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Orthodox Councils and Synods:

9th to 19th Century

Fabio Lins Leite - Fall 2017

This paper seeks to provide an overview of the councils of the Church after the seventh up to

Constantinople 1872, the very last before the Holy and Great Council of Crete. The paper seeks

to highlight its continuity since its foundation to our days. It shows to be false the narrative that

there has not been a Pan-Orthodox council after the 7th Ecumenical Council, as well as the

narrative that with the separation of Rome from the Orthodox Catholic Church, the Church

would have lost its sense of universal unity. One assumption of this paper is that the infallible

providence of the Holy Spirit will use whatever means ("The Spirit blows where He wills" Jo

3:8) to keep the Church in the right track. Not even the ill intent of the politically minded can

resist the Spirit, so, even when they start putting something in movement, it is the Spirit who

defines how it will end for the consolation and teaching of the Church as promised by Christ ( Jo

14:16,17,26 ; Jo 15:26,27). It is important to mention this because although the Holy Spirit acts

in history to guide and teach the Church, He is Himself trans-historic, a formal and final cause,

even when normal human interactions are the effective cause that set things in motion. With this

principle I seek to focus on the theological decisions of the councils, regardless of their political

circumstances, since the Holy Spirit works to keep the Body of Truth present in history and not

to favor this or that political faction or ideology. Also I hope with this to put aside all tangentials

of political disputes in theological councils that are of greater interest to political historians than

to the Church and theological historical studies. Also I believe that it is of uttermost importance

that we do not confuse the historical with the political. History is the concrete presence of
personal action along time, be it human, divine or more specifically theanthropic. Politics is but a

dimmension of history, although the favoured one by historians of all times. Theologians must

take the political into consideration but we must put it in the background of the theoanthropic

action which is far decisive more central to human history in general and to theological history in

particular. I believe there has been an abuse of political analysis seeking to squeeze preferred

meanings of those facts to recontextualize the councils themselves into whatever the analyst

want them to mean. Theological history and decisions encompass the political as one of its

elements like Moses serpent ate the serpents of Pharaoh's priests. It is their decisions, and the

facts of their full or partial acceptance, or rejection, that matters for the analyst of theological

history. Often, the excessive emphasis on the political context turns the historical analysis into

the history of what is around the council instead of a history of councils.

The theological discussions and decisions, when surrounded by political events, especially in

councils, are historical and autonomous even when influenced by such political developments. It

is these discussions and decisions that are the substance of the teachings of the Holy Spirit, not

the political circumstances around the Councils, as God would allow a council to confirm this or

that ecclesiastical or political party. It is very common in everyday discussions to hear that subtle

theological arguments caused by political conflicts or defined by them, somehow diminishing

the value of those theological discussions and definitions as if the disputes of men could use the

blowing of the Spirit to their ends and not the opposite. That is precisely what St. John

Chrysostom already pointed out: "the desire of rule is the mother of heresies" (Commentary on

Galatians, Chapter 5). Heresy by nature starts from some kind of political interest large or small,

the desire to rule an entire region or to have influence and social status in a smaller group. It is a
mute point to refer to its political origins. Politics is not the solution to theological,

ecclesiological problems, but their very source. It is the prayerful *reaction*, under the

providence of the Holy Spirit, through council, bishop, primate, deacon, monk, lay people or

providential circumstance that have the final word. The final theological decision of real

councils, ecumenical or local, are not political in themselves, but the victory of true theology, the

end of something that might have started politically, but now meets its end when confronted with

the rock of truth. For those interested in the study of the presence of the Body of Christ in

history, it is the history of theological and pastoral decisions that matter most, as they are the

fruits of the victory of the Holy Spirit over the political circumstances of men.

Having defined our focus, we can now examine the councils after the 7th with proper eyes to

their theological disputes and decisions.

In the 9th century, there were great councils in 861, 869-870 and 879-880, dealing with the first

signs of Roman schism through attempts of imposing order outside its jurisdiction and

unilaterally determine dogma. The defender of Orthodoxy in those was Patriarch Photios and

therefore they are called Photian Councils. These councils were prompted by a convergence of

issues ecclesiastical and political.

Constantinople 861

The Council of 861 confirmed the restoration of the veneration of icons, dealt with the issue of

the patriarchal succession in Constantinople after the deposition of Patriarch Ignatius, as well as

topics related to monks, bishops and schisms. It was a synod concerned mostly with issues of

Church order then. Canon 15 became the most well known where clerics who do not
commemorate an Orthodox Patriarch are excommunicated but it also praises those who rebel

against a schismatic patriarch. The canons also excommunicate those who go to church with

heretics. Some of the canons of this council entered the Roman Church and vigorated until 1917.

St. Sava translated them to slavonic and they became part of Slavic Orthodox canon law.

Local Council of Constantinople 867

Due to jurisdictional controversies over Bulgaria and the Photios-Ignatius appointments in

Constantinople, Pope Nicholas I attempted to unilaterally solve the problems by means of

decrees. Also, the use of the Spaniard-Frankish addition of the Filioque in Bulgaria raised the

attention of the Church as did Pope Nicholas excessive affirmations of power over every church.

Although there are records of previous claim by Rome of rights to interfere, it seems that these

was the first time it was articulated into a doctrine. This doctrine was considered heretical as well

as the filioque by the local Council and Pope Nicholas was excommunicated. Of note is the fact

that the Annulled Council of Constantinople alludes to this condemnation of the Pope not by

affirming the fact of judging and even condemning a Pope as unlawful, but only the irreverent

and rude mistreatment of his dignity - of which Photios was certainly guilty. The 867 Council,

the Annulled Council of 869-870 and the 8th Ecummenical Council prove together that the

doctrines of universal jurisdiction and filioque have been condemned as heresies and that Popes

may be judged and condemned by a council, being required due reverence and decorum.
Annulled Council of Constantinople 869-870

Legates of Rome participated in this Synod, but upon their return, the Bishop of Rome did not

accept their decision, creating a local synod in Rome in 863 to "depose" Photios. The council of

869-870 condemned Photios on the grounds of his hasty hierarchical ascension and confirmed

the veneration of icons. The issue of which jurisdiction Bulgaria had to be submitted to remained

controversial. It was also the first time Rome officially officially complied to canons related to

the position of Constantinople being above Antioch and Alexandria decided in the 3rd canon of

the II Ecumenical Council, and confirmed in the IV Ecumenical and in the Quinisext councils.

Canon 21 echoes Canon 34 of the Apostolic Canons by establishing a synergetic relation

between the role of the primate, then the Bishop of Rome, and the councils of bishops, yet

asserting the authority of the general council over the primate by acknowledging its right to

judge him with proper respect and reverence. This council, though, was annulled by

Constantinople 879-880 considered to be the Eighth by the 1872 Synod and by major Orthodox

historians and theologians. Despite the ecumenical annulation of 869-870 by 879-880, in the

11th century Rome unilaterally abandoned 879-880 in favor of reinstating 869-870. I believe this

act represents the true mark of the beginning of the independence of Rome from the Orthodox

Catholic Church since the path of common councils is no longer together. Just like before,

despite differences there was still a common path materialized in common synods, from this

point on, despite identities, there is no more a concrete "" , a "walking together".
Constantinople IV - The Eighth Ecumenical Council

The 879-880 Council in Constantinople concluded the issues raised by the previous council. It

annulled and invalidated the entire 869-870 council considering that the see had belonged to

Photius in any case. The previous council was not to be counted among the Holy Synods not

even should it be described or recognized as a synod, not only due to its wrong decisions

concerning Photios but also according to the members there assembled "How could a meeting be

called synod if it filled the Church with countless divisions?" (COGD IV V-I, p.27). The Synod

requested that Constantinople made no further ordinations in Bulgaria and delegated to the

Emperor the definition of diocese borders. It also defined that lay people could not be "rocketed"

into clerical offices. For this definition it used one of the canons of the previous nullified synod,

showing that discernement could be used to differentiate mistakes from valid decisions. It also

decided that those who were not members of Constantinople's clergy could not be elevated to

Patriarch and also that communion with Photius was a necessary criteria for participation in the

Church. This last canon shows that the claim of "mandatory communion" with a certain patriarch

is not due to a special charisma of his own see or rank, but a corollary of the communion with

all, emphasized to protect a patriarch seen as victim of injustice or improper treatment. The

council also declared that Patriarch Photius and Pope John VIII would henceforth recognize

verdicts and anathemas pronounced by each of them, showing that unity only exists in affirming

what the other affirms and rejecting what he rejects. The agitation of ecclesiastical parties, in this

case the Ignatius, was not to be repeated. And Rome's privileges were to be respected. Authors

often mention that this Council in particular does not define what those privileges are, but in fact
they are mentioned in the annulled council with which this one dialogues with. It is the privilege

of being a court of appeal to bishops and not being the victim of uncivilized or rude attacks, to be

judged, if the case, with proper respect and reverence. The council also defined that a bishop

who retires to a cloister could not go back to his previous office. It also protected bishops from

arbirtrarities from secular authorities. This Council also officially includes Nicea II as the 7th

Ecumenical Council. The council also condemned any deviation from the text and teaching of

the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, a clear reference to the addition of the Filioque to the

Creeds, first by the local Council of Toledo III and later by the Frankish kingdoms. Martin Jugie

claims it was not a condemnation of the Filioque itself, but only of the alteration of the Creed.

That hypothesis does not stand since the condensation is against changes in text and teaching,

implying that the filioque represents both such changes. Francis Dvornik rightfully notes that the

Roman legates who signed such prohibition understood pretty well its broader significance. This

is further indicated by mentions on the Horos against distortions of the beliefs of the Fathers.

Forceful interpretations note that different texts had been accepted as referring to the same

Creed, but fail to consider that the 8th Ecumenical Council was alluding directly to the filioque

here, meaning that although it is true that the Symbol of Faith can be paraphrased in a number of

valid ways, the filioque in particular was not an instance of such a thing, but the distortion and

illegal addition referred to in the canons and horos. This is confirmed by the accusation that the

Latins had distorted the Creed by adding words to it. It was not a criticism of any change, but of

the change in particular that the Latins had made: the filioque. The text goes so far as to say that

for economic reasons such changes could be considered temporarily to fight against "false

teachings motivated by the devil's machination", which had been the case in Toledo where the
filioque had been added to fight against Arianism. Yet, outside that very specific context, there

was no reason to keep it. The Roman legates had no problem signing this because not even Rome

used the filioque by this time. It was Frankish church tradition that would contaminate the

Roman church only later with the complete overtaking of the Roman see by the Franks with the

Germanic popes. The pneumatological question was therefore a major issue treated in the 8th

Ecumenical Council, only that it was not a divisive issue between Rome and the Church because

Rome still maintained the Orthodox Catholic ethos of rejecting it. Unfortunately, after Rome

accepted the already condemned Frankish heresy of the filioque (1014), and the mutual

anathemas had been pronounced (1054), in the reign of Gregory VII (1073-1085) Rome would

reject the 8th Ecumenical Council, effectively separating itself from the Church, and declaring

the annulled council to be the Ecumenical one.

Synod of Constantinople 920

The local Synod of Constantinople that happened in 920 decided on two major questions. It

ended a local dispute between Patriarch Euthymius and Patriarch Nicholas and the problem of

second and third marriages, a subject over which the different stands had divided the patriarchs

in the first place. Therefore, the major subject of the Synod is the problem of marriage and

remarriage. It's final decision was that up to two re-marriages could be accepted under economy,

but no more. It also determined that a priest who gives communion to someone in breach of these

canons should be excommunicated for seven years. A side note worth mentioning is that Rome

submitted to the canons of the 8th Ecumenical Council (879-880) about the necessity of each see

affirming and rejecting the same things for mutual communion and actually accepting the fourth
marriage of Leo VI that provoked the need for a limitation to the use of economy in cases like

that. This shows that after 50 years Rome still considered the 8th Ecumenical Council to be


Synod of Constantinople 1030

This local synod dealt with the issue of coexistence of the Orthodox Church with heterodox

confessions under the same polity after the expansion of the Christian Roman Empire to areas

around Edessa and Aleppo. Also Syriac communities joined the southeastern region of the

Empire, seeking refuge from Islamic persecutions. The Non-Chalcedonian Patriarch was

pressured to return to Orthodoxy, even being brought to a Synodic Tribunal. Condemned to retire

to a monastery, he repents and along with him three bishops become Orthodox. Although

modern ethical sensitivities do not approve of coercion for conversion, the most important of the

decision is the need to seek the conversion of the heterodox, not to compromise to unite in a

middle-ground. Union is the conversion of one of the sides. The council was mostly akrivic . Not

only it sought the conversion of the Non-Chalcedonians, it forbade mixed marriages, and

prohibited the transmission of inheritance to Non-Chalcedonians, yet another unethical measure.

It added anathemas against Nestorians and Jacobites to the Synodikon of Orthodoxy, showing

that while there was little reason to believe that faithful could be confused by the similarities of

the two churches, there was no reason to insist on the lines between the two, but once life in the

same polity became a reality, those lines had to be made stronger, not weaker. Overall, the

principles and the ethics to achieve them are entirely different. The use of juridical coercion for

conversion and the calculated social disruption by prohibiting inheritance are not morally
acceptable. Yet, the final objective of raising awareness of where the lines are to be drawn when

churches that are very similar remain valid, not only for the pastoral protection of the faithful,

but precisely for ethical questions. If conversion by coercion is clearly immoral, so is conversion

by calculated ignorance, by purposefully failing to mention the differences and the separation, in

hope that "union" will be a fait accompli before the person fully understands what he or she has

done. The more similar two different churches are, if they do not belong to the same communion,

the more important it is to draw clear visible lines, without, of course, ever resorting to any form

of abuse, bullying or unethical means.

Synod of Constantinople 1082

This Synod adopted the anathemas of 1077 adding them to the anathemas against John Italus,

disciple of Michael Psellos, two major names of traditional more pagan philosophy in the

Christian Roman Empire at the time. The council dealt mainly with the relations of philosophy

with theology. It condemned Plato's theory of forms. The Eleven Chapters against Italus can be

thus summarized:

- Anathematization of those who attempt to explain how the two natures of Christ are united,

especifically by the use of "dialectical terminology of nature and adoption";

- Anathematization of those who believe Greek pagan doctrines about the soul of men, heaven

and earth and the rest of creation,

- Anathematization of those who prefer secular philosophers over the teachings of the Church,

especially if leading to belief in metempsychosis, to belief in the destruction of the human soul
because such beliefs lead to unbelief about Church teaching on the resurrection, the Last

Judgment and "final recompense for the deeds committed during life",

- Anathematization of those who believe that matter, Ideas heaven, earth are without beginning

or everlasting or co-eternal with God,

- Anathematization of those who reject the anathemas of the previous councils, especially by

inverting such judgments to say the anathematized were actually "more excellent, both here nd in

the future judgment" than flawed Orthodox faithful,

- Anathematization of those who disbelief the miracles of Christ and of the Virgin Mary and who

seek to prove them being impossible and to resignify them according to other worldviews,

- Anathematization of those who undertake Pagan studies not only to be informed about the

beliefs of said Pagans, but to follow their opinions and faiths, especially when they proceed to

teach such non-Christian beliefs,

- Anathematization of those who believe the Platonic doctrine of Ideas and that they give form to

matter instead of the will of God,

- Anathematization of those who do not believe that the general resurrection means the

resurrection of the same bodies that died, that we would appear in new bodies,

- Anathematization of those who believe in the pre-existence of the soul and who deny creation

ex nihilo, that hell will have an end, or that the Kingdom of Heavens is "perishable and fleeting",

that is, immanent and within history, since hell is without end and the Kingdom is everlasting,

that is the eschaton is transcendent not immanent,

- Anathematization of pagan and heterodox doctrines and teachings created out of contempt for

the Orthodox Catholic faith, especially by John Italus and his disciples.
In short, the 11 chapters condemn much of the ethos of modernity and postmodernity, and not

without reason the influence of secular and pagan byzantine philosophers is found directly upon

the roots of the Western Renaissance that would lead to eventual social victory of those ideas as

we see today. The overall idea being condemned is that of using dialectics or logic to take

innovative conclusions from dogmatic beliefs as if unpacking them. In other words, it condemns

the concept of development of doctrine, although not yet so called.

Synod of Constantinople 1157

Also called Synod of Blachernae I, it condemned the heretical teachings of the Patriarch-elect of

Antioch, Soterichus Pantengenus, that the Sacrifice upon the Cross was offered to the Father

alone, but not to the Son or to the Holy Spirit, therefore fragmenting the Triune God. Also

anathematized those who say the bread and wine are Body and Blood only figuratively, those

who say the sacrifice in the Liturgy is exactly the same as that of Christ on the Cross,

anathematized too those who believe that reconciliation occurs gradually: to the Son in the

incarnation and to the Father in the Passion, those who believe Christ's deified humanity meant

the loss of His human nature, those who want to worship Christ as God only separating His

Human nature from Him, those who say that His human nature was engulfed by His divine

nature and that His Passion was in appearance only, and those who believe that Christ's human

nature only exist as an abstraction, but not concretely.

Synod of Constantinople 1166

This synod treated on divergences raised around the passage "my Father is greater than I" (John

14:28) between Latin and Orthodox members of the court of the Emperor. The Latin party

believed it to refer only to the human nature of Christ while the Orthodox party defended it

referred to the entire Person of Christ.

When the decrees of the Synod were first published they were publicly accused of ambiguity.

The response of the synod was not to condemn the critics or assume they were acting out of bad

will or political motivations but to reconvene into a new session to clarify the contents of the

Synod's decisions. Even after the clarification, the critics still opposed, not the synod, but the

formulations as they were and to improve those formulations two other synods were convened in

1170. Even after that theologians still expressed doubts about the Orthodoxy of the contents of

the 1166 Synod.

This is a processual dynamic of uttermost importance for our days, for some of the definitions

and statements of the Holy and Great Council of Crete (2016) have been criticized for ambiguity

and by hierarchs who are beyond any suspicion of isolationism or ill-will.

Council of Constantinople 1285 - Blachernae II

The Council of Constantinople of 1285 or of Blachernae II rejected the false union of Lyon

perpetrated 9 years before in 1274 anathematizing its main supporters and their beliefs. The

Synod reaffirmed the 8th Council rejection of the Filioque, but this time giving a detailed

affirmative Orthodox doctrine regarding the relations of the Holy Spirit with the Father and the

Son, making the first conciliar reference to the energies and essence of God, thus preparing the

ground for the 9th Ecumenical Council.

9th Ecumenical Council (1341, 1347, 1351)

This council had its champion in St. Gregory Palamas who had one of the fastest canonizations

in the history of the Church due to his defense of the Orthodox faith during the Council. Already

in 1368 he was glorified as a saint.

The first Synod of this Council in 1341 was convened to defend the traditional monastic practice

of hesychasm, which is verifiably part of monastic life since its inception, from Barlaam of

Calabria who weaved profound criticisms against it in his treaty "Against the Messalians". St.

Gregory Palamas.

Next, in the Synod of 1347, St. Gregory Palamas exposed Akindynos mistakes about the nature

of Grace, which is uncreate and not created, and defended the Orthodox position that we can

indeed participate in the energies of God. Akindynos latter was condemned. The last opponent

was defeated in 1351 in the person of Nicephorus Gregoras, who too was eventually condemned.

After the second Synod, Nicephorus Gregoras rose to prominence on the anti-Palamas groups,

leading to the third synod that completed the 9th Ecumenical Council. In its last session, the

synod responded to the questions raised to it with the following definitions: there is a difference

between essence and energy, the energies of God are uncreated, God is not complex, but simple,

the energies can also be called divine, essence is superior to energy and human participation in

God is in His energies, not in His essence. The Synod also confirmed the condemnation of

Barlaamand Akindynos.

The 9th Ecumenical Council offers several references for the current issues around the Holy and

Great Council. First that a truly Ecumenical Council can be made of councils set years apart.

Second, along with Blachernae II that gradual clarification or progress in precision is precisely
what can help to satisfy critics and promote unity. Finally, that having precise questions

responded by precise answers facilitates the reception of the Council and its spreading along the

Orthodox Oecumene.

10th Ecumenical Council - Constantinople 1484

This council rejects the false union of Florence of 1439, calling itself Ecumenical and

recognizing Constantinople 879-880 as the Eighth Ecumenical Council. It was the first Orthodox

Catholic Ecumenical Council to not be presided by the Emperor of the Christian Roman Empire.

It recognized the identity of the Council was its common profession of faith in the unadulterated

Symbol of Faith, that is, confirmed the rejection of the Filioque in the 8th Ecumenical and

posterior synods. It also reaffirmed the decisions of Constantinople 1285. The heretical nature of

the Filioque is further explored with references from Dionysius, the Areopagite and Gregory of

Nazianzus. It also provides the economic acceptance of Latins who return to Orthodox

Catholicism by Chrismation without the need of baptism. The Synod of Constantinople in 1755,

on the other hand, will revert to the more akrivic form and demand baptism from converts from

the Latin Church.

The 10th Ecumenical Synod can be seen as the conclusion of a series of synods starting with

Constantinople 867 that articulate ever more precise criticism and rejection of Frank-Germanic

theologies making them harsher as this theology ceases to be a local Far West problem and takes

hold of the See of Rome itself, finally separating it from the Church and even consolidating that

separation, which this Synod seems to recognize as being completed beyond any reasonable

Patriarchal Synaxis of Constantinople 1583

This patriarchal synaxis composed by the Patriarchs of Constantinople, Alexandria and

Jerusalem, issued a sigillion, that is, an official proclamation that receives a special gravitas by

having the official seal of the issuers, anathematizing and excommunicating ("cutting off these

persons") those who:

1) having been baptized in the Orthodox Church, fail to publically confess to be Orthodox; 2)

who reject the doctrine that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father alone; 3) deny Communion

in both kinds (Body and Blood of Christ) saying just the Body is sufficient what is contrary to

what the Lord commanded Himself; 4) those who believe that Jesus used unleavened bread in

the Mystic Supper; 5) those who believe that in the Last Judgement, only bodies but not souls

will be judged; 6) those who believe in Purgatory; 7) those who believe that hell is not

everlasting; 8) those who believe the Pope is the head of the Church, that he has the power to

grant indulgences or to guarantee entrance to Paradise; 9) those who follow the Gregorian

calendar, even if for scientific reasons ("the newly invented Paschalion and the New Menologion

of the atheist astronomers).

It is a summary of the ethos of the Anti-Frankgermanic Synods of 879 to 1484, which in its own

text explains to be aimed at simpler people, meaning the general faithful who are not trained

theologians, being as objective and pedagogical as possible, devoid of the diplomatic tangentials

that other documents had to abide to.

Synod of Constantinople 1638

This Synod anathematized Cyril Loukaris and "all those who follow his bad advice". This advice

that could have originated in Cyril Loukaris writings or in forgeries in his name defended

calvinistic takes on issues like the infallibility of the Church, predestination, mediation of saints,

freewill, number of sacraments, transubstantiation, almsgiving, prayers for the dead and icons.

All the Calvinistic angles were anathematized and the Orthodox ones reaffirmed.

Synod of Constantinople/Iasi 1642

Once again Cyril Lukaris was condemned as close to Calvin's heresy, but the refutation of both

Latin and Reformed heresies were explained in more detail and each one anathematized. It

amounted to a condemnation of Post-Medieval Western Christianity in totum. The points dealt

with were: the Filioque, Sola Scriptura, Good Works, God as cause of evil action, predestination,

human nature as inherently evil, denial of saints, faith without works, refusal to accept

hierarchical Churches, only a select few remaining in the Church, direct inspiration from the

Holy Spirit without human intermediaries, refusal of a Divine life, free will, denial of five

sacraments, miscomprehension of the power of baptisms, the real presence in the Eucharist and


Synod of Jerusalem 1672

The Synod of Jerusalem 1672 sought to close once and for all the Cyril Loukaris affair and to

once again draw a sharp line between the Orthodox and heretics, this time, the Calvinists. It also

affirmed pragmatically that a common agreement even in an important point of faith as the
nature of the Eucharist was no reason for a communicatio in sacris or mutual eucharistic

communion. This self-proclaimed local synod produced the renowned Confession of Dositheos

which replies point by point Loukaris Confession, while at the same time affirming his

innocence in producing such spurious texts.

Synod of Constantinople 1691

The main discussion of this Council was Transubstantiation. The publication in 1690 of the 1672

Confession of Dositheos led to polemics on the issue due to the use of the word metousios. The

Synod rejects the Aristotelian detailing of the Eucharistic change, thus complying with the

decisions of the Synod of 1082 to anathematize the use of secular philosophy to develop doctrine

or explain divine realities.

This synod may be seen as concluding a series of synods of the 17th century (1638, 1642, 1672

and now 1691) defining Protestant and Roman doctrines as heresies, anathematizing those who

believe and promulgate them and recognizing their being outside of the Church. Thus, it

confirms the decisions of the Anti-Frankgermanic synods, deals with new innovations of the

Roman Church and the innovations of the "recently" appeared Reformed churches.

Patriarchal Synaxis of Constantinople 1755-1756

This Patriarchal Synaxis is the product of a live and often heated public discussions on the

relations of the Church with the consolidated heterodoxies around her, especially the Roman

Church. The central issue is twofold: do the heterodoxies have real sacraments and how are

converts from them to be received. Several other problems issue from those two fundamental
questions. Indeed, the Synod was made necessary precisely because some Romans in Pera asked

to be accepted back into the Orthodox Catholic Church and the local priests duly relying on the

petrine authority of the bishop to bind and loose asked Cyril V, Patriarch of Constantinople, how

they should be received. The Patriarch explained that because baptism was not celebrated with

triple immersion it was not valid. This decision is a return to the more akrivic interpretation that

had been seen in Eastern bishops in the West (St. Martin of Braga) during the very peak of

baptismal (6ht century) controversies in the West. During that period, the acceptance of baptism

by one immersion was an economic measure to draw a sharper line between the Orthodox and

the heterodox Arians who were baptizing with triple immersion and bring home the point that

they were not Orthodox. There with Pope Gregory, the Great, as here with Patriarch Cyril,

accepting or not accepting the form of baptism of the heterodox was an economic decision to

attend the akrivic more important principle of avoiding confusion between Orthodox and

heterodox doctrines and phronemas.

Yet, the misakrivic party did not accept that and made a Synod in absentia of the Patriarch on

May 28th, 1755, which condemned the writings of Christophoros Aitolos in defense of the

akrivic pastoral approach towards baptism and condemned the writings and the practice. This

synod was illegitimate from the beginning for going against Canon 34 of the Apostolic Canons:

"The bishops of every nation must acknowledge him who is first among them and account him

as their head, and do nothing of consequence without his consent; but each may do those things

only which concern his own parish, and the country places which belong to it. But neither let him

(who is the first) do anything without the consent of all; for so there will be unanimity, and God

will be glorified through the Lord in the Holy Spirit."

In 1756, the three Patriarchs who were in Constantinople, Ecumenical Patriarch Cyril V,

Patriarch of Alexandria Matthew and Patriarch of Jerusalem issued a Sigillion to bring things to

proper order. Besides condemning once again the use of the Gregorian calendar, the document

confirmed the uses prescribed by the Second Ecumenical and Quinisext Councils regarding the

reception of heterodox, that is, that those whose initiation rites were not through triple immersion

should be baptized.

A unilateral decision by primates, even Patriarchs also goes against the previously quoted

Apostolic Canon 34, for the first must not do anything without the consent of all.

The affair of 1755-1756 then ends with two equally invalid promulgations: a synod without the

first and three firsts without any synods. It could have been more authoritative if the Sygillion

issued, or the Synodal decisions had had the support of both the primates and their Synods as it

was the case with the Encyclical of the Eastern Patriarchs of 1848, which, despite the fact of not

being the product of an ecumenical synod, for having the signatures of all the four ancient

Patriarchs and the Synods of Constantinople, Antioch and Jerusalem, has profoundly ecumenical

value. Nevertheless the whole affair introduces the cycle of theological discussions that we are

still in, regarding the existence or not of sacraments among the heterodox, the proper ways of

receiving them, and the degree of participation in the Church, if any, the heterodox may have.
Synod of Constantinople 1872

The Synod condmned as heresy one of the most important expressions of Enlightment: the cult

of the nation-state and its subsequent instrumentalization of the Church. The heresy was called

phyletism which could also be called 'tribalism". Phyletism is an ecclesiological heresy against

the catholicity of the Church.

Other Ecumenical Documents are:

The Encyclical Letter of Saint Photius (867); The First Letter of Michael Cerularius to Peter of

Antioch (1054); The decisions of the Councils of Constantinople in 1341 and 1351 on the

Hesychast Controversy; The Encyclical Letter of Saint Mark of Ephesus (1440-1441); The

Confession of Faith by Gennadius, Patriarch of Constantinople (1455-1456); The Replies of

Jeremias the Second to the Lutherans (1573-1581); The Confession of Faith by Metrophanes

Kritopoulos (1625); The Orthodox Confession by Peter of Moghila, in its revised form (ratified

by the Council of Jassy, 1642); The Confession of Dositheus (ratified by the Council of

Jerusalem, 1672); The Answers of the Orthodox Patriarchs to the Non-Jurors (1718, 1723); The

Reply of the Orthodox Patriarchs to Pope Pius the Ninth (1848); The Reply of the Synod of

Constantinople to Pope Leo the Thirteenth (1895); The Encyclical Letters by the Patriarchate of

Constantinople on Christian unity and on the 'Ecumenical Movement' (1920, 1952)


The historical hermeneutical of framing the councils as political events and moreso determining

the values of its judgments by the moral assessment of the political or social motivations is
deeply flawed. One of the things that characterizes a legitimate council from an illegitimate one

is the Orthodoxy of its proclamations and not the moral character of its members or of any other

motivation, admirable or reprehensible in its summoning. In fact, the entire focus on political

contexts implies two errors, one scientific and the other theological.

Any science must define precisely what falls within its scope and what is outside. The same

apple can studied from different scientific scopes: if studied in its mass, volume, acceleration etc,

it is a physical object. If from its biochemical properties than it is a chemical object, if in its

relations to its mother tree, other plants and animals, its role in the cycle of life, than it is a

biological object. It can also be studied as an economical object analyzing its role in human

economy, as a literary symbol and so on. Likewise with Councils. For theological studies, it is

the doctrines they accept and reject that matter, not the political context around them. Not that

the politics around them are not influential, but they are the subject of political history, not of

theological history, which is what theologians should be concerned about in the act of writing

about the theological legitimacy or lack of in councils.

The theological mistake that is the consequence of what has just been explained is that of a

conciliar donatism, where the moral flaws or misguided motivations of some participants of

Councils are taken to, if not delegitimize a council completely, at least to diminish its value.

Moral flaws and misguided motivations are also of tangential interest for the theology historian.

The history of theology is a history of the witness provided by saints (the primary sources and

witnesses) and articulated by theologians and when challenged by heresies, dogmatized by

councils. There is an apparent tautology there since how does one identify a saint? If three men

give witness of some divine reality and the three say different things, how to know wich one is
the trustable source? This is what we may call a synchronic ambiguity which is traditionally

solved by a diachronic comparison. Which one, if any, is describing the exact same thing as

previously trusted sources, even if only with different words? This diachronic measure of

trusting a previous source has a limit too. The primary witness is of course Jesus Christ Himself,

Whom we trust because He resurrected Himself. His resurrection is the fact that makes Him the

Witness that requires no other witness, and that is why Saint Paul says that if the Resurrection

did not happen, they we are all fools and mad men. That is why, of all facts of the Church the

historical reality of the Resurrection is the only one that is known either by non-mediated witness

(those who met and still meet the Resurrected Christ) or by normal historical criteria. And once

the Resurrection is asserted by one of these two ways, we know who the true Apostles are

because Christ named them, we know who the true saints and bishops are because they

paraphrase what the Apostles taught according to the needs of the flock and we know who the

true saints are because the thing they see, corresponds to what the Apostles told us they saw.

Everything relies on the Resurrection of Christ.

Thus, we can see that from a theological perspective there are certain archs that encompass

conciliar phases in the Church. They are:

Apostolic Era - We know of at least one Apostolic Council, registered in Acts to deal with the

judaizing heresy. It was presided by St. James, the Brother of the Lord, in Jerusalem.

The Christological Era - Consists of all pre-Nicene councils up to the Quinisext Council. The

general theme is the Person of Christ, His relations to the other Persons of the Trinity and with

the Church and Humanity.

The Ecclesiological Era - The Ecclesiological Era is also Christological in so far that the Church

is the Body of Christ on Earth. While the Christological Era was very concerned with the Person

of Christ and its relations, the Ecclesiological Era is concerned with the Body of Christ and its

relations with the other Persons of the Trinity, with Humanity (the ways of participating in the

Body of Christ, what it entails, what is permissible and what is not), and to competing

oecumenes that also claim to be the Body of Christ. It starts with with the 7th Ecumenical

Council and the questioning whether the venerations of icons were or not a proper way of life of

the Church, wrong or right glory. While the 7th Council inaugurates this era, its first half, which

can be called the Anti-Frankgermanic period, from the 8th Council to Constantinople 1691, the

Church is struggling with the progressive separation of Rome from the other four patriarchal

sees, two of which also Petrine, which is correlated with the ascension of Frank-Germanic

kingdoms in the West into cultural hegemony and their influence first in Rome, and then in the

Reform. As the See of Rome enforces heresies it had previously condemned (filioque) and make

heresies out of what had been just excessive statements (universal jurisdiction, etc) the schism is

acknowledged as a heresy, and forms of reception are defined for the new heterodoxy (15th

century). In the following centuries, the Church still had to deal with the immediate

consequences of Rome's separation, since its jurisdiction is torn apart by the rise of Protestantism

despite the new powers of the Pope. Up to the 17th century, the Church is still confirming the

heresy of both Rome and the Protestant churches. This ends the first phase of the Ecclesiological

Era, where for the first time major heterodoxies grow enough to for their own ecumene.

Only in the 18th century the second phase of the Ecclesiological era would start and major

heresies would appear again from within the Church, namely the zealots and the misakrivics. The
first deny the application of economia mandating akrivia to be applied without discernment, and

the second reject the possibility that akrivia may be necessary and tend to consider it more of a

problem and obstacle, than mercy. The all-encompassing question is how the Body of Christ is to

relate to parallel ecumenes that have centuries of their own traditions, a well-meaning belief that

they are following Christ strictly, and even miracles to "confirm" their claim to belong to the

Body of Christ? One answer has been to disconsider the proclamations and confirmations that

these are heretical bodies, hence the narrative that there was no pan-Orthodox synod after the

Seventh Ecumenical Council and along the second millennium, a narrative that this paper and

several sources prove to be wrong. A second answer is to establish that they are indeed and

separated, but yet somehow participating in Christ with real effective baptisms and in some cases

even the Real Presence. This seems to be the prevailing theory in our times but it produces

another question: if that is the case, what is the meaning and effect of the of "loosing and

binding" promised by Christ to His Apostles and Bishops? If anathemas and excommunications

promulgated by councils and confirmed by synods do not take away the power to baptize nor

separate them from the Real Presence, what do they accomplish if anything? What is the

meaning of the power of "loosing"? And how can anyone "bind" being part of a group marked by

these same anathemas and excommunications? Supposing that it is true this doctrine that despite

excommunication proclaimed in synods and councils cannot prevent real baptisms nor even the

Real Presence, and that a person or group would insist it to be wrong and enter into schism and

were condemned in Council for doing so, what difference would it make if the schismatic

heretical group can still baptize into the Church and probably still have the Real Presence? These
are questions that remain to be answered, but, like in the final Palamite synod where clear cut

questions were made and clear cut answers were given, it is unavoidable to address these issues.

Not surprisingly, this very subject was one of the most polemical in the recent Holy and Great

Council. The issue is not closed yet, and passionate responses to one side or the other are

probably not going to help. This Council is probably the first of a series that will deal with this

problem and it is likely that it will be considered the first council of an Ecumenical Council in

the model of the Palamite Council. To do that though, it has to deal with the anathemas and

excommunications of Rome and Protestants and their doctrines that were proclaimed heretical in

a direct way, not rejecting them outright, nor trying to change their meaning by

recontextualization. Unity is in affirming the same things, and rejecting the same things. To

reject what the councils reject is to reject the councils altogether, therefore breaking diachronical

union in the name of synchronical union with the heterodox. We do have to be cautious, while at

the same time open to dialogue and avoiding all forms of isolationism, phyletism and