Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Met. Paul Yazigi on Heresy and Schism

Arabic original here.

Heresy and the Blood of Christ

Paul taught in Ephesus for three years, "not ceasing day and night from giving each one counsel with tears" and he established in that city a living church. Now he's quickly passing through this city headed toward Jerusalem in order to reach there on the feast of Pentecost. He stops in Miletus and calls upon the priests of Ephesus, encouraging them and reminding them of the price of the Church in which the Holy Spirit established them as priests, the Church that was bought with the precious blood of Jesus. Paul warns this living and growing church about the appearance of "savage wolves who will not spare the flock. They will speak perverse things to draw away the disciples after themselves." The Church chooses this text to commemorate the First Ecumenical Council of Niceaea which we celebrate today, where 318 fathers gathered from all the inhabited world to preserve the unity of faith and communion.

There is a distinction between two kinds of dangers in Paul's words and this has been clear in the history of the Church. Paul describes heretics as savage wolves who have no mercy on the flock. It appears that there are two reasons for this. The first is that they "speak perverse things" and the second is that they want to "draw away the disciples after themselves." This is the source of heresies: first of all from the introduction of strange teachings and second from partisanship within the body of the one Church. For this reason there are two terms that have almost the same meaning in the history of the Church: "heresy" and "schism." And so those do do not bear the faith (that is, the Church's way of life) become a "faction" in the sense of a group that is foreign to the body of the true Church. Heresy is a word that denotes departure from the unity of faith, while schism means the departure from unity of communion.

In its long history, Christianity has witnessed many divisions, starting in the years of its initial growth. The body of the Church in the world has been torn apart across the ages, in the East, the between the East and the West, and then in the West. For this reason, unity has become one of the most important real criteria for expressing the true and sound like of the Church. The people of the Old Covenant did not witness divisions like the ones in the Christianity which came after it. Judaism knew factions such as the Pharisees and Saducees, but the Christian world has suffered more, greater, and deeper schisms. The reason for this is the structural difference in faith between the two covenants. In the Old Covenant, the Law gave religion its limited interpretations and so prevented personal interpretations. Likewise, the old religion focused on keeping some commandments (which turned into a law) and these commandments were revealed scripture, so no person had the right to interpret or alter it. On the contrary, the new religion, Christianity, by elevating its dogmas-- especially the mystery of the Incarnation-- over the commandments  and through its methodology that transcends laws and and statutes and opens up spiritual struggle to the world of grace and freedom, unfortunately made it very easy for there to be splintering off of heresies and partisan groups.

Christians emphasize the "Seven Ecumenical Councils" and this basic title has profound spiritual and historical meaning in the life of the Christian Church. Most Christians today are ignorant of the value of this title! What happened during these councils, and what was it that was so very necessary for putting an end to schisms and divisions in the body of Christ, the Church, in some time and place?

Each of these councils struggled for two things. The first is to define the correct interpretation of the Christian faith, to define its general framework that if one departs from, one departs from the life of the Church and her faith. In this way the councils offered defense and protection that guards Christians from intellectual deviations and keeps them from departing from the body of the one holy Church on account of a trick of logic and confusion of philosophies. As for the second thing, it is that these councils emphasized their ecumenical nature. That is, that "all should be together" and should decide to remain together, just as Paul did here at Ephesus, when he called all the bishops (priests) of Ephesus, "knelt with all of them ,and prayed." The problems that these councils addressed were not always problems faced by all the churches in the world. Perhaps these heresies were particular to one place more than to others and a local church suffered locally here more than another church there. But the council is not for responding to an error of logic or interpretation. The council, at its base, is for expressing togetherness and unity, that "all bow together" and pray. If the councils correct deviations from the faith, at the same time they emphasize remaining together in unity without schism. This is why our Orthodox Church is  not making preparations for an eighth ecumenical council, but rather for an expanded Orthodox gathering. In their attachment to unity with sister churches, the Orthodox want to preserve the name "ecumenical council" for the Church when it is healed together, east and west, and from all the inhabited world. This is out of respect for dialogue. The unity is very deep and it indicates brotherly love that many ignore.

The Seven Ecumenical Councils succeeded in setting up a wall around the Christian faith with expressions and concepts that prevent the stripping away of a member from the body of the Church on account of errors in concepts and interpretations. Unfortunately, however, since then the Church has been unable despite the holy councils, in preventing schisms! The history of the Church has proven that intellectual heresies have almost disappeared because matters of dogma have been defined. But other heresies started to grow, partisan schisms. One is for Paul and another for Apollos, and both preach Christ! It is a politics of factionalism where some teach in order to "draw away the disciples after themselves" and not to win them for Christ! This has been especially witnessed by our Christian East, where each of our Christian families has been split among Orthodox and Catholics. And so the Greek Catholics split from the Greek Orthodox, the Syrian Catholics from the Syrian Orthodox, and likewise the Armenian Catholics split from their Orthodox family, and so forth. In principle, this was not on account of faith but on account of affiliation, which is schism. This is why we find these families using the same ritual and the same feasts... but love was wounded between them when they left Paul to belong to Apollos in the name of Christ. "Paul sewed the seed, Apollos watered, and God is the one who caused it to grow." This is Paul's response to schism.

There is a very powerful weapon for defeating schisms and intellectual errors. Christians tried to use the emperor (temporal authority) as a weapon to preserve unity among the churches, but they found that he turned into an element of schism, becoming another Paul or Apollos. However, the Apostle Paul who leaves the people of Ephesus and says goodbye to them with a warning about intellectual schisms and partisan strife, leaves them a fearsome weapon: the blood of Christ, with which the Church was bought.

Every schism is a squandering and a mockery of Christ's precious blood. Contemplating this exorbitant price should cause each one of us to tremble at compromises in the body of Jesus and His Church in history. The Holy Spirit established bishops, priests, and all the servants of the Church "to guide the Church of Christ which He acquired with His blood." Contemplating the price of Christ's blood causes us to put love above an issue that "draws the disciples after ourselves." Contemplating the price of Christ's blood causes us to put the teachings of the faith above enjoying perverse interpretations. One who knows the value of Jesus' blood stands before the teachings of the councils in humility, study, and contemplation. One who knows the value of Jesus' blood does not go following anyone but rather "bows down on bended knee with all and prays." Amen. 

Metropolitan Paul (Yazigi)
Metropolitan of Aleppo and Iskanderun

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