Augustine Sokolovski

On August 7, the Orthodox Churches of the Julian calendar honor the memory of the Fathers of the Fifth Ecumenical Council. This meeting of the Orthodox episcopate, also called the Second Council of Constantinople, took place from May 5 to June 2, 553, exactly 1570 years ago. It is important to understand that the celebration of the Fathers of the Ecumenical Councils is not a day of personal remembrance for those participants who were canonized for personal holiness. But this is a collective recollection of the Councils, as events in which the Holy Spirit objectively and predominantly revealed his historical presence in the Church in the form of decisions regarding dogma.

In the Orthodox liturgical calendar throughout the year, each of the Seven Ecumenical Councils is commemorated separately, the first six Councils, and also all seven Councils together. Such liturgical commemoration of the Council Fathers is an exceptional feature of Eastern Orthodoxy.

The circumstances in which the Fifth Ecumenical Council took place are difficult to understand; moreover, they are little known even to church people.

We all know that in the 16th century Western Christianity split into Catholicism and Protestantism. At the same time, hardly anyone remembers that a thousand years before that, a similar division into two parts occurred in Orthodoxy in the Eastern Church.

Thus, by the middle of the 6th century, the Church of Alexandria almost completely separated from Orthodoxy, ceased to commemorate Orthodox hierarchs, had its own hierarchy and even a patriarch. Over time, the Greek Patriarch of Alexandria became the envoy of Constantinople in Egypt and moved under heavy guard. His flock was about three thousand citizens. The rest of the Christian population of Egypt, about six million believers, followed their patriarch, over time, this seceded Church became known as "Coptic Orthodox". Recall that the word "Coptic" literally means "Egyptian".

The same thing, but in a different proportion, approximately in half, happened in the Church of Antioch. There arose two equal hierarchies and two patriarchates. One of them maintained communion with the Orthodox in Rome, Jerusalem, and Constantinople, the other was in unity with the Copts-Egyptians. In turn, Constantinople, Rome, and Jerusalem preserved the mutual communion of Churches.

The reason for this division was the rejection by the local Churches of Egypt and Syria of the decisions of the IV Ecumenical Council in Chalcedon in 451. The Council proclaimed the consubstantiality of the Lord Jesus to God according to divine, to us - according to human nature.

According to Chalcedon, divinity and humanity in Jesus are united without confusion, without change, without division and without separation. In turn, to the opponents of this formulation, in Egypt, Syria, and in general in the East, this seemed to fall into Nestorianism. It, in their opinion, divided the Lord Jesus into two separate entities. In their opinion, it turned out that God the Word, the Son of God, as it were, "adopted" the Righteous Jesus. Such an accusation was wrong.

At the time, this rejection of the conciliar dogma seemed malicious. Only in modern times did it become obvious that the Churches of that time simply knew too little about each other, did not have, and could not, due to different linguistic traditions, the unity of terminology. Gradually, Christian dogma reached such a degree of accuracy that, as in mathematical formulas, it had to be transmitted not in words, but in signs, without translation.

In order to stop what was happening, Emperor Justinian I (527-565), who himself was a very significant theologian, convened an Ecumenical Council. It condemned the works of three ancient authors, Theodore of Mopsuestia (350-428), Theodoret of Cyrus (393-457) and Ibas of Edessa (+457). In Egypt and Syria, they were suspected of sympathizing with Nestorianism, and it was also believed that Chalcedon sided decisively with them. According to Justinian, their condemnation should have removed a significant obstacle to mutual reconciliation. However, these church teachers were revered by many in the Church, they had considerable authority, therefore, even on the part of the Orthodox, this decision was very problematic.

However, these church teachers were revered by many, they had considerable authority, therefore, even on the part of the Orthodox, this decision was very problematic. The issue discussed by the Council was whether the Church can condemn someone posthumously. According to the fathers, in this case it was not the personality of a person that was condemned, but the error itself.

However, the “Monophysites,” as the opponents of Chalcedon were then called, rejected the decisions of the Fifth Council. On this basis, regional nationalisms began to grow, the desire to separate from the Universal Church, or, better, the temptation to become its center itself became a real temptation. Just a century later, Syria and Egypt welcomed the arrival of the Arab Muslim armies. In their original democratic social order, the Christians, out of tragic bewilderment, saw their liberators from the Empire.

The memory of the Fathers of the Council is an indication of how fragile and reverently important it is to preserve catholic diversity and the Eucharistic unity of the Church. Unlike the First Ecumenical Council at Nicaea (325), there was nothing heroic in the decisions of this Fifth Council. But, as subsequent history has shown, it was a truly biblical gesture of reconciliation. A humble council of a humble Church - this is how it has remained in the history.