This month the Church commemorates the Holy Fathers of the Fourth Ecumenical Council. Therefore I thought I would go off on a tangent from the homilies of St. John Chrysostom and post a sermon on this event.
The Fourth Ecumenical Council and the Great Martyr Euphemia
On this Sunday our Church commemorates the Holy Fathers of the Fourth Ecumenical Council and a miracle of the Great Martyr Euphemia. The Martyrdom of St. Euphemia is also remembered by our Church in September. So let us talk a little bit about her life, and the miracle which occurred through her at the Fourth Ecumenical Council. St. Euphemia lived in Chalcedon, she was a daughter of rich parents who brought her up in the love of Christ. During persecutions under the Emperor Diocletian (late third/early fourth centuries) the Christians of Chalcedon took to hiding in groups outside of the city. She went into hiding with a group of 49 others. When they were found and arrested they were tortured for 20 days and remained firm in the faith. As St. Euphemia was the leader and spokesman of the group she was singled out for more brutal tortures. The proconsul ordered her limbs to be crushed with iron wheels but she remained unharmed, she was thrown into a furnace with flames 40 feet high, again she was unharmed. Finally she was thrown to wild beasts and gave up her soul with one bite of a bear, which is somewhat small compared to the other torments from which God delivered her.
But what about the Fourth Ecumenical Council which is commemorated today. What was it about and what happened there that was miraculous? This was the first of the Ecumenical Councils dealing with Christological controversies. The Orthodox proclaimed that Christ God is one Divine Person Who has two natures: the divine and human natures. The heretics erroneously stated that Christ God, although He was from two natures, He has one nature, the Divine nature, because the human nature was somehow swallowed up or absorbed into the Divine. But if that were true, what would it mean for us? The Orthodox see in such teaching an obliteration of our human person which is totally unacceptable. Since through argument the Orthodox could not convince the heretics of their error, the holy Patriarch Anatolius suggested that each of the two parties write a document containing the respective professions of faith and that the two scripts be place in the reliquary containing the relics of the Great Martyr Euphemia. So the two scrolls were placed on the saints chest, the casket was sealed and the fathers gave themselves over to prayer. Eight days later when it was opened they found the saint holding the Orthodox confession of faith as though she wanted to press it into her heart and the heretics scroll lay at her feet. Thus the saint confirmed our Orthodox faith.
But what does the Christology of our Orthodox Church means for us? What relation does it have with our life. Christ is fully God and fully man. As Apostle Paul writes: “for it pleased the Father that in Him should all fullness dwell”. (Col. 1.19) So Christ God has a divine and human nature in one Divine Person. He is the Son of God or we can say God the Son. The Son of God became the son of man so that we might—as the Apostle Peter states—“become partakers of the divine nature”. (IIPet. 1:4) So we can participate in the Divine life, in the uncreated divine energy and still remain who we are, the particular person that we are remains intact. This is one reason why the Holy Fathers of the Fourth Ecumenical Council rejected the Christology of the heretics; for them it destroyed the Orthodox concept of grace and life in Christ for us.
One thing then that should be pointed out is that Orthodox Theology is not merely academic, studying Orthodox theology should not not just be learning the letter of the law. A contemporary author Harry Boosalis writes profoundly about this as follows:
The study of theology is primarily a spiritual process. The believer must first be exposed to, edified by and ultimately identify with the time-honored Tradition of the Church Fathers.
The Fathers offer a rich inheritance of spiritual tradition established by Christ Himself and passed on from the earliest days of the apostolic Church. Tradition is not confined to the annals of archaeology. Ultimately Holy Tradition is spiritual experience; it is personal participation in the life of divine grace. It is this two-thousand-year spiritual tradition that the believer participates in, and comes to call his own. (Taught by God, p. 15)
Elsewhere he writes:
The aim of Orthodox dogma is not to subject man to the confines of particular religious philosophy. Rather, dogma leads to therapy. It leads to the cure of fallen man.
However, it must be emphasized that dogmas in themselves do not heal man; they simply show the way. An intellectual acceptance of the letter of dogma is not an automatic guarantee of being healed. It is not a matter of simply agreeing with the wording; one must experience the spirit of Orthodox dogma by means of a living faith within the therapeutic life of the Church. Ibid. p. 52)
But what is our struggle? How does one experience the spirit of Orthodox dogma by means of a living faith within the therapeutic life of the Church.
Again I want to refer to Harry Boosalis who writes of this very nicely in another place when he tells us of man being created in the image and after the likeness of God.
For Orthodox anthropology, the term ‘image’ has a different meaning from the term ‘likeness’. ‘Image’ may be see as the potential inherent in man for sanctification, while ‘likeness’ refers to its perfection. Or, in other words, one could say ‘image’ implies ‘potentiality’, whereas ‘likeness’ implies ‘actuality’.
Man was not originally created in a state of completed perfection. He was, however, endowed with the unique freedom to choose either to live in pursuit of achieving his full potential, or else to digress toward the desecration and defacement of his true dignity as man. Only through the proper use of God-given freedom can man cooperate with divine grace in restoring the image of God within him and attain to the likeness with God for which he was created. (Orthodox Spiritual Life According to St. Silouan the Athonite, pp. 29-30)
So let us choose every day, in everything, and in every way to follow Christ our God, the Son of God Who became the Son of man; so that we might participate in His divine life. Amen.