Melkite Greek Catholic Church
PORT CITIES HAVE LONG BEEN vital to commerce, both in the ancient world and up to our own day. Founded in c. 700 bc, Corinth was the principal port connecting the Greek mainland, the Peloponnesian peninsula and Italy. It was especially important in St Paul’s day as the capital of the Roman province of Achaia. There was a sizeable community of Jews in the city and St Paul spent eighteen months there organizing a Church (ad 49-51).

Coming from Athens to Corinth, we are told, Paul “…found a certain Jew named Aquila, born in Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla (because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to depart from Rome); and he came to them. So, because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them and worked; for by occupation they were tentmakers. And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and persuaded both Jews and Greeks” (Acts 18:2-4). A few years after Paul left the city he received word from “people in Chloe’s household” (1 Corinthians 1:11) that the Christian community was becoming increasingly fragmented. Paul writes this epistle to address this problem.

The Issue of Leadership

There were several reasons for these divisions; at the beginning of St Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians he discusses the question of rival allegiances: “…each of you says, ‘I am of Paul,’ or ‘I am of Apollos,’ or ‘I am of Cephas,’ or ‘I am of Christ’” (1 Corinthians 1:12). This does not mean that the leaders named were responsible for the divisions, but that members of these factions were using the names of Paul or the others named to justify their divisive actions.

Commentators have suggested that the “Cephas party” may have consisted of converted Jews who continued to observe Jewish practices such as the Sabbath, circumcision and the dietary laws.

Apollos was an apparently powerful preacher who had come to Ephesus (probably in ad 52 or 53), where he was described as “a certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria, an eloquent man and mighty in the Scriptures, [who] … had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things of the Lord, though he knew only the baptism of John. So he began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Aquila and Priscilla heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately. And when he desired to cross to Achaia, the brethren wrote, exhorting the disciples to receive him; and when he arrived, he greatly helped those who had believed through grace; for he vigorously refuted the Jews publicly, showing from the Scriptures that Jesus is the Messiah” (Acts 18:24-28).

Apollos had apparently come to Corinth after St Paul had left and built on Paul’s work. As the Apostle himself described it, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase” (1 Corinthians 3:6). There is no evidence that Apollos himself led the faction which claimed his name.

St Paul was particularly upset that people were claiming Christ as inspiring one of these factions, in fact reducing His place to that of a sectarian leader: “Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” (1Corinthians 1:12). There is no Church without Christ so, as St John Chrysostom observed, “The quarreling at Corinth was not over trivial matters, but over something fundamental. Even those who said they were ‘of Christ’ were at fault, because they were implicitly denying this to others and making Christ the head of a faction rather than the head of the whole Church” (Hom. on the Corinthians, 3.5).

Because of his experience with Christ on the road to Damascus, St Paul saw the unity of believer with the Lord as more than that of teacher and pupil. He viewed it as an organic relationship. When Christ told Paul, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting” (Acts 9:5), the Lord made it clear that Christ’s people are one with their Lord. St Paul would express this in imagery of the whole body – Christ the Head and we the members (see 1 Corinthians 12:12 ff.).

“In the same mind”

St Paul saw the unity of the Church as encompassing a two-fold dynamic: unity of mind and heart. “Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1 Corinthians 1:10). The Church has understood oneness of mind to mean agreement in belief. Within a few years this led to the formation of creeds and the canon of Scripture as indicators of the unity of mind expected of believers.

The Greek word gnomi, translated above as judgment, has the connotation of considered purpose or will. Later Fathers would speak of the mind and the heart in describing the interaction of thought and will. Paul’s paring of mind and judgment is similar. While mind suggests the truth of a concept, judgment indicates a considered action connected to the concept.

We find a similar paring in our Divine Liturgy. The deacon introduces the creed, saying, “Let us love one another so that with one mind we may confess…” Here the creedal concepts in the mind must be joined to the considered action of love for our expression of belief to represent a true unity of purpose.

Parallels in Our Church Life Today

Sad to say, it is not unusual for similar divisions to arise today in our Church life. People may be attached to one parish priest over another –”I am of Father X” vs. “I am of Father Y.” Some people might leave the parish when Father X does, despite his urgings to the contrary. Even sadder, Father X may encourage this kind of behavior by criticizing Father Y.

The same thing happens when people attach themselves to a certain elder or theologian in contrast to another. The proliferation of blogs by devotees of Elder X or Professor Y encourages some people to surf for what one writer has called “scandal porn” – the latest dirt on a certain elder or theological school of thought. As one writer has noted, “It is so much more in our carnal nature to curse rather than to bless; to tear down rather than to build up; to discourage rather than exhibit the spiritual gift of encouragement and exhortation.”

When tempted to go along with this kind of “Corinthianism,” we would do well to listen to St Paul’s advice to the Philippians: “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things” (Philippians 4:8).
WE ARE CONTINUALLY TALKING about Christ’s merciful love. At every service in Byzantine churches we say that Christ is “gracious and the Lover of mankind.” We frequently refer to Him as the One who gives us the “Great Mercy” of union with God. When Pope Francis proclaimed 2016 as the “Year of Mercy” he was simply giving new expression to a concept which believers have known since the beginning. Yet, in Matthew’s Gospel we see a Christ who seems the opposite of mercy, calling out His foes as guilty of committing the sin which “never has forgiveness.” This passage, read at the Divine Liturgy in our Church on the eighth Saturday after Pentecost, has been troublesome to commentators over the centuries. Yet there are signposts in this passage and in a corresponding passage in Mark which help us understand Christ’s meaning here.

Christ Provokes Division

The passage in Matthew begins with these words of the Lord: “He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters abroad” (Matthew 12:30). As Jesus went from town to town He was attracting more and more attention. People had begun flocking to Jesus who was teaching, healing the sick and expelling demons. He became the focus of controversy and people were soon taking sides. Some felt that Jesus was a prophet, a holy man, while others saw Him as a charlatan. According to Mark’s Gospel this division touched even His own family. “When His own people heard about this [His activity], they went out to lay hold of Him, for they said, ‘He is out of His mind’” (Mark 3:21). They assumed that they knew who He was, the son of Joseph, the village carpenter. At worst, they may have felt that He was disgracing them; at best they may have wanted to protect Him from coming to any harm. A delegation came from Jerusalem to see what the fuss was about. Mark reports their conclusion: “And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, ‘He has Beelzebub,’ and, ‘By the ruler of the demons He casts out demons…’” (Mark 3:21-22). The term Beelzebub was an ancient derogatory term for the devil, formed by changing one letter in the name of a Philistine god to read “Lord of the flies.” The scribes were thus ascribing Jesus’ power as coming from the devil. In response Christ identifies their sin as unforgivable: “‘Assuredly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they may utter; but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is subject to eternal condemnation’” — (And here Mark explains) “because they said, ‘He has an unclean spirit’” (Mark 3:28-30). According to Mark, then, the sin which never has forgiveness is when we see a work of God as the devil’s.

Rejecting the Work of the Holy Spirit

In both Mark and Matthew the Lord defines this unforgivable sin as blaspheming the Holy Spirit. The example given in Mark is that the scribes accused Jesus of having “an unclean spirit.” In effect, the scribes were calling the Holy Spirit a demon, an unclean spirit. They were not simply rejecting Jesus, but also the Spirit who was at work in Him. Jesus Himself had ascribed His mission and work to the Holy Spirit. In the synagogue at Nazareth where he had prayed following His forty days in the wilderness Jesus had quoted the Prophet Isaiah, reading Isaiah 61:1-2 - “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” He then attributed to Himself the same Spirit who inspired Isaiah: “Then He closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all who were in the synagogue were fixed on Him. And He began to say to them, ‘Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing’” (Luke 4:17-21).

The Spirit Known in Israel

The Spirit of the Lord was universally acknowledged by the Jews throughout their history. The Torah itself tells how “The Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters” at creation” (Genesis 1:2). In Psalm 103, the “creation psalm” which begins our service of vespers on most days, we read “You send forth Your Spirit and they are created; You renew the face of the earth” (Psalms 103:30). In addition, the Spirit of God was seen as the One who inspires and directs the actions of the righteous. In Psalm 142:10 we read “Teach me to do Your will for You are my God; may Your good Spirit lead me over level ground.” It was the Spirit of God who was recognized as leading Israel in their journey as God’s People, particularly through the prophets, whom they generally ignored. In Nehemiah’s account of Israelite history we read: “You did not forsake them in the wilderness… You also gave Your good Spirit to instruct them” (Nehemiah 9:19-20). Nevertheless, the people did not heed the guidance of the Spirit. “For many years You had patience with them and testified against them by Your Spirit in Your prophets. Yet they would not listen; therefore You gave them into the hand of the peoples of the lands” (Nehemiah 9:30). All the great leaders of Israel – patriarchs, judges, kings – were said to be filled with the Spirit of God. The prophets were particularly identified as directed by God’s Spirit. Men like Balaam, Elijah, Elisha, Joel, Haggai, Isaiah and Zechariah all saw themselves as “filled with power, with the Spirit of the Lord” (Micah 3:8). Some of them looked ahead to the time of Israel’s restoration when Another would come to redeem Israel. “There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots. The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him…” (Isiah 11:1-2). And so Jews were aware of how the Spirit of God worked among them in the last days through many of the signs that Jesus was performing. To dismiss Him out of hand was to reject the possibility that God was working in Him. Condemning Jesus’ works as being of the devil was to dismiss the Holy Spirit of God Himself.

Mystery of the Son of Man

In Matthew’s Gospel we read these words of the Lord: “Therefore I say to you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven men. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come” (Matthew 12:31-32). Some Fathers reflected on why speaking against the Son of Man would be forgiven, but not speaking against the Holy Spirit. Some of them offered this interpretation: while the Jews had ample experience of God’s Spirit working through prophets, they had no idea that His Word would ever be incarnate as a man. Had they accepted Jesus as a prophet, they might have been led to see Him as the Messiah and even as the Son of God as the apostles were. Their view of Him would have been changed, were they open to God so leading them. Then anything they might have said against Jesus would have been revised in the light of their deeper experience of Him. But as long as they rejected His Spirit outright as being from the devil, they would never grow to accept Him and, thus, never been able to undo their sin by repentance.
ONE OF THE EPISTLE READINGS often heard at the Divine Liturgy on the Sunday of the Council Fathers, Hebrews 13:7-16, begins with these words: “Remember those who preside over you, who have spoken the word of God to you. Follow their faith, considering the outcome of their conduct” (v.7). Clearly this passage was chosen for this day to honor the Fathers of the first six Ecumenical Councils for expressing with clarity the Orthodox faith. When this passage was written – in the first century AD – there were no ecumenical councils. The first one (Nicaea I) was called in the fourth century, some 150 years later, so who are the leaders mentioned in the epistle? The Greek word for leaders used here is hegoumenoi, which the monastic tradition would later use to mean the head of a monastery. In the first century this term, like proistamenos, was used to refer to the head of the local community: the person who presided over its gatherings and, indeed, all its activities. At first the hegumenos in some communities was one of the Twelve; in other places he might be one of the other apostles, the Seventy chosen by the Lord and dispatched by the Twelve to communities in various parts of the region. Thus Barnabas was sent home to Cyprus, Timothy to Ephesus, and Titus to Crete. Scholars suggest that the term hegumenos was most used in Palestine while the terms bishop or presbyter were more common in other places. In any case, the Epistle is calling on believers to revere the faithful leaders for bringing them the Gospel and for the outcome of their faith for, as St John Chrysostom observed, “One’s faith is declared in the purity of one’s life.”

Remembering Our Leaders Today

The framers of our liturgical tradition set a precedent for us. They applied the Apostle’s call to remember their leaders to their own era, the age of the councils. We continue to remember them on this Sunday, but we should also consider applying this text by remembering the leaders of our more immediate past. Take the following little quiz to discover whom we might recall in this spirit. Can you identify and of them by name: In our Liturgy we regularly pray for “the ever to be remembered founders of this holy church.” Who are these founders? What do you know about:
  • The first pastor who gathered your community.
  • The first members who thought it important to provide a church for their families and descendants.
  • The first bishop of your eparchy.
  • Those who built or adorned your parish church.
In addition we may recall other notable figures in the life of our Church: the bishops, priests and deacons as well as the lay leaders who made important contributions to its life. Reminiscences of your parish and eparchial history are often found in souvenir journals, diocesan periodicals or, increasingly, on Church web sites. Explore these resources to become more familiar with the Fathers and Mothers of your local Church.

The Spiritual Leaders of Our Day

In addition to the founders of our parish or eparchy we remember with profit those who made our Churches bear spiritual fruit in the recent past. First among them will be the so-called “new martyrs” – those who suffered for their faith under Communism or Islam. There are others who set directions for the renewal of our Churches which are still affecting us. Ukrainian Greek Catholics remember in this vein Metropolitan Andriy Sheptytsky who began the process to rediscover lost elements of Tradition in the life of their Church. Melkites recall the Fathers of the “School of Cairo,” including Archbishop Joseph Tawil and Archimandrite Oreste Kerame, who did the same for their Church. All Catholics, Western as well as Eastern, are indebted to the Eastern Fathers at the Second Vatican Council, particularly Patriarch Maximos IV, whose thoughts on ecclesiology and liturgy affected the life of all our Churches since that day. When Pope John XXIII announced his call for a council Patriarch Maximos and his synod of bishops began preparing their responses to the ideas circulated by the Roman authorities. At first they were ignored, but their joint responses began to be noticed by other bishops throughout the world. The witness of their synodal activity would have great effect on the outcome of the council. Archimandrite Robert Taft has called it “collegiality ante factum, long before the work of the Council had made this ecclesiology common coin.” Fr Taft has credited the contributions of the patriarch and his sixteen bishops to the council as including: “the vernacular, Eucharistic concelebration and communion under both species in the Latin liturgy; the permanent diaconate; the establishment of what ultimately became the Synod of Bishops held periodically in Rome, as well as the Secretariat (now Pontifical Council) for Christian Unity; new attitudes and a less offensive ecumenical vocabulary for dealing with other Christians, especially with the Orthodox Churches; the recognition and acceptance of Eastern Catholic communities for what they are, ‘Churches,’ not ‘rites’” (Introduction to The Melkite Church at the Council).

Your Personal Forebears in Christ

Besides these builders of the Church each of us has his or her own spiritual leaders who have been significant in their own personal spiritual development. Let us remember:
  • Our godparents, who brought us to baptism.
  • The priest who baptized us.
  • The clergy, teachers and catechists who helped our faith mature over the years.
  • The monastics and religious to whom we turned for guidance or inspiration in our Christian life.
  • Each of them has made crucial contributions to our growth, helping us become people of faith.
Eastern Christians have traditional ways of honoring those who have gone before us in the community of faith. We honor those who have been glorified in the Church as saints by displaying and venerating their icons. If your parish does not have icons of, say, the new martyrs, consider commissioning one. Consult your parish priest on the appropriate procedure. You may also request that he conduct an intercession service in their honor on their feast day. Offer to provide bread or kolyva for the occasion. It is always appropriate to request a memorial service or a commemoration at the Divine Liturgy for the departed. Remembering parish founders in this way is the best way to recognize our debt to them. Most jurisdictions publish necrologies listing the departed clergy of the eparchy and many parishes remember these clergy on the anniversary of their death. And everyone can request a similar service at any time for their personal ancestors in the faith. We can always render thanks in these ways to those “who have spoken the word of God to you.”
WHEN WE READ the Acts of the Apostles we may feel that the apostles had success after success. That wasn’t always the case. St Paul had the following experience in Athens, the intellectual capital of the Greek world, recorded in Acts 17:16-34. He was waiting for Silas and Timothy to rejoin him and continue their journey when, as the Scripture says, “…his spirit was provoked within him when he saw that the city was given over to idols.Therefore he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the Gentile worshippers, and in the marketplace daily with those who happened to be there” (v. 16, 17).  There, we are told, he encountered some Epicurean and Stoic philosophers. “And some said, ‘What does this babbler want to say?’ Others said, ‘He seems to be a proclaimer of foreign gods,’ because he preached to them Jesus and the resurrection” (v. 18). Epicureans believed in a form of materialism, denying any kind of “divine intervention” in the world.  Stoics believed that the universe itself is god and its principles can be discerned by human reason. These philosophers took Paul “…and brought him to the Areopagus[public square], saying, ‘May we know what this new doctrine is of which you speak?For you are bringing some strange things to our ears. Therefore we want to know what these things mean.’ For all the Athenians and the foreigners who were there spent their time in nothing else but either to tell or to hear some new thing” (v. 19-21).

The “Unknown God”

The Scripture reports what Paul told them: “Then Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, ‘Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription:To the unknown God. Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you” (v. 22, 23). Were the Athenians afraid of not honoring some god and thereby incurring his or her wrath? It seems that with this altar they were covering their bases. Paul then tried to present the Gospel to them by refuting idolatry. “God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. Nor is He worshiped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things. And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their pre-appointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’  “Therefore, since we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art and man’s devising” (v. 24-29). Many Greeks would have agreed with Paul, seeing images of the gods as symbols at best. But he soon lost them when he said, “Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.’ “And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked, while others said, ‘We will hear you again on this matter.’“So Paul departed from amongthem.However, some men joined him and believed, among them Dionysius the Areopagite, a woman named Damaris, and others with them” (v. 30-34).

The Wisdom of the Wise

Paul was not very successful in Athens. When he had tried to use “wisdom of words” with the Greek philosophers, he had not succeeded.Perhaps it was the memory of this experience which prompted St Paul to write to the Corinthians, “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of no effect” (1 Corinthians 1:17). St Paul came to make the cross the center of his message, as he indicated to the Corinthians, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.” “Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.  Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Corthians 1:18-25).

The Weakness of God?

By ordinary standards, Jesus was a failure. He had been proclaiming that the kingdom of God was at hand but He ended up as a disgraced criminal. Unlike other condemned agitators, however, He did not revile His accusers or curse those who condemned Him to death. Rather He prayed for their forgiveness. He responded like the Son of the God who is love and compassion which He is. The Lord Jesus proclaimed the message that, above all else, God is love. He proclaimed it, not just in words but by the way He responded to His enemies: in compassion and forgiveness rather than judgment and condemnation. His “weakness” became our strength and our glory. Over the next few centuries the lesson of the cross – the weakness of God – began to defeat the Greek philosophers. Eventually leading figures, army officers and even philosophers like St Justin accepted the way of Christ, which led many to crosses of their own. The “weakness of God” triumphed, not by clever words but by the senseless sufferings the martyrs endured in the spirit of Christ. As the third-century North African Tertullian wrote, "The blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church," as their peaceful acceptance of suffering led to the conversion of many.

St Dionysius – October 3 “… that Areopagite, named Dionysius, who was the first to believe after Paul's address to the Athenians in the Areopagus (as recorded by Luke in the Acts) is mentioned by another Dionysius, an ancient writer and pastor of the church in Corinth, as the first bishop of the church at Athens.”

Eusebius, History of the Church iii

O holy hieromartyr Dionysius, master of gentleness, measured in all things, clothed with a straight conscience as befits a priest, you drew ineffable truths from the Vessel of Election. You have kept the faith and completed a course equal to his. Intercede with Christ God that He may save our souls.


ON THREE SUNDAYS EACH YEAR Byzantine Churches commemorate the fathers of the seven great councils of the first millennium. The first ecumenical council (Nicaea I) is remembered on the Sunday after the Feast of the Ascension and the seventh (Nicaea II) on the Sunday nearest to October 11. The first six councils are recalled together on the Sunday following July 13, the feast of the fourth council (Chalcedon).

The Importance of Councils

The council – whether a local or regional synod or an ecumenical assembly – reflects a basic understanding of Church in the Christian East. The Church is the “communion in the Holy Spirit,” a community infused with the life-giving presence of the Spirit of God. Councils reflect this image of the Church as a community. The council is a true image of the Church when it is imbued with and dependent on the grace of the Holy Spirit. Councils function on every level of Church life in the East. In the local Church, the eparchy, the primary council is the presbyterate which shares in the sacramental ministry of the bishop. Community councils involving deacons and the laity administer the temporal concerns of the eparchy and its parishes. Wider synods govern the life of patriarchates or metropolias. With the establishment of Christianity as the dominant faith in the Roman Empire, the ecumenical council was created. The first ecumenical council, Nicaea I (AD 325) was called by the Emperor Constantine the Great to assure religious unity in the empire (the “oecumene”). All the bishops of the empire were called to participate in this and subsequent councils as successors of the apostles, entrusted with the teaching ministry by Christ. Together the bishops speak to and for all the local Churches. The agreement of the bishops, ratified by the “Amen” of the faithful, expresses the voice of the Holy Spirit in the Church. The seven councils we commemorate liturgically are particularly remembered for their role in clarifying the Church’s teaching on the Trinity and the incarnation, the basis of all other doctrines, in the face of numerous controversies in the now free Churches of the Roman Empire. The councils sought to render the teachings of these mysteries scattered through the New Testament in the precise terms of Greek philosophy current in the empire. They succeeded in doing so, but were not as successful in expressing these teachings in ways accessible to those Churches outside that culture. Thus the fifth-century Councils of Ephesus and Chalcedon contributed to lasting divisions in the Churches of the East.

The Problem of Chalcedon

Like other councils, the Council of Chalcedon dealt with both theological and political issues. The main theological issue was how to express the mystery of Christ’s incarnation in the face of the Monophysitism taught by Eutyches, an influential priest in Constantinople and a disciple of St Cyril of Alexandria. At its second session the Council adopted the concept “two natures in one Person,” employed by Pope St. Leo the Great in a letter to Flavian, the archbishop of Constantinople. When the letter was read to the bishops, they replied, “This is the faith of the fathers! This is the faith of the Apostles! So we all believe! Thus the Orthodox believe! Anathema to him who does not thus believe! Peter has spoken thus through Leo!” Leo’s expression has been used in the Greek and Latin Churches ever since. Unfortunately this term was the opposite of that used by St Cyril of Alexandria a generation earlier, describing the “one nature of the incarnate Word.” The theological problem was made even more complex by the political, however. The first Council at Nicaea has decreed that the foremost local Churches in the Empire would be Rome, Alexandria and Antioch. At Chalcedon the 500+ bishops present recalled that “the fathers [at an earlier council in Constantinople] rightly accorded prerogatives to the see of older Rome, since that is an imperial city; and moved by the same purpose the 150 most devout bishops apportioned equal prerogatives to the most holy see of New Rome, reasonably judging that the city which is honored by the imperial power and senate and enjoying privileges equaling older imperial Rome, should also be elevated to her level in ecclesiastical affairs and take second place after her.” Thus Constantinople (New Rome) was accorded the second place in the hierarchy previously held by Alexandria. The Pope of Rome, St Leo the Great, at first objected to this realignment as contrary to the canons of Nicaea I but he later relented and it became law in the empire. The Churches of Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and – because it was the site of the Lord’s death and resurrection – Jerusalem would be the foremost local Churches in the empire. This group of five sees would be known as the pentarchy and their ranking is recognized in the Byzantine Churches to this day. Thus not only was Roman theological terminology deemed more precise than Alexandrian, the Byzantine see was given precedence over that of Alexandria. The Alexandrian bishops at first delayed and finally refused to accept the decrees of this council and the Egyptian Church was divided into Chalcedonian and non-Chalcedonian parts. Those who accepted Chalcedon were called “Melkites” or Royalists; those who did not called themselves “Copts,” i.e. true Egyptians. The Copts would later be joined by the Armenians and many Syriac-speaking members of the patriarchate of Antioch. Along with their daughter Churches in Ethiopia and India, the non-Chalcedonians are today known as the “Oriental Orthodox Churches.”

A New Chapter

These divisions were hardened in the thousand years of Islamic rule in the Middle East. Each Christian group – Melkite, Nestorian and non-Chalcedonian – was designated a separate millet (nation), with its own laws, insuring that the Christians remained disunited. It was only with the end of the Ottoman Empire in World War I that these Churches embarked on a new way of interacting. In 1988 the Coptic Orthodox and the Catholic Churches issued an Agreed Statement on the Incarnation. It said in part, “We believe that our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ, the Incarnate-Logos, is perfect in His Divinity and perfect in His Humanity. He made His Humanity One with His Divinity without Mixture, nor Mingling, nor Confusion. His Divinity was not separated from His humanity even for a moment or twinkling of an eye.” This was followed in 1990 by an Agreed Statement between the Oriental Orthodox and the Eastern Orthodox Churches. “The [Chalcedonian] Orthodox agree that the Oriental Orthodox will continue to maintain their traditional cyrillian terminology of ‘one nature of the incarnate Logos,’ since they acknowledge the double consubstantiality of the Logos which Eutyches denied. The Orthodox also use this terminology. The Oriental Orthodox agree that the Orthodox are justified in their use of the two-natures formula, since they acknowledge that the distinction is ‘in thought alone’.” Finally, over 1500 years after Chalcedon, the Latin, Greek and Oriental Churches have come to recognize their common faith in the perfect humanity and divinity of Christ, despite the differing terminology they use to express it.
THE MIRACULOUS FEEDING OF 5000 with five loaves and two fish is reported in each of the four Gospels. In both the earliest and latest Gospels there is an unusual unanimity in the details they relate: more than most other Gospel narratives including the resurrection. This reflects the great importance which the first Christians attached to this narrative. In it they see the Lord Jesus connected to the great movements of God in the past, the present and the future.

The Past: the Exodus from Egypt

As is well known, the Gospel of Matthew was written for Jewish believers who were convinced that Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah. They also saw many Old Testament events as “types,” pointing to New Testament events which surpass the Old in God’s plan for our salvation. The early Church Fathers in the Greek and Latin worlds had the same vision. Thus St. Cyril of Alexandria would write, “All that is written about the blessed Moses we affirm to be an icon and a type of that salvation which comes in Christ” (Glaphyra [Illumination] on Exodus, 1.3). The feeding of the 5000 was one such event, in which Christ’s actions reflect that He is the New Moses and more: the One who worked through Moses on behalf of the children of Israel. Just as the exodus from Egypt begins with Pharaoh oppressing the Israelites, the Gospel story begins with Herod’s murder of John the Baptist. While Pharaoh oppresses the Israelites because they were so numerous, Herod kills John because of his moral stance. Hearing about John’s death, Jesus goes apart, to “a deserted place” (Matthew 14:13). Jesus, His disciples and the people who came to Him from the cities were in a “desert” just as Moses, his soldiers, and the crowd were in Sinai. When the Israelites were in the desert with Moses God fed them with manna and quail, which Psalm 78:24 (LXX) calls “the bread of heaven.” While the Galileans were in the wilderness with Jesus, He himself fed them with bread and fish. The feeding of the Israelites in Sinai was connected to their passage through the Red Sea “on dry ground” (Exodus 14:23, et seq). The feeding of the 5000 is connected to the miracle of Jesus “walking on the sea” (Matthew 14:25) which follows immediately. While the Israelites walked on the ground exposed by the parting of the sea, Jesus walks on the sea itself.

The Present: Jesus Nourishes the Church

This event marks the first time in the Gospel that the whole crowd will be invited to eat together with Christ, showing His desire to gather all His followers around a common table with Him. St Hilary of Poitiers noted that the first Church – those who responded to the preaching of Peter – numbered about 5000 men (Acts 4:4). The 5000 fed in the wilderness point to those 5000 who were the first to be nourished by the presence of Christ in His Church. On that “table” in the wilderness was bread and fish. We recall that, for Christians during the Roman persecutions, the fish was a code-sign for Christ. The letters of the Greek word for fish – icthys – were an anagram for the profession of faith, “Jesus Christ Son of God, Savior.” The bread – which Jesus “took…blessed…and broke” (Mattew 14:19) – was an “icon” for the early Christians of the Eucharist in which we receive the Son of God our Savior, the Bread of life. Thus the feeding of the 5000 points to the Church and its communal meal, the Eucharist.

The Future: the Messianic Banquet

Earlier in Matthew’s Gospel we see Jesus pointing to the future: “I say to you that many will come from east and west and sit down with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 8:11). He was alluding to the idea of the Messianic Banquet, the great feast that represented for Jews that communion with God, which the coming of the Messiah would bring about. This feast is described in Isaiah 25:6-9 in terms which make us think of the feeding of the 5000: “And in this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all people a feast of choice pieces, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of well-refined wines on the lees. And He will destroy on this mountain the surface of the covering cast over all people, and the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever, and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces; the rebuke of His people He will take away from all the earth; for the LORD has spoken. And it will be said in that day: ‘Behold, this is our God; we have waited for Him, and He will save us. This is the LORD; we have waited for Him; we will be glad and rejoice in His salvation.’” The Messiah would come and restore Israel. The scattered Jews of the world would be drawn back to their homeland and they would all sit down to a great meal of celebration. How could not the first Jewish believers in Christ not thought of this banquet when reflecting on the feeding of the 5000? When Jesus spoke of many “coming from east and west” He was adding a new note to the concept of this banquet: it would be open to Gentiles and many “sons of the kingdom” would be excluded. The kingdom of God – and this, the great feast of the kingdom – would feature Jews and Gentiles eating together (an act forbidden in Jewish tradition). And so in Matthew 15:30-38 we find Jesus’ miracle repeated, after He heals the Canaanite woman in the area of Tyre and Sidon. But this time it is 4000 Gentiles who were fed. The feeding of these multitudes – Jews and Gentiles – would proclaim to believing Jews that the time of the Messiah had arrived.

In Our Worship

Byzantine worship includes several allusions to the feeding of the multitudes. In the Divine Liturgy it is prescribed that five loaves be used to prepare the oblation. The Lamb is cut from one of them; the others are used to provide the particles representing the Theotokos and the saints, and the living and the dead for whom we pray. Once again the Church is fed from five loaves. Five loaves are also used in the rite of artoklasia (breaking of the bread) celebrated on major feasts. The priest prays, “O Lord Jesus Christ our God, who blessed the five loaves in the wilderness and thus sustained five thousand men, bless these loaves, along with this wheat, wine and oil, and multiply them in this holy city and for Your whole world, and sanctify the faithful who partake of them…” Traditionally in some Churches many other loaves would be provided to feed the needy while the people sing, “Rich men have turned poor and gone hungry, but they that seek the Lord shall not be deprived of any good thing.” Thus the Messianic banquet and the soup kitchen have something in common: both point to the Lord as the ultimate and unfailing nourisher of all mankind.

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