March 11, 2015

Saint Gregory Palamas, Father of the Ninth Ecumenical Synod (2 of 3)

...continued from part one.

The Institution of the Ecumenical Synods

In the title we spoke of the Ninth Ecumenical Synod. What is the Ninth Ecumenical Synod that connects us with Saint Gregory Palamas? It is known from history that we officially have Seven Ecumenical Synods. The Ecumenical Synod is the supreme criterion of ecclesiasticity. For us Orthodox, the highest form of ecclesiastical polity is the Ecumenical Synod. Our pinnacle is not a man, such as the Pope - which is our core dispute with the papacy. Protestants abolished everything, because they did not want to keep anything from the tradition of the Church and they distort it. The papacy replaced the Ecumenical Synod with the Pope and made Ecumenical Synods an institution of the papacy, a handmaid of papal plans.

In Orthodoxy there exists and will exist until the end of history, the Ecumenical Synod as the supreme institution in its life. By "ecumenical" is meant a synod of the entire state. According to Xenophon and Greek Byzantium, or Greek Romania, the term "ecumenical" essentially meant the state (ecumenical teacher, ecumenical father, etc.). An Ecumenical Synod, therefore, is a Synod of the entire state, and it addresses major problems of faith and order within the Church. Ecumenical Synods require a crisis in the Body of the Church, which means that salvation is threatened. Then the mouth of the Church, the Ecumenical Synod, proclaims, in every instance, salvific Truth, in accord with the Fathers, the Apostles, the Prophets and the Mothers of all ages. As an example we have the First and Second Ecumenical Synods of 325 and 381, which dealt with the problem, or rather the scourge, of Arianism and the Trinitarian problem. In 381 we thus have the confession of faith, known as the "Creed", which we recite during the Divine Liturgy and in many other services. The Creed is a confession of faith that saves, that leads to theosis, based on the heresies arising from Arianism. It is not the entire faith of the Church.

Last Sunday we read part of the Synodikon of Orthodoxy. The Synodikon is the sequel to the Symbol of Faith, that is, the Creed. It began to be written at the Synod of 843, when the restoration of the Holy Icons took place, and was completed in the fourteenth century, during the time of Saint Gregory Palamas, and it included also all the subsequent heresies after 843. The Synodikon of Orthodoxy is an extension of the Creed. The late Koraes, who wanted to reform Greek life, would say: "I accept the Symbol of Faith, therefore I am Orthodox!" But the Protestants and the Papists, even with the small change, which is of great importance, namely the Filioque, accept the Creed. What characterizes Orthodoxy is the sequel to the Symbol of Faith, and to this belongs the text of the Synodikon of Orthodoxy.

From the Third until the Seventh Ecumenical Synod in 787, our Saints addressed the Christological problem. It dealt with the relationship between the two natures and wills of Christ, the divine and human, culminating in the problem of depicting God the Word in images. Was it possible for God the Word, "who was incarnate for us men and for our salvation", to be depicted in images? Here we have the collision between the Greek spirit which accepted images, and the Asian spirit, with all the ramifications of forbidding this portrayal, especially in the Old Testament. And the decision, or rather proclamation of the Holy Fathers (at the Seventh Ecumenical Synod of 787 and the Synod of 843) is that, since God the Word took upon Himself the fullness of humanity, soul and body, and in Christ we have perfect man and perfect God, then God the Word can be depicted in His human nature. And so we can have Jesus Christ in icons and venerate His divine nature through His human nature. This is a great achievement of the Church, as well as of the Greek spirit which offered this tradition, to express, strengthen and declare Orthodoxy throughout the world.

If Jesus Christ circulated among us today (of course He chose to enter history as the God-man), we could capture His form with a movie camera or photographic camera, just as He would appear among us. I repeat, this is a huge victory for Orthodoxy and the solution to the Christological problem.

But there is also the Eighth Ecumenical Synod of 879 during the time of Photios the Great. The known dogmatist and our teacher, John Karmiris, would say at the Theological School of Athens, that the Synod of 879 at the time of Photios the Great was the last General Synod of the Ancient Church prior to the Great Schism, and it had all the attributes of an Ecumenical Synod. This Synod condemned the alienation of the West in the wording of the Filioque, which dealt with the procession of the Holy Spirit, not only from the Father, as Christ says in the Gospel of John 15:26 ("Who proceeds from the Father"), but also "from the Son".

Allow me to comment, in speaking about theological issues, that they are not matters for professional Theologians, but they are matters for the entire Body of the Church, just as our faith in the nineteenth century was a matter of the uneducated Makriyiannis. An Orthodox Christian who does not ask to be informed and understand the problems of the faith, is not Orthodox. This is why various countries that present themselves as Orthodox from the nineteenth century until today, deal with ethical and moral issues, and they think that working with doctrinal issues - due to the errors of Makrakis - will lead them to excesses. No, my brethren, but with humility, the fear of God and with the support of our Elders, our spiritual fathers, we should strive to understand the spiritual problems and their importance. Why do I say this?

Once a professor from the University of Thessaloniki at a conference in 1981 (eternal be his memory) said to me: "Should we be debating and quarreling with western Christians over one little word?" (the Filioque). Then Papa-George - God enlightened him - told him an argument that I preach until today. He spoke of how we can blaspheme with just a single phrase. We thus blaspheme God, our Christ, the Panagia and many other personages of our Church. The heretic, even with one phrase, continuously fires blasphemies against God. How is it possible, therefore, even during incomplete Divine Liturgies, to participate with heretics, when the papacy says and teaches primacy and infallibility, which are bursts of blasphemies against God? We, with the words of our Saints, without saying that we are better people, but with the words of the Saints we sing to God in a God-pleasing manner. Meanwhile they continuously blaspheme God with the words of their popes and pseudo-synods. How is it possible, therefore, for communion to exist? Now you understand the significance of even one small word. If you think of it this way, that every heretical deviation is a blasphemy against God, then you will understand why the Holy Fathers would literally tremble when they heard the words of heretics. We have arrived, and I speak for myself, at such a state of insensitivity, that we continuously hear blasphemies against God, and we do not care at all. It is a spiritual death, a spiritual narcosis!

The Synod of 879 is the Eighth Ecumenical Synod, which condemned the Filioque, and its addition to the Creed, especially those who introduced this addition to the Creed, namely the Frankish world and its leadership.

The Dimensions of East and West

But there is also the Ninth Ecumenical Synod. This is the Synods of the period of the explosion of the problem concerning Hesychasm. It was not a "hesychastic dispute"; the Franks taught us to call it a "hesychastic dispute". It was an explosion of resistance against the hesychasts, namely the Orthodox, from papal and scholastic challenges.

These Synods took place in 1341, 1347 and 1351, with the conclusion of the Synod, as we previously mentioned, in 1368. The occasion for these arose from the problems created by the collision of two traditions, East and West. Also, scholastics of Byzantium, namely of Romania, became Latinized, and threw oil on the fire. These people, who brought the errors of the diaspora to the Orthodox East, as you know, were Barlaam the Calabrian and Gregory Akindynos, or Polykindynos [Greek for "very dangerous"], as his disciple called him.

Barlaam and Akindynos, as well as other followers of theirs, brought western innovations to the East. Already in the West there was another Christianity, which through secularism had changed the essence of Christianity in the West, and this secularization was peaked and culminated with the creation of the papal state.

We today, with what sort of Pope are we speaking? With the Pope bishop, even a super bishop, as he wants to be called - by this is generally meant a bishop over all bishops - , or with the Pope king and emperor and head of state? I wonder about those who participate in dialogues, when will they come to this realization? Two things happen: Either they can't understand the problem - which is what I want to believe, because they have better reason than I do - or they are indifferent and consider all these things as irrelevant, because they are involved with social, political and diplomatic issues.

The West and all of Christianity has been altered to such a point that even Dostoevsky said on two occasions, in The Brothers Karamazov and The Idiot, during the era of the godless intelligentsia in Russia: With the atheists I can speak, because I know their thoughts and reasons, what they believe and what they don't believe. With the papacy I cannot speak, because the papacy has altered the faith, "it gives me a Christ that does not exist; it gives me the Antichrist." Thus says Fyodor Dostoevsky.

Hence the West introduces what it introduces, beating on the heart of Orthodoxy, which is hesychasm. Hesychasm is asceticism, practical spirituality, and it has accompanied humanity since the beginning of Creation. The restoration of Adam and Eve comes about through the spiritual life, just as the fall was the result of the denial of the spiritual life, or rather life in the Holy Spirit. Hesychasm, with the purification of the heart, with the illumination of the heart by the uncreated Grace of God, with theosis, overturns error, our sins, it overturns our tragedy. The theological identity of Saint Gregory Palamas was Hesychasm. It continues and expresses the Holy Fathers, but Saint Gregory primarily understood the issue as an alienation of the West. It was a West that our own scholastics wanted to be in conversation with and be a companion of.

Translated by John Sanidopoulos.