On the Sunday following the 13th of July – or on that day if it is a Sunday – the Church commemorates the 630 holy and God-bearing Fathers of the Fourth Ecumenical Council, which convened in Chalcedon in 451 in opposition to the heresy of ‘Monophysism’ (Greek: mono- one, physis – nature) that was led by the two heretics, Eutyches and Dioscorus.
The Bible reading dedicated to this commemoration is from the Gospel of Matthew 5:14-19, from a segment known as the ‘Sermon of the Lord on the Mount’. This Gospel reading contains three central ideas: That disciples are “the light of the world”, that Christ did not come “to abolish the law and the prophets, but to fulfil them”, and the idea of combining practice with teaching, “he who does and teaches shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven”.
The Church has chosen this particular reading because it applies to the lives of the 630 Holy Fathers whose commemoration we hold today. Indeed, they were the “light of the world”. They illuminated the universe with their divine teachings, and they were a spiritual light, a beacon for humanity and a lamp that lit up the Church and the path towards truth in Orthodox doctrine.
In the Matins, we read: “Ye truly were shown, O blessed Fathers, unto the world as luminous stars bright with the truth of Christ that have shone most brilliantly on the earth.” They were a light to the world, not only with their divine teachings but also through the example of their life of holiness.
In the Bible, ‘light’ refers to the knowing of the truth, just as darkness indicates the ignorance of it (or not knowing the true God). That is why the Bible states that after the baptism of the Lord Jesus and His initiation of evangelisation, the prophecy of Isaiah was fulfilled: “The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, And upon those who sat in the region and shadow of death Light has dawned” (Matthew 4:16; Isaiah 9: 2).
The Lord affirmed: “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness but have the light of life.“(John 8:12). He then said to His disciples: “You are the light of the world.” That is, you will reflect the light of Christ in your life and work. In the prayers of the Vespers, we chant the Apolitikion of the Holy Fathers: “Thou, O Christ, art our God of exceeding praise Who didst establish our Holy Fathers as luminous stars upon earth, and through them didst guide us unto the true Faith, O most merciful One, glory to Thee.” Those God-mantled blessed Fathers assembled together in Chalcedon to refute and respond to the false teaching (heresy) of the false preachers (heretics) Eutyches and Dioscorus, who stated that in the person of Jesus Christ the human nature was absorbed into the divine nature like a cube of sugar dissolves in a cup of water. Therefore, Christ was left with only one nature, the Divine!
During the convening of this council, the Holy Fathers emphasised the unity of the person of Christ and the two natures of Christ: divine and human. In this teaching and identification of the Chalcedonians, the Fathers reaffirmed the Creed of faith that was formulated in the first and second Ecumenical Council, meaning two important matters were emphasised: the distinction between the two natures is clearly stated, although the unity of Christ’s person is also emphasised.
In their proclamation of faith they stated their belief in “one and the same son, perfect in Godhead and perfect in humanity, truly God and truly human… acknowledged in two natures unconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the difference between the natures is in no way removed because of the union, but rather the peculiar property of each nature is preserved, and both combine in one person and in one hypostasis.”
We read in the service of Vespers: “O Philanthropic Word, boundless and indescribable, having become incarnate for our sake, the solemn assembly of the wise Fathers proclaimed Thee, that Thou art perfect God and perfect Man, complete, dual of Nature and acts, and dual also of Will, and that Thou Thyself art one in Person. Wherefore, having known Thee as one God with the Father and the Spirit we worship Thee in faith, blessing them.”
This is exactly what is stipulated in the Constitution of Faith, which was formulated by the holy Fathers in the previous ecumenical councils. The holy Fathers of the Fourth Ecumenical Synod remained steadfast and firm in their sincerity to the Faith, and this is why the Lord says in the Gospel of today: “For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished.”
The Orthodox Church honours the Fathers of the Fourth Ecumenical Council because they were faithful to the Orthodox faith and “conscientious keepers of the Apostolic traditions,”(Doxastikon for the holy fathers in tone three).
The greatest legacy they have passed is the adherence to all that they preached and taught in their lives. “They did what they taught,” and for that, today we celebrate their commemoration, as they are “called great in the kingdom of Heaven”.
“You are the light of the world,” Christ said, addressing His disciples of all times. You will dissolve the darkness, error and sin, and you will make the truth shine everywhere, and the people will see your righteous deeds, and through them they will accept the truth, they will be attracted towards it, and glorify your Father in Heaven.
Teaching and preaching are perhaps not everyone’s responsibility and not all are required to study theology or possess the talent of teaching, but everyone is required to live the Gospel and divine commandments in their life. Every Christian believer is required to teach through the example of their deeds and commitment to live the Gospel, and in this way, they will be called great in the kingdom of the Heaven and reflect the light of Christ in their life like the moon, stars and planets that reflect the light of the sun, the Christ, who is the Sun of justice. Amen.