Augustin Sokolovski

Throughout the year, the Church celebrates the memory of the holy fathers of the Seven Ecumenical Councils. Such collective and liturgical remembrance of the fathers of the Ecumenical Councils is an exceptional feature of the Eastern Orthodoxy. The liturgical commemoration of the Fathers of the Councils does not at all mean that they are all canonized as saints. Neither does it mean that this celebration is dedicated only to those of the conciliar fathers who were canonized by the Church.

From the very first centuries of Christianity, Christians began to wonder how they should perceive the words of the Lord Jesus in the Gospel: “Call no one here on earth father, for your Father is God alone” (Matthew 23:8).

We find the answer in St. Athanasius of Alexandria (295-373). Athanasius pointed out that the Scripture calls the righteous Abraham the Father of all believers. “As it is written I made you the father of many nations, before God, whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls things that do not exist as though they were,” writes the Apostle Paul (Rom. 4:17).

Saint Athanasius dedicated his entire life to the struggle for the reception of the teaching of the Nicene Council, which went down in history under the name of the first Ecumenical Council.

It took place in 325 and for a very long time was revered as the only one. The essence of the definition of faith of the Council of Nicaea is the consubstantiality of the Son of God with the Father. In other words, it is the full and unconditional divinity of the Word of God, the Logos made man in Jesus Christ.

According to Athanasius, the participants of the Ecumenical Council in Nicaea conveyed the right faith to believers and refuted the error of heretics. Therefore, they are rightly called "Fathers". By analogy with the First Ecumenical Council, the Church began to call all the participants of the subsequent Ecumenical Councils “Fathers”. Let us recall that Eastern Orthodoxy recognizes seven Ecumenical Councils that took place between 325 and 787.

At the same time, it is important to understand that, according to this biblical and patristic logic, a priest or bishop who does not teach the faithful the dogmas of faith and morality cannot rightfully be called a “father”!

One of the most difficult Ecumenical Councils to interpret was the Second Council of Constantinople, which went down in history under the name of the Fifth Ecumenical. The council took place in 553 under Emperor Justinian. The memory of the Council Fathers is celebrated by the Church on August 7th.

By that time, that is, by the middle of the 6th century, practically the entire Alexandrian Church, with six million believers, had separated from the Universal Church. In Egypt, two patriarchs opposed each other, a Greek Orthodox and a Coptic one. Only three hundred thousand believers remained with the Orthodox Greek Patriarch. This division into two parallel hierarchies with two patriarchs finally took shape from 537. Even earlier, in 519, the same thing, but roughly in half, happened in Antioch and Syria.

The Fifth Ecumenical Council adopted decisions that, in the opinion of the Conciliar Fathers, overcame divisions. However, this did not happen. The "Monophysites" of Egypt and Syria, that is, those who considered themselves Orthodox Copts and Syrians, who had already separated themselves from the communion of the Universal Church, Rome, and Constantinople, perceived the decisions of the Council indifferently. In the Eastern Roman Empire, the so-called "Byzantium" (a pejorative German technical term of the 18-19th century), severe persecution began against them.

Soon, after only 70 years, Islam arose. Arab troops rapidly conquered Syria, Egypt, and other lands. To a very large extent, it happened so easy because the Egyptians and Syrians who separated from the Universal Church and were persecuted by the Empire welcomed the conquerors as their liberators and opened the gates of their capitals and cities to them. Thus, unexpectedly, paradoxically, tragically, and too late, it became obvious that the future of the Entire Universe truly depended on the correct reception of the decisions of the Ecumenical Councils.