Great and Holy Council

Last Sunday, we commemorated the Holy Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council who met in Niceae in the early fourth century (325 AD).  When I got home I started to think about why we haven’t had an ecumenical council since the eighth century.  Historically, we should review some facts about all the councils.  All these gatherings had some common denominators.

The Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council

The Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council
  • The were never called as “ecumenical” councils.
  • They were later recognised as such.
  • They were called to decide specific questions, which had arisen and troubled the Church.
  • These included : “Who was Jesus?”  and “What is the nature of the Holy Trinity”?
  • They also settled issues that were derived from the above questions such as: “Who was Mary?”
  • They were convened by Imperial Decree.

OK, what is the hold up, it’s been since 787AD. Haven’t we had burning issues in the Church since the eighth century? What about the Great Schism?  Didn’t this issue warrant a great conclave to settle the dispute? It seems to me (just personal speculation) that two related reasons may have disturbed the accustomed polity of the Church.  One was the person and influence of the imperial house. Namely, the emperor who, following the example of St. Constantine, always convened the councils.  What happened after the eighth century was Islam.  The Byzantine Empire was confronted by the peril of Islam and the Church’s regular relationships between all the five ancient patriarchates was disturbed.  Later, the emperor was literally fighting for the life of the empire. We all know about the estrangement of the western church through political issues and ego. Then came the crusades and the relationships between the East and West deteriorated.  There were several attempted councils of “reunion”; but they were, quite frankly, coerced in the face of the eminent fall of Constantinople and the Islamic threats. The works of St. Mark Eugenics detail the difficulties for the Orthodox at Council of Ferrara-Florence in the mid 15th century. Then came the times of captivity, both the Ottoman and the Communist eras.

Now times have changed, but one thing that has not changed is the great need for the Church to come together and discuss things that need attention.  I, for one applaud, His All Holiness for moving in the direction of calling a great council of the Church.  Let’s not be so cynical by immediately thinking of “evil agendas” and “egos”.  This week as we prepare for Pentecost, don’t we, as Orthodox Christians, still believe that the Holy Spirit lives in the Church? The council will convene and the Spirit will assure the outcome, not the machinations of politics and human desires. What should you and I do to guarantee the outcome?  PRAY, start from now and fervently pray for the council.   Then and only then can we as the faithful influence the conclave.

Enlightenment

We remember the Samaritan woman on the fourth Sunday after Pascha and on February 26 each year.  The Holy Gospel has not given us the name of the Samaritan woman, but the Tradition of the Church remembers, and calls her in Greek – Photini, in Russian – Svetlana, in the Celtic languages – Fiona, in Western languages – Claire, all these names speak to us of one thing – of light.  Again light, we spoke of light only two weeks ago! There is not a mention of light in the Gospel story of the Samaritan woman but, the light is there in the person of Our Lord. As in many encounters with Jesus, there is light or rather enlightenment.

St. Photini and XC 

       St. Photini and XC

The Apolitikion for St. Photini begins with these words, “All illumined by the Holy Spirit…,” once again, light. The constant mention of this phenomenon should cause us to stop and wonder. In this meeting with Jesus, the woman at the well gained insight into her own life and into salvation history.  Enlightenment can be defined as: the action or state of attaining or having attained spiritual knowledge or insight.  OK, what insight did she gain.  She understood the relationship of Jews and Samaritans.  She knew she was living with this guy who wasn’t her husband. She well knew her marriage history.  What is left?  It seems to me that Photini still had doubts as to Jesus’ identity. We read her question to the city dwellers, “Can this be the Christ?” She did peak the people’s interest so that they went out to meet Jesus.  After they came face to face with him and listened to him they believed.

 The tradition of the Church tells us that Photini and her family were present at Pentecost. We read that St. Peter addressed the crowd by saying,”Repent and by baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2, 38) Her enlightenment was linked to her baptism, which the Church refers to as illumination.  She sought forgiveness for a life away from God. This was a process beginning with her meeting with Jesus and His coming into her life and her receiving the Holy Spirit, her empowerment at Pentecost. She was on fire with Christ, but the flame had to be nurtured and fanned from a spark lit by the Light and the warmth of the Holy Spirit.