September 9, 2017

Commemoration of the Holy Third Ecumenical Synod in 431

Commemoration of the Third Ecumenical Synod (Feast Day - September 9)


A simple man was the God-man Word,
Said the fallen Nestorius concerning Christ.

The Third Ecumenical Synod was convened in the year 431 in the city of Ephesus of Asia Minor during the reign of Emperor Theodosius II the Younger (408-450). The Synod was convened to investigate the false teachings of Patriarch Nestorius of Constantinople (428-431).

Contrary to the dogmas of the Ecumenical Church, Nestorius dared to assert that the Son of God Jesus Christ is not one Person (Hypostasis), as the Holy Church teaches, but is rather two distinct persons, one divine and the other human.

Regarding the Most Holy Theotokos, he impiously asserted that she should not be called the Birth-giver of God (Theotokos), but rather only the birth-giver of the man Christ (Christotokos). The heresy of Nestorius is opposed to one of the basic dogmas of the Christian Faith: our Lord Jesus Christ’s divine and human natures.

According to the false teaching of Nestorius, Jesus Christ was born as an ordinary man, and afterwards because of His sanctity of life, He was somehow joined to the Godhead. With this blasphemous teaching of Nestorius the enemy of the race of man, the devil, attempted to undermine the Christian faith on these points: that the Pre-eternal God the Word, the Son of God, actually was incarnate in the flesh of the All-Pure Theotokos. Having become man, He thereby redeemed the human race from slavery to sin and death by His own suffering and death, and by His glorious Resurrection He trampled down Hades and death and opened the path to the Kingdom of Heaven to those who believed in Him, and to those striving to live according to His commandments.

A long while before the convening of the Third Ecumenical Synod, Saint Cyril, Archbishop of Alexandria, repeatedly tried to reason with the heretic Nestorius. Saint Cyril in his letters explained the mistakes of judgment by Nestorius, but Nestorius stubbornly continued with his teachings.

Saint Cyril wrote about the danger of the rising heresy to Celestine, the Pope of Rome, and to other Orthodox bishops, who also attempted to reason with Nestorius. When it became clear that Nestorius would continue with his teachings and that they were becoming widespread, the Orthodox bishops appealed to the emperor Theodosius the Younger for permission to convene an Ecumenical Synod. The Synod was convened on June 7, 431.

200 bishops attended the Synod. Nestorius also arrived in Ephesus, but he did not appear at the Synod even though the Fathers suggested three times that he attend the sessions. Then the Fathers began to discuss the heresy in the absence of the heretic.

The sessions of the Synod continued from June 22 to August 31. At the Synod of Ephesus were present such famous Fathers of the Church as Cyril of Alexandria, Juvenal of Jerusalem and Memnon of Ephesus (Celestine, Pope of Rome, was unable to attend because of illness, but he sent papal legates).

The Third Ecumenical Synod condemned the heresy of Nestorius and confirmed the Orthodox teaching on these matters: that it is necessary to confess the Lord Jesus Christ as One Person (Hypostasis) in two natures, the divine and the human, and that the All-Pure Mother of the Lord be acclaimed as Ever-Virgin and truly the Theotokos. The “Twelve Anathemas against Nestorius” by Saint Cyril of Alexandria laid out the true Orthodox Christological teaching accepted at the Synod.

To guide the Church the Holy Fathers also issued Eight Holy Canons:

Canon 1-5 condemned Nestorius and the Pelagian Celestius and their followers as heretics. Thus both Nestorianism and Pelagianism were condemned.

Canon 6 decreed deposition from clerical office or excommunication for those who did not accept the Synod's decrees.

Canon 7 condemned any departure from the creed established by the First Synod of Nicaea (325), in particular an exposition by the priest Charisius.

Canon 8 condemned interference by the Bishop of Antioch in affairs of the Church of Cyprus and decreed generally, that no bishop was to "assume control of any province which has not heretofore, from the very beginning, been under his own hand or that of his predecessors ... lest the Canons of the Fathers be transgressed."

Apolytikion in the Third Tone
In Ephesus, the Divine Spirit, gathered together, at the Third Synod, the God-bearing Fathers and Saints, and they condemned the heresy of Nestorius, proclaiming with clarity the Theotokos, to whom we sing hymns, together with odes and songs, glorifying Christ the much-merciful.

Kontakion in the Fourth Tone
With the divine assent of the Comforter, Fathers gathered in Ephesus, and the revered Third Divine Synod, upheld the faith, against every heresy, of Nestorius, and foreign doctrine, was overthrown by revered doctrines, keeping firm the Church of Christ.

Rejoice all-renowned Fathers, having put to shame the voice of Nestorius, and at the Third Synod, the Savior and His birth-giver, you radiantly proclaimed.