Church History for Orthodox | 8


1. A Renaissance man of God.

One fascinating man unites in his experience all the Christian currents of the 16th century:

St. Maximus the Greek studied in Florence, Italy, the cradle of the Renaissance (the rebirth of pagan culture) and eagerly pursued Humanist ideals . (Humanism was a way of thought which strove to place mankind, instead of God, at the forefront of society).

Then he listened to the fiery sermons of the friar Savaronola , who was preaching against Humanism and against Papal corruption.

Maximus became a Dominican monk for some two years. Catholicism could not satisfy him, however, and in 1504 this brilliant scholar returned to Greece and to Orthodoxy, becoming a monk on Mount Athos .

In 1517 he was invited to Russia by the Tsar to help translate Patristic literature from Greek and to correct the errors in Russian service books.

Having arrived there, he was accused of crimes by some of the Muscovite clergy and imprisoned for 26 years as a friend of the non-possessors .

2. The Faith — a masterpiece.

To understand the difference between Orthodoxy and the Roman Catholic and Protestant forms of Christianity, the Faith is often compared to a masterpiece painted by a great master (Christ):

Roman Catholicism , seeking to improve the painting, has added strokes of its own design (doctrinal innovations ).

Protestantism , feeling the original beauty obscured, has attempted to remove whole layers (accretions) from the painting, but in the process has destroyed much of the original work.

3. Orthodoxy at the Renaissance.

Holy Orthodoxy has added nothing to this masterpiece which is the religion of Christ, nor removed anything, but has simply preserved the “painting ,” seeking only to encompass it in a fitting and complementary frame (the best and most beautiful of art, music, and thought).

The weaknesses of Orthodoxy in Reformation times were

- an overly external ritual emphasis;
- poor education and unfamiliarity with Orthodox source materials;
- too near an identification of nationality and faith; and,
- in many places, a real dearth of missionary activity.

In 1589 , the Metropolitan of Moscow was made a Patriarch of the Church;

a fascinating correspondence took place between the Lutherans at Tübingen and the Patriarch of Constantinople .

Western trends in methodology and terminology affected the Church’s manner of teaching, often to Orthodoxy’s detriment, and throughout this era there was no Western liturgy in Orthodoxy, nor any beachhead of Orthodox faithful in Western lands.

Until the 20th century, Orthodoxy remained something mysterious and inaccessible for Western people,

although there were some positive contacts in the 19th century which sparked the interest of Westerners who had wearied of the ideological standoff between Rome and Protestantism.

4. Transformation of the Western World.

In the 1500’s and 1600’s, the entire world view of Western Christianity underwent a metamorphosis:

The religious monopoly of medieval Catholicism was broken;

exploration and scientific experiment posed serious challenges to the Scholastic system and directed the minds of men away from spiritual priorities to the new frontiers of secular knowledge.

(On the positive side, this investigative spirit also fuelled the first historical studies of liturgy).

Capitalism , with its worldly priorities, took shape; national identities were stronger than ever. Protestant groups, many affected by capitalist ideals, proliferated rapidly.

In 1582 , Pope Gregory XIII changed the Christian calendar , a change resisted by both Protestants and Orthodox:

The Gregorian calendar is now the civil calendar for most countries of the world, and only traditional Orthodox Christians still use the original Christian calendar.

5. Jesuits and Uniates.

The Roman church expanded into the New World, Africa, and the Far East, especially through the efforts of the Jesuit Order . Ignatius Loyola , a Spanish soldier, founded the group in 1540 ; by 1600 the Order could claim 10,000 professed members.

The Jesuits were a new breed of religious order:

they urged a private, rather than communal, divine office; abandoned any cloistered ideal; and took a special vow of fealty to the Papacy.

Working across traditional diocesan boundaries, they superseded local authorities to serve as shock troops for Rome.

Their educational techniques were widely admired, but their reputation for assassinating their opponents earned them the unflattering motto “When good, there are none better; when bad, none worse.

Theologically, the Jesuits promoted Sacred Heart veneration, the Immaculate Conception of Mary , devotion to the Papacy , formal “meditation ” methodologies, lenience over high moral standards, and the active over the contemplative life.

The Roman Catholics expanded into America, Africa, and Asia, to places where the name of Christ was scarcely known, but waged a simultaneous battle for the souls of the Orthodox Christians in Eastern Europe:

Their strategy was called the Uniate Movement :

by allowing Eastern peoples to keep their forms of worship and certain customs, such as allowing priests to marry, Uniate leaders were able to bring their followers under the headship of the Pope .

Many of the common people did not understand what was happening; some believed that the Pope had joined the Orthodox Church.

In 1596 , when the Polish kingdom (situated directly on the East-West fault line) was at the zenith of its power, the Union of Brest forced tens of thousands of the Orthodox faithful in Poland to join the papal fold, using the bloodiest of methods.

One Uniate champion, bishop Josaphat Kuntsevich, who was known to the faithful as the Butcher, was canonized as a saint by Rome for his efforts.

The hands of Orthodox and Catholics alike were stained with the blood of their fellow men.

The scars of Uniatism run deep even today, and indeed it seems the recent liberation of Eastern Europe has only opened the door to a renewal of the conflict.

6. Council of Bethlehem (A.D. 1672).

Orthodox thought was undermined at this time by an intellectual fascination with the Western scene, and in response the Eastern Patriarchs met at a number of Pan-Orthodox Councils.

These Councils were not touted as Ecumenical, but are of great importance:

Three of them condemned the calendar changes made by Pope Gregory XIII and upheld the Julian, or Orthodox, calendar.

One of them, the Council of Bethlehem (called also the Council of Jerusalem ), is of chief importance:

it produced a Confession of Faith , under the name of Patriarch Dositheus of Jerusalem , which was a strong defence against Protestant ideas.

All these Councils rejected both Catholicism and Protestantism, and decisively upheld the Apostolic Faith.