dissident byzantine churches


I am in the middle of reading a commentary on the Apocalypse published in 1955 by Fr Hermann Kramer and called The Book of Destiny. It is better and more erudite than you might suppose from its title. I learned about it when listening to a talk by Hamish Fraser, who refers to it as the most interesting book that he has ever read.

Fr Kramer takes the Apocalypse to be principally a chronological prophecy of the Church’s future from the apostolic age to the Parousia, though with some reprises, rather than, say, a depiction of permanent features of the Church’s situation in this world. He offers some interesting interpretations of the 7 trumpets of Apoc. 8 and 9. On the assumption, reasonable given his general approach, that the description in 7:13-14 of those who have come through the great tribulation represents the Church as she emerged from the Diocletian persecution, he argues that the seven trumpets announce events that follow this period of freedom.

The first trumpet he takes to mark the barbarian invasions. His interpretation here is perhaps too literal: he suggests that  the burning up of a third part of the trees might refer to a serious disruption of agriculture, at that time. Earlier, by contrast, he suggested that ‘tree’ might be taken to refer to the leading men of the time, and this might apply better here also. Although he doesn’t mention it, the burning up of all the green grass would fit well with his view of the barbarian invasions as a punishment for excessive luxury. The Fathers interpret ‘green grass’ as a symbol of concupiscence, in the Feeding of the Five Thousand.

But I was more interested in the next two trumpets. Apoc. 9:8 says:

And the second angel blew sounded the trumpet: and as it were a great mountain, burning with fire, was cast into the sea, and the third part of the sea became blood. And the third part of those creatures died, which had life in the sea, and the third part of the ships was destroyed.

Fr Kramer thinks this is a reference to Islam; and it does seem antecedently plausible that so terrible and permanent an enemy of the Church would be mentioned in the only canonical prophecy of the Church’s life (if that is indeed what we should understand the Apocalypse to be). ‘Fire’ suggests, among other things, the passionate fanaticism of militant Islam, while ‘mountain’ is a good symbol of its bulk, impermeability and deadness. ‘The creatures which had life’ is literally ‘the creatures which had souls’, suggesting the death of the soul caused by the prolonged Mohammedan usurpation. He also suggests that ‘ships’ here might be a symbol for ‘churches’. Might one-third, approximately, of the churches then existing have been desecrated by Islam?

The Apocalypse continues:

And the third angel sounded the trumpet, and a great star fell from heaven, burning as it were a torch, and it fell on the third part of the rivers, and upon the fountain of waters. And the name of the star is called Wormwood. And the third part of the waters became wormwood; and many men died of the waters, because they were made better.

This disaster differs from the previous two, since it is said to proceed from ‘heaven’. The author interprets heaven throughout the book to refer to the Church, considered as endowed with heavenly gifts. Apoc. 1:20 itself strongly suggests that ‘stars’ in the Apocalypse will refer to bishops or priests. A ‘great’ star, therefore, says Fr Kramer, will be an eminent bishop or metropolitan. It is said to be burning even after as it descends (unlike the stars that fall in 6:13, 9:1 and 12:9), suggesting that it still gives some light to the faithful after leaving the Church, indicating rather schism than heresy, and the continued presence of erudition.

The star is called ‘Wormwood’. In Jeremiah and Amos, wormwood is mentioned in connection with priests who are disobedient (Jer. 9:13-15), and who teach falsely (Jer. 23:11-40), and with those who pervert the sources of justice (Amos 5:7). These last people are told, instead, to ‘seek him that maketh Arcturus and Orion’ (Amos 5:8), which, if we accept the symbolism of a star as a bishop, implies a command to recognise the diving origin of the hierarchy of the Church: again, a warning against schism.

This great shining star falls upon a third part of the springs of water, presumably the sources of grace. Many die from drinking the bitter waters. As Fr Kramer says:

Wormwood is to be given those people, priests, and bishops who refuse to obey the authority of the Church which possesses this authority by divine commission from Christ. This is schism, ad formal schism is grievous sin. And many shall die from participation of the fountains, the sacraments, polluted by the star fallen into schism. […] The fallen star is guilty of pride, hypocrisy, and rebellion, when he assumes unlawful authority over others and perverts and refuses submission to the true order established by Christ. It begets pride and rebellion in his followers. They follow a slippery path and must stumble and fall after they have partaken of this poisonous potion. Sharing in the hypocrisy and rebellion of their schismatic superior, they knowingly partake of his wormwood and become wormwood themselves.

Surely, as the author implies, this describes no one so well as Photios the Great? His very name suggests a shining light, and he was famed for his learning. He was a great star, too, metropolitan of a see that claimed second rank in the Church, but he broke away from the constellation appointed for him. A great number of dioceses, though still a minority, were struck by his calamitous fall and the sources of grace to this very day have been made bitter for all those who knowingly partake of his schism. What, in fact, is more bitter than schism, directly opposed as it is not to the faith, but to charity and joy and peace?

 

 

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Islam is not simply a revolution brought about by Arabs who, bored of living under their tents, were stirred up by a gifted leader to make a sudden conquest of the most opulent cities of the East. Rather, God allowed the ancient enemy of mankind to have a special opportunity, and to choose an instrument by which he might lead nations astray, enslaving them by the sword. And so there arose Mahomet, the man of Satan, and the Koran, his gospel.

But what was the crime which induced divine justice to go to such an extremity, abandoning nations to a slavery of which we can still see no end? Heresy: for heresy is a dreadful crime which makes the coming of the Son of God into this world to be of no avail.  It refuses the word of God; it tramples upon the infallible teaching of the Church. Such a crime must be punished, in order that Christian peoples may learn that no nation resists the revealed words without the danger of suffering, even in this world, the penalty of its rash ingratitude. And so Alexandria fell, though it was Peter’s second see, and Antioch, where he had first been bishop, and Jerusalem, keeper of the glorious Tomb.

The tide was stopped in front of Constantinople, and did not immediately overflow the regions that surrounded it. The Eastern empire, soon to become the Greek empire, was given the opportunity to learn a lesson. Had Byzantium watched over the faith, then Omar would not have come to Alexandria, nor to Antioch, nor to Jerusalem. A delay was granted; it lasted for eight centuries. But when Byzantium had filled up its measure, then the Crescent appeared once more in vengeance. No longer is it the Saracen, who is a spent force, but rather the Turk. Hagia Sophia will see its Christian images whitewashed, with verses from the Koran painted over them. And this is the reason: it had become the sanctuary of schism and of heresy. [. . .]

It dared to penetrate even into the land of France. But a hard expiation it had to do for its boldness, on the plains of Poitou. Islam had made a mistake; where there is no heresy, there it can find no foothold. [. . .]

We shall stop here, having acknowledged the justice of God in regard to heresy, and the true reason of the victories of Islam. We have seen the only reason why God permitted Islam to arise, and why it did not remain an obscure and ephemeral sect in the deserts of Arabia.

We can remember also the words of Leo XIII in Exeunte Iam Anno:

The impartial and unchangeable justice of God metes out reward for good deeds and punishment for sin. But since the life of peoples and nations, as such, does not outlast their world, they necessarily receive the rewards due to their deeds on this earth.

This Sunday, in the old rite, part of our Lord’s discourse about the end times will be read or chanted. The first three gospels each tell us that after He had prophesied the destruction of the temple, His disciples came to Him to ask when all would be fulfilled. St Matthew and St Luke simply tell us that “the disciples” asked the questions; St Mark specifies that four disciples asked, namely Peter, James, John – and Andrew. This evangelist was recording the preaching of Peter in Rome, and doubtless St Peter had mentioned the names, so as not to lose the opportunity to honour his own brother, who had first brought him to Christ.

We are familiar with the idea that the first three of these disciples formed an inner ring within the twelve. They were chosen to be there when Jairus’s daughter was raised from the dead, at the Transfiguration and at the Agony. But this is the only occasion when St Andrew is joined to their company: to hear first of the fall of the temple, of the end of the rites of the Old Covenant and of the slaughter of the ancient people of God; and then of that which these things foreshadowed, the great persecution of the Church, the coming of the lawless one, the consummation of all things and the return of Christ in glory. Why was the apostle Andrew chosen to hear these things directly from the mouth of Christ?

Perhaps in part because he is the “first-called”, Πρωτόκλητος, and so had been following the Lord longer than anyone (along with the disciple who was with him when he was called); it was fitting therefore that he should hear of the rewards for those who persevere to the end. Perhaps also because he would become the patron saint of that nation which, more than any other, seems bound up with the Church’s fortunes as she makes her way toward those last days: Russia.

It is now almost a hundred years since Lenin entered holy Russia in his sealed train and since the Queen of Heaven told the three children that that nation would first spread its errors throughout the world and then be made the chosen instrument for their correction. And they have been spread, perhaps beyond the hopes of hell itself. But just as Christ’s words do not pass away, so nor do hers, through whom the Word was made flesh. St Andrew’s nation will be consecrated to her and become a fountain of grace for the last days, perhaps for resistance in that final persecution, or perhaps only when antichrist shall have been overthrown, and the Church enjoys, if this be the plan of heaven, a time of flourishing before the second coming, foreshadowed by the forty days her Spouse once spent on earth between Resurrection and Ascension.

It is not without reason that his feast everywhere is celebrated on the cusp of Advent, on the vigil of December’s kalends. As St John the Baptist from his place on earth prepared all men for the first coming of the Lord, so St Andrew from his place in heaven prepares all men for the second. Nor is his name devoid of mystery, for it means manliness, or courage. When those days come, upon whomsoever they may come, such as have not been known since the foundation of the world, we shall have need of Andrew then.

One of the frescoes of the Ecumenical Councils...

I’ve been looking at The Church in Council by Norman Tanner SJ. Fr Tanner is perhaps the leading authority on ecumenical councils in the English-speaking world. It’s curious, therefore, that he seems keen to get rid of as many as he can. Vatican II, he says, extended the meaning of Church beyond ‘the Roman Catholic community’, and therefore made it a moot point whether any council could be called ecumenical without the participation of ‘other Christian churches and communities’. The Eastern Church, we learn, was not represented ‘in any proper sense’ at any post-1054 council – a fact which would no doubt have surprised the Byzantine Emperor and the Patriarch of Constantinople in 1439, not to mention the other bishops and patriarchal delegates who had gathered at Florence. Trent, Vatican I and Vatican II don’t even reach the dignity of general councils of the Western Church; since the ‘churches of the Reformation’ were absent, they are better seen as ‘general councils of the Roman Catholic church, rather than of the Western Church’. This ‘removes the necessity of Trent and Vatican I being given an absolute status’ (but apparently not of Vatican II being given it!) So much for the holy Sacrifice and for papal infallibility; they will apparently have to enjoy only a ‘relative status’, whatever that might be.

He is quite keen on the role of the emperor in the early councils, as it provides a precedent for lay involvement. Likewise, in the Empress Irene at Nicaea II, as a precedent for female involvement. Likewise in the fact that the early councils were held in ‘Asia’. And he also likes the fact that Constantine wasn’t baptised at the time of Nicaea I, as this provides a precedent for influences on ecumenical councils from outside the visible church.

I can’t help wondering if his ideal council would be one held in Mumbai under the presidency of a Muslim woman, and which would solemnly condemn Humanae Vitae. But I may be wronging him.

From: RISU Religious Information Service of Ukraine

Russian Orthodox Metropolitan hopes that Pope Francis will not support Greek Catholics

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18 March 2013

Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev) of Volokolamsk of the Russian Orthodox Church expressed the hope that Pope Francis will continue the policy of rapprochement with the Orthodox Church and will not support, as he calls it, the expansion of the Ukrainian Greek Catholics, the site of Pravoslavie i Mir reports.

“The union is the most painful topic in the Orthodox-Catholic dialogue, in relations between the Orthodox and the Catholics. If the pope will support the union, then, of course, it will bring no good,” he said in a program on the channel Rosiya-1.

One of Pope Francis’s teachers was a Ukrainian Greek Catholic priest, and the pope belongs to the Jesuit Order.

Metropolitan Hilarion noted that the Orthodox often had a suspicious attitude toward the Jesuits.

“It is believed that a Jesuit is someone who on the outside is one person, but inside someone else, says one thing, but means something else. This idea has been confirmed in real life by Jesuits and through our experience with such representatives,” said Metropolitan Hilarion.

He also said that the head of the Catholic Church must take care of the whole church and its relations with other churches, not protect the interests of a particular order or region.

“I hope that the positive momentum that we have had in our relations with the Roman Catholic Church under Pope Benedict XVI will continue under Pope Francis,” summed up the hierarch.

Some time ago I had the privilege of meeting Hugh Owen. His father was Sir David Owen, the Secretary-General of International Planned Parenthood; he himself is a deeply spiritual Catholic convert with a large family who spends his spare time explaining the doctrine of creation as taught by the Fathers of the Church and later witnesses to tradition.

In conversation he mentioned the consecration of Russia, which we both think has not yet been accomplished as it is meant to be. He remarked that too often this consecration is presented as a mere response to the evil of atheistic materialism that has spread from Russia throughout the world; as if it were, in effect, an exorcism of Russia. Thus explained, it is not surprising that it should meet with little enthusiasm from Russians themselves, as no one wants to have his country regarded in the world as a sheer source of evil.

But, he continued, ‘consecration’ implies some good quality in the thing consecrated; a fitness to be offered to heaven. This is true whether we think of the consecration of nazirites in the Old Testament, or of Christian families to the Sacred Heart or of devout souls to the immaculate Heart. Russia has been the source of immense evil; yet, he thought from his own observations, it is still in a sense Holy Russia; there is a sense of Christian realities present within it, lacking from the apostate nations of the West. Its schism is another’s sin more than its own. It is a fit instrument (he thought) to be used by God, once consecrated by the Pope of Rome, for the salvation of the nations.

 

 

 

Demetrios Kydones was the chief minister (Mesazon) of three Byzantine Emperors in the fourteenth century. He was a great disciple and translator of St Thomas Aquinas. He was personally in communion with the Holy See and (with his brother) a staunch opponent of the heresiarch Gregory Palamas. In this passage from his First Apology he comments on the relationship between the Emperor and the Patriarch of Constantinople.

“Among us, the patriarch is not greatly concerned about his flock. His every concern is rather how he can please the emperor. He is well aware that he holds his office only through the courtesy of the emperor, so that if the latter becomes displeased, he falls immediately from ecclesiastical office. Therefore he sees himself compelled to act like the Emperor’s slave if he is to enjoy his ecclesiastical rule for any length of time. Thus, if he makes any move to censure some cleric, or even to call some tavern owner to task, or to try to make some other feeble gesture of authority which in fact displeases the Emperor, then the injured parties run to the palace. There the Patriarch is sharply taken to task whether he vainly appeals in his defence to the gospels, the Apostles, Church law, or the Imperial edicts. Then if he does not get down on his knees to beg forgiveness, he is liable not only to lose his Episcopal see and office, but he might even be accused of treason or murder and thus be arrested as a common villain. That is the kind of servility we see inflicted on the Bride of Christ  whose freedom and independence ought to be inviolable.”

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