The Merit of the Holy Fathers. The Fullness of Grace

Council of Chalcedon, fresco, 1502, St. Therapont Monastery, Russa

On the fourth Sunday after Pentecost, we celebrated the Holy Fathers of the Fourth Ecumenical Council in 451, in Chalcedon. It was a synod that took place in complicated conditions both politically and theologically. After this synod there was a rather great rupture in the Church. The Monophysites, the Copts, broke away—the Christians of Egypt, who would soon fall under Arab rule remaining very few. It is somehow a sign that where one moves away from the right faith, strength also decreases. We can see how the West is now in a spiritual crisis. For example, in Catholic universities, representatives of Eastern religions are invited to teach all kinds of courses or practices, yoga and others. This is not allowed!

So there is a great connection between the truth of the faith and the fullness of the grace that is shared. That is why the Holy Fathers fought constantly to keep the full truth of the revelation brought by the Savior. What He brought to us is divine, beyond man’s powers of understanding. It can only be received by faith. And this is the immense role of the Holy Fathers because they left us—and it was not easy for them!—the right faith, the fullness of revelation. This struggle for the right faith was incredible if we follow it in the history of the Church. Yet the saints relentlessly kept to the truth, to the detriment of “human” opinions!

Lucian Blaga observed that, each time, the Holy Fathers went to the most dogmatic formulation of the truths of faith, to the most crucifying formulation for the mind. On the other hand, heresies always went for the weakest dogmatic form. They humanized dogma to make it as palatable as possible to human logic. For example, in the context of Arianism, the heretics did not accept that the Son is “of one substance, essence” (homoousios) with the Father because the human mind cannot conceive of it. It is paradoxical because there is no such thing in the created reality. So the heretics proposed the term “of a similar essence” (homiousios), to humanize it a bit, to make it more acceptable to human logic. But the Fathers went with the maximum dogmatic wording: “of one essence.”

The nature of the Savior was also discussed at the Fourth Ecumenical Council. One Person, the Son of God incarnate, but in two natures: the human and the Divine, “unmixed, unchanged, undivided, unseparated.” “The Word became flesh,” said the Evangelist John (John 1.14). There are truths that transcend the human mind.

The fathers brought rational arguments, and from the distance of our time, we can see that those arguments were the most coherent and logical. But then, in the midst of battle, rational argumentation was not enough. Miracles were needed. And this is because dogma, the truth of faith, is above this world, above human logic. “Dogma is the intellectual expression of the mystery,” says Blaga. And because it is so, the expression of mystery cannot be “demonstrated” exclusively rationally, but it also needs supernatural arguments, miracles.

We know of St Spyridon’s great brick miracle at the first Ecumenical Synod, which convinced, beyond rational arguments, the orator, the philosopher who supported the Aryan position. And at the Fourth Synod, another miracle, worked by the holy Great Martyr Euphemia (celebrated on July 11), led to the establishment of the truth of the faith. Because the authority of the fathers was not enough, the Monophysite heretics keeping to their belief, each side wrote down their formula of faith on separate scrolls: the Orthodox—two natures in the person of Christ; and the Monophysites—one embodied nature of the Logos. And they put the two scrolls in the reliquary of St Euphemia in the church in Chalcedon. They sealed the tomb and then prayed intensely. A few days later when they opened it, the scroll with the Orthodox confession was in the saint’s right hand, and the other scroll was at her feet. So it took a miracle to show the right believing faith.

These were some reflections on the merit of the Holy Fathers at the Ecumenical Councils, in particular the fourth one. The truth of the faith is very important because it gives us the utmost of grace. When we confess the truth of the faith and pray “in spirit and truth” (John 4.23), we acquire much grace from God. And we can withstand anything! This is the Church against which “the gates of Hades shall not prevail” (cf. Matthew 16.18). No matter how great the evil, when you have the fullness of truth and grace, you cannot be overcome. That is why we honor the Holy Fathers. And remember, reason alone is never enough to confess God. Both life and miracle are needed: pure and holy life that leads to miracles. God allows the truth to be established by these two, by reason and by holiness, by miracle. There is no other way.