Sunday, July 16, 2006

The Fathers of the First Six Ecumenical Councils

A Meditation on Hebrews 13:7-16

Today we remember the Fathers of the first six Ecumenical Councils, those pastor-bishops who met in various gatherings from the fourth to the seventh centuries to combat heresies and formulate canons, or rules, to guide the Church in holy living.

We honor these Fathers – indeed, we honor all the saints – because they are friends of Christ, because they show us Christ: Whom our lesson from Hebrews describes as the same yesterday, and today, and forever. The lesson also reminds us that it is all-too-easy to be swept away by diverse and strange teachings. I'm sure each of us could list more than a few strange teachings that we've encountered just in the last week!

The Fathers committed their lives, many of them as martyrs, to teaching clearly and faithfully the word of God. And so, we are called (again, in the words of our lesson from Hebrews) to consider carefully the outcome of their life and to imitate their faith. We are to follow their examples in never neglecting to do good and to share what we have, for such is the way of the fathers, the way of the saints, and such sacrifices are well-pleasing to God.
One of the reasons our churches are filled with icons is to aid us in this task. In worship we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, a tremendous company of those who teach us in word and deed the way of Christ.

Many of them were mistreated by the world. Like their Lord Christ, they met their end in dishonor, “dying outside the city,” far removed from fame or fortune. For here they had no lasting city, but rather they sought a city which is to come.

We remember them, we cling to their relics, we venerate their icons, because we know that they’re not simply dead and gone, buried and forgotten. We know that in Christ they live. Dwelling in the fullness of His presence, they are in a certain profound sense more alive than we are in our present struggles.

And so we ask their prayers, that our lives may become more deeply rooted in the life and love of Christ, just as theirs are. We remember them this day and every day. In the words of St. John of Damascus, who wrote in the eighth century:

“Let us carefully review the life of these men, and let us emulate their faith and love and hope and zeal and way of life, and endurance of sufferings and patience even to (the shedding of) blood, in order that we may be sharers with them in their crowns of glory.”