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The Encyclical Letter of Saint Mark of Ephesus

Updated: Dec 7, 2022


July 1444

To All Orthodox Christians on the Mainland and in the Islands.

From Mark, Bishop of the Metropolis of Ephesus—Rejoice in Christ!

To those who have ensnared us in an evil captivity—desiring to lead us away into the Babylon of Latin rites and dogmas—could not, of course, completely accomplish this, seeing immediately that there was little chance of it. In fact, that it was simply impossible. But having stopped somewhere in the middle—both they and those who followed after them—they neither remained any longer what they were, nor became anything else. For having quit Jerusalem, a firm and unwavering faith—and yet being in no condition and not wishing to become and to be called Babylonians—they thus called themselves, as if by right, “Greco-Latins,” and among the people are called “Latinizers.”

St. Mark the Eugenicus: "I will never do this whatever may happen." [On the table: "Terms of Union of Latins and Orthodox. In Florence in 1439."

And so these split people, like the mythical centaurs, confess together with the Latins that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Son, and has the Son as Cause of His existence, and yet together with us confess that He proceeds from the Father. And they say together with them that the addition to the Creed (of the Filioque) was done canonically and with blessing, and yet together with us do not permit it to be uttered (Besides, who would turn away from what was canonical and blessed?). And they say together with them that unleavened bread is the Body of Christ, and yet together with us do not dare to accept it. Is this not sufficient to reveal their spirit, and how that it was not in a quest for the Truth—which, having in their hands, they betrayed—that they came together with the Latins, but rather from a desire to enrich themselves and to conclude not a true, but false, union?

But one should examine in what manner they have united with them; for everything that is united to something different is naturally united by means of some middle point between them. And thus they imagined to unite with them by means of some judgment concerning the Holy Spirit, together with expressing the opinion that He has existence also from the Son. But everything else between them is divergent, and there is among them neither any middle point nor anything in common. Just as before, two divergent Creeds are uttered. Likewise, there are celebrated two Liturgies, divergent and discordant one with the other—one with leavened bread, the other with unleavened bread. Divergent also are baptisms—one performed with triple immersion, the other with “pouring” over the head from above; one with anointing chrism, the other completely without. And all rites are in everything divergent and discordant one with the other, along with the fasts, church usages, and other, similar things.

What kind of unity is this, when there is no apparent and clear sign of it? And in what manner have they united with them, desiring also to preserve their own—for in this they were unanimous—and at the same time not following the traditions of the Fathers? But what is their own “wise” opinion?

“Never,” they say, “has the Greek Church said that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father alone. She has said simply that He proceeds from the Father, thus not excluding the participation of the Son in the procession of the Holy Spirit. Therefore—they say—both before and now we exhibit unity.” Alas, what absurdity! Alas, what blindness! If the Greek Church—having received it from Christ Himself and the Holy Apostles and Fathers—has said that the Spirit proceeds from the Father, but has never said—for she has received this from no one—that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Son, then what else does this signify than that she affirms that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father alone? For if He is not from the Son evidently, He is from the Father alone.

Do you know what is said concerning the “generation?”: “Begotten of the Father before all ages.” Would anyone add here “of the Father alone?” Yet it is precisely thus, and in no other way, that we understand it, and—if need be—will express it. For we have been taught that the Son is begotten of none else, but only of the Father. Therefore, too, John of Damascus says—on behalf of the whole Church and all Christians—”We do not say that the Holy Spirit is from the Son.” And if we do not say that the Spirit is also from the Son, then it is apparent that we thus say that the Spirit is only from the Father; therefore, a little before this he says: “We do not call the Son ‘Cause,'” and in the next chapter, “The sole Cause is the Father.” What more?

“Never,” they say, have we considered Latins ‘heretics,’ but only ‘schismatics.'” But this too they have taken from the Latins, for the latter—having nothing with which to accuse us in our doctrine—call us schismatics because we have turned away from the obedience to them which, as they think, we should have. But let us examine the matter. Will it be just for us likewise to show them kindness and place no blame on them in matters of the Faith?

It was they who gave grounds for the schism by openly making the addition [the Filioque] which, until then they had spoken in secret, while we were the first to separate ourselves from them, or rather, to separate and cut them off from the common Body of the Church. Why, may I ask? Because they have the right Faith or have made the addition [to the Creed] in an Orthodox fashion? Surely whoever would begin to talk like that would not be right in the head? But rather because they have an absurd and impious opinion and for no reason at all made the addition. And so we have turned away from them, as from heretics, and have shunned them. What more is necessary?

The pious canons speak thus: “He is a heretic and subject to the canons against heretics who even slightly departs from the Orthodox Faith.” If, then, the Latins do not at all depart from the correct Faith, we have evidently cut them off unjustly. But if they have thoroughly departed [from the Faith]—and that in connection with the theology of the Holy Spirit, blasphemy against Whom is the greatest of all perils—then it is clear that they are heretics, and we have cut them off as heretics.

Why do we anoint with chrism those of them who come to us? Is it not clear that it is because they are heretics? For the seventh canon of the Second Ecumenical Council states:

“As for those heretics who betake themselves to Orthodoxy, and to the lot of those being saved, we accept them in accordance with the subjoined sequence and custom: Arians, and Macedonians, and Sabbatians, and Novatians, those calling themselves Cathari (“Puritans”) and Aristeri (“Best”), and the Quartodecimans, otherwise known as Tetradites, and Apollinarians we accept when they offer libelli (recantations in writing), and anathematize every heresy that does not hold the same beliefs as the Catholic and Apostolic Church of God, and are sealed first with holy chrism on their forehead and their eyes, and nose, and mouth, and ears, and in sealing them we say: ‘The seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit.'” Do you see with whom we number those who come from the Latins? If all those are heretics, then it is clear that these are the same.

And what does the most wise Patriarch of Antioch, Theodore Balsamon, say of this in reply to the Most Holy Patriarch of Alexandria, Mark?: “Imprisoned Latins and others coming to our Catholic churches request communion of the Divine Sacraments. We desire to know: Is this permissible?”

[Answer:] “He that is not with Me is against Me; and he that gathereth not with Me scattereth abroad (St. Matt. 12:30; St. Luke 11:23). Because many years ago, the celebrated Roman Church was separated from communion with the other four Most Holy Patriarchs, having apostatized into customs and doctrines foreign to the Catholic Church and not Orthodox—it was for this reason that the Pope was not deemed worthy of sharing in the commemoration of the names of the Eastern Patriarchs at Divine Services. Therefore, we must not sanctify one of Latin race through the Divine and most pure Gifts by priestly hands, unless he shall first resolve to depart from Latin dogmas and customs and shall be catechized and joined to those of Orthodoxy.”

Do you hear how they have departed not only in customs, but also in dogmas foreign to those of Orthodoxy—and what is foreign to Orthodox dogma is, of course, heretical teaching—and that, according to the canons, they must be catechized and united to Orthodoxy? And if it is necessary to catechize, then clearly it is necessary to anoint with chrism. How have they suddenly presented themselves to us as Orthodox, they who for so long, and according to the judgment of such great Fathers and Teachers, have been considered heretics? Who has so easily made them Orthodox? It is gold, if you desire to acknowledge the truth, and your own thirst for gain. Or, to express it better: It did not make them Orthodox, but made you like them and carried you into the camp of the heretics.

“But if,” they say, “we had devised some middle ground between dogmas, then thanks to this we would have united with them and accomplished our business superbly, without at all having been forced to say anything except what corresponds to custom and has been handed down.” This is precisely the means by which many, from of old, have been deceived and persuaded to follow those who have led them off to the steep precipice of impiety, believing that there is some sort of middle ground between two teachings that can reconcile obvious contradictions—they have been exposed to peril.

If the Latin dogma is true that the Holy Spirit proceeds also from the Son, then ours is false that states that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father—and this is precisely the reason for which we separated from them. And if ours is true, then without a doubt, theirs is false. What kind of middle ground can there be between two such judgments? There can be none, unless it were some kind of judgment suitable to both the one and the other, like a boot that fits both feet. And will this unite us?

But, someone will say, how shall we regard those moderate Greco-Latins who, maintaining a middle ground, openly favor some of the Latin rites and dogmas—favor, but do not wish to accept others—and entirely disapprove of others? One must flee from them as one flees from a snake, as from the Latins themselves, or, it may be, from those who are even worse than they—as from buyers and sellers of Christ. For they, as the Apostle says, “suppose that gain is godliness” (1 Tim. 6:5), of whom he adds, “flee these” (1 Tim. 6:11), for they go over to them not in order to learn, but for gain. “What communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel?” (2 Cor. 6: 14–15).

Behold how we, together with Damascene and all the Fathers, do not say that the Spirit proceeds from the Son; while they, together with the Latins, say that the Spirit proceeds from the Son. And we, together with the divine Dionysios, say that the Father is the sole Source of the supernatural Divinity; while they, together with the Latins, say that the Son also is the Source of the Holy Spirit, and by this clearly excluding the Spirit from the Divinity.

And we, together with Gregory the Theologian, distinguish the Father from the Son in His capacity of being Cause; while they, together with the Latins, unite them into one in the capacity of being Cause. And we, together with St. Maximos and the Romans of that time, as well as the Western Fathers, “do not make the Son the Cause of the Spirit”; while they, in their Conciliar Decree, proclaim the Son “in Greek, ‘Cause,’ and in Latin, ‘Principle'” of the Spirit.

And we, together with the Philosopher and Martyr Justin affirm, “As the Son is from the Father, so is the Spirit from the Father”; while they, together with the Latins, say that the Son proceeds from the Father immediately, and the Spirit from the Father mediately.

And we, together with Damascene and all the Fathers, confess that it is not known to us in what consists the difference between generation and procession; while they, together with Thomas and the Latins, say that the difference consists in this: that generation is immediate, and procession mediate.

And we affirm, in agreement with the Fathers, that the will and energy of the uncreated and divine nature are uncreated; while they, together with the Latins and Thomas, say that will is identical with nature, but that the divine energy is created, whether it be called divinity, or the divine and immaterial light, or the Holy Spirit, or something else of this nature—and in some fashion, these poor creatures worship the created “divinity” and the created “divine light” and the created “Holy Spirit.”

And we say that neither do the Saints receive the kingdom and the unutterable blessings already prepared for them, nor are sinners already sent to hell, but both await their fate which will be received in the future age after the resurrection and judgement; while they, together with the Latins, desire immediately after death to receive according to their merits. And for those in an intermediate condition, who have died in repentance, they give a purgatorial fire (which is not identical with that of hell) so that, as they say, having purified their souls by it after death, they also together with the righteous will enjoy the kingdom; this is contained in their Conciliar Decree.

And we, obeying the Apostles who have prohibited it, shun Jewish unleavened bread; while they, in the same Act of Union, proclaim that what is used in the services of the Latins is the Body of Christ.

And we say that the addition to the Creed arose un-canonically and anti-canonically and contrary to the Fathers; while they affirm that it is canonical and blessed—to such an extent are they unaware how to conform to the Truth and to themselves!

And for us, the Pope is as one of the Patriarchs, and that alone—if he be Orthodox; while they, with great gravity, proclaim him “Vicar of Christ, Father and Teacher of all Christians.” May they be more fortunate than their Father, who are also like him. For he does not greatly prosper, having an anti-pope who is the cause of sufficient unpleasantness; and they are not happy to imitate him.

And so, brethren, flee from them and from communion with them, for they are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the Apostles of Christ. And no marvel, for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore, it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness, whose end shall be according to their works (2 Cor. 11:13–15). And in another place, the same Apostle says of them: “For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, hut their own belly”; and by good words and fair speeches, they deceive the hearts of the simple. Nevertheless, the foundation of God stands sure, having this seal (Rom. 16:18; 2 Tim. 2:19). And in another place: “Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the circumcision” (Phil. 3:2). And then, in another place: “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you—let him be accursed” (Gal. 1:8). See what has been prophetically foretold, that “though an angel from heaven,” so that no one could cite in justification of himself an especially high position. And the beloved Disciple speaks thus: “If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, and give him no greeting; for he that giveth him greeting is partaker in his evil deeds” (2 John 10–11).

Therefore, in so far as this is what has been commanded you by the Holy Apostles, stand aright, hold firmly to the traditions which you have received, both written and by word of mouth, that you be not deprived of your firmness if you are led away by the delusions of the lawless.

May God, Who is all-powerful, make them also to know their delusion; and having delivered us from them as from evil tares, may He gather us into His granaries like pure and useful wheat, in Jesus Christ our Lord, to Whom belongs all glory, honor, and worship, with His Father Who is without beginning, and His All-holy and Good and Life-giving Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen [1].

- St. Mark of Ephesus



[1]. Orthodox Books & Icons, The Encyclical of St Mark of Ephesus (1444),” in The Orthodox Word 3, no 3, trans. Archimandrite Amvrossy Pogodin (March-May: 1967), 53-59.

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