May 22, 2017

Commemoration of the Second Ecumenical Synod in 381

Holy Second Ecumenical Synod (Feast Day - May 22)


Daring to say the divine Spirit is not God,
Was the all-wicked spirit of Macedonius.

The First Ecumenical Synod of Nicaea in the year 325 was convened by Emperor Constantine the Great to bring unity to the Church and condemned the heresy of Arius, giving us the Symbol of Faith (Creed) to establish the belief in the divinity of Christ.

During the difficult years which passed after the acceptance of the Nicean Symbol of Faith, the Arian heresy developed new off-shoots. Under the guise of struggle against the Sabellian heresy, which taught about a blending together of the Hypostatic Persons of the Father and the Son [as mere aspects or modalities within the Trinity], Macedonius began to employ the word "homoiousios" ("of like essence") in contrast to the Orthodox teaching of "homoousios" ("of the same essence") regarding the essence of the Son to that of the Father. This formula still presented a danger in that Macedonius set himself forth as a struggler against the Arians, who employed the term "like to the Father". Besides this, the Macedonians (or Pneumatomachs) – being semi-Arians, wavering in dependence on conditions and advantages of the moment now towards Orthodoxy, now towards Arianism, – wound up blaspheming also the Holy Spirit by suggesting that He did not have "oneness of essence" with the Father and the Son.

A second heretic, Aetius, introduced the concept "anomoion" ("different in essence") and he said, that the Father has a completely different essence from that of the Son. His student Eunomios taught about an hierarchical subordination of the Son to the Father, and of the Holy Spirit to the Son. Everyone who came to him he rebaptized into the "death of Christ", denying the Baptism in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, which is commanded us by the Savior Himself.

A third heresy arose from the teachings of Valentius and Ursacius at the Arimonian (Rimini) Synod. They attempted to deceive the Orthodox bishops, proclaiming that the Son of God is from God and is in likeness to God the Father, and is not a created being as the Arians taught. But under the pretention that the word "essence" is not found within Holy Scripture, the heretics proposed not to use the term "one in essence" in the relation of the Son to the Father.

Besides these three fundamental heresies, there were also many other false teachings. The heretic Apollinarius said: "The flesh of the Savior, taken from the bosom of the Father in Heaven, did not have a human soul or reasoning; the Word of God filled in for the absented soul; Divinity remained dead over the course of three days."

For dealing with these crafters of heresy, the Emperor Theodosius the Great (379-395) convened at Constantinople a Second Ecumenical Synod, at which 150 bishops were present. Upon investigation by the Holy Fathers there was proposed affirmation of a Confession of Faith from a Roman Synod, which Pope Damasus had sent to the bishop of Antioch, Paulinos. Having read aloud the scroll, the Holy Fathers, in disavowing the false teaching of Macedonius, unanimously affirmed the Apostolic teaching that the Holy Spirit is not a subordinated being, but is rather the Life-Creating Lord, Who proceeds from the Father, and together with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified. For the confuting of other heresies: of Eunomians, Arians and Semi-Arians, – the Holy Fathers attested in affirmation the Nicean Symbol of the Orthodox Faith.

In the Symbol (Creed) accepted by the First Ecumenical Synod, the Divine dignity of the Holy Spirit was not addressed, since at that earlier time [year 325] heresies against the Holy Spirit had not become problematic. Wherefore the Holy Fathers of the Second Ecumenical Synod thereupon appended the Nicean Symbol with its 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th sections, – i.e. they definitively formulated and affirmed the Nicean-Constantinopolitan Symbol of Faith, confessed in the Creed even now by all the Orthodox Church.

The Second Ecumenical Synod besides this established also the norms of ecclesiastical courts {Canon 4], and it decided the acceptance into communion through the Mystery of Chrismation those repentant heretics who were properly baptized in the Name of the Holy Trinity, but those baptized with a single immersion are to be received as pagans. Furthermore it raised the status of honor of the Archbishop of Constantinople, which had become the New Rome, to be just under Old Rome.

Saint Gregory the Theologian at the Second Ecumenical Synod gave in his talk the following exposition of the Orthodox Faith: "Let us bid farewell to all contentious shiftings and balancings of the truth on either side, neither, like the Sabellians, assailing the Trinity in the interest of the Unity, and so destroying the distinction by a wicked confusion; nor, like the Arians, assailing the Unity in the interest of the Trinity, and by an impious distinction overthrowing the Oneness. For our object is not to exchange one evil for another, but to ensure our attainment of that which is good ... Walking along the royal road which lies between the two extremes, which is the seat of the virtues, believe in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, of one essence and glory. And thus we are regenerated, acknowledging the Unity in the Essence and in the undisturbed worship, and the Trinity in the Hypostases or Persons."

Thus this Synod condemned Arianism which began to die out with further condemnations at the Synod of Aquileia by Ambrose of Milan in 381. With the discussion of Trinitarian doctrine now developed and well under agreement to orthodox and biblical understanding, the focus of discussion changed to Christology, which would be the topic of the Synod of Ephesus in 431 and the Synod of Chalcedon in 451.