The Holy Church of Rome, founded by Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, was exceedingly ardent and faithful to the tenets of the apostolic faith for one thousand years. “How happy this Church is!” Tertullian († 220/240) exclaims. “This Church is the Church upon which the apostles poured all doctrine with their blood.” (De Prescr.) We Orthodox Christians tend to forget that Popes of Rome did a lot to promote Orthodoxy both in the West and the East, especially in the periods when the East was beleaguered by numerous heresies and schisms. This post will remind you of the most notable Popes of Rome and their contributions to the Church.
Linus (†76). According to Irenaeus, it was Linus who was put in charge of the Church of Rome by the apostles not long before their martyrdom. He was Apostle Paul’s co-worker and the first bishop of Rome.
Holy Martyr Clement, Pope of Rome (†97). He was Greek. St. Clement is said to have been made bishop by Apostle Peter. He is mentioned by Apostle Paul. He wrote a well-known Epistle to Corinthians, encouraging peace and harmony in the Church. His epistle was read in churches along with epistles of holy apostles. He was exiled to Crimean quarries and then tied to an anchor and drowned in the sea.
Telesphorus (†136). He had been a hermit in Palestine before becoming the bishop of Rome. He fought Gnosticism as the pope. It was him who first started celebrating Liturgy at night. His martyrdom occurred during the reign of Emperor Antoninus Pius.
St. Hippolytus of Rome (†235). He was a strong opponent of antitrinitarian heresies and a very conservative thinker. He suspected that Pope Zephyrinus was a heretic and seceded into a schism. He was in a schism for a long time. He reconciled with Pope Pontian when both of them were exiled to Sardinia. Pope Hippolytus was quartered and washed the sin of schism away with his own blood. An important source about the life of the Roman Church in the 3rd century titled Apostolic Tradition is attributed to him.
Liberius the Confessor (†366). A staunch champion of Orthodoxy in the wake of the Arian heresy. He was deposed by the emperor for his refusal to condemn Athanasius the Great and exiled to Thrace. Under threat of death, it seems he may have temporarily relented, or been set up to appear to have relented and signed a semi-Arian dogmatic formula, which could still be interpreted in an Orthodox way. As soon as he returned from the exile, he continued to fight Arianism. He built the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore after the Mother of God appeared to him in a dream and ordered him to build a church in the place covered with snow on a summer morning.
Leo the Great (†461). He was one of the most prominent popes. His everlasting importance is due to the fact that it was his dogmatic definition that became the official formula adopted by the Chalcedon Council, which promulgated the Orthodox teaching on the two natures in Christ. Leo is also known for rescuing the Empire by persuading Attila the Hun to turn back from his invasion of Italy.
Gregory the Great, or the Dialogist (†604). He was a Roman senator’s son. He was very fond of Saint Benedict of Nursia so he decided to turn his manors into monasteries and became a monk. Later, he had to perform duties of the papal nuncio to Constantinople for a number of years. He was elected the new successor to the See of Peter at a difficult time. He helped the poor, often inviting them to his meals. It was thanks to his missionary outreach that pagan Anglo-Saxons began converting to Christianity. It was him who started referring to himself and the servant of servants of God. The famous Gregorian chant was his contribution to the worship of the Roman Church.
There is a long list of other Orthodox Popes of Rome, whose names all Christians should know. Although the East has objected to abuse of papal power, it has always acknowledged and respected the special place of the See of Rome in the Catholic Church. As Saint Symeon of Thessalonica (15th century) aptly puts it, “When the Latins say that the bishop of Rome is first, there is no need to contradict them, since this can do no harm to the Church. They must only show that he has the same faith as Peter and his successors… and that he possesses all that came from Peter, then he will be the first, the chief and head of all, the supreme high priest… That the Bishop of Rome profess only the faith of Silvester, Agatho, Leo, Liberius, Martin, and Gregory, we would proclaim him first among all other high priests, and we will submit to him not simply as to Peter but as to the Savior Himself.” (Dial. contra haereses, 23 // PG 155,120AC).
Let us honor the memory of holy Popes of Rome who remained faithful to the Orthodox Church, against which the gates of hell will never prevail.