos states: “We celebrated on our own antimins, with our own sacred vessels, as we had previously done in Latin houses, in accordance with the customs and rubrics of the Church.” During the Liturgy the Creed was read from the top of the ambo without the ‘addition’. The Pope’s name was not mentioned” (Memoir 530).
The easterners finally returned to Constantinople on the 1st of February 1440, but were received by the populace and the clergy as traitors. They were treated everywhere with derision. The reaction of the clergy of the Great Church of St. Sophia was such that they refused to serve together with those that had signed the act of union (Memoir 546). The Emperor himself had to often intervene. Many of the priest were so adamant in their position that they forsook serving in their churches. The number of people attending Divine Services dwindled. Such was the spontaneous reaction of the Orthodox clergy and people, despite the fact that the Pope’s name was never mentioned at the Liturgy, nor was the Creed read with the filioque clause. In fact, the decree of official union was not even publicly read in that city.
Many of those who had been delegates to the ill-fated council confessed as to how the entire process had missed the point entirely. Metropolitan Anthony of Heraclia stated: “What took place in Florence was evil and unfortunate, destructive to the Orthodox Faith and done under duress. I did a wicked thing in signing it, I was forced to, and my hand which held the pen should be cut off” (Memoir 548-550).
Siropoulos goes on to comment on some incidents that took place after Florence. There was, it seems, difficulty finding a candidate to fill the vacant position of Patriarch. Anthony of Heraclia and Dorotheos of Trebizond refused the position since it entailed effecting the union, an impossible task. Finally, Metropolitan Mitrophan of Kisik (1440-43) who was in favor of the union, was given the position. The people would not come to receive his blessing (Memoir 554-556). Siropoulos mentions the case of a village priest who had been present at the election of the new Patriarch and also at his enthronement. Upon returning to his parish he discovered that the people had stopped coming to his services, even to the Liturgy. the respected Metropolitans of Heraclia, Trebizond and Ephesus did not commune with the new Patriarch.
The motivation for this false union was always of a political nature. The Christian Empire that had once stretched from Persia to Scotland was now no bigger than the city of Constantinople itself. The union was supposed to bring western military aid to the beleaguered citizens. It did not. The Lord Himself finally abandoned to the world those who had turned to the world for their salvation and who had abandoned Faith in Him. Fifteen years after the signing of the union of Florence the new moon and star of the False Prophet Mohamed rose over the walls of the city for the first time. It remains there to this day as a warning to us not to turn to the world for our salvation, for if we do, we shall have the world as our master to determine the kind of peace for us that satisfies them.
So the Western world has constantly proven, for having the power to easily do otherwise, it has given Constantinople to modern day Turkey, leaving Greece insignificant on its periphery – a clear testimony as to how they perceive the Greek Fathers and Christian Byzantium. Collaboration with the West has constantly undermined the position of Orthodoxy in the world. Orthodox leaders themselves are primarily to blame for not turning to God as their only source of salvation, and boldly confessing the true faith before the threatening world, as the martyrs did of old. Those martyrs triumphed over their enemies and subjected the entire Empire to the dominion of Christ, whereas our contemporary witnesses before the world are betraying the One Faith in the Orthodox God. As a consequence of not trusting in God, even that which we have is being taken from us and given to others. God alone is the Savior of the Orthodox. He is bound to us as to His own Body, and He has promised to preserve us in spite of those who turn away to the world. Our main obligation as Orthodox Christians is thus to remain faithful to the Lord as He is to us, and as zealous for Orthodoxy.