Church and Churches?
Reactionaries refer to and invoke the Symbol of Faith and claim that the phrase "In One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church" means solely the Orthodox Church.
What response to this is given once again by the Professor of Dogmatics John Karmires. Interpreting this phrase in the Symbol of Faith, he says the following: "Thus all Christians consider themselves to belong to the vast meaning of the Church, perceiving to belong to the body of Christ, which is one, since the Church is one, as defined in the sacred Symbol of Faith of Nicaea-Constantinople. It appears ... to be obvious that the heteredox belong to their substantial one united Church, by which they are perhaps capable of salvation."
And the known Orthodox theologian Stefan Zankov, clearly states that the phrase "extra ecclesiam nulla salus" ("outside the Church there is no salvation") "has never been taught in the Orthodox Church either from the sanctuary or from the pulpit. Even if a similar expression was used by Orthodox theologians, its purpose was simply to say, that a Christian finds with certainty in the bosom of the Orthodox Church the necessary means of divine grace, without excluding that outside this bosom salvation is possible." Therefore Karmires concludes, that the phrase "extra ecclesiam nulla salus" does not exclude "the parallel validity and general Christian teaching regarding the existence of 'a Church outside the Church' and the possibility of salvation within it by divine grace."
Since reactionaries constantly invoke Saint Mark the Eugenikos, Metropolitan of Ephesus, we should briefly refer to his views and stance regarding the Western Church, which today is called the Roman Catholic Church.
And first it must be asked: Did Saint Mark recognize the ecclesiastical character of the Western Church or not? Did he describe it directly as a Church or not? There could be no other answer but a positive yes. He describes it not only as a Church, but, despite the serious differences of which he certainly knew, he even called it a "sister Church". We also must remember that the Westerners, or the Latin, and the Easterners, or the Greek synodal bishops received a place at the Synod of Ferrara-Florence of 1438/39, namely the 15th century(!), as equal members of the Synod, to solve common problems of the Church. That means no one questioned the ecclesiastical identity of the other! Or the validity of the Mysteries, Baptism or Ordination, or whatever ecclesiastical offices and priestly ranks. We know, of course, that it unfortunately failed. Nevertheless they cooperated and prayed together.
And what do the words of Saint Mark the Eugenikos mean, which he addressed to the Pope of Rome, when he proclaimed at the opening of the discussions at the Synod: "Today is the preamble of universal joy... Today the members of the body of the Master, which many years ago was torn and dismembered, urgently seeks union with each other. For the head Christ God does not tolerate the division of the body." Saint Mark speaks of "torn" and "dismembered members of the body" and a "divided body" of the Church. And he continues in his personal address to the Pope: "Therefore he raised up priests to be the first in this calling... And what is this which by God's power and grace is taking place, and is beyond good and loved by God, hence the preamble?" Not only does he not reject the ecclesiastical identity and priesthood (pontificate) of the Pope, but calls him "His (Christ's) primary priest" and "most-holy father" and asks that the Pope "receive your children who have come from the far east. Embrace those who have long been separated by time, in your protective arms." What would happen today if a certain Metropolitan repeated to the Pope of Rome today what Saint Mark the Eugenikos said then to the Pope of Rome?
Then Saint Mark posed a question before the Pope, which he puts before us today and to the Holy and Great Synod which will convene, as well as to all those who with militant fanaticism react. Saint Mark the Eugenikos therefore asks: "How long will we strike at one another and cut each other to pieces over the same Christ and the faith? How long as worshipers of the Trinity will we bite at each other and devour, destroying one another and by external enmity will we be divided?" This was the belief and struggle of Saint Mark the Eugenikos, which is why he attended that Synod, although he was aware of the struggles and fatigue, to set forth and present the sacred demand to reconcile the Churches of East and West.
This is the belief and struggles of the Holy and Great Synod with the text under discussion, although we all know, first Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and all the Patriarchs and Archbishops, that there are difficulties and problems which must be solved. Nobody claims that there are not serious problems. No one is blind, but we have a dire task to request an agreement on the basis of the correct faith and good will and love to fully realize the longed for ecclesiastical communion. So also did Saint Mark understand the difficulties and problems. But with conviction he stressed: "Despising the labor and dangers to bring about the divine work of union, if it so pleases God, it is evident we will arrive and we are eager that in this mighty commission with speedy divine grace we will join together."
No one, therefore, should be ignorant of the fact that Saint Mark the Eugenikos went in person to that Synod and took an active part in ecumenical dialogue with Western Christians. He did not remain away and in a place of security and comfort, so to speak, and spit fire against his brethren, who went by order of their Church, to lift the weight of the dialogue. Saint Mark went to the dialogue, because he was convinced that he was going to talk with the Western Church, which he unequivocally described as a "sister Church" and referred to his interlocutors as "friends" and "brothers", just as Patriarch Joseph II called Pope Eugene his brother.
When and for what reason and what happened thereafter, that the designation as a Church to Westerners was rejected?
Orthodoxy has never feared dialogue with anyone. And when it conducted dialogues, it never made compromises of the contents of the faith. Those who refuse dialogue either fear or doubt their strength, power and knowledge and do not dare consider them as "equal", but they try to cover over and trivialize others, thus self-invalidating and harming our Church!
The dimensions of the faith and conviction of Orthodoxy are the unlimited boundaries of God's love for all people without exception, the unlimited boundaries of "the illuminating energy of the Logos in the World," and the illuminating and saving action of the Holy Spirit and divine grace, without narrowness, exclusion and condemnation.
With the few examples of patristic views and the few ecclesiastical testimonies that we presented here, which can certainly be increased, it is clearly shown that this is the Ecclesiology of the Saints and Holy Fathers of our Church, that this is the Ecclesiology of our Orthodoxy. If we deny all these things, it means we are abandoning the genuine Orthodox spirit and self-downgrading our Orthodoxy. Therefore, the theory of exclusivity of our Church and the complete rejection of heterodox Churches, canonically and charismatically, and even of the name "Churches", is a novelty and has no relation to the Ecclesiology of Holy Scripture and the Holy Fathers of our Church.
The Text of the Holy and Great Synod titled "Relations of the Orthodox Church with the Rest of the Christian World"
The problematic text of the Holy and Great Synod "Relations of the Orthodox Church with the Rest of the Christian World" must be tackled in the spirit of the task of Orthodoxy for reconciliation and unity between the Churches. This is the command of Jesus Christ, without any discussion and without any doubt. The text of the Synod is clear. If we compare the generosity of the Church Fathers with the cowardliness and hard-heartedness of the defenders and zealots of Orthodoxy, we will find that the Holy and Great Synod should proceed undisturbed with the fundamentals of the text "Relations of the Orthodox Church with the Rest of the Christian World", enriched perhaps with more positive proposals. But it will be disastrous if we eliminate the word "Churches" for the heterodox Churches because certain people require ecclesiastical exclusivity and charismatic exclusion and could not bear the breadth of the grace of God for others. They gain nothing by wanting to demote and minimize others, thinking that by doing this they elevate themselves. It is absolutely necessary, if we intend to be honest with ourselves and before the merciful God, to take care first of our own house! Nobody doubts that we have before us enough and glaring problems and therefore a lot of work for reconciliation and unity.
And this should not be misinterpreted, that supposedly we are making compromises. I repeat here and am fully convinced that we belong to the "One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church", and all that this implies, and this is non-negotiable. But we cannot ignore the existence of heterodox Churches and the scandalous state that we are in by not being in communion. We have no right to intervene in the free-will of God and dare to set the boundaries of the energies of the Holy Spirit and the grace of God for the entire world.
40. John Karmires, "Ἡ σωτηρία τῶν ἐκτός τῆς Ἐκκλησίας ἀνθρώπων τοῦ Θεοῦ", Ἀνάτυπον ἐκ τῶν Πρακτικῶν τῆς Ἀκαδημίας Ἀθηνῶν, τόμ. 56, Athens 1981, 404.
41. Ibid., p. 401.
42. S. Zankov, Das orthodoxe Christentum des Ostens, Berlin 1928, 77.
43. John Karmires, "Ἡ σωτηρία τῶν ἐκτός τῆς Ἐκκλησίας ἀνθρώπων τοῦ Θεοῦ", Ἀνάτυπον ἐκ τῶν Πρακτικῶν τῆς Ἀκαδημίας Ἀθηνῶν, τόμ. 56, Athens 1981, 399. See also Στυλιανοῦ Τσομπανίδη, Ἐκκλησία καί Ἐκκλησίες. Ἡ θέση τῶν ἄλλων χριστιανικῶν Ἐκκλησιῶν στήν ἐκκλησιολογική αὐτοσυνειδησία τῆς Ὀρθόδοξης Ἐκκλησίας στό πλαίσιο τοῦ οἰκουμενικοῦ διαλόγου, Ἀθήνα 2013.
44. Γρηγορίου Λαρεντζάκη, Ὁ ἅγιος Μᾶρκος ὁ Εὐγενικός καί ἡ ἑνότητα τῶν Ἐκκλησιῶν ’Ανατολῆς καί Δύσεως, Κατερίνη 1999, 59 καί σημ. 76.
45. At that time the Churches did not go by the name Roman Catholic Church and Orthodox Catholic Church.
46. What then is the significance of the horrible events of 1054, which is considered the Great Schism of our Church?
47. Μάρκου Εὐγενικοῦ, Τῷ μακαριωτάτῳ πάπᾳ τῆς πρεσβυτέρας Ρώμης, Μάρκος ἐπίσκοπος τῆς ἐν Ἐφέσῳ τῶν πιστῶν παροικίας, ἐν: SFÂNTUL MARCU EVGHENICUL, Ὁ Ἅγιος Μάρκος ὁ Εὐγενικός, OPERE Τά εὑρισκόμενα ἅπαντα, Vol. I, Precuvantâre de P.S. Lucian, Episcopul Caransebeşuluiu…Coordinator: Cristian Chivu, Editura Pateres 2009, 197ἑξ.
51. Συλβέστρου Συροπούλου, Ἀπομνημονεύματα V, 7, ἔκδ. ὑπό V. Laurent, Les „memoires“ du Grand Ecclésiarque de l´ Eglise de Constantinople Sylvestre Syropoulos sur le concile de Florence (1438-1439) Vol. IX (Concilium Florentinum Documenta et Scriptores. Editum Consilio et Impensis Pontificii Instituti Orientalium Studiorum), Rom 1971, 262ἑξ.
52. See more in Γρηγορίου Λαρεντζάκη, Ὁ ἅγιος Μᾶρκος ὁ Εὐγενικός καί ἡ ἑνότητα τῶν Ἐκκλησιῶν ’Ανατολῆς καί Δύσεως, Κατερίνη 1999, 59 καί σημ. 76.
53. Grigorios Larentzakis, Die Bedeutung der Patristik für das ökumenische Gespräch. Eine orthodoxe Betrachtung: Orthodoxe Theologie zwischen Ost und West, Festschrift für Prof. Theodor Nikolaou, hg. v. Konstantin Nikolakopoulos, Athanasios Vletzis und Vladimir Ivanov, Frankfurt am Main 2002, 551-572.
54. Γρηγορίου Λαρεντζάκη, Τό καθῆκον τῆς Ὀρθοδοξίας γιά καταλλαγή καί ἑνότητα. Ἐξελίξεις καί προοπτικές σέ μεγάλα θέματα τοῦ Οἰκουμενικοῦ Διαλόγου, Ostracon Publisching, Θεσσαλονίκη 2014.
Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.