Written by Vladimir Moss



     For many Western converts to the Orthodox Faith, it is a cause of great joy, comfort, and a strengthening of their faith, to discover that their new-found Orthodoxy is not, historically speaking, the exclusive possession of East European and Middle Eastern peoples – Greeks, Russians, Serbs, Bulgars, Romanians and Arabs – but also of their own Western ancestors – English, Irish, French, Spanish, Italians and Germans – who lived during the first millennium of Christianity before the Western Church fell away from Holy Orthodoxy in 1054. The question, therefore, of a Menologion of the Western saints is of great interest and importance to them – as it should be to all Orthodox Christians, of whatever nationality they may be, who love to worship God Who is wondrous in His saints, and in Whom is neither Greek nor Jew, neither Easterner nor Westerner. So the further question naturally arises: what should be the criteria upon which to base our estimate of who should be included in this Menologion?

    The simple answer to this would seem to be: all those men and women of Western origin who died before 1054 and who were officially venerated as saints before that date, are to be accepted as such by the Orthodox Church today. However, this immediately raises a serious problem. It is well-known that heretical tendencies were present in the West long before the schism of 1054. For example, the Filioque – that clause which amends the Creed of the First and Second Ecumenical Councils to proclaim that the Holy Spirit proceeds not only from the Father, but also from the Son – spread to many parts of the West well before 1054, becoming part of the Roman Church’s official Creed in 1009. How is it possible to accept as a saint someone whose confession contained a heretical interpolation which has been anathematized by the Orthodox Church?

     To give our inquiry more specificity we shall consider the case of St. Edward the Martyr, King of England, who was killed at Corfe Castle, Dorset in 979. His body was found incorrupt, and many miracles were wrought at his tomb. This led to his canonization by a Council of the All-English Church in 1008. It has been claimed that the Filioque was recited in English churches during his reign. So can he be accepted as a true saint?

     Now let us go back to the first appearance of the Filioque in the West – in mid-seventh century Rome. (It used to be thought that it was first introduced at the Council of Toledo in Spain in 589, but this is now thought to have been a later, papist forgery.) In his letter to a priest of Cyprus called Marinus, St. Maximus the Confessor wrote that “a synodical letter of the present Pope” – that is, of Pope St. Martin (649-655) – had been challenged by the Church of Constantinople because it said that “the Holy Spirit proceeds also from the Son”. St. Maximus, while recognizing that the Filioque was false and should be removed, nevertheless claimed that the Romans “were far from making the Son the Cause of the Spirit [the essence of the heresy], for they recognize the Father as the one Cause of the Spirit: the former by generation, the latter by procession”. Maximus went on to say that the Romans’ use of the Filioque was an attempt “to express the Spirit’s going forth through the Son” and the indivisible unity of their Substance.”[1]

     Two important principles can be derived from St. Maximus’ remarks. First, the Orthodox Church has already accepted a saint who expressed this heresy in synodal form. And secondly, the heresy could be, and probably was, expressed without heretical intent. This leaves open the possibility that the West’s use of the Filioque before the schism of 1054 was not – or, at any rate, not always – heretical in intent. This would explain why the Orthodox Church waited so long after its first appearance, and even after it had been officially anathematized at the Great Council of Constantinople in 879-80, before breaking communion with the West.

     Fr. Athanase Fradeaud-Guillemot considers the cases of Saints Isidore, Bishop of Seville, and Anschar, Bishop of Hamburg, both of whom accepted the Filioque (unless this evidence, too, is a papist forgery). And he argues that, because of this blemish on their faith, they are not accepted as saints by the Orthodox Church today. “In doing this,” however, “we do not dare to prejudge the Judgement of God. So it is very possible that St. Anschar or St. Isidore of Seville are glorified by God for their  numerous exploits. But, if we do not include them in the menology (santoral), this is because we can neither adopt them as examples to be imitated, nor propose them in this sense to the Christian people for fear that their confession of faith may contain germs of non-Orthodoxy. The Church does this, not from a human strictness of view, but from a legitimate maternal anxiety which does everything that the faith of the Orthodox Christian people may not be tarnished.”[2]

     As a matter of fact, St. John Maximovich, Archbishop of Western Europe in the 1950s, added St. Anschar to the Menology of the Russian Church; so for this great hierarch in any case, no danger, but only good, could come from commemorating these supposedly dubious saints of the West. Nor is this the only example of saints venerated by the Orthodox Church who have been the subject of doubt concerning their doctrinal Orthodoxy. For example, St. Gregory of Nyssa was accused of teaching Origen’s doctrine of apocatastasis. Again, the famous St. Augustine of Hippo has been suspected of errors in relation to predestination, and of arguing in favour of the Filioque. And yet he was proclaimed a saint at the Fifth Ecumenical Council.[3]

     With regard to these holy Fathers, St. Photius the Great said: “"If [these] Fathers had spoken in opposition when the debated question was brought before them and fought it contentiously and had maintained their opinion and had persevered in this false teaching, and when convicted of it had held to their doctrine until death, then they would necessarily be rejected together with the error of their mind. But if they spoke badly, or, for some reason not known to us, deviated from the right path, but no question was put to them nor did anyone challenge them to learn the truth, we admit them to the list of Fathers, as if they had not said it - because of their righteousness of life and distinguished virtue and faith; faultless in other respects. We do not, however, follow their teaching in which they stray from the path of truth... We, though, who know that some of our holy Fathers and teachers strayed from the faith of true dogmas, do not take as doctrine those areas in which they strayed, but we embrace the men. So also in the case of any who are charged with teaching that the Spirit proceeds from the Son, we do not admit what is opposed to the word of the Lord, but we do not cast them from the rank of the Fathers."

     This moderate and tolerant criterion is the more striking in that it was advocated by the greatest champion of Orthodoxy against the Filioque. For nobody could accuse St. Photius of being in the slightest indifferent to the heresy: it was he who excommunicated Pope Nicholas I in 867 probably for that reason, and who, in 879, convened the Great Council of Constantinople which, as we have seen, explicitly anathematized it (and which, in its first canon, decreed that the Pope did not have jurisdiction over the Eastern Churches). The legates of Pope John VIII signed the acts of this Council, thereby ending the schism between Rome and Constantinople.[4] 

     A little later, Pope John wrote to St. Photius reaffirming his condemnation of the Filioque, but also asking for time and patience while he attempted to extirpate it from his vast patriarchate.[5] For the Roman Patriarchate in the early Middle Ages encompassed a very large area in which communications were slow and difficult, and where the general level of education was low. This must be taken into account when considering whether an outlying province, such as England, was in heresy or not, and when the heresy could be said to have taken such firm root in a province or the patriarchate as a whole that it must be considered to have fallen finally away from Orthodoxy.

     St. Photius remained in communion with Pope John for the rest of his life, calling him “my John”. But in 903 the Ecumenical Patriarch St. Nicholas the Mystic was forced to break communion with Pope Christopher (903-904) because the latter introduced the Filioque into the Creed. However, communion seems to have been restored between succeeding Popes and Patriarchs until the year 1009.

     During the whole of that period (and, indeed, until the end of the eleventh century, when Anselm became archbishop of Canterbury), there is no evidence that the issue of the Filioque was even so much as discussed in England. (The only Englishman who even discussed the matter before Anselm, to the present writer's knowledge, was the famous Alcuin of York, who lived in France in about 800 and expressed himself strongly against the heresy in a letter to the brothers of Lyons: "Do not try to insert novelties in the Symbol of the Catholic Faith, and in the church services do not decide to become fond of traditions unknown in ancient times.") Most confessions of faith of newly elected English bishops neither affirmed nor denied the Filioque, stating simply: “I believe in God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, [the Son] being born and having suffered for the salvation of the human race.” Shortly, after the middle of the ninth century, however, probably under the influence of Pope Nicholas I, the Filioque began to appear – as, for example, in the professions of the Bishops of London, Hereford and Dunwich to Archbishop Ceolnoth of Canterbury. But in the same period, and in the same metropolitan province, the professions of the Bishops of Winchester (including the famous St. Swithun) did not contain the innovation.[6] 

     In 1009, Pope Sergius IV introduced the Filioque into the Roman Creed (it was also used at the coronation of Emperor Henry I in Rome in 1014); whereupon the Ecumenical Patriarch removed his name from the diptychs of the Great Church of Constantinople. But publicly communion still continued between Latins and Greeks; a Greek archbishop called Constantine retired to the English monastery of Malmesbury[7]; there were Latin churches in Constantinople and a Latin monastery on Mount Athos; and Western pilgrims poured in every-increasing numbers to the Holy Places of the East, where they were received as Orthodox.[8] 

     Even after Rome and Constantinople anathematized each other in 1054, communion continued in some places, and the Byzantine emperor asked the blessing of the abbot of Monte Cassino, while Russian Great-Princes continued to take Western princesses as brides (although Metropolitan John of Kiev expressed himself against this in 1077).

     Indeed, many have doubted that the schism of 1054 was the real cut-off point. Thus a Byzantine council of 1089 acted as if the schism had not taken place.[9] Again, Alexander Dvorkin writes that “the popular consciousness of that time in no way accepted the schism as final: nobody pronounced a ban on mutual communion, and concelebrations of priests and hierarchs of the two halves of Christianity continued even after 1054. The name of the pope of Rome was commemorated in the diptychs of other Eastern Churches (at any rate, sometimes). In our [Russian] lists of saints there were western saints who died after 1054.”[10]

     Nevertheless, the balance of evidence remains in favour of the traditional dating.[11] For after 1054, there is a sharp and noticeable change in the papacy’s policies and attitudes to dissidents in Church and State. The bloody destruction of Orthodox England in 1066-70 completely transformed the character of English Christianity and statehood. It was followed by the less violent subjection of Churches throughout Western Europe. Meanwhile, the “Gregorian Reform” introduced various heretical innovations: compulsory celibacy for the clergy, the universal jurisdiction and infallibility of the papacy; the subjection of all kings to papal rule. Then came the papal blessing of the Norman invasion of Greece in the 1080s and the first of the crusades – which did so much damage to Eastern Orthodox Christendom - in 1095. In 1098 the Pope presided over the pseudo-council of Bari, at which the Greeks of southern Italy were persuaded to accept the Filioque

     Returning now to the specific case of St. Edward the Martyr, it should be clear that St. Edward, who lived long before the schism of 1054, and even before the removal of the Roman papacy from the diptychs in 1009, must be considered a saint of the Orthodox Church. Nevertheless, in the later 1970s Archbishop Mark (Arndt) of Great Britain contested this fact when the possibility arose of St. Edward’s relics being give to the Russian Church. His main argument rested on the argument – contested, as we have seen, in the present article - that England officially accepted the Filioque in his reign.

     However, a Synodical decision of the Russian Church Abroad declared in favour of St. Edward, and the doubting hierarch "agreed with the former decision after having been acquainted with the historical information compiled by His Grace, Bishop Gregory, who cited a list of names of Western saints of the same period who have long been included in our list of saints (among whom are St. Ludmilla, St. Wenceslaus of Czechia, and others)."

     In conclusion, if we accept the public rupture of communion with the Orthodox Church to be the criterion of a Church’s falling away from grace, then any Westerner saint who died before 1054 should be accepted into the Orthodox calendar. For those who died before that date, and were officially venerated as saints before that date, and who did not fight for  the Filioque or any other heresy in conscious opposition to the champions of the truth, may without damage to Orthodoxy be accepted as holy intercessors for the Church Militant today. Indeed, it would be damaging to Orthodoxy if we, whether explicitly or implicitly, rejected those whom God has glorified with signs, whom our Orthodox ancestors glorified with public veneration, and who reposed in peace in the bosom of our common mother, the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.


September 9/22, 1981; revised November 23 / December 6, 2017.




[1] St. Maximus, P.G. 91, 136; in R. Haugh, Photius and the Carolingians, Nordland, 1975, pp. 32ff.

[2] Fradeaud-Guillemot, “Pour servir à la composition d’un ménologie”, Orthodoxie, March, 1981, p. 6.

[3] E. Goutizdes and M. Kontogiannis, “The Holiness of St. Augustine”, Kirix Gnision Orthodoxon, January, 1978, pp. 10-12.

[4] John Meyendorff, “Rome and Orthodoxy: Authority or Truth?” in McCord, P.J., A Pope for all Christians?, London: SPCK, 1976).

[5]“I think your wise Holiness knows how difficult it is to change immediately a custom which has been entrenched for so many years. Therefore we believe the best policy is not to force anyone to abandon that addition to the Creed. But rather we must act with wisdom and moderation, urging them little by little to give up that blasphemy. Therefore, those who claim that we share this opinion are not correct. Those, however, who claim that there are those among us who dare to recite the Creed in this way are correct. Your Holiness must not be scandalized because of this nor withdraw from the sound part of the body of our Church. Rather, you should aid us energetically with gentleness and wisdom in attempting to convert those who have departed from the truth…” (P.G. 102, 813; in Haugh, op. cit., pp. 129-130, 137).

[6] A. Haddan and W. Stubbs, Councils and Ecclesiastical Documents Relating to Great Britain and Ireland, vol. III, Oxford: Clarendon, 1964, pp. 650, 655, 659, 633, 658.

[7] William of Malmesbury, Gesta Pontificum Anglorum, V, 260.

[8] Steven Runciman, The Eastern Schism, Oxford, 1955; Bréhier, L., Le Schisme Oriental de XIe Siècle, Paris, 1899; Leib, B., Rome, Kiev et Byzance à la Fin due XIe Siècle, Paris, 1926.

[9] Aristides Papadakis, The Orthodox East and the Rise of the Papacy, Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1994, pp. 76-77.

[10] Dvorkin, Ocherki po Istorii Vselenskoj Pravoslavnoj Tserkvi (Sketches on the History of the Universal Orthodox Church),Nizhni-Novgorod, 2006, p. 619.

[11]Cf. O. Barmin, “Sovremennaia istoriografia o datirovke tserkovnoj skhizmy mezhdu Zapadom i Vostokom khristianskoj ekumeny” (“Contemporary Historiography on the Dating of the Church Schism between the West and the East of the Christian Oikumene”), in D.E. Afinogenov, A.V. Muraviev, Traditsii i Nasledie Khristianskogo Vostoka (The Traditions and Heritage of the Christian East), Moscow: “Indrik”, 1996, pp. 117-126.

‹‹ Back to All Articles
Site Created by The Marvellous Media Company