AT the beginning of the twentieth century, it so happened that in a Greek Orthodox monastery on an island in the Cyclades the Orthodox Metropolitan of the island was present together with the Roman Catholic bishop of that region. While they were sitting on a balcony in the monastery, they saw one of the brothers carrying a sack of manure on his shoulders for the monastery garden. When the Catholic bishop learned that the one carrying the sack was a Hieromonk of the monastery, he expressed his disgust and perplexity as to how it was possible, after such filthy work, for this Hieromonk to celebrate the Divine Mysteries. Although the Orthodox Hierarch assured him that this work did not cause the Hieromonk any defilement of soul or body, the Latin prelate persisted in his objections. The Orthodox Hierarch then asked the Latin prelate if he would be willing to test which man was well-pleasing in the sight of God: the Orthodox Hieromonk who engaged in arduous and grimy toil or the well-dressed Papist bishop. The latter agreed to this, and the Hierarch proposed that he summon the Hieromonk and, after he had washed himself well, that he celebrate the Small Blessing of the Waters.
The Latin bishop would then also perform a Blessing of the Waters, and the water blessed by each man would be kept in sealed containers. After the passage of a year, they would be unsealed, so that it might be evident which quantity of water was blessed and therefore acceptable before God. And indeed, after the respective Blessings of the Waters had been performed, the flasks were placed, well-sealed, in a special box. After a year had elapsed, in the presence of the Orthodox Metropolitan, the Abbot and the Brothers of the monastery, and also of the Roman Catholic bishop and his retinue, the flasks were unsealed and opened, and all beheld quite clearly that the water blessed by the Orthodox Hieromonk performed, the flasks were placed, well-sealed, in a special box. After a year had elapsed, in the presence of the Orthodox Metropolitan, the Abbot and the Brothers of the monastery, and also of the Roman Cathowas very limpid and fragrant, whereas that blessed by the Latin bishop was turbid, murky, and smelled like stagnant water!
In another instance, a Priest explained, inter alia, to a young man who had gone to venerate the Relics of St. Gerasimos on Kephallenia and had seen awesome miracles wrought through demoniacs, which revealed the hidden sins of other pilgrims, that demoniacs cannot reveal anything to one who has repented of his sins and confessed them sincerely. In that case, they are “blocked.” However, in one case—the Priest continued—he had got to know two Italian Roman Catholics who admitted that a demoniac on Zakynthos revealed to them all that they had confessed to their own Catholic priest. And this was because they were in essence unconfessed. The demoniac was a Greek and did not know Italian, and yet he revealed to the Italians in flawless Italian sins which they had supposedly confessed In our estimation, these true testimonies corroborate the ageold view of the Orthodox that the Latins have fallen away from the Grace of God and that they are not, and do not constitute, the Church of God.
When, for example, in the twelfth century Patriarch Mark of Alexandria asked the eminent canonist Theodore Balsamon, the Patriarch of Antioch, whether an Orthodox clergyman could “without peril impart the Divine Gifts to them,” that is, to heretics, Balsamon responded in the negative. With specific regard to the Latins who, as prisoners of the Saracens, presented themselves in Orthodox Churches asking to commune, Balsamon affirmed that the Western Church had been in schism for many years from spiritual communion with the assembly of the four remaining Orthodox Patriarchs. Rome “was separated from the Catholic Church with respect to customs and dogmas and was estranged from the Orthodox,” and for this reason the Pope had been struck off the Diptychs, such that “the race of Latins ought not be sanctified at the hands of Priests through the Divine and Immaculate Mysteries, unless they agreed beforehand to abjure Latin doctrines and customs, they have been instructed in accordance with the Canons, and they have been assimilated to the Orthodox.
The Holy Archpriest John of Kronstadt in Russia wrote the following at the beginning of the twentieth century, expressing the Orthodox spiritual assessment of Papism:
The communion of the Western Church with the Heavenly Church is meagre and lukewarm, and is devoid of life. The Orthodox Church is quite different: here, the communion is living, wise, full, sincere, and reverent. There, the Pope is everything, everyone honours him and not the Saints. The Saints of the East and the West are devalued; they are hidden, they have fallen into oblivion; never are their Relics ever displayed to the faithful, but far more often for tourists.... There, the Pope determines the fate of the earthly and the heavenly Church and arbitrarily administers the ‘surplus’ of the works and graces of the Saints, sending people to Purgatory and freeing them therefrom by his own decision, and issuing indulgences. Laughable as these things are, they really would be laughable if they were not so harmful and distressing. And how is it that the Popes themselves, the cardinals, and others do not see this?... The faith of Catholics is superficial. There, everything is for sale and everything can be bought; there, the Pope possesses all authority and the salvation of Catholics is in his hands. This is why Catholics today do not have real, recognizable Saints; they have only ‘contrived’ saints, those whom the arbitrariness of the Pope has made saints, whereas the Orthodox Church is like the Garden of Eden, filled with Saints.
In view of these considerations, one might ask what it was that impelled the Orthodox ecumenists to enter into contact with heterodoxy, not in order to lead it to repentance and conversion, but in order to confer on it distinctions and merits which it does not have, which do not belong to it, and which it could not even conceive or desire! We know that the ecumenists have a ready answer: They are impelled by love, for the union of Christians. However, if love is separated from Truth then we are face to face with an error and a distortion which have spread to a perilous degree among both the leaders and the largely indifferent flock of the lukewarm faithful who constitute the overwhelming majority of so called Christians today.
May we be numbered with the faithful and wise servants of God in the Kingdom of the Light of Divine Love, if nothing else for the sake of our patient endurance and our good intention for the welfare of the Church!
† Bishop Klemes of Gardikion