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Παρασκευή 13 Ιουνίου 2014




This letter was written by St. Ambrose of Optina at a time when the educated classes in Russia where reading more about religion in French than in their native Russian.  Ties with people of other confessions often caused people to doubt their own Orthodox Faith. The letter is most useful even today for those who grapple with the differences between the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church.   In vain do some Orthodox Christians marvel at the current propaganda of the Roman Catholic Church and its attempt to unite with the Eastern Orthodox Church.  One would think that all that has transpired during the last one thousand years between the Greek East and the Latin West can be quickly forgotten and sacramental unity can be achieved.  On rigorous examination, this opinion proves to be false; and the energetic Latin activity not only does not evoke surprise, but, on the contrary, arouses deep sorrow in the hearts of right-thinking people who understand the truth. 

The following is my own commentary on the letter written by Saint Ambrose of Optina. He authored this article and lived in the late eighteen hundreds.  He was born on December 5, 1812 and reposed in the Lord October 23, 1891.  I find that his take on the differences between the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church are no different today than they were one hundred and twenty-three years ago when the Elder lived.  In view of the very public effort of the Patriarch of Constantinople and the Pope of Rome to bring about immediate reconciliation, I think it is important to revisit the history of the Greek East and the Latin West over the centuries as laid out for us by this Saint of the Russian Orthodox Church.  In view of the statements and actions of Patriarch Bartholomew and some of his bishops and metropolitans as of late, it is becoming increasingly confusing for the average Orthodox Christian whether or not he still belongs to the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church preserved by Holy Orthodoxy throughout the centuries. This is why I think we should look to the Saints of the Orthodox Church who have stated very clearly throughout the centuries that Orthodoxy is the Church established by Jesus Christ.  Even in the contemporary Greek Orthodox Tradition of Greece there are a number of Saints who have expressed the same opinion of Latin Christianity as expressed by Saint Ambrose of Optina.  These Saints are St. Kosmas, 18th century, St. Nektarios, and the Elder Paisios, 20th century and St. Porphyrios, the 21st century.  The Elder Ambrose is not unique in his take on the Latin Church.  I agree that in view of the forces that are at play in the world today to destroy Christianity, it is incumbent that all Christian leaders should speak with a united voice against virulent secularism and militant Islam.  But having said this does not mean that we should abandon our Orthodox spiritual roots in order to be politically correct.  We should be faithful to the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church established by Jesus Christ until the end of our lives.  But I also believe that when we are in dialogue with our Christian brothers and sisters in other expressions of Christianity we should speak openly and clearly about the issues that divide us.


Dostoevsky stated about Saint Ambrose of Optina: “that in Elder Ambrose he had found a living example of the Christian ideal.”  Elder Nektary of The Brothers Karamazov referred to Ambrose as “an earthly angel and a heavenly man.”  Saint Ambrose is supposed to have been seen surrounded by the Uncreated Light more than once.  In the Orthodox Christian tradition, being enveloped in the Uncreated Light is the definitive sign of the transfiguration of our humanity from the earthly to the heavenly.  It is also an indication of a person acquiring citizenship in the Kingdom of Heaven to come while still in the flesh.  Many Orthodox Saints have acquired the blessing of the Uncreated Light during their earthly lives.     

+Fr. Constantine J. Simones, June 11, 2014, Waterford, CT, USA, cjsimones300@gmail.com

Saint Ambrose says: “The Eastern Orthodox Church, from Apostolic times until now, continues to be unchanged and unblemished by innovations both in the Gospels and in the Apostolic teachings, as well as in the Traditions of the Holy Fathers and resolutions of the Ecumenical Councils.  These Councils brought together God-bearing men from throughout the world, in an assembly of faith where they composed the Nicene Creed of the Orthodox Church. They have proclaimed it aloud to the whole universe as perfect and complete in all respects. These Holy Fathers also forbid any additions to it, any alterations, or even one iota of it.  The Roman Catholic Church departed from this admonition a long time ago by falling into heresy and innovation.  As far back as St. Basil the Great, (4th century) certain bishops of Rome were condemned by him in his letter to Eusebius of Samosata saying, “They do not know and do not wish to know the truth; they argue with those who proclaim the truth to them, and assert their heresy.”

The Apostle Paul commands us to separate ourselves from those damaged by heresy and not to seek union with them, saying; “A man that is a heretic after the first and second admonition you are to reject; know that he has been subverted, and sins, being condemned of himself.” (Titus 3:10-11).  The Universal Orthodox Church, not two times, but multiple times tried to bring the Roman Church to reason; but, despite all the attempts at persuading the former, the latter remained persistent in its erroneous manner of thinking and acting.  Already back in the seventh century, the false teaching that said that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Son was conceived in the Western Church.  At first, certain popes rose up against this new theology, calling it heretical.  Pope Damasus proclaims in a Council resolution: “He who thinks rightly about the Father and the Son but improperly about the Holy Spirit is a heretic.” (Encyclical 5)  Other popes, such as Leo ll and John VIII, also affirmed the same thing.  But most of their successors, having been carried away by the issue of domination and pursuing worldly benefits for themselves, dared to modify the Orthodox dogma about the procession of the Holy Spirit, contrary to the decisions of the Seven Ecumenical Councils, and also contrary to the clear words of the Lord Himself who said: “The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father.” (John 15:26).

But just as when a person makes one mistake—which is not considered a mistake—always brings another one into play, and one evil begets another, so the same happened with the Roman Catholic Church.  This false teaching that the Holy Spirit proceeds also from the Son, having just barely appeared in the West, already then gave birth to other similar false teachings, and instituted little by little other novelties, for the most part contradictory to the commandments of our Savior clearly portrayed in the Gospel, such as: sprinkling instead of immersion in the Sacrament of Baptism, exclusion of laypersons from the Communion Chalice and the use of unleavened bread instead of leavened bread in the Eucharist, and excluding from  the Divine Liturgy the invocation of the Holy and Life-Giving Spirit. It also introduced novelties that violated the ancient apostolic rites of the Orthodox Church, such as: the exclusion of baptized infants from confirmation and receiving Holy Communion on the day of their baptism, the exclusion of married men from the priesthood, the declaration of the Pope as infallible and as the locum tenens of Christ on earth, and so on.  In this way, it overturned the entire ancient apostolic office concerning the sacraments and all the ecclesiastical institutions—the office, which before had been preserved by the ancient Holy Orthodox Church of Rome before the great schism of 1054.

Nevertheless, the main heresy of the Roman Catholic Church is not in subject matter, but in action; there is the fabricated dogma of the supremacy of the pope, or rather the prideful dominance of the Bishops of Rome over the other four Eastern Patriarchs.  For the sake of this dominance, supporters of the Roman Church placed their pope above the canons and foundation of the Ecumenical Councils, believing in his infallibility.  But history truthfully testifies as to just what this papal infallibility is.  This infallibility was disproved by the actions of a number of popes.  For example Pope John XXIII, as it was stated in the decision of the Council of Constance in which he was deposed:  “it has been proved that Pope John is an inveterate and incorrigible sinner, and he was and is an unrighteous man, justly indicted for homicide, poisoning, and other serious crimes; a man who often and persistently before various dignitaries claimed and argued that the human soul dies and burns out together with the human body, like the souls of animals, and that the dead will by no means be resurrected in the last day.” The lawless acts of Pope Alexander VI and his sons were so monstrous that, in the opinion of his contemporaries, this pope was trying to establish on earth the kingdom of Satan and not the Kingdom of God.  Pope Julius II reveled in the blood of Christians, constantly arming—for his own purposes—one Christian against another (Spiritual Conversation, No. 41, 1858).  There are many other examples, testifying to the great falls of the popes, but there is no time to talk about them now.  With such historical evidence of its impairment through heresy and of the falls of its popes, is it warranted for the papists to glory in the false dignity of the Roman Church?  Is it just that they should put down the Eastern Orthodox Church, whose infallibility is based not on any one representative, but on the Gospel and the apostolic teachings and on the canons and decisions of the Seven Ecumenical Councils and the Nine Local Councils?  At these Councils God-inspired holy men came together from the entire Christian world and they established everything relating to the requirements and spiritual needs of the Church based on Holy Scripture.  So, do the papists behave soundly, who, for the sake of worldly goals, place the person of their pope above the canons of the Ecumenical Councils, considering their pope as more than infallible?


For all the above stated reasons, the Eastern Orthodox Church severed its communion with the Roman Catholic Church, which had fallen away from the truth and from the canons of the Orthodox Christian Church.  Just as the Roman bishops had begun with pride, they are also ending in pride.  They are intensifying their argument that allegedly the Eastern Orthodox Church fell away from the Roman Catholic Church.  But that is wrong and even ridiculous.  Truth testifies that the Roman Catholic Church fell away from the Eastern Orthodox Church.  Although for the sake of justifying their teaching of infallibility papists promote the view that during the time of the undivided Church, their patriarch was first and senior among the five patriarchs. This was true only for the sake of Imperial Rome and not because of some spiritual merit or authority over the other patriarchs.  It is wrong that they called their Church Catholic, i.e. universal.   A part can never be named for the whole of the Church; the Roman Church before its fall from Orthodoxy, comprised only a fifth part of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.  Especially since it rejected the decisions of the Ecumenical Councils, the Roman Church should not be called catholic, as it follows its own incorrect theology.  

For some people, the sheer numbers and widespread distribution of adherents to the Latin Church is impressive, and therefore those who see this argue: should it not be for this reason that the Latin Church be called ecumenical or Catholic? But this view is extremely erroneous, because nowhere in Holy Scriptures are special spiritual rights given to a Church because of its large membership.  The Lord clearly showed that the sign of the true Catholic Church does not consist in great numbers of people when He said: “Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom.” (Luke 12:32).  There is another example in Holy Scripture which does not favor the majority as being correct.  Upon the death of King Solomon, the Kingdom of Israel was divided in the presence of his son, and the Bible tells us that ten tribes had fallen away.  Therefore, the Latin Church in vain tries to prove that it is the true Church based on its great numbers of adherents throughout the world.  

At the Ecumenical Councils, a completely different understanding of Ecumenical was defined by the Holy Fathers, i.e. determined in council: we are to believe in One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church and not in a universal Church.  Although the Roman Church has followers everywhere in the world and since it did not maintain inviolate the catholic and apostolic decrees of the early Church but rather deviated towards innovation and false theology, it does not at all belong to the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.  

Those people who are well-disposed towards the Latin Church erroneously reason that, first, upon the falling way of the West from Orthodoxy, something became lacking in the Catholic Church.  This loss was replaced long ago by Divine Providence, with the Orthodox Church of Russia.  Secondly, they think that allegedly for the sake of the former seniority and size of the Roman Church, the Orthodox Church has need to be united with it.  However, we are speaking here of human understanding of what the Church is.  The Apostle Paul clearly says: “What communion has light with darkness?” (2 Cor. 6:14)—i.e. the Light of Christ’s truth can never be combined with the darkness of heresy.  The Latin Church does not want to leave their heresy, and they persist, as the words of St. Basil the Great testifies about them what has been proven over many centuries; “They do not know the truth and do not wish to know; they argue with those who proclaim the truth to them and assert their heresy,” as stated above.

Instead of entertaining the above-mentioned thoughts, those supportive of the Latin Church would be better off thinking about what’s said in the Psalms; “I have hated the congregation of evil-doers” (Ps. 25:5), and to pity those who, for the sake of dominating others and the pursuit of worldly aims and benefits, scandalized almost the entire world through the Inquisition and the cunning of Jesuit intrigue. Even now there is outrage and abuse of the Orthodox Christians in Turkey by their missionaries.  Latin missionaries don’t care about converting the native Turks to the Christian Faith but they strive to pervert the truth for the Orthodox Greeks and Bulgarians, using all sorts of unpleasant means and schemes.  Is this not craftiness, and is this craftiness not malicious?  Would it be prudent to seek unity with such people?  For the same reason, should one be surprised at the feigned diligence and selflessness of such people, i.e. the Latin missionaries and Sisters of Mercy?  They are downright pitiable ascetics.  They strive to convert and lead people, not to Christ, but to their pope.

What should we say in response to these questions?  Can the Latin Church and other religions be called the New Israel and Ark of Salvation?  And how can one understand the Eucharist of this Church of Rome?  Only the Church of the right-believing and uncorrupted  theology can be called the New Israel.  The Apostle John the Theologian says: “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us:  but they went out, that it might be made manifest that they all were not of us.” (1 John 2:19).  The Apostle Paul says, “One Lord, One Faith” (Eph. 4:5) i.e. one is the true faith, and not every belief is good—as those having separated themselves from the One True Church recklessly think, about whom the Apostle Jude writes: “How that they told you there should be mockers in the last time, who should walk after their own ungodly lusts.  These are those who separate themselves, not having the Spirit.” (Jude 1:18-19).  Therefore, how can these, who are alien to the spirit of truth, be called the New Israel?  Or, how can they be called a haven of salvation for anyone, when both one and the other cannot be effectuated without the Grace of the Holy Spirit?

In the Orthodox Church, it is believed that the bread and the wine in the Sacrament of the Eucharist are transformed into the very Body and Blood of Jesus Christ by the invocation and descent of the Holy Spirit.  But the Latin Church, as mentioned above, considered this invocation unnecessary and excluded it from their Liturgy.  Thus, he who understands—let him understand about the Eucharist of the Latin Church.


Despite the Orthodox Church’s spirit of meekness and the love of peace and patience of her priests and followers, in the West there has been published during the preceding centuries by followers of different Christian creeds, and predominantly in our times, such a multitude of books against the teaching of the Eastern Orthodox Church that not only would it be difficult to appraise their merit, it would be hard to enumerate them.  And although such books in general are filled with slanders, fabled inventions and lies, with the obvious goal of forming in Europe a spirit hostile to the Eastern Orthodox Church, to seduce her followers from the path of truth.  But since they are published under tempting names, in agreeable forms, with such typographical neatness that they unconsciously lure the curiosity of readers, not a few of whom are found in our homeland, where these works penetrated by dark paths, and who, having a superficial understanding of the subjects of Christian doctrine, cannot help but be carried away by thought contrary to the truth.  The writers of the Latin Church have now especially armed themselves against the Orthodox Church, proclaiming the supremacy of their pope and their Church over all governments and local Churches and nations of the world.  Predominantly at the current time those busy with this are the Jesuits in France, who, using the prevalence of the French language, are intensifying some sort of feverish activity against the doctrine and hierarchical structure of the Eastern Orthodox Church.  They are not ashamed to create the most heinous fictions, lies and shameless distortions of historical truths.  Many of the educated Orthodox Christians, reading these books in the French language, and not reading in their own Russian language about the Orthodox Faith, can easily believe in the lies instead of the truth which they do not know well.


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