By Metropolitan Atanasije Jevtic
formerly of Zahumlje and Herzegovina
Saint Nektarios was the bishop who rightly divided and preached the word of truth, as the Apostle Paul says. So we have every reason to analyze his life and imitate his Orthodox faith, because only then will we also rightly divide the words of theology and walk with him together with all the saints.
Saint Nektarios had already begun to write his historical work Historical Study Regarding the Causes of the Schism in 1895, when Pope Pius IX (1846-1878) - and later Pope Leo XIII (1878-1903) -, wanting to convene the First Vatican Council, sent a message to the Patriarchs of the East in order for them to join the Unia and thus the Papal Church, which basically meant to be subject to the Pope of Rome. The Patriarchs of the East responded with the famous Epistle which should be read by all today as well. Our Saint, therefore, began to publish his study to the Sacred Syndesmos, the first volume of which came out in 1912 and later the second volume. Two years prior he had corresponded with the abbot of the Holy Monastery of Santa Maria in Grottaferrata, Meletios Zesonis, who, I think, must have been a Greek Uniate and wanted to publish a periodical Roma e l' Oriente, which aimed towards "the God-pleasing union of the Eastern Greek Church with the Roman West", as the Saint wrote in his letter.
Saint Nektarios says the following in his letter:
"...the time has come for reconciliation and union and joint operation against all those who war against the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. But I believe to achieve this desired objective there must first of all be communication not through letters, but by the spoken word."
In other words, he refers to dialogue and goes on to refer to the Ecumenical Patriarchate, which will initiate the beginning of this for further discussions to take place.
Important are his observations at the end of the letter:
"...indeed many powerful things have been said and written, but none of these are suitable.... I believe that this issue should only be studied historically, critically and with desire and sincerity to work to find the true cause of the Schism."
In his book, his historical study, it seems that the Saint had these qualifications. I am impressed how he studied so many sources and arrived at conclusions that we are beginning to arrive at in our time and are being recorded by great historians of the Church in relation to the evolution of the Schism.
The Saint starts at the beginning, from the time of the Apostles, and he says that the initial origins for the true organization of the Church can be found there. Here one could say also that personal demands, aspirations and love for authority probably played a role among certain bishops of Rome in the first centuries of the Church. An example is the case of Pope Victor of Rome (late 2nd cent.), who responded to the division of his own diocese, as pointed out by Professor Vlasios Pheidas, because many Christians came from the East with customs of the Asiatic Church to celebrate Easter unlike the way it was celebrated by most of the Churches and Rome.
And then, says our Saint, there were claims and ambitions for primacy, such as by Pope Saint Leo at the time of the Fourth Ecumenical Synod. The Saint notes in his book: "If a saint reveals ambitions for primacy, what will others do?" [...] The Saint reveals the ecclesiastical consciousness of the early church, when the Apostle Peter did not have primacy nor was he the founder of the Church of Rome, because the Apostles were not Bishops of certain cities - the Saint says - and therefore the ambition of the Popes, "the autocracy and hegemony", as he calls it, cannot be supported on Peter. "If the qualifications of Peter", the primacy of power valued by the Roman Catholic Church, "were true, the spirit of the Gospel would be very problematic and unintelligible, because it would show confusion of meaning and conflict of authority; the principle of equality would be inconceivable, an equality towards humility, and the principle of inequality would reach hegemony and arrogance."
The Saint further refers to the books of the New Testament and to Paul and he says many things in regards to the unity of the Church, leadership, and the foundation of the Church. The Saint says:
"The unity of the Church is not founded or based on the person of one of the Apostles, but on the person of our Savior Jesus Christ, who is the head of the Church, which is one in spirit, one in faith, hope, love and worship."
And we could refer to many more things, but we will confine ourselves to the following passage from the Priestly Handbook of Saint Nektarios:
"Regarding the authority and power of all the Apostles we have deduced that all the Apostles had the power to establish and raise up Churches, perfectly complete, independent and autocephalous [with the full meaning of catholic], and the claims raised by the Western Church that the Bishop of Rome is the successor to the chief of the Apostles Peter is unjustified and denied by the rest of the Apostles, the Apostolic office, the power and grace of the Holy Spirit, and their ordinations of Hierarchs and liturgists of the Divine Mysteries of the Church. [...] All Bishops have equality of honor with each other, as equals and successors of the Apostolic office."
Translated by John Sanidopoulos.