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August 13, 2013

Homily for the Translation of the Relics of Saint Maximus the Confessor (Metr. Hierotheos of Nafpaktos)

By His Eminence Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou

Today our Church celebrates the Translation of the Relics of Saint Maximus the Confessor, though his memory is celebrated on the 21st of January.

Saint Maximus the Confessor is a great Father of our Church, who was born in late sixth century Constantinople and toiled until the mid-seventh century. He came from an illustrious family, distinguished by his great and extraordinarily gifted intellect, capturing a distinguished seat in the palace, having been recruited by Emperor Heraclius as Chief Secretary. But very quickly he resigned from his position and became a monk, at first in a holy monastery of the eastern shore of the Bosporus, and later because of raids he moved to other holy monasteries.

The life of Saint Maximus the Confessor was adventurous because he defended the truth of the Church on the two wills in Christ. In his time there appeared a heresy known as Monothelitism and Monoenergism, which were extensions of the Monophysite heresy, claiming that Christ after the union of His two natures had only one will, the divine. Saint Maximus saw the danger this had for the Orthodox Church, which is why he supported the Orthodox teaching that just as Christ had two natures, the divine and human, so also he had two natural wills, the divine and human, because will and energy are the abilities of nature.

The important thing is to see the reason for the spread of the heresy of Monothelitism. When Emperor Heraclius liberated from the Arabs the land where the Monophysites lived, he endeavored to bring the Monophysites into the Orthodox Church by implementing a political compromise. According to this plan the Monophysites would accept that in Christ there are two natures after the union of the divine and human natures, and the Orthodox would accept that in Christ there is one will and energy after the union of the two natures.

Saint Maximus, however, could not accept a deterioration of the faith even for political reasons and political expediency, so he wrote many texts and underwent many struggles to preserve the truth. He suffered many injuries and torments, but he did not yield. This issue was not only theological and christological, but also anthropological, because if Christ only has one will and energy, the divine will and energy, then He is not a real person, and He would not be able to save man.

The Sixth Ecumenical Synod decided that since there were two natures in Christ, the divine and human, there were also two natural wills and two natural energies, the divine and human, which acted "indivisible, unchanging, inseparable, and unconfused", without a dominant rivalry between them. As Saint John of Damascus says, the human will is not moved by its own inclination, but is subject to the divine will, to the hypostasis of the Logos, and suffered on its own naturally when the divine will allowed it. In this way Christ voluntarily gave Himself to death as God, but also as man.

Of course, some argue that these are philosophical matters that do not concern Christians and they cannot be understood. This is wrong, because these are theological matters and an alteration on the teaching of Christ constitutes an alteration of the teaching of the salvation of man. Further, Saint Maximus the Confessor and the Fathers of the Church, when they spoke about Christ, did not do philosophy, but they tried to express into words what they knew from personal experience. When they saw Christ in the light of His glory, then they saw the divine-human nature of Christ, and also understood that their own will and freedom were not lost.

We must understand that in the differences between East and West, among other things, there is the fact that in the West there prevailed in various ways the theory of absolute predestination in the sacred Augustine, which abolishes the freedom of man, while in the East the teaching of Saint Maximus the Confessor dominated, which preserves the freedom of man.

There is another reason why we discussed this issue today. As we saw earlier, Monothelitism was the result of the actions of political powers to unite the Orthodox with the Monophysites, but ultimately it failed. For this reason it should be understood that it is not possible for theological and ecclesiastical issues to be used for political expediency and diplomacy.

Saint Maximus the Confessor, with his teachings and struggles, showed us that as true Orthodox we must live the truth and confess it with all the powers of our soul.

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "Ανακομιδή των λειψάνων του αγίου Μαξίμου του Ομολογητού", July 2006. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.