Saint Mark spoke these words at the infamous Council of Ferrara/Florence (1439), which, based on an unholy compromise, proclaimed a false union of the Latin and Orthodox Churches. Saint Mark was a dauntless soldier of Christ in his resistance to the actions of this blasphemous council. Who was Saint Mark and why is he revered today as one of Orthodoxy's greatest defenders? What were the circumstances that led to the so-called Union of Florence?
Saint Mark was born Manuel Evgenikos of a wealthy family in Constantinople in 1392. His father served in the imperial government and his mother was the daughter of one of the capital city's most outstanding physicians. Young Manuel distinguished himself in both secular and religious studies and in time was appointed personal secretary to Emperor Manuel II Paleologos. But despite his promising career and intellectual achievements, Manuel desired to leave the world and embrace the life of the monastic desert fathers. Manuel was tonsured with the name of Mark and was later ordained as a priest-monk. Saint Mark was soon widely lauded for his sermons and theological treatises. Reluctantly he accepted elevation to the post of Metropolitan (Bishop) of Ephesus.
At this time, early in the fifteenth century, the incursions of the Ottoman Turk forces into the Byzantine Empire threatened not only the empire but the very existence of the Orthodox Church. One by one the great cities of the empire fell until the borders of the empire scarcely extended beyond the walls of Constantinople. The Emperor John VIII looked to the West for military support since the spread of Islam was a threat to both Orthodox and Roman Catholics. He hoped the Pope would send his army of trained mercenaries to the aid of fellow Christians. In response to the Emperor's appeal, Rome convoked a council in the city of Ferrara (later moved to Florence), Italy, to consider the union of the two churches. Orthodox representatives from Russia, Constantinople, Jerusalem and Alexandria were in attendance. Emperor John VIII and Patriarch Joseph of Constantinople led the Orthodox delegation, and they brought with them the Church's most eloquent defender, Mark of Ephesus. In the discussions which followed, Mark of Ephesus was the primary speaker on behalf of the Orthodox.
Orthodox hopes for a union based on truth and equality were soon shattered. The Pope at first demanded that the Patriarch and all the Orthodox bishops kiss his slipper rather than exchange the customary brotherly embrace with him. The meetings were to extend for months, from 1438 into 1439, primarily due to an impasse stemming from the Pope's insistence that no military aid would be forthcoming unless the Orthodox Church agreed to unity with Rome on papal terms. At times during the long months of negotiations, the Latins withheld basic necessities (even food) from their Orthodox “guests.” This thinly disguised extortion no doubt contributed to the death of the disillusioned Patriarch Joseph, which in turn threw the meetings into greater turmoil. The pressure from the Latins and from the Emperor to submit to Rome was so great that Metropolitans Isidore and Bessarion from the Orthodox delegation signed the act of union. One by one, the Orthodox capitulated and followed them into the betrayal of Orthodoxy. The Emperor and those who signed feared the Moslem invaders more than Rome.
Saint Mark of Ephesus, however, staunchly refused to submit to Rome. Storming out of the council in protest, he vowed never to submit to what was little other than tyranny. Threatened with papal censure, Saint Mark replied: “The Seven Ecumenical Councils condemn those who will not obey the Church and maintain opinions contrary to what she teaches. I neither preach to my own glory, nor have I said anything new or unknown to the Church. I keep intact the pure and unadulterated teachings which the Church has received and preserved and continues to preserve, from Christ our Savior. This teaching was also held by Rome until the beginning of the schism. No one can censure or condemn this pious teaching. First judge the teaching which I believe, and then judge me.”
Thus, Saint Mark firmly upheld the purity of the Orthodox Faith which has not yielded to any external influence since the time of Christ. He returned to Ephesus to lead a movement against the so-called unity which Rome contrived. He was instrumental in rallying the faithful to a clear defiance of papal pressure and a reaffirmation of Orthodox principles. Subsequent events saw the failure of this infamous attempt for unity, the exile of the Russian Metropolitan (who had signed the act of union), and the return of those who had strayed from the Orthodox Faith. In a time when Orthodoxy sorely needed a show of spiritual fortitude, Mark of Ephesus scorned the mailed fist. For this he was banished by the Emperor, whose concern for his city was greater than his concern for the purity of the Orthodox Faith. After two years of exile, Saint Mark returned to great acclaim. He was offered the Patriarchal throne, but refused it. He spent the remaining years of his life giving fatherly direction to his many spiritual children concerning the direction of the Church and of our faith, and he admonished them to turn away from every new teaching. Excelling in good deeds, Saint Mark departed for the endless life in the year 1444.
(h/t Father's bulletin)