Ecumenical means "belonging to or accepted by the Christian Church throughout the word; as such, this term reflects the rule of faith given by St. Vincent of Lerins: Christian truth is that "which has been believed everywhere, always, and by all ." Thus is the correct dictionary definition of the word and the only patristic definition of it. Unfortunately, 'ecumenical" has come to mean something quite different in the latter part of the 20th cen tury. Under the influence of the World Council of Churches and the policy of aggioramento in the Church of Rome. "ecumenical" has come to mean the following: the unity of Christ's Church has been shattered through the centuries; all Christian Churches are pretty much equal, and each has a "share" of the truth; therefore, all denominations must be united in order to recapture the "whole- ness" that once existed. This is modern-day ecumenism.
A superb example of the first and original kind of ecumenist is St. Mark of Ephesus, a 15th century champion of orthodoxy, sometimes called "The conscience of Orthodoxy." The following information is condensed from a series of three articles in "The Orthodox Word" (1967), written by Archimandrite Amvrossy Pogodin:
When the foundations of Byzantium were crumbling, diplomats redoubled their efforts to find a possibility of union with Western powers for a battle against the common adversary of Christianity, Islam. Attempts were made to conclude treaties with the Turks, but these were unsuccessful. The only hope lay in the West. For this it was necessary above all to make peace with the Vatican.
A Council was convened in 1437, which established a committee of Latin and Greek theologians with the Pope and the Byzantine Emperor acting as heads. The Pope, Eugenius IV, had a very exalted idea of the papacy and aimed at subjecting the Orthodox Church to himself. Prompted by the straitened circumstances of Byzantium, the Emperor pursued his aim: to conclude an agreement profitable for his country. Few gave thought to the spiritual consequences of such a union. Only one delegate, the Metropolitan of Ephesus, St. Mark, stood in firm opposition.
In his address to the Pope at the opening of the Council, St. Mark explained how ardently he desired this union with the Latins- but a genuine union, he explained, based upon unity of faith and ancient Liturgical practice. He also informed the Pope that he and the other Orthodox bishops had come to the Council not to sign a capitulation, and not to sell Orthodoxy for the benefit of their government, but in order to confirm true and pure doctrine.
Many of the Greek delegates, however, thought that the salvation of Byzantium could be attained only through union with Rome. More and more became willing to compromise the eternal Truth for the sake of preserving a temporal kingdom. Furthermore, the negotiations were of such unexpectedly long duration that the Greek delegates no longer had means to support themselves; they began to suffer from hunger and were anxious to return home. The Pope, however, refused to give them any support until a "Union" had been concluded. Taking advantage of the Situation and realizing the futility of further debates, the Latins used their economic and political advantage to bring pressure on the Orthodox delegation, demanding that they capitulate to the Roman Church and accept all her doctrines and administrative control.
St. Mark stood alone against the rising tide which threatened to overturn the ark of the true Church. He was pressured on all sides, not only by the Latins, but by his fellow Greeks and the Patriarch of Constantinople himself. Seeing his persistent and stouthearted refusal to sign any kind of accord with Rome under the given conditions, the Emperor dismissed him from all further debates with the Latins and placed him under house arrest. By this time St. Mark had fallen very ill (apparently suffering from cancer of the intestine). But this exhausted, fatally ill man, who found himself persecuted and in disgrace, represented in his per son the Orthodox Church; he was a spiritual giant with whom there is none to compare.
Events followed in rapid succession. The aged Patriarch Joseph of Constantinople died; a forged document of submission to Rome was produced; Emperor John Paleologos took the direction of the Church into his own hands, and the Orthodox were obliged. to renounce their Orthodoxy and to accept all of the Latin errors, novelties, and innovations on all counts, including complete acceptance of the Pope as having "a primacy over the whole earth." During a triumphant service following the signing of the Union on July 5, 1439, the Greek delegates solemnly kissed the Pope's knee. Orthodoxy had been sold, and not merely betrayed, for in return for submission, the Pope agreed to provide money and soldiers for the defense of Constantinople against the Turks. But one bishop still had not signed. When Pope Eugenius saw that St. Mark's signature was not on the Act of Union, he exclaimed, "And so, we have accomplished nothing!"
The delegates returned home ashamed of their submission to Rome. They admitted to the people: "We sold our faith; we bartered piety for impiety!" As St. Mark wrote: "The night of Union encompassed the Church." He alone was accorded respect by the people who greeted him with universal enthusiasm when he was finally allowed to return to Constantinople in 1440. But even then the authorities continued to persecute him. At length he was arrested and imprisoned. But whatever his condition a n d circum stances, he continued to burn in spirit and to battle for the Church.
Finally he was liberated and, following his example, the Eastern Patriarchs condemned the False Union and refused to recognize it. The triumph of the Church was accomplished-through a man exhausted bydisease and harrassed by the wiles ofmen, but strong in the knowledge of our Saviour's promise: "...I will Build My Church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. (Matt. 16:18)
St. Mark died on June 23, 1444, at the age of 52. This great pillar of the Church was a true ecumenist, for he did not fear to journey to Italy to talk with the Roman Catholics, but more importantly, neither did he fear to confess the fullness of the truth when the time came.
The following is the concluding section of the Saint's encyclical letter on the subject of the false union. It is as meaningful and vital today as it was 500 years ago: "Therefore," St. Mark writes, "in so far as this is what has been commanded you by the Holy Apostles,-stand aright, hold firmly to the traditions which you have received, both written and by word of mouth, that you be not deprived of your firmness if you become led away by the delusions of the lawless. May God, Who is All-powerful, make them also to know their delusion; and having delivered us from them as from evil tares, may He gather us into His granaries like pure and useful wheat, in Jesus Christ our Lord, to Whom belongs all glory, honor, and worship, with His Father Who is without beginning, and His All-holy and Good and Life- giving Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen."
By the prayers of St. Mark, O Christ our God, and all Thy Holy Fathers, Teachers and Theologians, preserve Thy Church in Orthodox confession and lead many into a knowledge of the Truth, unto the ages!
I want to speak on Saint Basil, but I don't want to say what is commonly told by those who write about this truly "Great" saint. Especially some theologians who are educated by the Franks, who don't care at all about his holiness or his wisdom according to God, but rather his "classical" wisdom, his knowledge of Greek letters, of rhetoric, and the other ephemeral and outward ornaments of his deep soul, forgetting what the Apostle Paul writes about worldly wisdom, which he calls "foolish according to God".
For these people, philosophy is revered, even more so than religion, as much as they would like to hide this; education is more persuasive than faith, the ancients a more important coat of arms than Christianity. For this reason, they measure everything by these standards. The worth of the Holy Fathers isn't in their holiness, but about how much they were strong speakers, strong communicators, strong in mind, in one short word, how they had that which was and is honored by a sinful world and all that is considered superfluous by the Christian, or even harmful, according to the Gospels.
I dare say the Gospels! These teachers of the people don't ask anything, but they go to the tune of their own melody. Paul, who said a thousand times in a thousand ways how language skills, that is rhetoric, is fake and Christ does not want it, these same, suffice it to say, with force, proclaim him "great orator", he who said: "For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied" (1 Cor. 1:17); and who said to the Colossians: "Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ" (2:8). Those however who explain to the laity the Holy Scriptures are deaf and blind, and they pretend that they don't hear and don't see; even he who said that philosophy is "vain deceit" they proclaim a great philosopher, thinker, a clever brain "after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ". They want to make him "a rival of the ancient philosophers which glorified mankind", in order for Christianity to have great temples and not only the poor in spirit, the impoverished, the unlearned Apostles, the simple ascetics, and the easy-believing martyrs and saints. These pseudo-christians are eaten by pride, worldly vainglory, because they are those whom the same Paul says are "vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind" (Col. 2:18), and are "of the flesh", and honor the flesh, wanting to "please God" (Rom. 8:8).
The Paul who spoke these fearful words, "whatsoever is not of faith is sin" (Rom. 14:23), with their unreasonable minds, they brought him down to their level, making him a verbose orator, philosopher, sociologist, politician, organizer, psychologist, educator, opportunist, because this is what they understand, and these are the greatest titles which they can imagine. No voice could have said these things with stronger, clearer, livelier and more jarring words, except that of Paul, and still the new Scribes did not take notice. May his words be as hammers which pound on their hard skulls, they are: mortar and pestle.
Listen to how Paul speaks about ancient wisdom: "For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness..." (1 Cor. 1:21-23). Therefore, behold what Paul says and [to the contrary] what the exegetes of the Gospels and of the same Paul teach, that is the wisdom of fools, which regards the teaching of Christ as foolishness.
I have shown great perseverance in this matter, because those who want to debase the pristine waters of the Gospel, "the living water springing up into everlasting life” (Jn. 4:14), with the marshy waters of knowledge and ancient philosophy which the wretched drank in those days, "as those without hope" (1 Thess. 4:13), without being quenched, these therefore are blind guides who twist the world, and with their theories become responsible for many youth falling into unbelief, because souls that thrive off of "vain deceit", will fall into the plight of atheism, confessed or unconfessed.
All this comes from disfigured Christianity which is taught to all those who are educated in the universities of the West, which is the homeland of rationalism and humanism, and then they bring this rationalistic Christianity to us. Why are we cursed to learn all that is ours from foreigners, even the ancient language?
I turn again to Paul, to take from him other God-inspired words which are removed by the deceivers, the Frankish-educated humanistic pseudo-christians. I take all the words of Paul, for to this saint they reveal their greatest honor, because, by the measure which they judge him, they find in him greater worldly knowledge, sociological activity, rhetorical skill, methodology, psychological sharpness, and a whole bunch of other such things with which many honor him, without the God-blinded being able to see how Paul is the greatest and most vehement enemy and critic of their twisted perceptions they have of the christian religion.
The God-tongued Paul therefore writes and asks: "Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?" (1 Cor. 1:20). It's as if he is saying: "Which of the wise of this world, among the philosophers and clever debaters, with their dialectic, will be able to discuss, or even understand the things we the foolish say, we who do not recognize the masterful turns of dialectics, we the uneducated easterners, and not us deep down, but those things which the Holy Spirit says with our mouths?"
Further down he writes: "We speak wisdom among those who are perfect, yet not the wisdom of this age, nor of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing" (1 Cor. 2:6). Who are the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing, as well as the philosophers and orators and other so-called masters of worldly literature, which their darkened lights the christian needs, so say the blind teachers of the people, as if the light of the Gospel is not enough, which says: "If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!" (Matt. 6:23).
Therefore, according to the spirit of this age which is "coming to nothing", they are also celebrating and glorifying Saint Basil, not as a saint and struggler of the true religion, but as an author of "elegant writings", "a wise moralist and educator, adorer of Greek wisdom".
But how consistent is the Saint with those who glorify his Greek-learning and the honor he had for ancient wisdom, is revealed in the words below which he wrote to Eustathius the bishop of Sebastea:
"Much time had I spent in vanity, and had wasted nearly all my youth in the vain labor which I underwent in acquiring the wisdom made foolish by God. Then once upon a time, like a man roused from deep sleep, I turned my eyes to the marvellous light of the truth of the Gospel, and I perceived the uselessness of 'the wisdom of the rulers of this world, that come to nothing.' I wept many tears over my miserable life and I prayed that guidance might be vouchsafed me to admit me to the doctrines of true religion. First of all was I minded to make some mending of my ways, long perverted as they were by my intimacy with wicked men. Then I read the Gospel, and I saw there that a great means of reaching perfection was the selling of one’s goods, the sharing of them with the poor, the giving up of all care for this life, and the refusal to allow the soul to be turned by any sympathy to things of earth. And I prayed that I might find some one of the brethren who had chosen this way of life, that with him I might cross life’s deep and troubled strait" [Letter 223].
But who gives importance to what Saint Basil says? We have made our own Christianity, a convenient, humane and reasonable Christianity, as the Grand Inquisitor of Dostoevsky says, because the Christianity which Christ taught is inapplicable, inhumane. We, instead of ascending towards Christ, Who says: "And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself" (Jn. 12:32), have pulled Him down to our level in which we are found, and have made a Christianity which is in agreement with our weaknesses, with our passions, with our secular ambitions, and have given the saints the skills our materialism honors and admires, making them philosophers, orators, politicians, psychologists, sociologists, educators, etc. The Grand Inquisitor, as Christ was going before him (he had commanded that Christ be caught, because He returned to the earth and the people followed Him), told Him: "The time You came into the world You brought to the people a harsh religion, impractical and inhumane. We made it convenient and humane. Why did You return to the earth again? To ruin it for us once we have put it in place? For this reason we order You to be burned in Your name, as a heretic!"
A convenient and humane Christianity, this human construct, is the present deformation that has happened to the Gospel by the cunning materialism of our flesh.