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Eastern Orthodoxy and the Pathology Against Charity

I was in the car with my friend on the way to Vespers at the Russian Orthodox church. I remember it vividly for some reason; driving down the streets of the old Slavic immigrant neighborhood on the westside of my city (which encompasses also the Ukrainian Catholic parish and the Polish Catholic parish).

This would have been 2008 or 2009 when I was Eastern Orthodox.

I don’t even remember the specific subject of the conversation, but we were talking about east-west issues, and the sack of Constantinople in 1204 came up.

“And then the Crusaders… did something unspeakable at the altar of Hagia Sophia.”

“Yes I know,” I said. “I know about that. You don’t have to say it. Don’t say it.”

“Yes of course…” he nodded, understanding perfectly my heart and soul at that moment.

Something so horrifying that it cannot be repeated and heard by pious ears. The demonic darkness of such a deed was not something to be uttered even as a matter of historical record.

Without a doubt, 1204 was an atrocity. A fratricide. An evil.

And this evil – and all the atrocities associated with it – should be condemned from the outset by both sides, east and west, in any discussion of the history.

But on that day on our way to Russian Vespers, I felt something in that moment. Something I had felt at different instances in my journey from Protestant anti-Catholicism to Eastern Orthodoxy.

It was the pathology against charity.

I felt the wound again. I felt the anger. And I felt the vindication.

Now this is a complex thing in the depths of the human heart, so let me try to explore this a little. I tried to mention this is in my essay against Eastern Orthodoxy. Here we will try to expand on that and talk about the spiritual issues involved. This will serve as the first of two articles which address the events of 1204 and its effect on the reality of the Greek schisms. This is something that comes up in east-west discussions, as it did that day on the westside, and I realize now it’s a very deep issue both spiritually and historically.

Suffering Injustice

It is something which seems to be deep in the heart of some Protestants and Orthodox which is hard to explain. I have felt it myself, and seen it from the outside in others.

There is a father wound there. It’s a hurt. A victimhood. A deep scar caused from abuse.

It is a wound of abuse.

There is sense of being wronged. It is something that anyone who has been hurt or abused understands.

There is first the pain of the offense. It may be excruciating. The emotional damage. This strikes first as soon as the abuse is inflicted.

Then after the initial shock of the pain, it roots down into your heart.

Then the indignation happens. Then the heart cries to God for vengeance.

Vengeance according to justice.

And they cried with a loud voice, saying: How long, O Lord (holy and true) dost thou not judge and revenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth? (Apoc. vi. 10).

We must stress the reality of this righteous justice. The soul that has suffered actual injustice cries for this, which is nothing less than the justice of God.

1204 is an outrage which cries to God.

Yet St. James says this:

Let every man be swift to hear, but slow to speak, and slow to anger. For the anger of man worketh not the justice of God (Ja. i. 19-20).

There is an anger in man which is entirely opposed to the justice of God. Yet God Himself puts forth His own wrath upon sinners in His justice.

Where, then, is the line between righteous anger and sinful anger? As the Prophet declares :

Have I not hated them, O Lord, that hated thee: and pined away because of thy enemies? I have hated them with a perfect hatred: and they are become enemies to me (Ps. cxxxviii. 21-22).

Yet the next verses give the answer to our question:

Prove me, O God, and know my heart: examine me, and know my paths. And see if there be in me the way of iniquity: and lead me in the eternal way.

As the Holy Spirit says in another place:

I am the Lord who search the heart, and prove the reins: who give to every one according to his way, and according to the fruit of his devices (Jer. xvii. 10).

It is in the depths of the heart, known to God alone, where the line is drawn between righteous anger and sinful anger. Thus does the Prophet beseech the Lord to prove me and see if there be in me the way of iniquity. Only Christ Himself Who speaks these words of perfect hatred against His enemies can purify the sinful anger of the old man into the new man in Him (Rom. vi. 6).

Truly only the saints can show forth this perfect, righteous anger, as Our Lord did in His holy violence against His enemies in the Temple.

Yet for those of us who are not saints, we don’t have anything close to righteous anger.

Instead, we have hardened hearts.

The Necessity of Forgiving One’s Enemies to Escape Hell

For here we encounter stricter words from Our Blessed Lord when He gives that most sacred prayer which sums up our faith:

If you will forgive men their offences, your heavenly Father will forgive you also your offences. But if you will not forgive men, neither will your Father forgive you your offences (Mt. vi. 15).

Then even stronger Our Lord warns of the punishment of hell for those who fail to forgive their brethren in the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant:

Then his lord called him; and said to him: Thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all the debt, because thou besoughtest me: Shouldst not thou then have had compassion also on thy fellow servant, even as I had compassion on thee? And his lord being angry, delivered him to the torturers until he paid all the debt. So also shall my heavenly Father do to you, if you forgive not every one his brother from your hearts (Mt. xviii. 32-25).

St. John Chrysostom explains:

Because kindness had not mended him [the unmerciful servant], it remains that he be corrected by punishment; whence it follows, And the lord of that servant was angry, and delivered him to the torturers… He said not merely, Delivered him, but was angry, this he had not said before; when his Lord commanded that he should be sold; for that was not in wrath, but in love, for his correction; now this is a sentence of penalty and punishment.

[Until he should pay the whole debt]. By this is shewn that his punishment shall be increasing and eternal, and that he shall never pay. And however irrevocable are the graces and callings of God, yet wickedness has that force, that it seems to break even this law.

Here we see the severity with which God judges those who harden their hearts against their brother. This is the great difficulty in dealing with the pain of abuse and emotional wounds. It is the difficulty in dealing with 1204. There is the pain, then there is the indignation against a real injustice. But then, Our God says He will punish us if we do not forgive.

But let us go further.

The great Russian saint Ignatii Brianchaninov (1807-1867), in his modern classic The Arena, in the chapter “Concerning Resentment or Remembrance of Wrongs,” writes on this point:

God is love, said St. John the Theologian. Consequently resentment or rejection of love is rejection of God. God withdraws from a resentful person, deprives him of His grace, is definitely estranged from him, and gives him up to spiritual death, unless he makes shift in good time to be healed of that deadly moral poison, resentment.[1]

He tells the story of the martyr St. Nikephoros of Antioch, whose brother in Christ Sapricius refused to forgive him, and so lost the crown of martyrdom and apostatized. Rejection of forgiveness was judged as rejection of Christ. But St. Nikephoros forgave his brother and this, says Ignatii, “gave him the fitness and high calling of a martyr” and he received the crown.[2]

Ignatii then recounts the story of two monks in the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra (at Kyiv, modern Ukraine), who refused to forgive each other. One monk receives a vision and is converted: “I saw Angels withdrawing from me and weeping over the ruin of my soul poisoned with rancour and resentment. And I saw devils rejoicing that I was perishing on account of my anger.” The second monk refuses to forgive, and is struck dead.

Therefore St. Ignatii concludes:

From these stories it is seen that love for our enemies is the highest rung on the ladder of love for our neighbours, through which we enter the vast palace of love for God. Let us force our heart to accept from our neighbours all kinds of offences and injuries that they may inflict upon us, so as to receive forgiveness of our countless sin by which we have offended the Divine Majesty… Let us pray for our enemies with great care, and by this prayer obliterate the malice from their hearts and replace it with love. ‘He who prays for people who offend and wrong him crushes the demons; but he who resists or opposes the former is wounded by the latter,’ said Saint Mark the Ascetic.[3]

By the cunning of the fallen angels, the truth about righteous anger against real injustice is mixed with emotional wounds and sinful anger, producing resentment and unforgiveness.

Unforgiveness which leads straight to damnation. The hardened heart ends with the wrath of God.

The Pathology Against Charity

These are the spiritual realities that we must bring to any consideration of 1204 and the sack of Constantinople by the Fourth Crusade. It was on this date today, April 12th, when that atrocity was accomplished eight hundred and eighteen years ago.

The deed was an act of fratricide condemned from the very beginning by the Roman Pontiff, Innocent III, upon whose spiritual authority the whole Crusade rested.

But to illustrate the reality of this pathology against charity, we have to mention another date and another atrocity.

1204 was preceded by a wicked act committed by the Roman Emperor at Constantinople against the Latins, in 1182, when the Latin populations of the eastern capitol were massacred or sold into slavery to the Muhammadans.

Why has no one ever heard of 1182? Or why do the Latins never bring up this atrocity done by the Greeks as a grievance against them?

Or let us add another date: 1281. This is another grievance of the Greeks against the Latins. This was the year that an actually wicked pope, Martin IV, falsely excommunicated the Greek Catholic Emperor of Constantinople and called a false crusade against him. He was induced to do this by the wicked prince Charles of Anjou – the evil brother of St. Louis IX – who led an officially Church-sanctioned counter-attack on the Greeks at New Rome.[4] Thank God it failed.

But this was the act that officially broke the union of Lyons in 1274.

In this case, it was Pope Martin IV, in some sense, that caused the schism to be renewed between east and west. (The Greek rejection of John Bekkos, is obviously their side of this story.)

But why are 1182 and 1281 forgotten, while the Greeks greeted John Paul II on his modern trip to Greece with signs that said “1204”?

It is because there is a pathology against charity about 1204. There is an unforgiving spirit which continues to be harboured by the Greeks about this atrocity that Latin crusaders committed. 1204 and not 1281 has passed into Greek memory as a wrong to be remembered. To this day, Eastern Orthodox will bring this up as if it were an argument to vindicate the Greek schisms. The atrocity of 1204 has hardened hearts.

I know because I did it myself. But by some unmerited grace of God, I began to see how this unforgiveness had blinded me to the truth of the history, and caused me to continue in one of the Greek schisms.

As I wrote back in 2012 when I was Eastern Orthodox:

I discovered, moreover, that the Orthodox chronology usually given (that the schism began in 1054, for example), was actually itself a Greek suppression of Orthodox history. No one tells the story of Patriarch Peter of Antioch opposing the wicked intrigues of Michael Keroularios, who impiously desecrated the Blessed Sacrament because it did not contain yeast. No one mentions that the sack of Constantinople in 1204 was instigated by a Byzantine prince! Or, as the Orthodox scholar David Bentley Hart has it,

‘I eagerly await the day when the Patriarch of Constantinople, in a gesture of unqualified Christian contrition, makes public penance for the brutal mass slaughter of the metic Latin Christians of Byzantium – men, women, and children – at the rise of Andronicus I Comnenus in 1182, and the sale of thousands of them into slavery to the Turks.’[5]

David Bentley Hart has in recent years apparently promoted some erroneous views. But on this point, he makes a correct implication about this unforgiving spirit.

The pathology against charity is still pervading the Greek Orthodox memory of 1204. And I remember that feeling after ten years when my friend brought it up to me on our way to Russian Orthodox Vespers.

It’s something that lies beneath the surface, but still gets raised. Orthodox polemicists start to talk about body counts, and who has spilled more blood in our shared history east and west.

What? Are you a Christian or aren’t you?

What do the sins of evil men centuries ago have to do with the theological claims of Rome or eastern conciliarism? What does it matter who has spilled more blood on either side of this lamentable schism?

It is an impossible historical question, for starters.

And more importantly, these body counts will be our judges at the dread judgment seat of Christ. For God will punish in hell the unforgiving soul, as He says clearly in the Gospel.

This is the spiritual reality that is at work in the east-west schism. And let’s be clear – it’s not just on the Greek side.

Not at all.

The Mutual Antipathy

In my view, no one explains this better than the greatest historian of the twentieth century, Christopher Dawson (1889-1970). He breaks down how the failures of the crusades – which began as a joint military venture – ended up increasing the mutual hatred between east and west, and led to the hardening of the east-west schism.

The founder of the new dynasty, Alexius Comnenus, now sent enjoys to the West – to Pope Urban II at the Council of Piacenza in 1094, asking for Western aid [against the Muhammadans]. And the Pope in the following year launched his appeal for a general Crusade for the liberation of Eastern Christendom – a project which went far beyond anything the Emperor had conceived or asked…

Had the Byzantine Emperors and the leaders of the Crusades been able to understand one another and work together against their common enemies, the [eastern Roman] Empire might have been saved. But though the statesmanship and patience of Alexius Comnenus almost achieved this end, it was ultimately defeated by the mutual antipathy of Greeks and Franks – above all, by the way the differences of culture and economic interest were continually exacerbated by the deep-seated feud between the Churches.[6]

Dawson makes note of the biography of the eastern Roman emperor by his daughter Anna Comnena, which excoriated the Latins as rude barbarians or Roman subjects in revolt to their true lord in Constantinople. This suggests how the eastern imperial court cared little about the theological divide and spread instead a deep cultural antipathy with their brethren in the west. This mixed with the theological dispute among the Greek clergy with the west, and, especially after crusader and other Latin atrocities were done to the Greek faithful, created an ingrained hatred of the Latins by the common Greeks. This could then be used as a political tool:

Only two years after the death of Emperor Manuel [Comnenus, in 1182], the usurper Andronicus had won power by appealing to the anti-Latin sentiment of the mb, which massacred the papal legate and the Italian colony and destroyed the Latin churches. This led to war with the Normans and the Venetians which revealed the nakedness of the land to determined aggression.

This opportunity was exploited by the Venetians and their allies in the Fourth Crusade when Constantinople was captured for the first time in its history and a Latin emperor and patriarch installed in the sacred city. After this outrage there could never be any hope for a genuine reconciliation of East and West.[7]

Our Only Hope

Thus we see the bad blood on both sides which has contributed to this schism, but it is the memory of 1204 that has been remembered by the Greeks. This infects even serious and sober Orthodox scholarship. For example, one of the best sources of Orthodox scholarship is undoubtedly the Parisian-Russian school in Paris and later in the United States. This eventually founded St. Vladimir Seminary, which published the excellent historical series The Church in History, led by the great Fr. John Meyendorff of happy memory (1926-1992), priest of the Orthodox Church in America (a Russian daughter church).

Yet the treatment of 1204 by Meyendorff and Papadakis in The Christian East and the Rise of the Papacy, otherwise an excellent history, is incomplete at best, and lamentably biased (pp. 199-211). It perpetuates the victim memory among the Greeks and confirms them in their unforgiveness. The treatment, even citing many good sources, ignores the obvious “mutual antipathy” outlined above by Dawson, repeats old stereotypes about the “Franks,” fails to mention 1182, and makes the false implication about the atrocity to which we alluded at the beginning of this essay.

This produces a picture of Latin domination in the east which cannot but confirm that anti-Christian dictum made by Loukas Notaras at the fall of Constantinople in 1453: “Better the Turkish turban than the Latin mitre.”

The spirit of unforgiveness ends up with choosing the Muhammadans, the forces of Antichrist.

Against this evil, John Paul II spoke to our separated brethren in 2004 with these eloquent words:

On this journey [of reconciliation east and west], we have certainly been oppressed by the memory of the painful events in our past history. In particular, on this occasion we cannot forget what happened during the month of April 1204. An army that had set out to recover the Holy Land for Christendom marched on Constantinople, took it and sacked it, pouring out the blood of our own brothers and sisters in the faith. Eight centuries later, how can we fail to share the same indignation and sorrow that Pope Innocent III expressed as soon as he heard the news of what had happened? After so much time has elapsed, we can analyze the events of that time with greater objectivity, yet with an awareness of how difficult it is to investigate the whole truth of history.

His final sentence is what we are trying to do here: examine these and other historical and theological questions “with greater objectivity.” Like I said from the beginning, our polemic against the Greek schisms is a dispute among separated brethren, and Rome only wins this dispute after conceding many just grievances by the Greeks.

And this includes, of course, the sack of 1204.

But before we do the historical work, it is necessary to face the spiritual realities that we have attempted to show in this essay. These are the spiritual truths that the best Catholic and Orthodox leaders are right now practicing during this current Ukraine Crisis.

Against the spirit of hardened hearts and unforgiveness, His Beatitude, Patriarch Sviatoslav Shevchuk, head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church called upon his faithful to forgive their enemies, the invading Russians, and pray for them. In the same vein, the Metropolitan of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate recently decried the news of war crimes at Bucha: “I turn those who committed this over to the judgment of God, from Whom nothing can be concealed.”

This the spirit with which we need to address 1204 and the current Ukraine crisis. Once we face the spiritual reality, then we can face the historical reality. After this we can examine the ecclesiastical reality of how the institution of the Papacy itself is the divine institution which alone forces, as it were, unforgiving brethren to make their communion with one another truly real. This is why the Latins have not remembered 1182, but the Greeks have remembered 1204. It is not because the Latins are more righteous, but because the universal ecclesiology of the papacy does not allow us to remember these things as a matter of Church division. Again, see my original essay for more on this.

Later today on the anniversary of the sack in 1204, we will present a historical sketch of the primary sources in attempt to bring to light – especially for our Catholic brethren tempted by the Greek schism – the truth about the events of the sack immediately before and after. This will equip Catholics with a better understanding of what happened, what went wrong, and why these things do not support the polemic against Rome. Many Catholics are abused and wounded by the bad fathers in the Roman Church – whether priests or popes – and they can get caught up in the pathology against charity in Eastern Orthodoxy, and find a refuge for their resentment.

For now, we beseech the reader, especially that soul tempted by this, to ask God for a spirit of forgiveness against every enemy, whether Catholic or Orthodox, abusive priest or rancourous layman, crusader or Greek – Ukrainians or Russians. Let us, together, then chant with our hearts the hymn of Holy Thursday in the Roman Rite, in spirit and truth:

Ubi cáritas et amor, Deus ibi est.
V. The love of Christ has gathered us together.
V. Let us rejoice in Him and be glad.
V. Let us fear and love the living God.
V. And let us love one another with a sincere heart.
Ubi cáritas et amor, Deus ibi est.
V. When, therefore, we are assembled together.
V. Let us take heed, that we be not divided in mind.
V. Let malicious quarrels and contentions cease.
V. And let Christ our God dwell among us.
Ubi cáritas et amor, Deus ibi est.
V. Let us also with the blessed see.
V. Thy face in glory, O Christ our God.
V. There to possess immeasurable and happy joy.
V. For infinite ages of ages. Amen.

T. S. Flanders
Holy Tuesday


[1] Ignatius Brianchaninov, The Arena: an Offering to Contemporary Monasticism, trans. Lazarus Moore (Holy Trinity Publ. 1997), 159.

[2] Ibid., 161.

[3] Ibid., 164.

[4] Christopher Dawson, The Formation of Christendom (Ignatius Press, 2008), 278.

[5] David Bentley Hart, “The Myth of Schism,” Ecumenism Today (Ashgate, 2006). Hart’s essay here is actually quite good and still worth a read, despite his current errors.

[6] Dawson, op. cit., 273, 274.

[7] Ibid., 276.

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