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September 29, 2021

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

Homilies on the Ecumenical Synods

The Ninth Ecumenical Synod (1351 A.D.)

By Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou 

When we speak of the Ninth Ecumenical Synod, we mean the Great Synod of 1351, in which Saint Gregory Palamas endorsed the Orthodox teaching on the participation in the uncreated energies of God and sacred hesychasm.

This Synod was convened by the Emperor John Kantakouzenos and it was presided over by the Patriarch Kallistos of Constantinople, a disciple of the hesychast Saint Gregory of Sinai, and many hesychast fathers attended. The Minutes of the Synod also included the decisions of the Synod of 1341 and 1347, which condemned Barlaam and Akindynos and thus the decisions are completely Orthodox.

This Synod is Ecumenical, firstly, because it has all the normal preconditions of an Ecumenical Synod; secondly, because the subject with which it dealt, that the energies of God are uncreated, is a continuation of the Sixth Ecumenical Synod, which it commemorates in the Minutes; and thirdly, because its decisions were included in the "Synodikon of Orthodoxy", together with the decisions of the Seventh Ecumenical Synod, and as we know the "Synodikon of Orthodoxy" is read on the Sunday of Orthodoxy.

Moreover, since the Church determined to celebrate Saint Gregory Palamas on the Second Sunday of Great Lent, after the Sunday of Orthodoxy, it means that it recognizes Saint Gregory Palamas as a great theologian, whose theology was secured synodically at the Synod of 1351, as was done with the previous Synods (1341-1347).

In general, in the discussion that took place between Saint Gregory Palamas and other philosophical anti-hesychast theologians, some truths were revealed that are the common property of the Holy Fathers of the Church, of the Church itself. I will mention some of these truths.

The first truth is that God has essence and energy. Every essence is manifested by its energy, which comes from the essence. The essence of God is uncreated and the energy of God is uncreated. The Three Persons of the Holy Trinity have the same divine essence, while we participate in the energy of God. God sends His energy to creation, just as the Sun sends its energy to the world. The uncreated energy of God takes various names, depending on the results it creates, that is, it is called essence-forming, life-forming, wisdom-forming, and it is also characterized as a purifying, illuminating, deifying energy. All of creation participates in the energies of God.

The second truth is that those who are pure in heart have the ability to see God as Light. The sensible light that one sees with the senses is one thing, and another is the Light of God which is above every sense, which the pure nous sees with the senses, since the body also receives this experiences that is beyond the nous and beyond the senses. The Light that the Disciples saw on Mount Tabor is the Light of the divinity, and is superior to the rational knowledge of the philosophers.

The third truth is that a necessary condition for one to see the Light of God, that is, to partake of His energy and not of His essence, is the purification of the heart, the noetic prayer of the heart, the participation of the body in a life of asceticism, with fasting, asceticism, love and the observance of the commandments of Christ. This whole ascetic effort, during which God operates and man cooperates, is called sacred hesychasm. This is what the Prophets, the Apostles and the Fathers lived, this is what Christ taught.

The fourth truth is that the Church, in condemning the views of Barlaam, as well as of other like-minded people, in fact condemned Western theology, scholasticism, which maintains that the philosophers were higher than the Prophets, since the philosophers developed their philosophies with their reason, while the Prophets saw external flashes that were considered created and demonic. The views of the anti-hesychasts came mainly from Plato's philosophy, that is, they were influenced from ancient Greek philosophy. This is considered heresy, because the Prophets saw the pre-incarnate Word and the Apostles saw the incarnate Word and were considered superior to the philosophers.

Finally, the theology developed by Saint Gregory Palamas is the theology of the Orthodox Church. And sacred hesychasm, the purification of the heart and the illumination of the nous, that leads to deification, is the core of Orthodox theology, it is the precondition for the theology of all the Holy Fathers, it is the basis of all the Ecumenical Synods.

This shows that the Holy Fathers in the Ecumenical Synods theologized about Christ being the true God, that in Christ there are two natures, divine and human, which operate "inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably" in His hypostasis, that in Christ there are two wills, divine and human, in which the human will follows the divine will. It also shows that the saints, through sacred hesychasm, which constitutes the Orthodox methodology, arrived at the vision-viewing of Christ, and having seen Christ they then recorded this experience with divine inspiration.

Therefore, the whole theology of the Church is the fruit of experience, it is the result of the vision of Christ in the Light and it is not a rational knowledge, which is the result of philosophical knowledge.

We love Saint Gregory Palamas, because with his experience of divine vision and his divinely inspired struggles he showed the basis of Orthodox theology, he expressed the experience of the Prophets, Apostles and the Fathers, which is the vision of the Word in His human nature.

All these things must not remain on a theoretical level, but we must live them united with Christ, who is "the way and the truth and the life" (John 9:6).

* * *

As Orthodox Christians we must remain faithful to the doctrines of the Ecumenical Synods and to the teachings of the Holy Fathers who composed them, for which we honor them on many Sundays of the ecclesiastical year.

We boast in the Lord that three Bishops of Nafpaktos participated in three Ecumenical Synods, namely, Kallikrates in the Third Ecumenical Synod, Irenaeus in the Fourth Ecumenical Synod, and Anthony in the Eighth Ecumenical Synod. Also, the Bishop of Nafpaktos, Martyrios, participated in the Synod of Sardis, where he supported Athanasius the Great in a difficult period in his life.

Therefore, most importantly, we have a responsibility to remain steadfast in the doctrines of the Fathers of the Ecumenical Synods, and the future Metropolitans of Nafpaktos must always boast, because he is the successor of such confessors of the faith.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.