When did the West fall away from Holy Orthodoxy?

APPENDIX 3. When did the West fall away from Holy Orthodoxy?

The recent discovery of the relics of the last king of Anglo-Saxon England, Harold II Godwinson, (347) who was killed fighting a papist army at Hastings in 1066, has again raised the question: when did the West fall away from Orthodoxy? And consequently: which of the kings and bishops of the West can be considered Orthodox?

This is an important question, not only for Orthodox Christians of western origin, but also for the Orthodox Church as a whole. The Orthodox Church is now again (as it was in the first millennium) a Church of both East and West, to show that the saints of the West were and are precisely her saints, having the same faith as the saints of the East. But this can be done in a theologically well-founded manner only if it is clearly show when and where the West fell away from Orthodoxy. Otherwise the double danger exists either of embracing pseudo-saints who were in fact heretics, or of rejecting some true saints and intercessors out of a zeal which is “not according to knowledge”. In the first case, we find the “madmen” Francis of Assisi (the description belongs to Bishop Ignatius Brianchaninov) placed on the same level as a genuine saint such as Seraphim of Sarov. And in the second case, whole centuries of Orthodox history and sanctity are slandered, which cannot but anger God Who is jealous of the honour of those who honour Him and Who intervened to stop St. Cyril of Alexandria from dishonouring the memory of St. John Chrysostom.

There may seem to be a simple solution to this problem: those Western saints who died before the anathematization of the Roman papacy in 1054 are to be reintegrated into the Orthodox calendar, while all those “saints” who died after that date are to be counted as heretics. However, the matter is not as simple as it appears. On the one hand, the argument is often heard that the West had in fact fallen into heresy well before 1054 through acceptance of the `Filioque` heresy, which was anathematized in 880, so that only those pre-1054 saints who clearly rejected the `Filioque` should be accepted in the menology. (348) On the other hand, there is the argument that communion between parts of the West and the Orthodox East continued until well after 1054, and that the West cannot be considered to have lost grace completely until the Fourth Crusade of 1204. Thus we arrive at very different dates for the fall of the West depending on which of two major criteria of Orthodoxy we consider more fundamental: freedom from heresy, or communion with the True Church.

The truth is, of course, that both criteria are fundamental, for communion with the True Church is determined precisely on the basis of freedom form heresy. The apparent conflict between these two criteria arises from the fact that the seeds of a heresy may be present in the Church for a long time before it is formally condemned and the heretics are expelled from the Church. And even after the heretics have been expelled, there may be some who remain in communion with them out of ignorance. Conversely, there have been many occasions when it is the confessors of the truth who have been expelled from the main Church body. Thus the question must not be approached in a formalistic manner, but only by calling on the Holy Spirit to reveal by other means – for example, by direct revelation (as in the case of St. John Chrysostum), or through miracles or the incorruption of relics – who His chosen ones are.

Let us consider some specific examples from the history of the English Church.

  1. Edward the Martyr. Some years ago, the question arose whether the martyred King Edward of England, whose relics had been returned to the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, now have joined with the Geniune Orthodox Christians of Greece, should be recognized as a saint of the Univeral Church. One hierarch queried the descision to recognize him in view of the fact, as he claimed, that the heresy of the `Filioque` was entrenched in England at the time. However, a Synodical decision declared in favour of St. Edward, and the doubting hierarch “agreed with the former decision after having been aquainted with the historical information compiled by His Grace, bishop Gregory, who cited a list of names of Western saints of the same period who have long been included in our list of saints (among whom are St. Ludmilla, St. Wenceslaus of Czechia, and others). “ (349)

The Present writer has argued that it is far from clear whether the `Filioque` was in general use in England at the time of St. Edward (late tenth century) (350), and that in any case no less rigorous a theologian that St.Maximus the Confessor had declared, when the Roman Chrch first adopted the`Filioque`, that she did not in fact understand in a heretical sense `at that time`. (351) Thus the possibility exists of a heresy being accepted at an early stage out of ignorance, while those who hold it remain Orthodox.

Again, the very saint closely associated with the condemnation of the `Filioque`, Photius the Great, wrote with regard to certain Fathers, such as St. Augustine, who were suspected of being tainted in this respect: “[these] Fathers had spoken in opposition when the debated question was brought before them and fought it contentiously and had maintained their opinion and had persevered in this false teaching, and when convicted of it had held to their doctrine until death, then they would necessarily be rejected together with the error of their mind. But if they spoke badly, or, for some reason not known to us, deviated from the right path, but no question was put to them nor did anyone challenge them to learn the truth, we admit them to the list of Fathers, as if they had not said it – because of their righteousness of life and distinguished virtue and faith; faultless in other repects. We do not, however, follow the teaching in which they stray from the path of truth… We, though, who know that some of our holy Fathers and teachers strayed from the faith of true dogmas, do not take as doctrine those areas in which they strayed, but we embrace the men. So also in the case of any who are charged with teaching that the Spirit proceeds from the Son, we do not admit that is opposed to the word of the Lord, but we do not cast them from the rank of the Fathers.” (352)

The Roman Patriarchate in the early Middle Ages encompassed a very large areas in which communications were very slow and difficult, and where the general level of education was low. This must be taken into account when considering whether an outlying province, such as England, was in heresy or not. The `Filioque` did not become an issue in England, until the time of Anselm of Canterbury in about 1100. The only Englishman who even discussed the matter before that date, to the present writer`s knowledge, was the famous Alcuin of York, who lived in France in about 800 and expressed himself strongly `against` the heresy in a letter to the brothers of Lyons: “Do not try to insert novelties in the Symbol of the Catholic Faith, and in the church services do not decide to become fond of traditions unknown in ancient times.” (353)

  1. King Edward the Confessor. Thus the Russian Church Abroad has decided in favour of the sanctity of King Edward the Martyr, who died in 979 at a time when the `Filioque` may or may not have been in common use in England. In this case, apart from the miracles and incorrupt relics of the martyred king, the witnesses in favour of his sanctity include: (a) his freedom from heresy in the sense of open defence of it against Orthodox opposition (see St. Photius` words quoted above), and (b) his full communion with the Orthodox Church in the East. But what are we to think of his nephew, also called King Edward, and also renowned for miracles and incorruption, but called “the Confessor” to distinguish him from his martyred uncle of the same name?

Two facts make it more difficult to accept Edward the Confessor as a saint of the Universal Church. The first is the fact that, from 1009, the Roman papacy, from which the English Church had derived its faith and to which it was canonically subject, again introduced the `Filioque` into the Symbol of Faith, which was followed in 1014 by its use at the coronation of the German Emperor Henry II. And the second is that Edward the Confessor died in 1066, twelve years after the Roman Church had been officially anathematized by the Great Church of Constantinople.

It has been argued that the use of the `Filioque` in the German emperor`s coronation service may have been derived from its use in the Englsh rite. However, this is highly unlikely. Although Germany had been largely converted to the Faith by English missionaries in the eighth century, it was never canonically subject to the English Church. Even her apostle, the Englishman St. Boniface, carried out his missionary work as a representative of the Roman Papacy, not of the English Church. Moreover, it is almost inconceivable that “the Holy Roman Emperor”, as the German emperor called himself, should have derived his Symbol of faith and the rite of his coronation from anywhere else but Rome.

The English coronation service, on the other hand, was worked out independently of Rome and on a Byzantine model of St. Dunstan, archbishop of Canterbury (+988), who was St. Edward the Martyr`s spiritual father and who crowned both him, his father Edgar and his half-brother Ethelred, Edward the Confessor`s father.

It is , of course, possible that the `Filioque` was introduced from the continent into the English coronation service after 1014. It must be remembered, however, that at least one son of the English Church from the period after 1014 was recognized as a saint in both East and West very shortly after his death. We are referring here to Martyr-King Olaf of Norway, who was martyred in 1030, who was glorified after an official investigation of his incorrupt relics by the English Bishop Grimkell of Nidaros (Trondheim), and to whom churches were dedicated in many other places, including Novgorod. Moreover, it was in connection with a miracle attributed to St. Olaf in about the reign of Alexis Comnenus or a little earlier that a chapel was dedicated to him in Constantinople and he was included among the saints of the Imperial City. If Olaf is accepted as a saint of the Universal Church, then it is difficult to see how at least the possibility of sanctification can be denied to the other members of the English Church – at any rate until 1054.

In 1054, however, the final and complete break between Rome and Constantinople took place, and was sealed by a fearful anathema on the part of Patriarch Michael and his Synod. “By the fourteenth century, the Greeks were acknowledging that the schism had taken place from the time of Patriarch Michael. They came to believe that he responded correctly to the papal attack by excommunicating the Pope and telling the eastern Patriarchs to recognize him in future as senior Patriarch.” (354) From that moment therefore, it became imperative for all members of the Roman Patriarchate to separate from their cursed head on earth if they were to remain members of the Body of Christ Whose Blessed Head was in heaven. One is therefore struch to learn – and the believer in Divine Providence can hardly consider it a coincidence – that from 1052 two years before the anathema, until the completion of the Norman conquest of England in 1070, the English Church was in fact `not` in communion with Rome, and was only reintegrated after the most bloody genocide of the English people!

The reason for the break in communion, it must be admitted, was not the `Filioque` or any other dogmatic question. The last archbishop of Canterbury before the schism had fled from England after the failure of a political cause which he had supported, and had dropped his `Omophorion`, the symbol of his archiepiscal rank, in his haste to escape. King Edward had then allowed the `omophorion` to be bestowed on Bishop Stigand of Winchester, and continued to support this new, but technically uncanonical archbishop on spite of the Pope`s fulminations against the “schismatic” English. In fact, it was the papacy which fell into schism and under anathema only two years later, and the English who escaped anathema – temporarily, at any rate – by their non-communion with Rome. From this time, however, the popes attempted to undermine support for the English king and archbishop.

This they failed to do in King Edward`s lifetime because of his populariy among the people and manifest gifts of healing and prophecy (it is also asserted that he remained a virgin to the end of his life). Among other things, he prophesied that the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus had changed over from sleeping on their right sides to sleep on hteir left – a sign of disaster to come which was verified by a commission sent by the Byzantine Emperor.(355)

Still more important was the revelation he received on his deathbed from two holy monks: “Since,” they said, “those who had climbed to the highest offices in the kingdom of England, the earls, bishops and abbots, and all those in holy orders, are not what they seem to be, but, on the contrary, are servants of the devil, on a year and one day after the day of your death God has delivered all this kingdom, cursed by Him, into the hands of the enemy, and devils shall come through all this land with fire and sword and the havoc of war.” (356)

This prophecy was fulfilled exactly when, on 6th January, 1067, one year and one day after the death of King Edward, the papist William of Normandy was crowned king of England, which was followed by a terrible devastion of England that resulted in the deaths of one in five Englishmen, the razing of most of the churches and the destruction of the whole fabric of English life. Then, on 29th August, 1070, Archbishop Stigand was officially deposed in the presence of papal legates at the pseudo-council of Winchester.

This would appear to give two cut-off points for the death of English Orthodoxy: 6th January, 1067 and 29th August, 1070. (The last English Orthodox bishops were the brothers Ethelwine and Ethelric; the former solemnly anathematised the Pope before dying of hunger in prison, and the latter also died in prison “in voluntary poverty and a wealth of tears”, his tomb being glorified by miracles.) (357) But King Edward died before either of these dates…

  1. King Harold II. Every English schoolboy has heard of the most important date in English history, 1066, even if hardly any knows its real significance. In that year, after a short reign of nine months in which King Harold II accomplished almost superhuman feats in defence of his country, he finally died at the battle of Hastings on 14th October, at the hands of the (Roman) Catholic usurper William of Normandy. His terribly mutilated body was then buried secretly in his famly church at Bosham until its discovery on the Feast of the Annunciation, 1954. However, it was recognized to be his only last year. (358)

Was King Harold Orthodox? If Edward the Confessor was Orthodox, as we have just argued, then it is difficult to deny the same to his successor. And the fact that he was formally anathematized by Pope Alexander II, who blessed William`s invasion of England, only speaks in the English king`s favour insofar as Alexander was certainly heretic and an enemy of the truth. Also in his favour – although only indirectly  – is the fact that his daughter Gytha fled, not to Rome, but to Orthodox kiev, where in about 1070 she married the right-believing Great Prince Vladimir Monomakh, thereby uniting, the blood of the Orthodox autocrats of England and Russia. (359) Nor did most of his followers who refused to accept the new political and ecclesiastical order in England flee to any western country, but to – Constantnople, where they entered the bodyguard of the emperor and were allowed to erect their own English Orthodox basilica.

Was King Harold a saint? This is much harder to establish, since he was glorified neither in the East nor in the West. However, if it can be established that he died as a martyr in defence of Orthodoxy, further proof of sanctity is not needed, according to the tradition of the Orthodox Church.

This question cannot be dicussed further here; in any case, only a Synod of Bishops can decide such controversial cases. Nevertheless, it is worth pointing out that in the opinion of many historians, the transformation of English life that took place as a result of the battle of Hastings in 1066 was so great as to constitute an ecclesiastical, as well as a political and national revolution. In which case, King Harold II can truly be considered to have been “he that restrained” the Catholicisation of England, just as his descendant, Tsar Nicholas II, was “he tha restrained” the Bolshevisation of Russia.

Finally, the parallel between England in 1066 and Russia in 1917 reminds us that official glorification of saints usually follows, rather than precedes, the unofficial veneration by the believing people. Just as the believing people of the West in the first generation after the schism instinctively knew who the real heroes of the faith and nation had been and venerated them, even when their new masters forbade it, in the same way the believing people of Russia venerated the new martyrs even while their new political and ecclesiastical leaders called them “political criminals”. It therefore belongs to later generations, who come to the true faith in freedom from tyranny, to re-establish the veneration of the last champions of the faith before the (always temporary) triumph of heresy, remembering that “it is good to hide the secret of a king, but it is glorious to reveal and preach the works of God” (Tobit 12.7).