On June 23, 1444, the day when St. Mark of Ephesus died, he was concerned for one thing alone--the preservation of Eastern Orthodoxy. The court of Byzantium, desperate for Western assistance against the Turks, had agreed to union with Rome, yielding on almost every important issue that divided east and west. The unionists agreed to accept purgatory, for instance, and the Latin teaching on the Holy Spirit. Mark was the only bishop at Florence who refused to sign the union. But that lone man represented the spirit of the average Orthodox church-goer better than all of the other bishops and political leaders put together. Consequently, the rank and file gathered around him as their leader. The union never became effective.
One man who attended the council was a judge--George Scholarios. He was with the imperial party and made three outstanding speeches in favor of the union. However, when he returned to Byzantium and saw for himself how strongly the lesser clergy and common people opposed a sell-out of their beliefs, he changed his mind and became a strong opponent of union. Since Mark was old and failing, George became the leader of the anti-union camp. He was an intelligent and forceful man.
Needless to say, he fell into disfavor with court. Therefore he retired to a monastery, taking the name Gennadius. But he was present at Mark's death bed. Mark put George on the spot by saying to the others in the room:
"I speak now of the dignitary Scholarios, whom I knew from his early youth, to whom I am well-disposed, and for whom I have great love, as for my own son and friend... I have conceived a clear picture of his exceptional prudence and wisdom and power with words, and therefore I believe that he is the only one to be found at the present time who is able to extend a helping hand to the Orthodox Church, which is agitated by the attacks of those who would destroy the perfection of the dogmas, and likewise, with the help of God, to correct the Church and affirm Orthodoxy, if only he will not wish himself to retreat from the deed and hide his candlestick under a bushel."
George had not even been ordained. However, he was indeed the man for the hour. All eyes turned to him as leader. He wrote many books on Christian and philosophical themes, including defenses of Christianity against Judaism and Islam.
Perhaps even more important was his role as patriarch. After the Turks captured Constantinople in 1453, Sultan Mohamet II, required the Orthodox to restore a patriarch for Constantinople. The churchmen chose Scholarios, who tried to avoid the burden. His objections were overruled by the majority; and so, in 1454, he became the first patriarch of Constantinople (modern Instanbul) under Islamic rule. Later he wrote out the most important truths of Christianity at the Sultan's request.
Dealing with the conquerors was not easy. After some years, George resigned and went back to being a monk. He died around 1468. So significant were his contributions that the Orthodox Church honors his memory with a feast on this day, August 31.
- "Gennadius II." Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1956.
- Pogodin, Archmandrite Amvrossy. "St. Mark of Ephesus and the False Union of Florence." Orthodox Christian Information Center. http://orthodoxinfo.com/ecumenism/stmark.htm
- Various encyclopedia and internet articles.
Last updated July, 2007