September 23, 2021

Homilies on the Ecumenical Synods - The Eighth Ecumenical Synod (Metr. Hierotheos of Nafpaktos)

Homilies on the Ecumenical Synods

The Eighth Ecumenical Synod (879-880 A.D.)

By Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou 

The 8th century, beloved brethren, was a difficult century from the perspective of the State and the Church. On the one hand the western part of the Roman Empire began to separate from its eastern part, and on the other one begins to clearly see the alteration of western Christianity.

This was evident at the Eighth Ecumenical Synod, which convened in 879-880 in Constantinople during the reign of Emperor Basil the Macedonian. The President of the Synod was Photios the Great, and the representatives of the Orthodox Pope of Rome John VIII were also present.

This Synod is very important, as it is the last Synod between the Orthodox Church of the East and the Orthodox Church of the West, that is, between New Rome and Old Rome, because afterwards the Christians of the West by succession distanced themselves from the Orthodox Church.

It is characteristic that this Synod is called the "Eighth Ecumenical Synod" by the Encyclical of the Patriarchs of the East in 1848, and the same Synod ratified the Ninth Ecumenical Synod.

The Eighth Ecumenical Synod dealt with various ecclesiological issues, highlighting the difference between the ecclesiology of the Orthodox Eastern Church and the then Orthodox Western Church, as well as other serious theological issues.

At this Synod the following issues appeared: the Primacy of the Pope; the liturgical elements of the Church and the relationship between them; the customs of the typikon; the ordination from a layman to a Bishop; and the main issue was the theological problem of the Filioque, which was the addition to the Symbol of Faith made by the Franks, that says the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, which is a heresy, and concerning which Old Rome also reacted at that time. Indeed, this Synod condemned and defrocked those who kept the Filioque in the Symbol of Faith.

In fact, the Synod condemned those who add or subtract words from the Symbol of Faith, and by this it meant the Franks without naming them out of fear, because of their barbarity.

An important feature of this Synod was observed by Photios the Great, who with his insightful mind perceived the danger coming from the Franks, who had occupied northern and central Europe as they marched across the east, and he diagnosed that it was a heresy that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, namely the Filoque. Photios the Great himself developed this in an epistle "To Those Who Sit on the Archepiscopal Thrones in the East", and he characterizes this heresy as being of an "atheist mind", "impious", "by those bishops who are in darkness". That is, the western bishops described themselves as bishops, since the Franks appointed bishops without ordination, and they imposed the heresy of the Filioque on the Symbol of the Faith. He writes in his epistle about the Franks, who imposed this heresy: "We, by divine and synodal decree, condemn them as impostors and enemies of God."

After the Eighth Ecumenical Synod, the western part of the Roman Empire was heading to rupture with great speed, mainly for political reasons, until the year 1009, when the Filioque officially entered the Symbol of Faith by the Pope of Rome, and the communion between Old and New Rome was interrupted. In fact, it was Old Rome that distanced itself from the Orthodox Church and over time adopted other heresies.

Later, in the 16th century, with the excesses made by the Pope, whole groups of Christians who formed the so-called Protestant world were removed from it, and today there are many Christian divisions in the West. Thus, Photios the Great was vindicated, who made many efforts for the unity of the Church and fought against the Primacy of the Pope and the Filioque.

It seems clear that in the 9th century Photios the Great was considered the greatest figure, since he had intelligence, insight, theological training, Orthodox ecclesiology, but also great discernment. He was a great Father of the Church.

Eventually, the West moved away from the Orthodox East and developed scholasticism, a theology that cut itself off from the Church Fathers and was based on ancient Greek philosophy, such as Plato, Aristotle and Neoplatonism. Scholastic theology has created other reactions in the western world and various philosophical, theological and social movements that exist to this day.

That is why we must not only honor Photios the Great as a Saint and Great Father, but also revere his teachings and his work.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.