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…Continued from Part 9

Councils, Synods and Civilization (Part 10)
By Protopresbyter John Romanides

3) Synods and Civilizations.

a) The origins of Synods.

 The origin of the synodical system are 1) the group of Prophets within each congregation and 2) the Apostles who supervised churches they established.

 It was from among the Prophets that the bishop and presbyters originated within the congregations. The general oversight of geographical groupings of churches by the Apostles was continued by the mutual supervision of churches by Synods of Bishops representing their own clergy of glorified and illumined. This is why the bishops were successors to the apostles.

 At some point congregations like the one in Laodicea (Rev. 3:14-22) increased to such a point that they were accepted as semi-normal so long as they remained under supervision. It was evidently at this juncture that congregations appeared headed by presbyters instead of bishops since there were not enough glorified to cover them.

 That bishops must be elected from among the glorified remained the standard requirement within the Orthodox tradition especially supported by St. Dionysius the Areopagite, right up to the l9th century. The Prophets became generally detached from the congregational clergy to become the central figures of what came to be known as monasticism which in turn became the supply source for the episcopacy and presidents of synods, i. e. Patriarchs, Metropolitans and Archbishops.

 The main responsibility of the Synods of Bishops was the promotion of the cure of illumination and the perfection of glorification by their full support of all programs dedicated to this task. This presupposed the election and ordination of genuine doctors and the protection of the faithful from quack doctors whose speculations either led away from this cure and perfection or stopped short of them.

 It is exactly because of the identity of cure and perfection in all illumined and glorified that the Orthodox never understood doctrinal authority as imposed from above. Also because this common experience establishes the fact that “it is impossible to express God and even more impossible to conceive Him”, it was not possible for the glorified to become split over the use of differing terms, so long as they led to illumination and glorification. The split between the Chalcedonians and the non-Chalcedonians is an example of one side accepting varying ways of saying the same thing and of the other accepting only one way.

b) Synods and Civilisations.

(1) Hellenic Civilisation of the Romans.

 The power of illumination and glorification not only withstood persecutions, but captured the Roman Empire and became the heart of its Hellenic Civilisation. Historians not familiar with this reality have no way of understanding its impact on society. The criterion by which the Roman Empire made the Orthodox faith and practice part of Roman law and its synodical system part of the imperial administration was not much different from today’s legal support for genuine medicine and for the protection of citizens from unlicensed quack doctors. Religions and dogmas which lead away from illumination and glorification were not only considered dangerous for salvation, but also not conducive to producing the kind of citizens who could help transform society.

 The contribution of the illumined and glorified to Hellenic Civilisation in both the Eastern and Western parts of the Roman Empire was much greater than historians have been able to imagine, even though much of the imperial expectations proved to be utopian.

 The claim that the Roman Empire and its Hellenic Civilisation was replaced by a “Byzantine” Empire and Civilisation is sheer caricature. Glorification had become the heart and core of both the Eastern and Western parts of the Roman Empire. This tradition of cure and perfection was of no interest to the Germanic conquerors of the West Romans. But the East Romans continued this tradition which is not “Byzantine” but Apostolic.

(2) Franco-Latin Civilisation.

 The Merovingian Kings of the Franks first usurped veto powers over the election of Roman bishops. Then they usurped the right to appoint Roman bishops. In doing this they discovered the profit to be had by selling the office of bishop to the highest bidder. At this point Roman bishops within Francia lost contact with the illumination and glorification which survived among their clergy, monks and people. Then the Carolingian Franks forced themselves upon the Church as bishops with the special responsibility of policing the Romans, now all reduced to variations of serfdom. Latin royalties and nobilities made apostolic succession their class property. The disobedience of slaves and commoners to this apostolic succession was corrected by the episcopal armies.

 Not one of the 8th and 9th century Frankish doctrinal initiatives were the result of searching for information and explanations from the Romans whose doctrinal formulations they were tampering with. The Franks were at this time not capable of dialogue simply because they were ignorant barbarians with an unbelievable self-confidence that they are God’s chosen race and that Augustine is the best guide to all essentials of the faith. Unfortunately the bishop of Hippo did not understand Biblical illumination and glorification.

 Some centuries later the Franks did begin to become aware of the Fathers of the Roman Ecumenical Councils. They simply subjected them to their own tradition and made Augustine the key to their interpretation. Thus they did not see and the Latins still do not see illumination of the heart and glorification either in the Old and New Testaments or in the Fathers. They had not and still do not see the need to transform selfish happiness-seeking love into selfless love. They continue to believe that vision of God satisfies the desire for happiness and that the lack of this vision makes one unhappy.

(3) Western Civilisation.

 Parts of the Reformation made a cleaner break with Franco-Latin Christendom than other parts and returned to justification by that faith which is the gift of the Holy Spirit in the heart. The recent agreement between Lutherans and Orthodox on the Canon of Holy Scripture and Divine Inspiration accepted that justification as gift of the Holy Spirit in the heart is completed in this life by glorification. This should prove to be the major step in the right direction, not only for the re-union of the Churches, but also for the elevation of a still developing Western Civilisation.

c) Conclusions.

 Franco-Latin and Western Civilisation and Islam have been consistently dominated by the quest for happiness. It is this very sickness which has been at the centre of all personal and social ills. When left unchecked it cannot but lead to conflicts of interest at all levels of society and to the selfish exploitation of humans and the environment by humans. Modern science and technology have been forced into the service of this sickness as expressed in consumer economics which is saturating social structures and pushing exploitation of natural resources to the limit.

 Humanity has managed to survive past destructions caused by this sickness: However, our generation has the honour of being that part of human history which for the first time is witnessing to the ability of humanity to destroy itself completely either by a nuclear event or by ecological contamination and disequilibrium.

 Sheer self-interest for the world’s survival and society’s well-being may finally force a solution to the spectre of either atomic or ecological destruction. Ascetial restraint is the obvious key.

 The Biblical messages, that 1) the drive for happiness is “the” sickness of humanity and that 2) its cure “is” purification, illumination and glorification, are two truths of revelation which society may do well not to ignore.

 This also happens to be the key to the unity in glorification Christ prays for in John 17 that the world may believe.

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St. Anthony the Great