Sermon of Bishop John of Caracas and South America on the Sunday of the Holy Fathers of the Seventh Ecumenical Council
In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit!
Dear Brothers and Sisters:
Today, the Orthodox Church celebrates the memory of the Holy Fathers of the Seventh Ecumenical Council. On the first Sunday of Great Lent, we celebrate the Triumph of Orthodoxy, when we likewise celebrate this Council, but as a day marking the reestablishment of the veneration of icons. Today we mark the memory of the Holy Fathers themselves who participated in this Council and laid down the dogma of the veneration of icons. During the Church year, there are several such holidays when the saints of various Councils are remembered: those of the First Ecumenical, Fourth, First Six, etc. They are all celebrated on a Sunday, and the celebration of the customary saint for that day is set aside. This is so important because the Church deems that we must mark the memory of the Holy Fathers of the Ecumenical Councils as an expression of the Conciliarity of the Church. This is not simply some kind of democracy, where parliaments of sort gather to issue new laws. Here the Fathers from the entirety of the Church gather and establish the Church Teachings. That is, they do not craft new dogmas but only outline that which the Church always believed in but did not yet elucidate in word. It is what St Vincent of Lerins said in the fourth century, that in Orthodox Christianity Conciliarity is what the entire Church, always and everywhere, believed. This always means that there is nothing new, but that this is not personal opinion, or a local tradition, but the Conciliar Teaching of the Church. The Orthodox Church usually does not rule on such matters until they become a point of contention. When there is discord in the Church, when people quarrel, then the truth must be laid down. Before the Seventh Ecumenical Council, iconoclasm was rampant. But among the iconoclasts were also open heretics. There were those who truly believed that God should be revered but without icons. But they were mistaken! Before a decision by the Council is made, one could hold an opinion which does not align with the Teaching of the Church, but this would be a mistake. This is not truth but error, that is, it is not yet heresy. Heresy is when the Church already makes a decision but a person goes against the conciliar Teaching of the Church.
In our day we see that in 2006, an All-Diaspora Council was held, because everyone was concerned with what relations we should have with the Church in the Fatherland now that Russia has become free, for the opportunity to have physical communion with her. We did not convene an Ecumenical Council, nor a Local Church Council, but a Council of the entire Russian Church Abroad. Everyone gathered, and the Council’s determination was that we must proceed with the reestablishment of full canonical communion with the Russian Church. Thereby, reestablish the fullness of the Russian Church with Universal Orthodoxy. This was the Council’s determination, the Council’s decision. Although there were differing opinions, since the Church expressed not its opinion but its teaching, its path, then we, as faithful children of the Church, must accept it. Even if our personal opinion were different before, it means that opinion was mistaken, and should not be insisted on.
Sadly, there were those among the flock in South America who have insisted on their own opinion. They think and say that they continue the old ways. But that is not the case. They denied the Conciliarity of the Church, from the conciliar path of the Church, and proceeded astray.
We must always remain in the bosom of the Holy Apostolic and Catholic Church, as we say in the Creed. Without it there is no salvation. It is a fine thing to have one’s opinion, but above our thoughts are the Teachings of the Church of Christ. And only there will we find salvation. Amen.
South American Diocese