Sunday, October 12, 2014

Commemoration of the Holy Fathers of the Seventh Ecumenical Synod


The Sunday after the eleventh of October, we commemorate the Holy Fathers of the Holy and Ecumenical Seventh Synod.

The Seventh Ecumenical Synod was held in Nicaea of Bithynia from 24 September until 13 October 787, at the initiative of Empress Irene, who was acting as regent. Under the presidency of the Patriarch of Constantinople Saint Tarasios (Feb. 25), three hundred and fifty Orthodox bishops gathered, and to them were added seventeen other hierarchs who denounced the heresy of the iconoclasts.

Besides the representatives of the Pope of Rome and the Patriarchates of Antioch and Jerusalem, the monks who suffered terrible persecution during the reign of the iconoclast Emperor Leo III the Isaurion (717 – 741) and Constantine V Kopronymos (741 - 755) were a strong presence; there were about a hundred and thirty-six.

After careful preparation, the Fathers of the Synod anathematized the heretics, who for more than fifty years forbid Orthodox Christians to honor the venerable icons of Christ and His saints because it was presumed to be idolatry. So they put an end to the first period of iconoclasm, but it erupted again a few years later under Leo V the Armenian (813 - 820) and it finally ended in 843, thanks to Empress Theodora and the Holy Patriarch Methodios (June 14). The Holy Fathers anathematized the heretical patriarchs Anastasios, Constantine and Niketas, denouncing the alleged ecumenical synod convened in the palace of Hieria at the initiative of Constantine V in 754, and they proclaimed eternal memory to the holy defenders of Orthodoxy: Holy Patriarch Germanos (715 - 730; May 12), Saint John of Damascus (Dec. 4), George of Cyprus, and all those who suffered torture and exile as defenders of the holy icons. In the Oros of the faith that was read at the seventh and last session of the Synod, the Fathers proclaimed:

"We decree with full precision and care that, like the figure of the honored and life-giving cross, the revered and holy images, whether painted or made of mosaic or of other suitable material, are to be exposed in the holy churches of God, on sacred instruments and vestments, on walls and panels, in houses and by public ways, these are the images of our Lord, God and Savior, Jesus Christ, and of our Lady who is without blemish, the holy Theotokos, and of the revered angels and of any of the saintly holy men.

The more frequently they are seen in representational art, the more are those who see them drawn to remember and long for those who serve as models, and to pay these images the tribute of salutation and respectful veneration. Certainly this is not the full worship in accordance with our faith, which is properly paid only to the divine nature, but it resembles that given to the figure of the honored and life-giving cross, and also to the holy books of the gospels and to other sacred objects. Further, people are drawn to honor these images with the offering of incense and lights, as was piously established by ancient custom. Indeed, the honor paid to an image traverses it, reaching the model, and he who venerates the image, venerates the person represented in that image.

So it is that the teaching of our holy Fathers is strengthened, namely, the tradition of the Catholic Church which has received the gospel from one end of the earth to the other."

The Holy Fathers proved not only to be defenders of the holy icons but, essentially, of the mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God: "Of old, God the incorporeal and uncircumscribed was never depicted. Now, however, when God is seen clothed in flesh, and conversing with men, I make an image of the God whom I see. I do not worship matter, I worship the God of matter, Who became matter for my sake, and deigned to inhabit matter, Who worked out my salvation through matter. I will not cease from honoring that matter which works my salvation" (St. John of Damascus). Having received human nature, the Word of God deified it without it losing its properties. For this reason, while His glory is incomprehensible to our senses, the human nature of the Savior may be depicted. The image of Christ - the accuracy of which is kept by the tradition of the Church - thus becomes the true presence of the prototype of the God-man, a means of grace and sanctification for all the faithful who confer to it honorary veneration.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

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