7th Sunday After Pentecost - Fathers of First Six Councils
Fr Andrew Gliga
This Sunday we celebrate the Fathers of the first six ecumenical councils. Many of us might be familiar with some of the teachings of these councils as well as what heresies were condemned at these councils. What can be said is that these councils and their teachings are important for us even today. They should be understood by us Orthodox Christians. What can be said about the first six councils (and even the seventh one) is that they all had a common theme, a common heresy that came up; who was Jesus Christ? The heretics constantly tried to make Jesus Christ not equal to God the Father, or not be truly God and man at the same time. And each time, the Fathers of these councils would hold true to Orthodoxy and defend the faith handed down to them.
As we see, these councils would convene to discuss various heresies which were causing divisions between Christians. These heresies were always a deviation of the teachings handed down by the Apostles. In Greek, the word for heretic means to choose. These were people who chose what they wanted to believe. In order to root out these teachings, the Fathers of these councils met in order to discuss these deviations of the true faith. Eventually they would reject and condemn those teachings as well as the followers of those who would teach such things. A few examples of these false teachings condemned at these councils were ones like Arianism which states that Christ was only a creature and not God. Sabellianism which rejected the Trinity. Nestorianism which rejected the virgin birth of Christ. Nestorian, who was the teacher of this heresy, stated that the mother of God was Christotokos which meant birthgiver of Christ, instead of the common Theotokos which means the birthgiver of God. Another heresy was Monophophysism which rejected that Christ was fully God and fully man. And finally Monotheism which rejected the fact that Christ had a divine will and a human will. Orthodoxy prevailed and these teachings were rejected and eventually died out in the early Church.
Many of us who hear these various heresies ask, so what, those were over a thousand years ago, and these heresies are long gone and no longer of any importance. However, this is not entirely true. There are so many heresies floating around today which are reincarnations of previous heresies. Take one of the most popular ones we hear today. It states that Christ was a great teacher, his sermon on the mount was so important and a great philosophy, but the rest of the miracles and the raising people from the dead are not true and just fairy tales. This sounds like a modern version of Arianism which rejects the divine nature of Christ. Or another modern protestant teaching that rejects the Mother of God as being important and says that she is just a simple lady. Doesn't that sound like Nestorianism which reduced her importance as being the Mother of God? Or finally this modern notion that Jesus is our buddy and our friend, this seems to reject the fact that Christ is the one true God and should be treated with fear, awe, and great respect.
So as we see these heresies are alive today but in different forms. We should then take the example of the Fathers of these councils and ask, what did they do in order to defend against these heresies? What was their reaction? What did they do when they were faced with various deviations from the true faith? They did one thing, which was that they stayed united in the true faith with their fellow Christians. This is exactly what Christ commanded us to do which is recalled in the Gospel reading for today: "I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine. And all mine are thine, and thine are mine; and I am glorified in them. And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are." (John 17: 9-11). The Fathers knew this Gospel and listened to it well, above all else they were united together. Yes, maybe they disagreed as we see certain fathers disagreed with one another. But in the end of the day they all came together and fought against that which was evil, that which would bring divisions in the Church. And this is how they were able to root out heresy, or other false beliefs which were working to unwind the fabric of the Church.
So dear brothers and sisters, do not let the spirit of this world bring divisions to us as well. There are many temptations arising with the continued closures of our Churches, many of you might be upset at the decisions of our Bishops and our dear Rector, while others are upset that not enough is being done. Some might even be upset at their fellow brothers and sisters either being too mindful of this virus or not being mindful enough. I beg of you, be like the Fathers and stand united. These thoughts that come to our mind against the leaders of the Church and against our fellow Christian come from one place, the same place that the various heresies came from. These all are the doings and work of the evil one, who is rejoicing at the closure of our Churches. And now he is working to divide us even more and cause brother to go against brother as he did to the early Church. Let us not be deceived by his wickedness. Let us stand together, pray for one another if they have upset us. Pray for our Rector if he has upset us. Above all else pray for our Bishops! They need it more than ever since they are not free from temptation and sleepless nights. Instead of judgement and divisions bring prayer and love for one another. And above else, bring obedience to our Church leaders. This way we can all stand united under the guide and love of our pastor.
Here is a quote from St. Theophan the Recluse which sums up having love and unity for one another: "Thus, in order to be saved from the sin of condemnation, we must obtain a merciful heart. A merciful heart not only does not condemn a seeming infringement of the law, but neither will it condemn an obvious one. Instead of judgment it feels pity, and would sooner weep than reproach. Truly the sin of condemnation is the fruit of an unmerciful, malicious heart that takes delight in debasing its neighbor, in blackening its neighbor’s name, in trampling his honor underfoot. This is a murderous affair, and is done in the spirit of the one who is a murderer from the beginning [Jn. 8:44]. Here there occurs much slander as well, which comes from the same source — for that is what the devil is, a slanderer, spreading slanderousness everywhere. Hurry to arouse pity in yourself every time the evil urge to condemn comes over you. Then turn in prayer to the Lord with a compassionate heart, that He might have mercy upon all of us, not only upon the one whom we wanted to condemn, but upon us as well — perhaps even more so upon us — and the evil urge will die." Amen.