SUNDAY OF THE HOLY FATHERS OF THE FIRST ECUMENICAL COUNCIL
7th Sunday after Easter, 31st May 1998
by V. Rev. Archimandrite Panteleimon P. Lampadarios
Patriarchal Vicar of Alexandria
Health is considered to be one of God’s most important gifts to man. Man’s body, according to the teachings of the Orthodox Church, is the temple of God. It is the living vessel of the Divinity from which the radiance of the Divine Glory shines. St. Paul teaches us saying, "Your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which you have of God, and you are not your own" (1 Corinth. 6:19). Whatever we have, we have it from God. Nothing belongs to man, even his own body.
Through Christ’s Sacrifice on the Cross, man has been freed from the chains of sin, which caused the deterioration of man’s bodily and spiritual health and in addition, brought death upon the human race.
"For you are bought with a price" (1 Corinth. 6:20). Christ bought us from the course of the Law with His own Precious Blood. Because our body and soul belong to Christ, it is our duty to live according to His Will; and furthermore, to take care of our health. Thus St. Paul concludes saying, "Glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s" (1 Corinth. 6:20).
In the same and equal manner we must take care of our spiritual health. The soul is affected by our personal sins, and by heresy, which is the worst type of spiritual illness.
Every sin which man commits can be cured by repentance and the Forgiving Grace of God, which is granted through the Holy Sacrament of Holy Confession. Heresy, on the other hand, is the complete alienation of man from God. Heresy is the fruit of man’ s pride. Heresy builds up the impenetrable wall of impenitence, which prevents man to return to salvation. And although God forgives all sins committed by man, the sin of heresy is unforgivable and brings eternal punishment and condemnation upon those who insist in their heresy.
Our Lord Jesus Christ has assured us saying, "I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men. And whosoever speaks a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaks against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come" (Matth. 12:31-32). See the Lord’s philanthropy! All sins and blasphemies He forgives, because they are the result of man’s weakness. But the sin against the Holy Spirit, He does not forgive; neither in this world, nor in the world to come.
Heresy twists the true teachings and does not respect the Word of God, Holy Scripture, Holy Apostolic Traditions, or the teachings of the theophoric and god-inspired Holy Fathers. It strives, under the influence of pride and man’s logic, to give logical answers and interpretations to the Divine Revelation, ignoring the fact that Faith does not belong to the level of "logic", but it enters into the sphere of "above logic".
Faith is something, which is not understood by simple logic; it is not the result of knowledge, nor the accomplishment of philosophy. Faith is accepted with the hope in the divine promises. St. Paul teaches us saying, "Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen" (Heb. 11:1).
Throughout Holy Scriptures we find the teachings which urge us to preserve the true faith. In the Book of Acts we read, "And as they (Paul and Timothy) went through the cities, they delivered them the decrees to keep, that were ordained of the apostles and the elders which were at Jerusalem" (Acts 16:4). Also very important, are the last instructions of St. Paul given to the Bishops and Presbyters of the Church of Asia Minor: "Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost has made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he has purchased with his own blood. For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them" (Acts 20:28-30). Even our Lord and Saviour Himself warns us about the coming of pseudochrists and pseudoprophets. "For there shall arise false Christ, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect" (Matth. 24:24).
False christs, false prophets and false apostles are the heretics, who by their own will and in their own knowledge twist the truths of the Holy Gospel. They present one part of the truth, as been the whole truth.
The Holy Fathers of the Orthodox Church, participating in the Ecumenical or local Councils, had full conscience of the responsibility that they must preserve the Truth of Divine Revelation, just as it was revealed by God and had been passed down by the Apostles and eye witnesses of His life on earth. At the same time they had to be aware for themselves and for the whole flock from any false teachings coming from heretics. They believed that they had the responsibility, not only before God, but also before their flock, and they struggled to build up and to strengthen the faithful in the true faith of Christ.
The Holy Fathers with their personal example, their teachings, their kindness, their warm zeal and self-denial gave courage to the faithful during times of persecution and tribulation. With their virtuous life and struggle for Orthodoxy, they became the athletes of Christ in the stadium of the Church.
We, the Orthodox Christians, today, honour and give gratitude to all those who struggled for Orthodoxy. Let us pray to our loving God to give us strength and faith, so that we also be able to defend the Apostolic Faith, imitating those holy men, who sacrificed even their own lives for the Truth, and became Shepherds and Teachers of the Church.