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Councils, Synods and Civilization (Part 1)

By Protopresbyter John Romanides 

a) Introduction.

1 ) The key to the transition of the Orthodox Catholic Tradition from an illegal to a legal religion and then to an established Church lies in the fact that the Roman Empire realised that it was not confronted simply by another form of religion or philosophy, but by a well organised society of psychiatric clinics which cured the happiness-seeking sickness of humanity and produced normal citizens with selfless love dedicated to the radical cure of personal and social ills. The relation between State and Church which developed was exactly parallel to that between the State and modern medicine.

The incorporation of the episcopate of Carolingian Francia into the Frankish army and its occupation by military officers whose duty was to pacify the revolutionary Gallo-Roman population is the key to understanding the so-called Great Schism between Roman and Latin Christendoms. These Frankish bishops and their successors never understood the meaning of Apostolic Tradition and succession which they reduced to episcopal power over a system of sacramental magic which sends people either to heaven or hell. This they transferred to the Papacy when they forcefully took it over during a struggle which reached its final stages between 983 and 1046.

This break in Apostolic Tradition and succession was provoked and sustained for centuries by military and political power as a normal function within Latin Christendom. Considered just as normal was the distortion of both the reality of the East Roman Empire and its Church and civilisation which continues today under modified guise. This guise caked in “Byzantine” honey does not change distortion into truth.

2) Canon Law makes specific provisions for the regular convocation of the Synods of bishops presided over by a Metropolitan, Archbishop, or Patriarch at regular intervals for dealing with the proper execution of the Church’s mission of cure within society. There are no such provisions for Ecumenical Councils.

The reason for this is that the local synods were part of the original structure of the Church, whereas the Ecumenical Synod was of an extra-ordinary and imperial nature. One may draw a parallel between Ecumenical Councils and the Apostolic Council convoked in Jerusalem (Acts 15, 6:6-29). Ecumenical Councils, however, were convoked by the Roman Emperor for the purpose of signing into Roman Law what the synods of Autocephalous and Autonomous Churches believed and practised in common.

Arius, Nestorius and Eutyches were condemned by local Councils first and then by Ecumenical Councils. Paul of Samosata was condemned by a local council whose decision was accepted by all other synods. The same was the case with Sabellius. Even at Ecumenical Councils bishops participated as members of their own synods whose spokesmen were their Metropolitans, Archbishops, and Patriarchs, or their legates. It should be clear that neither can an Ecumenical Council become a substitute for local synods, nor can local synods take precedence over an Ecumenical Council, unless the one or the other strays from the faith. The reason for this is that authority resides neither in the Ecumenical nor Local Council, but in the glorified Prophets, Apostles and Fathers who participate in Councils or whose teachings the Councils follow.

…to be continued

1st Ecumenical Synod