November 9, 2022

The Main Cause for the Schism Between Western and Eastern Christianity According to Saint Nektarios (St. Justin Popovich)

 By St. Justin Popovich

From the rich spiritual treasury of Saint Nektarios of Aegina, we have many precious pearls to present to pious readers. His Orthodox theology, his spiritual experience, soul-beneficial teachings and ascetic instructions, all this is abundantly present in his wonderful works, which he wrote following the Holy Fathers of the Orthodox Church in everything. But there is something new in his works, which today's Orthodox reader will find useful and necessary to know, so we will only mention it here. This is the opinion and assessment of Saint Nektarios, as a contemporary Father of the Church and as a Church historian (because he was also a learned theologian), about what were the causes of the split in the Church, that is, in fact, the causes of the separation of the Western Latin Church from the Eastern Orthodox Church.

Saint Nektarios sees the main reason for the split, that is, the separation of Western Christianity from Eastern Christianity, in the proud and power-loving desire of the Roman Pope for power and domination over the Church of God. None of the Apostles had such authority as the Pope claims for himself over the whole Church, not even the Holy Apostle Peter himself, whom the Popes invoke in vain. "Because if the properties and authority of the Apostle Peter," writes Saint Nektarios, "were such as the Roman Church seeks, then the spirit of the gospel would be incomprehensible and very problematic, because in that case there would be a confusion of concepts and a conflict of principles: on the one hand, the principle of equality and inequality (of all the Apostles) would be incomprehensible, namely equality to the point of appeasing one another (cf. Mark 10:42-45), and on the other hand, the principle of inequality, namely inequality to the point of arrogance and rule of one over the other." However, the Saint further adds, "The unity of the Church was not based and founded on one of the Apostles, but was and is founded on the one Person of our Savior Jesus Christ, Who is the Head of the Church, and in one Holy Spirit, in one faith and hope and love and service to God" (Book I, pp. 68-69). - "The unity of the Church consists in the unity of its limbs (members) with the Lord. All who believed in Christ through the Apostles were united with the Lord Jesus and were sanctified by the truth of God the Father" (Jn. 17:17-22). That's why in his Epistles, the Apostle Paul "often writes about the unity of the Church, about the unity of that unity, about the head of the Church, about the hierarchy of the Church, but he nowhere mentions the Apostle Peter as the connecting link of that unity of the Church" (Book I, 70-73). - "The unifying bond of all believers in the Church and all local Churches with each other," Saint Nektarios writes further, "was the sacred and mysterious connection and union of all believers in Christ, through their common faith, hope and love for Christ, the Bridegroom of the Church, and through common hierarchy and common worship." This unity was manifested and is manifested in the common service of the Divine Liturgy and communion, and in other common Holy Mysteries and holy divine services, based on the confession of the one and the same Right Glorious Faith, and also in the common Holy Synods of the Church. That is why the Church has never recognized any other authority above its holy Local and Ecumenical Synods (Book I, pp. 48-51 and 84-85).

"Ecumenical Synods," Saint Nektarios writes further, "are the most characteristic feature of the arrangement and organization of the Church and the spirit that reigns in the Church, and they are an expression of equal honor and equal value and importance of all local Churches." And more: "They are the clearest testimony of the whole Church about infallibility, which is found only in the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church (and not in the Pope)" (Book I, pp. 93-94). As a good connoisseur of the history of the Church, Saint Nektarios knows that Roman popes have erred many times throughout history in matters of faith and morals, and that is why in his study he lists ten Roman popes who directly erred in faith, for which some of them were condemned and anathematized from the Ecumenical and Local Synods of the whole Church (like, for example, Pope Honorius, who was condemned by the Sixth and Seventh Ecumenical Synods) (Book I, pp. 159-172). That is why the Saint says: "Whatever the adherents of papal infallibility may say in order to satisfy their passion, history clearly shows that certain popes have shown themselves to be fallible in faith and even traitors to the true faith" (Book I, 173).

The Saint of Aegina further states that the Roman bishops based their pretentious and proud authority over the Church throughout history on false documents and decrees, which Latin theologians and even the popes themselves falsified and thus deceived others. These were false documents, the so-called "Donation of Constantine", "Decretals of the Pseudo-Isidore" and "Gratian's Decrees", all from later times (from the 8th-9th and 12th centuries). - "Who does not know," writes the Saint, "that these were the causes of the split? With that, the unity was already internally broken, the moral bond was severed, the chasm of separation was already open, and a great distance was already severing the Western, or rather the Roman Church from the Eastern, that is, from the One, Holy and Apostolic Church. Popes thus became Roman emperors, and the Roman Church the Church above the Churches, and the Roman bishop the bishop of the whole world! The Pope became a godman! because according to divine and human right, he rules according to two powers: divine power (i.e. authority) that comes to him from Peter's inheritance, and human power (authority) that comes to him from gifts and privileges given to him by the emperor!" (Book I, 199-200). "But the misfortune was," the Saint adds, "that all this was based on lies and untruths, on forgeries" (book II, p. 92). Hence, the Saint rightly concludes: "The main cause of the schism, that is, the separation of the Latin Church, is the issue of papal primacy" (Book II, 8). Because the papal primacy of power "twists the spirit of the gospel and denies the basic principles of the gospel." "All other reasons for separation, even the dogmatic ones, although they are important, in fact they also arose from this first cause" (Book I, 69).

Finally, here is what Saint Nektarios of Aegina says about the theory of the Roman Church about the Pope and papal supremacy and infallibility: "According to that (Roman Catholic) theory, our Lord Jesus Christ, having ascended to heaven, left His Church to the Apostle Peter, and Peter left it to his successors - the popes. Since then, Christ from the throne of His glory only supervises His holy Church, and they always manage it well and lead it infallibly towards the goal of its infallible head (i.e. the Pope), that is why Christ with his personal participation does not in any way interfere in the management of the Church, because that would be contrary to His divine wisdom. However, this Roman theory seems to me to be no different from that philosophical theory that accepts the creation of the world, but does not recognize God's consideration of the world, because according to that theory Providence would diminish the greatness of God's wisdom, since that reflection would testify that the laws of nature (given by God at creation) are not perfect! The divine personality of the Roman Popes, their infallibility, and the teaching that the unity of the Church is in the person of the Pope, and not in the Person of Christ, as taught by the Eastern Orthodox Church, is derived from this papal deistic theory. From that theory, the Roman Church is considered as the only Church of Christ, and because of that, all the Orthodox Churches are condemned for not recognizing the Pope's primacy and his infallibility, and the Church of ancient Rome as the only Church of the firstborn!" (Book II, p. 8). "From this Roman theory arose all the terrible violence, the violent unification of innocent Orthodox Christians throughout the centuries by the Roman Church." For the Orthodox Church, says Saint Nektarios, "the center of unity and the cornerstone of the Church and the Head of the Church is the Lord Jesus Christ crucified for us. He is the only Head of the Church, every other should be spit on and rejected, as Saint Gregory the Theologian also said." That is why Saint Nektarios adds at the end: "Let God be the judge between us and them" (Book II, 224).

From The Lives of the Saints of November. Translation by John Sanidopoulos.