January 21st, 2020

SERMON ON ST MARK OF EPHESUS - Jan. 19, 2020

HOMILY ON ST MARK OF EPHESUS 1/19/2020

In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Dear Ones, In this morning’s Gospel the crowd tells the blind man that all the excitement around him is due to the arrival of Jesus of Nazareth. The blind man cries out, “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!” The crowd says “Jesus of Nazareth,” but the blind man, alone, cries out “Jesus, son of David!” The crowd only sees a man, a holy man, a prophet perhaps. The blind man is the only one who “sees” the Messiah, the son of God!

It’s easy to get swept away with the opinion of the crowd. It’s very difficult to stand alone against the tide of popular opinion. Politics can be especially challenging for Christians. The very words “politics” is derived from the Greek word “polis” meaning “city.” Politics is about things pertaining to this world and is, by its very nature, worldly. But what does St Paul say about us, about Christians? “Here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come” (Hebrews 13:14). The Kingdom of Heaven is our true city. The climax of the book of Revelation is the vision of the Holy City, the heavenly Jerusalem, a jeweled city of light. This beautiful vision signifies the church, the called-out people of God, in all her eternal glory (Revelation 21:9-27).

Today on the Church calendar we celebrate the memory of two wonderful saints. First we celebrate St. Macarius the Great of Egypt, a 4th century ascetic and a disciple of St. Anthony the Great. He wrote the book called 50 Spiritual Homilies. Have you read it? It’s a classic. Everyone should read it! But today I want to focus on the second saint of the day, St. Mark of Ephesus, a man whose earthly city betrayed him, a man who who stood alone against the crushing power of earthly politicians and ecclesiastical apostates. St. Mark of Ephesus – a pillar of Orthodoxy and a prophet for these end times. Let’s find out why.

In the 1430’s, the once-glorious Eastern Roman Christian Empire (called “Byzantine Empire” by her detractors) was crumbling. Reduced to Constantinople and some surrounding territory, Greek diplomats were desperate to find a way to enlist Western powers to help battle against the common enemy of Christianity, Islam. The Turks would hear nothing of treaties. Their dream was to conquer the great Christian capital. For there to be any hope for rescue, the emperor, the politicians, the Patriarch of Constantinople all believed that it was necessary above all to make peace with the Vatican. So, “a Council was convened in 1437, which established a committee of Latin and Greek theologians with the Pope and the Byzantine Emperor acting as heads. The Pope, Eugenius IV, had a very exalted idea of the papacy and aimed at subjecting the Orthodox Church to himself. Prompted by the straitened circumstances of Byzantium, the Emperor pursued his aim: to conclude an agreement profitable for his country. Few gave thought to the spiritual consequences of such a union. Only one delegate, the Metropolitan of Ephesus, St. Mark, stood in firm opposition.

In his address to the Pope at the opening of the Council, St. Mark explained how ardently he desired this union with the Latins- but a genuine union, he explained, based upon unity of faith and ancient Liturgical practice. He also informed the Pope that he and the other Orthodox bishops had come to the Council not to sign a capitulation, and not to sell Orthodoxy for the benefit of their government, but in order to confirm true and pure doctrine.

Many of the Greek delegates, however, thought that the salvation of Byzantium could be attained only through union with Rome. More and more became willing to compromise the eternal Truth for the sake of preserving a temporal kingdom. Furthermore, the negotiations were of such unexpectedly long duration that the Greek delegates no longer had means to support themselves; they began to suffer from hunger and were anxious to return home. The Pope, however, refused to give them any support until a ‘Union’ had been concluded. Taking advantage of the Situation and realizing the futility of further debates, the Latins used their economic and political advantage to bring pressure on the Orthodox delegation, demanding that they capitulate to the Roman Church and accept all her doctrines and administrative control.

St. Mark stood alone against the rising tide which threatened to overturn the ark of the true Church. He was pressured on all sides, not only by the Latins, but by his fellow Greeks and the Patriarch of Constantinople himself. Seeing his persistent and stouthearted refusal to sign any kind of accord with Rome under the given conditions, the Emperor dismissed him from all further debates with the Latins and placed him under house arrest. By this time St. Mark had fallen very ill (apparently suffering from cancer of the intestine). But this exhausted, fatally ill man, who found himself persecuted and in disgrace, represented in his person the Orthodox Church; he was a spiritual giant with whom there is none to compare.

Events followed in rapid succession. The aged Patriarch Joseph of Constantinople died; a forged document of submission to Rome was produced; Emperor John Paleologos took the direction of the Church into his own hands, and the Orthodox were obliged. to renounce their Orthodoxy and to accept all of the Latin errors, novelties, and innovations on all counts, including complete acceptance of the Pope as having ‘a primacy over the whole earth.’ During a triumphant service following the signing of the Union on July 5, 1439, the Greek delegates solemnly kissed the Pope's knee. Orthodoxy had been sold, and not merely betrayed, for in return for submission, the Pope agreed to provide money and soldiers for the defense of Constantinople against the Turks. But one bishop still had not signed. When Pope Eugenius saw that St. Mark's signature was not on the Act of Union, he exclaimed, ‘And so, we have accomplished nothing!’

The delegates returned home ashamed of their submission to Rome. They admitted to the people: ‘We sold our faith; we bartered piety for impiety!’ As St. Mark wrote: ‘The night of Union encompassed the Church.’ He alone was accorded respect by the people who greeted him with universal enthusiasm when he was finally allowed to return to Constantinople in 1440. But even then the authorities continued to persecute him. At length he was arrested and imprisoned. But whatever his condition and circumstances, he continued to burn in spirit and to battle for the Church.

Finally he was liberated and, following his example, the Eastern Patriarchs condemned the False Union and refused to recognize it. The triumph of the Church was accomplished-through a man exhausted by disease and harassed by the wiles of men, but strong in the knowledge of our Saviour's promise: ‘...I will build My Church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it’ (Matt. 16:18).

St. Mark died on June 23, 1444, at the age of 52. This great pillar of the Church was a true ecumenist, for he did not fear to journey to Italy to talk with the Roman Catholics, but more importantly, neither did he fear to confess the fullness of the truth when the time came.” 1.

Through the prayers of our father among saints, Mark of Ephesus, O Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and save us! Amen.

1. Archimandrite Amvrossy (Pogodin)