01 February 2010

'In Thee the Church Found a Great Zealot'—St Mark of Ephesus

Today, 19 January on the Church’s calendar, we celebrate the memory of Saint Mark (Eugenicus), Metropolitan of Ephesus and one of the ‘Pillars of Orthodoxy’ (1392-1444). St Nicholas (Velimirović) notes that he is ‘Famous for his defence of Orthodoxy . . . in the face of the Emperor and the Pope’. [1] According to Chrestos Yannaras, St Mark’s ‘spiritual stature and theological acumen were instrumental in nullifying the decisions of the unionist council of Ferrara-Florence’, [2] and as the account of his life in The Great Horologion points out, ‘Because of this, the holy Church of Christ has ever honoured this man as a benefactor, teacher, sole defender, and invincible champion of the Apostolic Confession.’ [3] Here is that account in full:

The great teacher and invincible defender of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, Saint Mark, was the offspring and scion of the imperial city, Constantinople. Reared by most pious parents, and instructed in secular and spiritual wisdom, he became pre-eminent in both. Saint Mark lived as an ascetic on the Princes’ Islands and later in them monastery of Saint George Magana in Constantinople. He passed through all the degrees of the priesthood, and was finally advanced to the dignity of Archbishop and the lofty throne of the Metropoly of Ephesus. At the insistence of Emperor John Paleologus, the Saint was sent to the council of the Latins in Florence, to unite the churches that had been divided for so many years. He astounded the papal teachers with the divine wisdom of his words, and was the only one who did not sign the blasphemous decree of that false council. Because of this, the holy Church of Christ has ever honoured this man as a benefactor, teacher, sole defender, and invincible champion of the Apostolic Confession. He reposed in 1443. [4]

It should be noted as well that St Mark definitely ended his days as a confessor, having been imprisoned on the island of Lemnos for two years for his uncompromising commitment to the true Faith. [5]

Archimandrite Placide (Deseille) has noted that the holy Hierarch ‘received an excellent education’ and ‘taught sacred letters for a period of time’ before entering a monastery at the age of 26. ‘His piety and learning attracted the esteem of Emperor John VIII Paleologus (1425-1448), and at his request, Mark composed several dogmatic treatises. . . . Informed about trends in Western thought, he incorporated compatible elements with the Orthodox tradition.’ [6] Fr John Meyendorff has written of St Mark’s education, ‘In theology, he had studied with Joseph Bryennios, and in philosophy, with Gemistos Pletho; [7] under Pletho, he had received a much more elaborate philosophical training than was customary in monastic circles.’ [8] All of this was an excellent preparation for his defense of Orthodoxy at the council. Fr Meyendorff continues:

Mark’s view of the Latin West coincided with that of the circle of Cantacuzenos in the preceding century; and he had been willing to recognize the council as ecumenical until he lost hope that what he considered to be the truth would prevail at the assembly. At the beginning of the sessions in Ferrara, prompted by Cardinal Cesarini, Mark delivered to Pope Eugenius a preliminary address in which he called upon the ‘most holy Father’ to receive ‘his children coming from the East’ and ‘seeking his embrace’. But he also stressed the minimum condition for true unity: the removal of the interpolation introduced unilaterally by the Latins into the common creed. As discussions progressed in quite an opposite direction, his attitude, understandably, grew bitter. In the discussions, he and Bessarion were usually the main Greek spokesmen. . . . When Mark refused to sign, the pope is said to have declared: ‘We have accomplished nothing’ [9]. Obviously, Eugenius IV was aware by then of the real situation in the East and knew that Mark represented much better the prevailing mentality of the East than did the other members of the Greek delegation. [10]

Later, Fr Meyendorff delves more deeply into the specific issues raised at the council, as well as, more significantly, the difference in ethos between the Orthodox and the Latins which the council brought to the fore. He concludes:

The Florentine debate on purgatory seems to have been largely improvised on the spot, and both sides used arguments from Scripture and tradition which do not always sound convincing. [11] Still, the difference in the fundamental attitude toward salvation in Christ is easily discernible. Legalism, which applied to individual human destiny the Anselmian doctrine of ‘satisfaction’, is the ratio theological of the Latin doctrine of purgatory. For Mark of Ephesus, however, salvation is communion and ‘deification’. On his way to God, the Christian does not stand alone; he is a member of Christ’s Body. He can achieve this communion even now, before his death as well as afterward, and, in any case, he needs the prayer of the whole Body, at least until the end of time when Christ will be ‘all in all’. [12]

Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos comments on St Mark’s confession at Florence that he expressed ‘the orthodox patristic teaching on all the subjects. Anyone studying his teaching will be manifestly convinced that it is an expression of orthodox teaching and in the main is an expression of the theology of St Gregory Palamas.’ [13] Later on, he refers to St Mark as ‘a bearer of the Orthodox tradition and an authentic witness of the Scriptures and the words of the Fathers’, who ‘analyses and interprets all these passages according to Orthodoxy, overthrowing the views of the Latins.’ [14] Finally, he writes, ‘St Mark is an authentic interpreter of the orthodox teaching, because he himself is a bearer of the Orthodox Tradition.’ [15]

But while St Mark is famous for his defense of Orthodoxy against the Latins, his hesychasm is much less well known. Fr Placide tells us:

Among the texts found in the last volume of the Greek Philokalia is an explication of the formula, ‘Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me’, or more succinctly, ‘Lord, have mercy’ (Kyrie eleison). According to the entire manuscript tradition, this unattributed text is actually the work of Mark Eugenikos, Metropolitan of Ephesus (1392-1440). [16]

Further on, Fr Placide continues, ‘The short treatise of Mark on the meaning of Kyrie eleison summarizes the message of the Philokalia by placing it within the entire economy of salvation.’ [17] He also notes, ‘In his writings, Mark appears to be a faithful disciple of hesychast and Palamite doctrine.’ [18] While this text, found on pp. 69-72 of the ‘Astir’ edition of the Greek Philokalia, [19] has not yet appeared in the ongoing Faber edition of the Philokalia, not even being among those texts from Vol. 5 that appeared in translation from the Russian in Writings from the Philokalia on Prayer of the Heart, [20] it is now available in a volume of Philokalia translations by Constantine Cavarnos called The Philokalia: A Second Volume of Selected Readings (order here).

Fr Seraphim (Rose) quotes an interesting passage from his ‘Second Homily on Purgatorial Fire’, which I offer here as a small sample of St Mark’s writing:

That only the canonical Scriptures have infallibility is testified by Blessed Augustine in the words which he writes to Jerome: ‘It is fitting to bestow such honor and veneration only to the books of Scripture which are called ‘canonical’, for I absolutely believe that none of the authors who wrote them erred in anything. . . . As for other writings, no matter how great was the excellence of their authors in sanctity and learning, in reading them I do not accept their teaching as true solely on the basis that they thus wrote and thought.’ Then in a letter to Fortunatus [St Mark continues in his citations of Augustine] he writes the following: ‘We should not hold the judgment of a man, even though this man might have been orthodox and had a high reputation, as the same kind of authority as the canonical Scriptures, to the extent of considering it inadmissible for us, out of the reverence we owe such men, to disapprove and reject something in their writing if we should happen to discover that they taught other than the truth which, with God’s help, has been attained by others or by ourselves. This is how I am with regard to the writings of other men; and I desire that the reader will act thus with regard to my writings also.’ [21]

In conclusion, here are the Troparion and Kontakion of this holy Hierarch and Confessor:

Dismissal Hymn of Saint Mark
Third Tone. Thy confession

O all-laudable and most divine Mark, * in thee the Church found a great zealot * by thy confession of the holy and sacred faith; * for thou didst champion the doctrines which the Fathers taught * and didst cast down darkness’ boastful pride. * Wherefore pray thou to Christ God for them that honour thee, * that we be granted the forgiveness of sins.

Kontakion of Saint Mark. Third Tone
On this day the Virgin

Clad, O godly-minded one, * with an invincible armour, * thou didst dash to pieces the pride of the Western rebellion; * thou wast brought forth as the champion * of Orthodoxy, * as the Comforter’s own instrument and pure vessel. * For this cause, to thee, we cry out: * Rejoice, O Mark, thou * boast of the Orthodox flock. [22]

[1] St Nicholas (Velimirović), The Prologue from Ochrid, Vol. 1, trans. Mother Maria (Birmingham: Lazarica, 1986), p. 77.

[2] Chrestos Yannaras, Orthodoxy & the West: Hellenic Self-Identity in the Modern Age, trans. Fr Peter Chamberas & Norman Russell (Brookline, MA: Holy Cross, 2006), p. 51.

[3] The Great Horologion, trans. Holy Transfiguration Monastery (Boston: HTM, 1997), p. 391.

[4] Ibid., p. 391.

[5] Archimandrite Placide (Deseille), Orthodox Spirituality & the Philokalia, trans. Anthony P. Gythiel (Wichita, KS: Eighth Day, 2008), p. 41.

[6] Ibid., p. 40.

[7] George Gemistos Plethon is an extremely odd figure. In their fascinating Scribes & Scholars: A Guide to the Transmission of Greek & Latin Literature, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Oxford U, 1974), p. 133, L.D. Reynolds & N.G. Wilson refer to him as a ‘freethinker’, and indeed, he seems to have been the first known neo-dodekatheist in Greece.

[8] Fr John Meyendorff, Byzantine Theology: Historical Trends & Doctrinal Themes, 2nd ed. (NY: Fordham U, 1979), p. 111.

[9] Fr Meyendorff quotes this from Sylvestre Syropoulos, Mémoire, X, 15; Les ‘Mémoires’ du Grand Ecclesiarque de l’Eglise de Constantinople Sylvestre Syropoulos (Paris: Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, 1971), p. 496.

[10] Fr Meyendorff, pp. 111-2.

[11] This comment seems to be contradicted, in the case of St Mark, by the testimony of Sylvestre Syropoulos when he writes, ‘We wondered how the Ephesian immediately gave the solutions with graphic descriptions, without knowing beforehand what John intended to propose’ (qtd. in Met. Hierotheos of Nafpaktos, Life After Death, tr. Esther Williams [Levadia, Gr.: Birth of the Theotokos Monastery, 1998], p. 153).

[12] Fr Meyendorff, p. 221.

[13] Met. Hierotheos, p. 162.

[14] Ibid., p. 183.

[15] Ibid., p. 192.

[16] Fr Placide, p. 40.

[17] Ibid., p. 41.

[18] Ibid., p. 40.

[19] Ss Macarius of Corinth & Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain, eds., Φιλοκαλία των Ιερών Νηπτικών (Athens: Astir, 1982), pp. 69-72.

[20] E. Kadloubovsky & G.E.H. Palmer, trans., Writings from the Philokalia on Prayer of the Heart (London: Faber, 1992).

[21] St Mark, ‘Second Homily on Purgatorial Fire’, chs. 15-6, qtd. in Hieromonk Seraphim (Rose), The Place of Blessed Augustine in the Orthodox Church (Platina, CA: St Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 1998), pp. 73-4. Fr Seraphim is quoting from the Russian text of Archimandrite Ambrose (Pogodin), St Mark of Ephesus & the Union of Florence (Jordanville, NY: 1963), pp. 127-32. Fr Seraphim adds in a note that this book ‘contains full Russian translations of St Mark’s Writings’ (p. 70).

[22] Horologion, pp. 391-2.


Matthew the Curmudgeon said...

Thank you for this post. If there is one thing that bothers me about Orthodoxy, is how it quotes things but never makes them available to all people. Why haven't the complete writings of Saint Mark been translated into English if he is such a great defender of the True Faith? Why haven't the complete writings of Saint Maximus the Confessor been made available?
Very annoying. We can't even get the last volume of The Philokalia translated because (supposedly) Bishop Kallistos does not want to leave this mortal coil. How selfish of him! (Evry time a volume is finished, one of the translators passes beyond the veil, I understand).
If there was one gift I wish God would have bestowed on me it would be the gift of languages. I just don't have it or I would read everything in the original!

aaronandbrighid said...

Agreed, Matthew! I just read in Obolensky today that there are at least 365 works attributable to St Maximus the Greek, almost half of which have not even been edited and published, much less translated into other languages.

I think the problem boils down to 1) the high degree of difficulty, the time, and the intense labour involved in mastering an ancient language, coupled with, 2) the extremely low monetary rewards involved. If I could be assured of paying my bills and feeding my family, there are few things I would enjoy more than getting my ancient Greek or Slavonic up to snuff and doing some serious translation work. What we need are wealthy patrons. Of course, look where these got St Maximus!

Kevin P. Edgecomb said...

That is and entirely wrong and unfair characterization of Metropolitan Kallistos' hesitation in publishing the fifth volume of the Philokalia in English. The reason that I've heard is that it is because that volume describes in detail the "discipline" (posture, breathing, etc) involved in advanced hesychastic prayer and he is reluctant to release this "how to" manual into the greater world, for there are absolutely beyond a doubt people (Orthodox and not!) who will take it up, to the destruction of their health and danger to their souls.

Have a care in second-guessing a hierarch, Matthew! His reasons are sound, based in his God-given responsibility as a shepherd of souls. If there were greater religious maturity in general in the Anglophonic world, the case might be different.

aaronandbrighid said...

Kevin> Yes, I recall you mentioning this before. I hope you didn't take my 'agreed' as placing me in the 'second-guessing a hierarch' camp! I was referring to the general frustration with the lacunae in patristic translations into English.

St. Matthew the Apostle Orthodox Church said...

And yet there are very faithful and scholarly efforts at translation going on - think of Prof. Christopher Veniamin's recent edition of the sermons of St. Gregory Palamas.

And where, o where, did you find the icon of St. Mark trampling the pope!?!?!


Fr Mark

aaronandbrighid said...

Fr Mark> Yes, indeed. A beautiful example. There are many good translations of Patristic texts out there. But it's little comfort when the one you happen to want at the moment languishes untranslated or even unedited!

If I remember correctly, the icon turned up when I did a Google images search for St Mark of Ephesus in Russian...

John Sanidopoulos said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
aaronandbrighid said...

John> I thought you might like that icon!

I am very excited about Vol. 2 of Cavarnos's Philokalia, and I look forward to more from him. He's not getting any younger though so I hope he hurries!

Kevin P. Edgecomb said...

Of course, Aaron, I didn't think your "Agreed!" was to that, but to the lack of translations.

I completely agree with John. The Cavarnos Philokalia is superior (of which I have the first volume and will have the second soon; the news of his translation of the fifth volume is appreciated!). The Ware, et al., translation approach (in the Philokalia as elsewhere) is too paraphrastic for my tastes, though some like it.

aaronandbrighid said...

Well, I certainly find the paraphrasing nice to just sit and read, but quite frustrating when it comes to serious study and research. I wrote a whole paper on the Philokalia in Greece, and trying to make any use of the Faber translation at all was very trying.

Kevin P. Edgecomb said...

Oh, yes, the icon is great! What does the scroll say? What does "Bezhite od papista kao shto se bezhe od zmina" mean, if I even read that right?

aaronandbrighid said...

With a little help from my Serbo-Croatian dictionary, I have determined that it means, 'Flee from a papist as you would from a snake.' Great motto, huh?

aaronandbrighid said...

Oh, and it's zmija, not zmina.

Kevin P. Edgecomb said...

Awe. some.

Even more awesomer than the icon itself! A double whammy of awesomeness!

Many thanks!

I wonder if I might have a copy made....

aaronandbrighid said...

Good news for those interested in more translations: Kevin has now posted that he has just received Cavarnos's new volume of Philokalia translations, and it does indeed contain St Mark's treatise on 'Lord, have mercy'! I shall have to edit the post accordingly.