St. Mark of Ephesus: The Defender of Orthodoxy

Six centuries ago, Saint Mark of Ephesus, that great champion of the
Orthodox Faith whom we commemorate [on January 19], observed: “It is
possible to find a middle word that between two views will signify both.
But a middle view between two opposite views concerning the same thing
is impossible . . . There is no room for compromise in matters of the
Orthodox Faith.”

Saint Mark spoke these words at the infamous Council of Ferrara/Florence
(1439), which, based on an unholy compromise, proclaimed a false union
of the Latin and Orthodox Churches. Saint Mark was a dauntless soldier
of Christ in his resistance to the actions of this blasphemous council.
Who was Saint Mark and why is he revered today as one of Orthodoxy’s
greatest defenders? What were the circumstances that led to the
so-called Union of Florence?

Saint Mark was born Manuel Evgenikos of a wealthy family in
Constantinople in 1392. His father served in the imperial government and
his mother was the daughter of one of the capital city’s most
outstanding physicians. Young Manuel distinguished himself in both
secular and religious studies and in time was appointed personal
secretary to Emperor Manuel II Paleologos. But despite his promising
career and intellectual achievements, Manuel desired to leave the world
and embrace the life of the monastic desert fathers. Manuel was tonsured
with the name of Mark and was later ordained as a priest-monk. Saint
Mark was soon widely lauded for his sermons and theological treatises.
Reluctantly he accepted elevation to the post of Metropolitan (Bishop)
of Ephesus.

At this time, early in the fifteenth century, the incursions of the
Ottoman Turk forces into the Byzantine Empire threatened not only the
empire but the very existence of the Orthodox Church. One by one the
great cities of the empire fell until the borders of the empire scarcely
extended beyond the walls of Constantinople. The Emperor John VIII
looked to the West for military support since the spread of Islam was a
threat to both Orthodox and Roman Catholics. He hoped the Pope would
send his army of trained mercenaries to the aid of fellow Christians. In
response to the Emperor’s appeal, Rome convoked a council in the city
of Ferrara (later moved to Florence), Italy, to consider the union of
the two churches. Orthodox representatives from Russia, Constantinople,
Jerusalem and Alexandria were in attendance. Emperor John VIII and
Patriarch Joseph of Constantinople led the Orthodox delegation, and they
brought with them the Church’s most eloquent defender, Mark of Ephesus.
In the discussions which followed, Mark of Ephesus was the primary
speaker on behalf of the Orthodox.

Orthodox hopes for a union based on truth and equality were soon
shattered. The Pope at first demanded that the Patriarch and all the
Orthodox bishops kiss his slipper rather than exchange the customary
brotherly embrace with him. The meetings were to extend for months, from
1438 into 1439, primarily due to an impasse stemming from the Pope’s
insistence that no military aid would be forthcoming unless the Orthodox
Church agreed to unity with Rome on papal terms. At times during the
long months of negotiations, the Latins withheld basic necessities (even
food) from their Orthodox “guests.” This thinly disguised extortion no
doubt contributed to the death of the disillusioned Patriarch Joseph,
which in turn threw the meetings into greater turmoil. The pressure from
the Latins and from the Emperor to submit to Rome was so great that
Metropolitans Isidore and Bessarion from the Orthodox delegation signed
the act of union. One by one, the Orthodox capitulated and followed them
into the betrayal of Orthodoxy. The Emperor and those who signed feared
the Moslem invaders more than Rome.

Saint Mark of Ephesus, however, staunchly refused to submit to Rome.
Storming out of the council in protest, he vowed never to submit to what
was little other than tyranny. Threatened with papal censure, Saint
Mark replied: “The Seven Ecumenical Councils condemn those who will not
obey the Church and maintain opinions contrary to what she teaches. I
neither preach to my own glory, nor have I said anything new or unknown
to the Church. I keep intact the pure and unadulterated teachings which
the Church has received and preserved and continues to preserve, from
Christ our Savior. This teaching was also held by Rome until the
beginning of the schism. No one can censure or condemn this pious
teaching. First judge the teaching which I believe, and then judge me.”

Thus, Saint Mark firmly upheld the purity of the Orthodox Faith which
has not yielded to any external influence since the time of Christ. He
returned to Ephesus to lead a movement against the so-called unity which
Rome contrived. He was instrumental in rallying the faithful to a clear
defiance of papal pressure and a reaffirmation of Orthodox principles.
Subsequent events saw the failure of this infamous attempt for unity,
the exile of the Russian Metropolitan (who had signed the act of union),
and the return of those who had strayed from the Orthodox Faith. In a
time when Orthodoxy sorely needed a show of spiritual fortitude, Mark of
Ephesus scorned the mailed fist. For this he was banished by the
Emperor, whose concern for his city was greater than his concern for the
purity of the Orthodox Faith. After two years of exile, Saint Mark
returned to great acclaim. He was offered the Patriarchal throne, but
refused it. He spent the remaining years of his life giving fatherly
direction to his many spiritual children concerning the direction of the
Church and of our faith, and he admonished them to turn away from every
new teaching. Excelling in good deeds, Saint Mark departed for the
endless life in the year 1444.

(h/t Father’s bulletin)

One thought on “St. Mark of Ephesus: The Defender of Orthodoxy

  1. St Mark of Ephesus is one of the favorites at our house. He, along with Athanasius and others, is a wonderful reminder that as messy and discouraging as things can get in the Church, as much as it can look like She's about to totally capitulate to error, God always raises somebody up to preserve Her. And it only takes one. 🙂


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