September 22, 2021

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

 Homilies on the Ecumenical Synods

The Seventh Ecumenical Synod (787 A.D.)

By Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou 

The Apostle Paul, beloved brethren, once speaking to the Presbyters of the Church of Ephesus, told them that he knew well that after his departure the wild wolves would invade among them, who will show no pity to the flock, and from among the members of the Church people will emerge who will speak perversions to distract the disciples and have them with them (cf. Acts 20:29-30).

This was seen throughout the history and life of the Church, as various heretics appeared, who ended up in non-orthodox teachings and created problems in the Church of Christ.

The devil always fights the Church, hates the person of Christ and wants to alter His teachings. From this perspective one must view heresies.

It is true that heretics used philosophy and reflection on theological issues, but the problem is that they did not have a pure heart in which God could act, according to the beatitude of Christ: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God" (Matt. 5:8), which means that demons act within an impure heart. Thus, in the end, heresy is demonic energy.

In the 8th century there appeared another heresy, which was called Iconoclasm, that was against the iconographic depictions of sacred icons. Christians painted the icons of Christ, the Panagia and the Saints and kissed them, asking for Grace from Christ. However, the Nestorians, the Paulicians and the Monophysites rejected the veneration of the sacred icons, because they had a problem with the human nature of Christ, for their own reasons.

Thus, Emperor Leo III the Isaurian issued in 726 and 730 two decrees against the sacred icons and forbade their veneration. This was also done later by the Emperor Constantine Kopronymos. The Orthodox Fathers fought against these decisions, because they knew from their experience the great power of Christ, the Panagia and the Saints who are depicted, and the value of the icons.

In the year 787 the Seventh Ecumenical Synod convened in Constantinople, by decision of the Empress Irene the Athenian and her son Constantine, which was presided over by Patriarch Tarasios of Constantinople. This Synod annulled the iconoclastic Synod that took place in 754 under Constantine Kopronymos, anathematized the heretical iconoclasts and established the Orthodox teaching for the sacred icons.

This Ecumenical Synod was based on the teachings of Basil the Great, Patriarch Germanos of Constantinople and especially of Saint John of Damascus. According to Orthodox teaching, one thing is true worship which is ascribed only to God, to the "divine nature", and not to icons and saints, and another is the honorary veneration ascribed to sacred icons. In fact, this honorable veneration goes beyond the image to the prototype. This means that when we kiss the sacred icons we do not venerate the matter of which they are made, but the hypostasis of the person imaged, that is, the one who is depicted.

An Orthodox icon teaches the mystery of the incarnation of the Son and Word of God, and the denial of the honorable veneration of the icon of Christ is, in fact, a denial of His incarnation. Also, the Saints are depicted and honored, because they are members of the Body of Christ and in them they have the Grace of God. Icons function as the bearers of divine Grace, in the way that the human nature of Christ acted in the divine nature of the Word. That is why they work miracles. This, in a nutshell, is the theology of the sacred icons, in fact it is the theology of the incarnation of Christ, as confessed in the Ecumenical Synods, and of the Saints as members of His glorious body.

Also important in this Synod is that it spoke of Christ as married to the Holy Church, is with His Disciples throughout the ages, to whom He granted the light of His knowledge, and redeemed them from the darkness of idolatrous madness. And it is from this gift and the tradition of the Church that the heretics were removed by the deceitful enemy.

These and many more things show the difference between the Holy Fathers and the heretics. That is why in this Synod all the heretics are anathematized by name, from Arius to the then heretics, and the Orthodox teaching is proclaimed for the honorary veneration of the sacred icons.

In one point of the Acts it is written: "We salute the voices of the Lord and of his Apostles and Prophets through which we have been taught to honor and magnify...." This phrase shows the great difference between the empirical theologians, who are the Fathers of the Church, and the philosophical theologians, who, because they have an impure heart, act in accordance with evil spirits.

The empirical theologians, as observed by the Prophets, the Apostles and the Fathers, know from experience that when one arrives at the vision of the glory of God in the hypostasis of the Word, one sees the divine Light, which is above comprehension, above the senses, where no reflection, no fantasy, no delusion can exist. After this revelatory experience, however, they can depict Christ, the Panagia and the Saints, but they know very clearly that uncreated phrases are different, that is, the revelatory experience, from created images which is something else, which depicts this uncreated glory, without being fully able to express it.

The empirical theologians also know that those who kiss and venerate the sacred icons receive Grace from God, according to their own spiritual condition, and in this way the flame ignites in them, the desire for the vision of the uncreated glory of God.

From this perspective we kiss the Honorable Cross, the sacred icons of Christ, the Panagia and the Saints, the sacred relics, the blessed sacred objects, and we glorify Christ who became man, divinized human nature and made us members of the Church, members of His glorious Body.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.