February 6, 2023

Saint Photios the Great's Encyclical to the Eastern Patriarchs (867)

In 867, Ecumenical Patriarch Photios the Great sent a famous Encyclical to the Eastern Patriarchs and held a great synod with many hundreds participating. The encyclical and synod addressed errors in doctrine and practice being used by Frankish missionaries in Bulgaria and it reprimanded Pope Nicholas for ruling with an iron fist (Constantinople received many complaints from bishops and monastics in the West regarding Nicholas’ tyrannical reign as pope).  This synod is often called a "Robber Synod" that led to the "Photian Schism" in Western resources. However, at this point, Nicholas had excommunicated Photios and had broken communion with the Christian East four years prior. So blaming Photios for the schism is historically ignorant.

Encyclical to the Eastern Patriarchs (867)

By St. Photios the Great

Countless have been the evils devised by the cunning devil against the race of men, from the beginning up to the coming of the Lord. But even afterwards, he has not ceased through errors and heresies to beguile and deceive those who listen to him. Before our times, the Church, witnessed variously the godless errors of Arius, Macedonius, Nestorius, Eutyches, Discorus, and a foul host of others, against which the holy Ecumenical Synods were convened, and against which our holy and God-bearing Fathers battled with the sword of the Holy Spirit. Yet, even after these heresies had been overcome and peace reigned, and from the Imperial Capital the streams of Orthodoxy flowed throughout the world; after some people who had been afflicted by the Monophysite heresy returned to the True Faith because of your holy prayers; and after other barbarian peoples, such as the Bulgarians, had turned from idolatry to the knowledge of God and the Christian Faith: then was the cunning devil stirred up because of his envy.

For the Bulgarians had not been baptised even two years when dishonourable men emerged out of the darkness (that is, the West), and poured down like hail or, better, charged like wild boars upon the newly-planted vineyard of the Lord, destroying it with hoof and tusk, which is to say, by their shameful lives and corrupted dogmas. For the papal missionaries and clergy wanted these Orthodox Christians to depart from the correct and pure dogmas of our irreproachable Faith.

The first error of the Westerners was to compel the faithful to fast on Saturdays. (I mention this seemingly small point because the least departure from Tradition can lead to a scorning of every dogma of our Faith.) Next, they convinced the faithful to despise the marriage of priests, thereby sowing in their souls the seeds of the Manichean heresy. Likewise, they persuaded them that all who had been chrismated by priests had to be anointed again by bishops. In this way, they hoped to show that Chrismation by priests had no value, thereby ridiculing this divine and supernatural Christian Mystery. From whence comes this law forbidding priests to anoint with Holy Chrism? From what lawgiver, Apostle, Father, or Synod? For, if a priest cannot chrismate the newly-baptised, then surely neither can he baptise. Or, how can a priest consecrate the Body and Blood of Christ our Lord in the Divine Liturgy if, at the same time, he cannot chrismate with Holy Chrism? If this grace then, is taken from the priests, the episcopal rank is diminished, for the bishop stands at the head of the choir of priests. But the impious Westerners did not stop their lawlessness even here.

They attempted by their false opinions and distorted words to ruin the holy and sacred Nicene Symbol of Faith — which by both synodal and universal decisions possesses invincible power — by adding to it that the Holy Spirit proceeds not only from the Father, as the Symbol declares, but from the Son also. Until now, no one has ever heard even a heretic pronounce such a teaching. What Christian can accept the introduction of two sources into the Holy Trinity; that is, that the Father is one source of the Son and the Holy Spirit, and that the Son is another source of the Holy Spirit, thereby transforming the monarchy of the Holy Trinity into a dual divinity?

And why should the Holy Spirit proceed from the Son as well as from the Father? For if His procession from the Father is perfect and complete — and it is perfect because He is perfect God from perfect God — then why is there also a procession from the Son? The Son, moreover, cannot serve as an intermediary between the Father and the Spirit because the Spirit is not a property of the Son. If two principles, two sources, exist in the divinity, then the unity of the divinity would be destroyed. If the Spirit proceeds from both the Father and the Son, His procession from the Father alone would of necessity be either perfect or imperfect. If it is imperfect, then procession for two hypostases would be much more contrived and less perfect than procession from one hypostasis alone. If it is not imperfect, then why would it be necessary for the Spirit to also proceed from the Son?

If the Son participates in the quality or property of the Father's own hypostasis, then the Son and the Spirit lose their own personal distinctions. Here one falls into semi-Sabellianism. The proposition that in the divinity there exist two principles, one which is independent and the other which receives its origin from the first, destroys the very root of the Christian conception of God. It would be much more consistent to expound these two principles into three, for this would be more in keeping with the human understanding of the Holy Trinity.

But since the Father is the principle and source, not because of the nature of the divinity, but because of the property of the hypostasis (and the hypostasis of the Father does not include the hypostasis of the Son), the Son cannot be a principle or source. The Filioque actually divides the hypostasis of the Father into two parts, or else the hypostasis of the Son becomes a part of the hypostasis of the Father. By the Filioque teaching, the Holy Spirit is two degrees or steps removed from the Father, and thus has a much lower rank than the Son. If the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Son also, then of the three Divine Hypostases, the Holy Spirit alone has more than one origin or principle.

By the teaching of the procession from the Son also, the Father and the Son are made closer to each other than the Father and the Spirit, since the Son possesses not only the Father's nature but also the property of His Person. The procession of the Spirit from the Son is either the same as that from the Father, or else it is different, in which case there exists an opposition in the Holy Trinity. A dual procession cannot be reconciled with the principle that what is not common to the three hypostases belongs exclusively to only one of the three hypostases. If the Spirit proceeds also from the Son, why then would something not proceed from the Spirit, so that the balance between the Divine Hypostases would therefore be maintained?

By the teaching that the Spirit also proceeds from the Son, the Father appears partial towards the Son. The Father is either a greater source of the Spirit than the Son, or a lesser source. If greater, the dignity of the Son is offended; if lesser, the dignity of the Father is offended. The Latins make the Son greater than the Spirit, for they consider Him a principle, irreverently placing Him closer to the Father. By introducing a dual principle into the Holy Trinity as they do, the Latins offend the Son, for by making Him a source of that which already has a source, they thus render Him unnecessary as a source. They also divide the Holy Spirit into two parts: one part from the Father and one part from the Son. In the Holy Trinity, which is united in an indivisible unity, all three hypostases are inviolable. But if the Son contributes to the procession of the Spirit, Sonship is then injured, and the hypostatic property damaged.

If, by the begetting of the Son, the power was thereby given to the Son that the Holy Spirit would proceed from Him, then how would His Sonship itself not be destroyed when He, Who Himself has a source, became a source of Another Who is equal to Him and is of the same nature as He? According to the Filioque teaching, it is impossible to see why the Holy Spirit could not be called a granson! If the Father is the source of the Son, who is the second source of the Spirit, then the Father is both immediate and the mediated source of the Holy Spirit! A dual source in the divinity inescapably concludes in a dual result; therefore, the hypostasis of the Spirit must be dual. Therefore, the teaching of the Filioque introduces into the divinity two principles, a dyarchy, which destroys the unity of the divinity, the monarchy of the Father.

Having here explained the Latin understanding only briefly, I will leave its detailed presentation and refutation until we are assembled together in council. These so-called bishops thus introduced this foul teaching, together with other impermissible innovations, among the simple and newly-baptised Bulgarian people. This news cut us to the heart. How can we not grieve when we see before our eyes the fruit of our womb, the child to whom we gave birth through the Gospel of Christ, being rent asunder by beasts? He who by his sweat and suffering raised them and perfected them in the Faith, suffers the greatest pain and sorrow upon the destruction of his children. Therefore, we mourn for our spiritual children, and we will not cease from mourning. For we will not give sleep to our eyes until, to the extent that lies in our power, we return them to the House of the Lord.

Now, concerning these forerunners of apostasy, common pests and servants of the enemy, we, by divine and synodal decree, condemn them as impostors and enemies of God. It is not as though we were just now pronouncing judgement upon them, but rather, we now declare openly the condemnation ordained by the ancient synods and Apostolic Canons. If they stubbornly persist in their error, we will exclude them from the communion of all Christians. They introduced fasting on Saturdays, although that is prohibited by the 64th Apostolic Canon which states: If some cleric is found fasting on Sundays or Saturdays except the one Great Saturday before Pascha, let him be removed from the ranks of the clergy, and if he be a layman, let him be excommunicated. Similarly, by the 56th canon of the holy Fourth Ecumenical Synod which states: Since we have learnt that in the city of Old Rome some, during the Great Fast, in opposition to the ecclesiastical order handed down to us, keep the fast even on Saturdays, the holy Ecumenical Synod orders that in the Church of Old Rome the Apostolic Canon which prohibits fasting on Saturdays and Sundays is to be followed exactly.

Similarly, there is a canon of the regional synod of Gangra which anathematises those who do not recognise married priests. This was confirmed by the holy Sixth Ecumenical Synod, which condemned those who require that priests and deacons cease to cohabit with their lawful wives after their ordination. Such a custom was being introduced even then by the Church of Old Rome. That Synod reminded the Church of Old Rome of the evangelical teaching and of the canon and polity of the Apostles, and ordered it not to insult the holy institution of Christian marriage established by God Himself. But even if we did not cite all these and other innovations of the Latins, the mere citing of their addition of the Filioque phrase to the Nicene Symbol of Faith would be sufficient to subject them to a thousand anathemas. For that innovation blasphemes the Holy Spirit, or more correctly, the entire Holy Trinity.

Having presented this matter before our brotherhood in the Lord, according to the ancient custom of the Church, we invite and ask you to come and join in council with us, for the purpose of condemning these foul and Godless teachings. Do not abandon the order established by the Holy Fathers which they, by their acts and deeds, handed down to us as a legacy to preserve. Rather, straightway send your representatives and deputies, adorned with piety and the priestly rank and by the goodness of their life and words, and by common synodal decree this new rot of evil belief will be excised from the Church. Once we have rooted out this godlessness, we can hope the newly-baptised Bulgarian people will return to the Faith they first accepted. And not only the Bulgarian people, but also all of the formerly terrible people, the so-called Rus, for even now they are abandoning their heathen faith and are converting to Christianity, receiving from us bishops and pastors as well as all Christian customs. Consequently, if you now move to help erase this newly begun evil, then the flock of Christ will yet more increase and the Apostolic learning will reach the ends of the world. With this purpose, then, send your representatives and deputies equipped with the authority of the Apostolic thrones which you inherited by the Holy Spirit, so that these and all other matters may be brought to judgement by lawful authority.

From the Italian region, we have received a synodal letter citing many grave matters against the bishop of Old Rome. Accordingly, the Orthodox there ask us to free them from his great tyranny, for in that area sacred law is being scorned and Church order trampled. We were told this earlier by monks who came to us from there, and now we have received many letters stating frightening news about that region and asking us to relay their message to all the bishops and to the Apostolic Patriarchs as well. For that reason, I communicate to you their request by way of this epistle. Once a holy and ecumenical Christian synod has been assembled, it will fall upon us together to resolve all these matters with the help of God and according to the rules of previous Synods, that in so doing, a deep peace may again prevail in the Church of Christ.

Moreover, it is necessary to confirm the holy Seventh Ecumenical Synod, to the end that all the faithful in the Church everywhere reckon and include that Synod as Ecumenical together with the other six. For we have heard that in some places it is not yet so counted, although its decisions are accepted and honoured. This was the Synod that overcame and destroyed the great heretical godlessness of iconoclasm. Representatives of the other four patriarchates attended its sessions. After they were all assembled, together with our uncle, the most Tarasius, Archbishop of New Rome, this great and ecumenical synod crushed the Antichrist's blasphemous heresy. Therefore, this Synod must be declared and numbered with the six preceding ones, so as to show the union of Christ's Church and deny the godless iconoclasts of the claim that their heresy was condemned by only one throne. Thus do we seek and propose as brother to brethren, and we dutifully beseech your Holinesses and also ask that you remember our humble self in your prayers.

Become a Patreon or Paypal Supporter:

Recurring Gifts

Contact Form


Email *

Message *