The Orthodox Church by Timothy Ware
"I would rather see the Muslim turban in the midst of the city than the Latin mitre."
Thus the Grand Duke Lucas Notaras echoed the words attributed to the sister of Emperor Michael VIII some 150 years prior when she said, "Better that my brother's Empire should perish, than the purity of Orthodox faith."
Why the strong statements?
In both instances reunion councils - at Lyons in 1274 and at Florence in 1438 - were to blame.
To blame? Is not working for unity a good thing?
Indeed it is great, however, not at the expense of the principles you believe are from God. We can negotiate on whether we want pink or blue carpet within the church, but for many of these people, the things of the Church - the Creeds and authority of one church (i.e.,Rome) over all the others were not up for compromise.
Yet compromise on the issues of the Filioque and Papal authority is what the leaders tried to do. The Byzantines gave into Rome's demands and at least on paper agreed that the addition of the Filioque was fine and Rome's thoughts on Papal authority were too. Why this bowing down to Rome's wishes?
The author notes that the two sides truly did want reconciliation between fellow Christians, however, he also recognized politics played a role. The Byzantines were being threatened in the first case by the sovereign of Sicily,Charles of Anjou, and later by the Turks. Help from Rome was needed and this could best be secured by attempting reconciliation.
And what better way to reconcile - at least on paper - than to agree to Rome's wishes.
Yet most of the Byzantine leaders and people did not agree to these compromises.
The author mentions that eastern and western thought continued to drift apart with westerners being influenced by Scholasticism, "new categories of thought, a new theological method, and a new terminology which the east did not understand." In the east, theology was influenced by the Hesychast Controversy where the church leaders had to make sense of God being unknowable (i.e., we cannot define Him) yet able to be known (i.e., He reveals Himself to His creation.)
How is this explained?
The Hesychasts were mystical and thought we could know God through inner stillness, through prayer. Yet another common Greek thought, as mentioned, said God was unable to be known. "'God is infinite and incomprehensible,' wrote John of Damascus, 'and all that is comprehensible about Him is His infinity and incomprehensibility.'"
The controversy between the Hesychasts and Barlaam was taken up by St. Gregory Palamas, Archbishop of Thessalonica,who explained that we needed to distinguish between God's essence (unknowable) and His energies (knowable). St. Basil once had said, "We know our God from His energies..., but we do not claim that we can draw near to His essence. For His energies come down to us, but His essence remains unapproachable." (pg.68)
What are these energies? I was asking this question too and then read this:
"These energies are not something that exists apart from God, not a gift which God confers upon humans; they are God Himself in action and revelation to the world...[All] creation is a gigantic Burning Bush, permeated but not consumed by the ineffable and wondrous fire of God's energies. It is through these energies that God enters into a direct and immediate relationship with humankind. In relation to us humans, the divine energy is in fact nothing else than the grace of God; grace is not just a 'gift' of God, not just an object which God bestows on humans, but a direct manifestation of the living God Himself, a personal encounter between creature and Creator."
Hmmm, any wonder St. Gregory began his defense by reaffirming the Biblical doctrine of Incarnation?
"Palamas, therefore, preserved God's transcendence and avoided the pantheism to which an unguarded mysticism easily leads; yet he allowed for God's immanence, for His continual presence in the world. God remains 'the Wholly Other', and yet through His energies (which are God Himself) He enters into an immediate relationship with the world." (pg. 69)
A contemporary of Palamas, lay theologian St. Nicolas Cabasilas authored a book which dealt with mysticism not becoming speculative and individualistic, but remaining "Christocentric, sacramental, ecclesial."
"Palamas and his circle did not regard mystical prayer as a means of bypassing the normal institutional life of the Church."
Chapter three ends with the east and west unable to come together despite the reconciliation attempt at the council meeting in Florence. In the end the Turks came and one last service - with both Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox united - was held at the Church of the Holy Wisdom (Hagia Sophia). After receiving communion, the Emperor went out and died while fighting on the walls.
"Later the same day the city fell to the Turks, and the most glorious church in Christendom became a mosque."
I suppose for the Christians living at that time it would be like what Muslims would think if the Masjid al-Haram at Mecca were converted into a church.