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September 18, 2021

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

   Homilies on the Ecumenical Synods

The Fourth Ecumenical Synod (451 A.D.)

By Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou

Last Sunday, beloved brethren, we saw how the Third Ecumenical Synod dealt with the heresy of Nestorius, Patriarch of Constantinople, how it condemned him and how it set terms for the faith in the God-man Christ and the Most Holy Theotokos, after an agreement between Saint Cyril of Alexandria and John of Antioch with the so-called "Ekthesis of Reconciliation" in 433.

However, after the death of these two Patriarchs (Cyril of Alexandria and John of Antioch) their fanatical disciples raised the issue, in consideration of the fact that both of them had departed from their positions, which they had already supported, and it now created problems in the Church.

These are Eutyches, Dioscorus and other Antiochian theologians. Eutyches taught that the Lord Jesus Christ had two natures before the union, but he confessed one nature after the union. That is, he said that after the union of the two natures, human nature was absorbed by the divine nature. This problem continued, because there was still confusion between nature and person, so that they considered the one person is connected with one nature.

At that time, the Fourth Ecumenical Synod was convened in Chalcedon, by decision of the Emperors Marcian and Pulcheria, in 451 AD, under the presidency of Patriarch Anatolios of Constantinople and the representatives of Pope Leo of Rome. This Synod accepted the decisions of the Third Ecumenical Synod and following the previous Fathers, that is, "following the Holy Fathers", as it is written, decided that we confess that one is the person and one is the hypostasis of the Word, "while He is known "to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably" (ἐν δύο φύσεσιν ἀσυγχύτως, ἀτρέπτως, ἀδιαιρέτως, ἀχωρίστως), and nowhere is the difference between the natures denied because of the union, but the attributes of each nature is preserved for the unity in the one person-hypostasis of the Word.

This whole issue may seem philosophical, which has nothing to do with the theology of the Church, but this does not apply for the following reasons.

The Fathers of the Church, through the study of Holy Scripture, the Old and New Testaments, especially with the Revelation of Christ to the Apostles, knew that Christ is the true God, the Son of God. The existence of the Holy Trinity was revealed at the Jordan River. On Mount Tabor, the face of Christ shone like the sun and His garments became white like light. Also, a bright cloud covered the Disciples and the voice of the Father was heard. This Light was not considered created, but divine, uncreated, the Light of divinity. In Christ there was a human nature (soul, body), but the radiance of divinity also came from within. This Light was not another nature, but the divine nature which was united with the human nature of Christ. Thus, the divinity of Christ was revealed without abolishing human nature. This led the Fathers to say that the two natures - divine and human - act in the hypostasis-person of the Word "inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably".

This experience was shared by many Fathers of the Church, as we clearly see in Basil the Great and Saint Gregory the Theologian and in many later Fathers, such as Saint Symeon the New Theologian, Saint Gregory Palamas and others. And for this reason all the Fathers have an identity of experience and faith with the Prophets and the Apostles.

They did not make this formulation in order to philosophize rationally about Christ, because this mystery cannot be understood rationally, nor did they do it to develope philosophy, but they did it to respond to the heretics. Thus, the heretical theologians tried to understand this mystery in terms of philosophy, while the Fathers used some terms, such as essence, nature, person, hypostasis, to answer the heretical theologians and to deconstruct the philosophical manner of their thoughts.

This means that dogma, as Saint Gregory Palamas says, is the manifestation/revelation of the Word of God to the Prophets in the Old Testament as pre-incarnate and to the Apostles in the New Testament as incarnate. On the contrary, the terms are the words, they are verbs, used by the Fathers to preserve the dogma, the revelation of the Son and Word of God. That is why the terms state the boundaries between truth and error.

The decisions of the Fourth Ecumenical Synod, as well as of the other Ecumenical Synods, were made into hymns by the Church, which we chant in the Church, and become a prayer, which closely connects dogma and the terms of the Ecumenical Synods with the worship of the Church. This shows the great value of worship, in which we confess and live the God-man Christ.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.