Commemoration of the Fathers of the 7th Œcumenical Council

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Accepting the Truth about Him who is the Truth
Homily at Vespers before the Sunday
Commemoration of the Fathers
of the 7th Œcumenical Council
11 October, 2008

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

On this Sunday, we are keeping the memory of the Fathers of the Seventh Œcumenical Council, which took place in 787 in the city of Nicæa. Nicæa is a very old city, which is situated near the eastern end of the Sea of Marmara on what is now called Lake Iznik. It could be said to face Constantinople from Asia Minor.

Although the Church has had only seven official Œcumenical Councils so far, there actually have been more. For us, the difficulty lies in the process of ratification of such councils. For a council to be recognised as œcumenical, an emperor is usually required, as well as a subsequent council which would approve the previous one’s work. Since 787, there have been many political troubles and messes which have blocked such ratification. Nevertheless, these councils have borne the responsibility of clarifying our Orthodox Faith. It is important for us to know about these councils for two reasons. On the one hand, it is necessary that we understand as well as possible and as truly as possible both what we believe about the Holy Trinity, abut the Incarnation, and about the Church, as well as why we believe what we believe. On the other hand, it is crucial that we understand the distortions of the truth about the Truth that arise from the fears and rebelliousness of people. The texts of the decisions made by these councils can help us to understand. To read the canons and decisions does not have to be a “dry-as-dust” exercise, but rather a prayerful exercise aimed at enlightening our hearts and minds and at keeping them in harmony with our Lord, His love, His will.

Faith is essential to the person. Faith is the result of the personal encounter with Christ which all Christians have in some measure. Faith sustains the Christian in the midst of the daily struggle to continue in love, in harmony with, and in unity with Christ. We can see that people may sometimes appear to be very sharp in their opinions (or in the expression of their opinions), as they discuss the difficulties they face as a result of the inability of many persons to accept the whole truth about Him who is the Truth.

Why were the Fathers arguing and debating ? It was for the sake of the truth of Christ, the Holy Trinity, the Church, our Faith. Indeed, we are told that at the First Council, the fervent Saint Nicholas, the Bishop of Myra in Lycia, actually struck Arius of Alexandria. This was because Arius was so obstinately stubborn in his refusal to accept that our Lord Jesus Christ is truly the Son of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. Instead, he wanted to insist that Jesus was a creature of God. To say so and to believe that, makes it impossible for Jesus to save us. Saving us can only be done by God Himself. The Fathers did not meet in order to develop anything in the manner of scholastic logic about abstract principles. They were not arguing about logic or philosophies or anything of the sort. What they were arguing about was : “What, in fact, is the truth about Him, who is the Truth ?” In the course of the centuries in the context of exposure to civil society, various philosophies entered into the ways of thinking and into the attitudes of people. This exposure and influence introduced many seemingly harmless explanations of essential matters of faith, explanations which proved to be both poisonous and deadly to the faith of an Orthodox Christian. These ideas repeatedly avoided the essential and fundamental truth about the divinity of Jesus the Christ and about the Holy Trinity. These ideas often became movements and political causes, which made necessary the convening of a council in order to correct the mistakes. Also, by the time of the seventh council, in response to the conquest by the Muslims, Christian believers very often wavered in their sense of what is right. Sometimes, they actually got lost.

It is crucial for us to remember that there is only one Jesus Christ. There is only one Truth. There is only one Way (see John 14:6). It is important for us to keep the eyes of our hearts and souls firmly fixed on the one Lord Jesus Christ, who “is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). His love for us is constant and never-changing. He, only, brings us to salvation and eternal life. He, only, is our joy. He, only, is our true Shepherd. He, only, does not disappoint or fail us. He, only, is faithful to us, in contrast to the weakness of us human beings.

We are often getting into trouble because we are “putting the cart before the horse”. We put the cart before the horse when we are putting the powers of our intellect in front of obedience to the revelation of God’s love. The Lord is God. God is the Lord. He has revealed Himself to us (see Psalm 117:27). The revelation of Himself to us is Love incarnate, Jesus Christ – the Word of God incarnate, Jesus Christ. We do not tell Him Who He is. He tells us Who He is. We respond to this revelation of His Son. How does He always reveal Himself to us ? He does it by His stable, life-giving love. It is He, the real, true, risen Lord who reveals Himself to us. The only way we can have life, and have life abundantly, is to accept this love, and to be faithful to this love.

After all the debates and arguments ended, the Fathers have always counselled that we should live in love and forgiveness towards each other, and that we should live in harmony and in communion with each other. It very often happens, however, that we have honest disagreements and differences of opinion about how to live our lives as Orthodox Christians, and sometimes about the details of how and why we believe as we do. Some consider this tendency to debate as a characteristic of Orthodox Christians. Be that as it may, it is also the Orthodox way, in submission to the love of our Lord, Jesus Christ to find our way in Him, to find our heart, to find our life in Him, and to do this in the context of mutual forgiveness and harmony. No matter in how many ways we may disagree about this way, we always refer to Jesus Christ to find the truth in Him, who is the Truth, and to live in loving obedience to Him. In loving obedience to Him, we find our way in Him, who is the Way. In this Truth, and in this Way we have life in Him who is Life.

Last year, when our Canadian group of pilgrims visited the city and diocese of Vladimir in Russia, we were given an object lesson about this. Archbishop Evlogy of Vladimir gave us all a tour of the diocesan facilities, including his office. He showed us the domestic chapel which was nearby, and next to which was the room where the diocesan council would meet with him. He told us very carefully that whenever there would arise some matter about which there was a controversy, or a matter about which they could not agree, they would quickly adjourn to this chapel and pray together. It would be after praying, he said, that they would be able to understand what the Lord was asking them to do. Blessing flowed from this custom, he said.

This principle of turning to the Lord for help is central to our whole life in Christ, and it helps us to overcome healthily every sort of misunderstanding, disagreement, difference and division amongst us. If we are careful to keep the eyes of our hearts focussed on our Lord Jesus Christ, and on Him only, it will not matter to us in what way any human being is false, hurtful or failing us. It will matter only that this human being has a weakness, and is someone we should pray for. Every human being fails, somehow or other. We all, in our families, have experience of that every day – our wives, our husbands, our children, our relatives. As much as we do love each other, because we are weak, we disappoint each other.

Sometimes, we betray one another. If we are putting our trust only in this human relationship alone, we are going to get hardened, bitter, and so forth, because human beings always are weak, and always fall away, willy-nilly. Most of the time it is not voluntarily. Most people fall down, but it is not voluntarily. For example, I was all prepared to bring blessed oil from Jerusalem to anoint you all with, but where is it ? It is sitting in my suitcase. Therefore, I am going to have to send it to you, and Father n will anoint you with it. This is how it is when we are too busy, and therefore not properly focussed and concentrated on the Lord. The oil will nevertheless arrive here, and you will receive the blessing from and through it, anyway. It is important to remember that my forgetting the oil does not mean that I do not love you or care about you.

It is necessary that we all remember that there is One whose love never fails under any circumstances. Everything in our lives must be focussed on Him, and must be lived in the context of Him and His love. If we are really good at following in His foot-steps, we will disappoint each other much less often. God willing, the older we get, the less we will be falling ; the less we will be disappointing each other. We will live in harmony with each other more and more ; we will be mindful of praying for each other more and more ; we will support and encourage each other more and more in the manner in which our Lord wants us to do.

The Lord, in His mercy, has been with us, and He is giving us joy, both in this parish and in the diocese. The Lord is compassionate, merciful, and encouraging. I am grateful to God to see how quickly things have changed here in this Temple in such a short time since my visit last year. The renovations and improvements are making this Temple look more and more beautiful for the Lord, and they are making the Temple yet warmer and embracing of all who come to worship the Lord here. The Lord is protecting us, renewing us, and making us witnesses of His love.

In this context, we can more clearly see and understand that we have missionary responsibilities here. Our responsibility is first to be a shining light, to invite people to come here, to be part of us, to experience and share the love of Jesus Christ amongst us.

This present Temple has stood here for about sixty years, but the community itself is older than anyone here. During the course of the nearly one hundred years that this congregation has worshipped on this land, this community has witnessed and heard the foot-steps of people who are now saints, even though they may not yet be officially recognised as such. Through their intercessions, these holy people are still with us as a sign of the Lord’s love. Let us ask the Lord that our love be strong enough, faithful enough, and welcoming enough so that when the Lord sends those persons that He wants to send, they will feel His presence and the warmth of His love. Let us ask the Lord that when they come, they will be motivated greatly to glorify our Saviour, together with the unoriginate Father, and the all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.