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January 21, 2021

The Timeliness of Saint Maximus the Confessor

By Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou

(Sermon Delivered in the Metropolitan Church of Ioannina 
on 21 January 2020)

First of all, I would like to warmly thank His Eminence the Metropolitan of Ioannina and beloved brother in Christ, Maximos, for the ministry of the word that he has entrusted to me, and especially today, when the great teacher of our Church celebrates, Saint Maximus the Confessor, whose name the Metropolitan and my beloved brother in Christ bears.

Your Eminence Metropolitan of Ioannina and beloved brother Maximos, revered chorus of Hierarchs, Priests of God the Most High, ministry of Christ, most honorable leaders and chosen Christians:

It is known to all of you that from the time your Metropolitan, who bears the name of Saint Maximus, came here to Ioannina, various speeches have been made about this great teacher of the Church. Saint Maximus lived in the seventh century, in a very difficult century in many ways, and he became a foremost teacher of our Church and a great theologian, a soaring eagle of theology.

He is a theologian who expressed all the theology of the Fathers of the Church up to his time, of the Cappadocian Fathers of the fourth century and of the later Fathers. He is the one who expressed the theology of the Fourth Ecumenical Synod and the Fifth Ecumenical Synod, that is, he had a serious theological basis on which he relied.

What one can say is that he played an important role in the Church and the subsequent Holy Fathers of the Church followed him faithfully, just as we have with Saint John of Damascus from the eighth century, who in his book Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith essentially follows Saint Gregory the Theologian and Saint Maximus the Confessor. And other later Fathers of our Church, such as Saint Gregory Palamas, who in the dialogue with the scholastic Barlaam, in the fourteenth century, relied on the works of Saint Dionysius the Areopagite and the works of Saint Maximus the Confessor, to present the Orthodox teaching. When one reads the texts of Saint Maximus the Confessor, one sees exactly the whole panorama of Orthodox theology.

That is why I consider myself fortunate, because from the first years of my student life and my priestly ministry I occupied myself with Saint Gregory Palamas and Saint Maximus the Confessor. And so one can say that one cannot live and acquire Orthodox theology, if one does not know the teachings of Saint Maximus the Confessor and Saint Gregory Palamas.

Of all that I could emphasize today from the teachings and works of Saint Maximus the Confessor, I would like to focus your attention on two specific points.

1. The Patristic Basis of His Theology

The first point is the basis of his theology which is patristic. He is characterized as a Confessor. But what did he confess? He confessed the Orthodox faith and the Orthodox tradition, that is, he was a great theologian of our Church.

And where did he rely to present all this Orthodox theology? As I said before, he relied on his earlier Fathers and confessed it with great humility. He wrote that he did not say anything of his own, but said what he received from the Holy Fathers before him. He writes characteristically: "I will not say anything at all of my own, but will only say that which I was taught from the Holy Fathers." And he adds: "I will not bypass anything at all of their teachings."

These words are astonishing. The greatness of the theology of Saint Maximus the Confessor is found precisely in this passage: "I will not say anything at all of my own, but will only say that which I was taught from the Holy Fathers. I will not bypass anything at all of their teachings." In other words, he says he will not say anything except that which he has received from the Holy Fathers of our Church.

When one sees the entire work of Saint Maximus, when one reads his life and conduct, then one understands this. He lived in a very difficult period. Because it was preceded by the Fourth Ecumenical Synod which determined the Christological doctrine, that in Christ the two natures, the divine and the human, were united in essence, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably. This was followed by the Fifth Ecumenical Synod, which defined in more detail this doctrine of Chalcedon.

However, after the Fourth Ecumenical Synod, a large part of the Christian population in the east of the Empire did not accept the Fourth Ecumenical Synod and are the so-called Anti-Chalcedonians. They believed that Christ has only one nature, the divine nature, since the human nature was absorbed by the divine nature.

At that time a specific policy was developed by the Emperor Heraclius, and of course it had ecclesiastical acceptance, in order to find a way to unite the Christians for the good of the Empire, that is, to unite those who accepted the Synod of Chalcedon and those who did not accept the Synod and were Monophysites. Then they found the word "one will", that Christ has two natures, He is the God-man Christ, but He has one will. Thus the Orthodox together with the two natures should accept one will in Christ and the Monophysites should accept together with one will the two natures in Christ.

Saint Maximus understood this alteration of the Orthodox faith in the Christological dogma and began a great struggle to develop the teaching that Christ, of course, has two natures, as decided by the Fourth Ecumenical Synod of Chalcedon, but He also has two wills. This is because the will is an appetite of nature. The will is not connected with the person. The person in Christ is one, and He has two natures and two wills.

This means that God the Word has received and essentially united the divine with the human nature and that is why Christ has two natures and two wills, which do not contradict each other. And, of course, with this teaching of Saint Maximus he resisted the attempt to mix politics within the Orthodox Church and to use dogma for the sake of political diplomacy.

This is very important, since the theology of Saint Maximus the Confessor says a lot in our time. Because today many people talk about the will of the person, they talk about the freedom of the person, while Saint Maximus and the Sixth Ecumenical Synod say that the will does not belong to the person, but to nature. This is why Christ who although has one nature, He has two wills, because He has two natures. If one considers that the will is connected with the person and not with nature, then the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity will have three wills, and thus the whole Trinitarian Doctrine is dissolved with terrible consequences for Orthodox theology and the Church.

Therefore, this point of the teaching of Saint Maximus is very important, and in fact the Saint says that in theology he does "not say anything at all of my own, but will only say that which I was taught from the Holy Fathers."

This is very important for our time, because today there are some Orthodox theologians, who, influenced by other theologies, try to bypass and transcend the patristic tradition and patristic theology. Thus, we see in our Orthodox forums people and theologians, who are imbued on the one hand with the so-called scholastic theology, and on the other hand with the so-called German idealism of the 18th and 19th centuries as well as the Russian theology of the 19th century, which move beyond the patristic tradition, and are a transgression of the patristic tradition, and of course also of Saint Maximus the Confessor, and connect the will with the person and not with nature. This contradicts not only the teaching of Saint Maximus the Confessor, but also the decision of the Sixth Ecumenical Synod, which condemns the so-called "hypostatic wills".

2. His Ecclesiastical Phronema

The second point of Saint Maximus the Confessor, which is of particular interest to our time, is that all this struggle he did, he did not do it with his ego, with his pride, as an individual to represent himself, but within the ecclesiastical context. He sent letters to various people in Constantinople, Chrysoupolis, Cyzicus, Crete, Cyprus, Alexandria, North Africa, Sicily and elsewhere, to inform them of the consequences of Monothelitism, that this view is a transgression of the entire patristic tradition and an alteration of the person of Christ.

Then, he did not work outside the Synodal Body of our Church. We see Saint Maximus, this great Father of the Church, to have an inner nobility, to have an ecclesiastical phronema and in fact a wonderful one. That is why whatever he does, he does essentially being within the spiritual organization of the Church and trying to activate its so-called synodal system. Because the Church is governed synodically and hierarchically. It is not governed only synodically without the hierarchy, nor does it operate hierarchically without the synod.

So, we see Saint Maximus going to Jerusalem, where Saint Sophronios had just been elected Patriarch of Jerusalem, who was a fellow monk, and they discussed this issue, and they both had the same opinion, and as we are informed, they had a Synod in Cyprus in 634 and condemn Monothelitism. Then we see Saint Maximus going to Carthage and there mobilizing the Bishops, and when he was there in 645 the former Patriarch of Constantinople, Pyrrhus, who had accepted Monothelitism, had a theological dialogue with him and the Patriarch was persuaded to accept his views.

Then Saint Maximus goes up to Rome and informs the then Orthodox Pope Martin, who convened a Synod in 649 in the Lateran and condemned Monothelitism. And, of course, later at the Sixth Ecumenical Synod (in 686) he fully accepted the teaching of Saint Maximus. We see, then, a humble Saint, a great educator of the Church, a great confessor of the faith, who says what he says within the Church and says it within the synodal system and strives to function actively in the system. And it is very characteristic that in the Lateran Synod in 649, where Monothelitism was condemned, Saint Maximos was the protagonist, but his protagonist role does not appear. In the Minutes of this Synod, only in the second meeting, where the Bishops sign, the inscription "Maximus the monk" appears somewhere, even though he defined the whole theology of this Synod.

What does this mean, my beloved brothers and sisters? It means that everyone, including the Bishops, the Clergy, the Monks and the Theologians, and all of us must accept the synodal institution of the Church, accept the synodal system of the Church, as it is expressed hierarchically. No one is above the Church, no one is above the Head of the Church, where Christ is. Everything must be done in the synodal system and in the synodal state, just as it is done in the Divine Liturgy.

We concelebrated today and the first liturgist was the home Hierarch, and we concelebrated with him, but he was considered the most prominent liturgist, since according to Saint Symeon of Thessaloniki he has "the order of Christ" and "the type of Christ", and the "types of Christ", and there were also priests, deacons, chanters and people. This means a synodal and hierarchical state of the Church. And what is done in every Divine Liturgy, this must be extended to the administrative organization of our Church.

Today, unfortunately, this synodal and hierarchical state of the Church suffers from people who are both Clergy and Bishops, especially from people who present themselves as confessors of the faith, but they deny the acts of the synodal and hierarchical system, the synodal institution of the Church, and thus the confession they give is not a salvific confession.

In this perspective, therefore, beloved brethren, the personality and work of Saint Maximus the Confessor must be understood, that is, in these two points on which I have tried to limit my speech, which is, the basis of theology is the theology of the Fathers of the Church, and that he operated in the synodal and hierarchical state of the Church. This means that theology is the voice of the Church, it is not independent of the Church, and the Church is the place of Orthodox theology; in other words, Theology is churchified and the Church theologizes. This is the basis of our Orthodox faith. And because His Eminence the Metropolitan of this Holy Metropolis and our beloved brother, who bears the name of Saint Maximus and celebrates today, I think he feels, from what I know, a great honor. And I think he is distinguished for both of these points, which I presented earlier.

He is a theologian, that is, he tries to theologize on the basis of the theology of the Holy Fathers and not with contemplation, because, as Saint Sophrony, who was recently canonized, used to say, "The imagination of the mind is unfit for theology," since theology cannot be joined with the imagination and contemplation, but with experience. And if one has no experience, at least one should follow the experiences of the experienced Holy Fathers. Thus one can theologize and try to theologize, just as the Church wants.

But, at the same time, he also possesses an ecclesiastical phronema, because he respects the synodal and hierarchical institution of our Church. That is why I think that he is worthy to bear the name of Saint Maximus. And let us also today send our wishes in the names of His Eminence the Metropolitans of Syros Dorotheos, of New Ionia Gabriel, and of Glyfada Antonios, may God give him strength to shepherd this local Church, as he shepherds it, to the glory of God, and to also participate in the synodal organs of the Church in the way he does, with a strong ecclesiastical phronema and with theological competence, so that God may be glorified, and God, after being glorified by him, will glorify him in His Kingdom as well. Amen.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.