“‘But if,’ they say, ‘we had devised some middle ground between the dogmas (of the Papists and the Orthodox), 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 (by the Fathers).’ This is precisely the means by which many, from of old, have been deceived and persuaded to follow those who have led them off the steep precipice of impiety; believing that there is some middle ground between the two teachings that can reconcile obvious contradictions, they have been exposed to peril.” + St. Mark of Ephesus, “Encyclical Letter, July 1440”
The Synod of Ferrara-Florence took place 385 years after the Schism between Rome and Constantinople, and the heretical positions of the Latins were well known to Saint Mark. Nonetheless the Saint made a great effort to persuade the Latins, sometimes by overstepping the sacred Canons, which exclude any contact with heretics. He did this with the hope of their return (not for union). Thus:
1. He recognized the heretical Papacy as a “sister Church”. Mark of Ephesus himself characterizes the Churches of the East and West as “Sister churches”, which must with the help of God reconcile and for peace to be restored between them (Acta Graecorum, p.52). Also, in his interaction with the purpose of true reunification with the Latins, he calls them not only brothers, but friends, fathers and holy ones (Acta Graecorum, p.216; Syropoulos’ Memoirs VIII,6, p.394 and IV, 31, p.230).
2. He addressed Pope Eugene IV with courteous words and titles, which do not fit a heretic. Listen to what he says: “Listen revered Pope of Rome and teacher of Latindom….” Elsewhere he says: “His Beatitude the Pope of the presbyters of Rome.” Even when addressing the emperor John VIII Palaiologos and Patriarch Joseph II, he says: “Listen, holy emperor lord John and holy patriarch Joseph….”
3. He participated in prayers with the heretics. The Saint himself participated in the inaugural ceremony prayer in Ferrara, but not in the common liturgy with the Pope at the end of the Synod in Florence (minutes of the Synod of Ferrara-Florence, columns 475-478). The funeral and burial of Patriarch Joseph II took place in June 1439 in the Catholic Church of Santa Maria Novella in Florence, and of course Saint Mark was present and participated in the service with the Latins.
4. One should also not forget that during the theological dialogue with heretics, the Fathers used several times phrases of courtesy towards them, without of course over-stepping strict Orthodox ecclesiology or their ecclesiological opinions. It was quite characteristic for Saint Mark Ephesus to use such phrases, as when he told the Pope: “Holy father, receive your children.”
5. The presence of Saint Mark at the sessions of the Synod of Ferrara-Florence was complete and universal at all the sessions, except two, when he was banned from participating. Thus:
A) At the Synod in Ferrara there were fourteen sessions from 4/9/1438 – 12/13/1438, and Saint Mark participated in ALL of them.
B) At the Synod in Florence there were numerous sessions from 02/26/1439 – 07/06/1439, and Saint Mark attended them all, except TWO sessions (03/21/1439 and 03/24/1439), in which he was denied participation by the emperor, who shut him in his cell with a guard.
Conclusion: Saint Mark participated in all the sessions, except for two, though this was not his fault. He was involved in all the others and was never absent voluntarily. He may have wept over the predicament of the Orthodox hierarchs, but he was obedient to the dictates of the emperor.
6. He accepted the baptism of the Latins as valid, even after the Synod. Mark of Ephesus preferred oikonomia in regards the issue of the baptism of the Latins, despite his strict adherence to the Orthodox Faith, testifying it to be the “universal practice of the Orthodox Church”, and he admits that “we chrismate those who come over to us from them (i.e. the Latins) … as being heretics” (Karmiris, “Dogmatics”). In other words, he accepts the Latins like the heretical Arians according Canon VII of the Second Ecumenical Synod, although aware of the method of sprinkling, which he repudiates. Hence, Dositheos of Jerusalem appears to be opposed to Mark of Ephesus, since the latter accepts the baptism of the Latins (by sprinkling); Dositheos by exactitude and Mark by oikonomia.
Mark, the Metropolitan of Ephesus, was fully prepared for the Dialogue. He was an honest and loyal man with a good character, and he worked for the good of the entire Church. With his participation he wanted to restore the communion and confession of the sister Church of the West. Yet Saint Mark criticized the fact how both sides tried to find the most powerful arguments in order to destroy the views of the opponent, and thus with these conflicts they lost their main purpose, i.e. to solve problems.
Saint Mark did not seek a superficial and false reconciliation, nor a political contractual coexistence. Neither did he act egotistically, to show himself off. His pursuit was to agree on the truth and restore harmony and unity through dialogue. He did not seek dialogue to defeat his opponents with the strongest arguments and thus be triumphalistic and egotistical. This proves his benevolent intention which he based on the spirit of the ancient and great Fathers of the Church.
What therefore brought Saint Mark to this Synod, where he bore the heaviest burden in the negotiations and dialogue, was his ecclesiastical conscience and conviction, that the restoration of full ecclesial communion between the Churches of East and West should become a reality based on the love and truth of the faith. For this purpose, he did not hesitate to accept the heretical Church of Rome as a sister Church, and he did not hesitate to admit that the Body of the Church “was divided”. Nor did he even hesitate to admit that he was the child of the (heretic, of course) Pope (“holy father, receive your children”).
Unfortunately, however, neither the Synod in general, (and even worse) nor his brethren from the Eastern Church followed his example. Eventually he was not heard, since the emperor forbade him a place at the two most important sessions. The fact that he was left alone does not diminish his stature nor the correctness of his faith, which is not simply decided upon by a majority lawful decision. Truth does not depend on a numerical majority. History is a witness. With absolute conviction therefore to the correctness of his faith, he could not renounce his faith and accept the decisions of that Synod, by simply agreeing with the majority. For this same reason, for the entirety of Orthodoxy today it is impossible to agree and accept those decisions.