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INSTRUCTIONS FOR JOINING
THE ORTHODOX CHURCH
DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE ORTHODOX CHURCH
When converting from one church to another, one must be sure that the church one is joining teaches the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. When searching for the truth one must go to the very beginnings, but to get there, there is more that one route. The Protestants take Holy Scripture and say this is all we need, it teaches us pure Christianity as it was in the beginning before it was adulterated with various laws and doctrines made by men. But is Holy Scripture enough? The Gospels do not teach us everything for when the Lord was to leave this world He promised us another teacher: “And I will pray to the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you forever. Even the Spirit of Truth” (John 14: 16) and “the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, He shall teach you all things” (John 14: 26).
Evidently then, there is a Christian teaching, which supplements the Gospels, and this teaching is found in Holy Tradition. But here we need to explain what Holy Tradition is, especially for those coming from a Protestant background. For the Protestants have completely rejected Holy Tradition and because they do not have Holy Tradition to guide them in interpreting Holy Scripture, they have fallen into a plethora of erroneous teachings and have separated into hundreds of denominations and sects. What the Protestants seem to forget is that Holy Scripture, which they claim to be the only authoritative source, was compiled and handed down by Holy Tradition. The oldest Gospel of the New Testament that according to St. Matthew was written between 42-65 A.D. In other words, some years after our Lord Jesus Christ’s Resurrection and the descent of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. The Last Gospel, that according to St. John, was written between 85-95 A.D. Of the other books of the New Testament, the Book of Revelation being the last was written about the year 96 A.D. Until all these books [27 in all] had been written and the Canon [collection of books] of the New Testament compiled, the Lord’s teaching, and that of the Apostles’, were orally transmitted. Moreover, not all that the Lord taught, said or did is written in the Gospels and other books of the New Testament; as St. John writes, “And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written” (John 21: 25).
By mouth alone then, were such teachings transmitted by the Apostles to their successors, who in turn transmitted them to their successors and thus they have come down to us. St. Paul clearly writes this to the Christians of his time when he says: “stand fast and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle” [that is whether oral or written] (2 Thessalonians 2: 15). It was the Church, guided by the Holy Spirit that separated after careful examination, which books should be accepted as genuine and thus compiled the Canon of the New Testament. These unwritten and orally transmitted Apostolic teachings, along with the divinely inspired books written by the Lord’s disciples and Apostles, make up Sacred or Holy Tradition, which is the basis and the foundation of the doctrine of the Orthodox Faith. The multitude of Protestant churches would do better if they take a different route to the beginnings. They should first ask how they came into their existence, for they are without question the illegitimate children of the Reformation or the Anglican Church, who in turn are the illegitimate children of the Roman Catholic Church.
With the Old Testament we have a great difference with the Church of England and Protestant Churches. They consider ten of the Old Testament books that we accept as canonical as deuterocanonical or apocryphal because they are not found in the Hebrew version they used for their translation into English. The Orthodox Church uses the Septuagint version of the Old Testament, which not only has more books than the Hebrew version, but also varies in certain passages from the books they both share. The Septuagint version is a translation made from the Hebrew into Greek and was translated by 72 Jews in Alexandria, Egypt, around 285 B.C. The 72 were made up by taking 6 scholars (scribes) from each of the 12 tribes of Israel. It became the most common used translation amongst the Jews outside of Palestine and the many references to the Old Testament prophecies found in the New Testament are quoted from the Septuagint version, showing that Christ and the Apostles considered it as the most authoritative and authentic.
In fact, at the time of Christ and the early Church, Hebrew had long since ceased to be the commonly spoken language, even among the Jews. Although Jesus understood Hebrew, He would have spoken Aramaic, the common language of Palestine, with His disciples. Jesus and His disciples were probably also familiar, with Greek, the common language of the Roman Empire. Greek was the most widely spoken and read language of the Empire at large, and that was why it was necessary for a Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament. The translation was made by Jews for Jews and not by Greeks, who as yet had no interest in the religious books of the Jews. But which of the two is actually the oldest? Those who read today about scriptural manuscripts will come across references made to the “masoretic” texts, which means the texts of the scribes (who were known as “masoretes”). In the first century, after the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem in 70AD, and the end of the Jewish priesthood, the authority of the rabbis in Israel became absolute. Before that time the rabbis occupied a position secondary to the priests. The rabbis and scribes distrusted anything that was not written in the traditional Hebrew language, and consequently they rejected the Septuagint text. But the actual Hebrew manuscripts which formed the basis for the Septuagint translation three centuries before Christ have been lost. The Orthodox Church believes that the Hebrew text upon which the Septuagint is based is actually older and more venerable than the Hebrew text of the scribes. Of the Masoretic text, the earliest surviving manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible date only from about 1000 A.D., many centuries later than those of the Septuagint.
Though both the Masoretic text and the Septuagint, are quite similar in many ways, there are significant differences. These differences can primarily be summed up by saying that the messianic prophecies (the prophecies concerning the Messiah) found throughout the Psalms and the prophetic writings are far more explicit in the Septuagint text than in the Masoretic text. A careful study of the Psalms will reveal how crucially different the Septuagint text is in these messianic portions.
For the most part, translators during and after the Reformation, in an attempt to get back to what they thought were the roots of the Old Testament text, chose to use the Hebrew texts of the scribes and rejected the traditional use of the Septuagint. Therefore the Bibles most commonly available in English are translations of the Hebrew text of the scribes, not translations of the Septuagint which is older. The traditional text of the Orthodox Church, however, whether it be in her singing of the Psalms in worship, or her study of the Old Testament, is still the text of the early Church: the Septuagint. But if the Orthodox Church uses the Septuagint and the Roman Catholic Church uses the Vulgate which is similar to the Septuagint on what grounds do the Protestant churches claim to support their use of an incomplete bible?
The canon of the bible consists of 49 Old Testament books and 27 New Testament books making a total of 76 books. The majority of Protestants blindly accept a Regulation (Canon) that includes only the 66 Books of the Holy Bible, because someone told them that those are the only Books that comprise the entire Holy Bible. They were “told” that there are the Canonical Books and the secondary or Deuterocanonic Books, and that only the 66 are Canonical, while the other 10 are apparently Deuterocanonic and therefore not “divinely inspired”. In fact, they have even confused the Deuterocanonic Books with the “Apocrypha”, which is an entirely different category of Books. We Orthodox, on the other hand, acknowledge the other 10 Books as Canonical Books and naturally we accept them as the product of a decision issued by an Ecumenical Synod, unlike the arbitrary Protestant acceptance.
In order to justify this arbitrary decision, Protestants have concocted a fake statement, which, out of ignorance, the followers have accepted without question. They claim that: “The Lord and the Apostles completely disregarded the “Deuterocanonic” Books that the Orthodox have accepted, and did not use them as references. On the contrary, they make references only to the other Books that we have acknowledged; therefore those only are the books that are divinely inspired and Canonical.” Of course this statement is not only unfounded, it is positively false. In fact there are a great many examples found in the New Testament which are mentioned in the 10 books which the Protestants consider as Apocryphal. We do not need to mention them all here, but to show that their regulation is false, we could ask them the following question: “If you consider it imperative that the New Testament refers to extracts in the Old Testament then why do you accept the Book of Esther as canonical since neither the Lord or his Apostles have at any time quoted from this Book?” By their own argument, the Book of Esther should also belong to the Deuterocanonic or Apocryphal list.
How then did the Orthodox Church form the Canon of the Bible? Firstly, the Church does not consider all the Books of the Old Testament as Divinely inspired. St. Athanasius in the Fourth Century proposed a list of the books for canonization where he separated the books into categories of “divinely inspired” and those “approved for reading by newcomers to the faith”. His proposal or canon was one of six canons that the Church acknowledged when finalizing the canon of the Bible during the Quinisext Ecumenical Synod in 691. These Canons are as follows: the canon of Laodicea in 364AD, the canon of Carthage in 418AD, the 85th Apostolic canon, and the canons of three individual fathers of the 4th century, Saint Athanasius, St Gregory the Theologian and St. Amphilochius of Ikonion. Thus, although no canon has been given directly by an Ecumenical Council concerning the Books of the Holy Bible, we do have 6 validated canons based on synodical decisions that are guidelines for the acceptance of the Books of the Holy Bible.
Of the above canons, the Synod of Laodicea issued a broad canon regarding the Canonical and Proposed Reading books.
The Synod of Carthage issued a fixed canon regarding the Canonical, Divine and Proposed Reading books.
The 85th Apostolic Canon issued a canon regarding Venerable and Holy books.
Saint Athanasius issued a canon regarding Divine Books for Canonization and another canon for Proposed Reading Books for the newly catechized.
Saint Gregory the Theologian issued a canon for the Genuine Books,
and Saint Amphilochius of Ikonion issued a canon of the Divinely Inspired Books.
The books in these canons are not exactly identical to each other and that is because each one of these canons uses different “characteristics”. One canon speaks of “divine” books and another canon speaks of “divinely inspired” books of the Holy Bible. There is a difference between the terms “divine” and “divinely inspired”. Not every Book in the Holy Bible is divine and divinely inspired. We Orthodox Christians make very careful distinctions in our expressions, which is something that Protestants do not perceive, hence their assertion that all the books in the Holy Bible are divinely inspired. The Books of the Bible are referred to in the Canonizing sources either as Divine, or Divinely Inspired, or Canonical, or Proposed Reading, or Beneficial, or Venerable, or Canonized. These characterizations are not incidental. Differences do exist; hence, all books do not belong to every category. In the Church we speak with precision and make very delicate distinctions; we do not resort to coarse distinctions such as “Canonical” and “Deuterocanonical” (Secondary).
The Holy Bible contains books (such as the three Books of the Maccabees) which are only Venerable, but not Divinely Inspired or Divine. It contains books (such as Judith and Tobit) which are Canonical, but not Divinely Inspired or Divine. And it also contains Divine books (such as Solomon’s Wisdom) which are not however Divinely Inspired.
What are the differences to these clarifications?
Venerable is a book that Christians have a duty to respect.
Proposed Reading is a book that can be read by all.
Church Text is that which can be read in Churches.
Newcomer Reading is that which is useful for the newly catechized.
Canonical is that which belongs to a Canon (regulation).
Holy is a book that is merely beneficial and not necessarily infallible or Divine or Divinely Inspired. In other words, it can be used as an aid, but it cannot be used to support dogmatic or canonical truths.
Divine is the book that has been written under the supervision of the Holy Spirit, and possibly even by human wisdom. Divine books are infallible in matters pertaining to salvation, but are not necessarily Divinely Inspired.
Divinely inspired is the book that contains a revelation of the Holy Spirit. It is also considered Divine and infallible in matters of salvation.
The majority of the so called Deuterocanonic or Apocryphal Old Testament books are therefore not apocryphal, but canonical, even though the Church doesn’t consider them as divinely inspired. They are still beneficial to the reader and they contain nothing that would harm the spiritual state of the reader. There are of course many other Old Testament books that are considered as apocryphal such as the Revelations of Adam, Revelations of Lamech, the Prayer of Joseph the All- Good, Revelations of Moses, Psalms of Eldad and Solomom, Foreign sayings of Isaiah, Revelations of Sophonias and the Third book of Esdras. There are even others that we know were pure and unadulterated up to the times of the Apostles like the apocryphal books of Elias, Jeremiah and Enoch. Paul quoted from the apocryphal book of Elias when writing his first Epistle to the Corinthians, and from the apocryphal book of Jeremiah when writing to the Ephesians. St Jude in his General Epistle quotes a whole passage from the Apocryphal book of Enoch:
“And Enoch also, the seventh from Adam, prophesied of these, saying, Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of his saints, To execute judgment upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodly committed, and of all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against him.” (Jude 1: 14-15)
These books, even during the times of Moses, were never considered as part of Holy Scripture, but it seems they were acceptable to be read. After the times of the Apostles parts of these readings were adulterated or tampered with, probably by devout Jews who knew that the Apostles made references to them, so as to discredit the writings of the Apostles.
Many of the Protestant Churches teach that the Orthodox Church’s use of Icons in her liturgical worship is a form of idolatry. To support their claims, they use various arguments like the prohibition of images in the Old Testament law. Let’s therefore see why the Church officially accepted Icons and why the accusation of idolatry is false.
In the Old Testament, we read that God gave to Moses and the children of Israel the Ten Commandments. With the second commandment, the Lord said:
“Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them nor serve them for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God” [Exodus 20: 4-5].
This law was given because God is uncreated and invisible and therefore indescribable. To show Him in any form whatsoever would have been a false image, because the invisible and Absolute Being of God, cannot be described by created matter. This law was also to protect the people of Israel from idolatry [the worship of false gods]. God foresaw that without the law to guide His chosen people, the weak in faith would be more vulnerable to the devil’s temptations to abandon the worship of the One Invisible God and worship gods made by men’s hands. This is shown very clearly in the story of the Israelites in the wilderness. God performed many miracles and delivered Israel from the hardship and evils of Egypt. But having eaten all their food supplies in the wilderness, the people suffered from hunger, so they complained to Moses that it would have been better for them to have stayed in Egypt, in spite of all their sufferings, than to die of hunger in the wilderness. From here, it is already clear that as soon as there was any affliction, they began to lose faith in God and did not put their trust in Him to help them. Even so, God made food fall from heaven in the form of quail and manna. Then they suffered from thirst and again complained, so God gave them water from a rock. Then when Moses went up Mount Sinai to receive the law, he delayed many days, and the people, losing faith in God and presuming that Moses had deserted them, melted their gold jewellery and vessels and made a false god in the form of a calf.
This story shows us that if we fail to put our complete trust in God, it is all too easy to fall into the same trap of worshipping other things. Many of us do so in our normal daily lives without even realizing, because it takes on another form such as money, a prized possession we cannot bear to part with, a pop idol, a favourite television programme, etc. The Egyptians, Greeks and Romans took worshipping false gods to great extremes. They worshipped the sun, moon, stars, mountains, sea, birds, animals and even men who where strong and successful were worshipped as gods or sons of gods. It is a great wonder that with the coming of Christ it was their descendants who smashed and put aside these false gods and accepted and embraced the Holy Trinity as their only God.
The old law did not in fact prohibit every representation of created matter. In exodus 25: 18, we read that God said to Moses, “Thou shalt make two cherubim of gold; of beaten work shalt thou make them, in the two ends of the mercy seat”. The mercy seat was to be placed on top of the Ark of the Covenant. Solomon used this same ordinance when building the temple: “and within the oracle he made two cherubim of olive tree each ten cubits high” [1 Kings 6: 23]. Again, in Numbers 21: 8, the Lord said unto Moses, “Make thee a fiery serpent and set it upon a pole”. From these exceptions found in the Old Testament, we arrive at another theological meaning to the old law. Man was created in the image and likeness of God, but when he sinned and fell from the grace of God, this image was distorted. With man’s fall, all visible creation fell with him and so all creation was separated from God. This separation or broken relationship with God, where the image is distorted, expresses a false reality and in a certain sense becomes an idol. On the other hand, the cherubim were not affected by this separation: they had not fallen into sin, but remained faithful spirits to God. They were thus capable of being represented as protectors on top of the Ark of the Covenant.
Let us return to the question of why in the old law, God could not be represented in any form. God was not only invisible and indescribable; He was also uncircumscribable. This means that He was everywhere, in everyplace and without being confined to any boundaries in any given time. Let us imagine that an image of God was made; we would then be able to draw a circle around this image, thus making it possible to say that God is within that circle. This circle would form a boundary and would limit God to that space alone. God cannot be confined to any boundary, He reaches beyond all creation and beyond our understanding.
The Second Person of the Holy Trinity, whom we call the Son of God, became a human being by taking flesh from the Virgin Mary and received as a man the name Jesus Christ. Before the Son of God became a man, He had only one nature: the divine nature common to the Holy Trinity. Now in the flesh, He is still the same person, but with another nature: the nature common to man. He does not lose by becoming a man His first nature, but remains what He was and becomes what He was not. Therefore, He is both God and man: two natures but one person [hypostasis], Jesus Christ, the Son of God. For this reason the old law on images had to change, for whereas before God was uncreated, invisible and indescribable, He has now become as one of His creatures: a man visible and describable, and whereas before God was uncircumscribable, now He has made Himself circumscribable.
By the 4th century a whole series of Church Fathers, such as Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, Gregory of Nyssa, John Chrysostom and others, refer in their works to images as to a normal and generally accepted institution of the Church.
In general Icons were accepted, not only as essential items helpful in narrating the religious stories in pictures, but also because of the Icon’s significance to the actual teaching on the Divine Incarnation. This teaching shows that the image is necessarily inherent in the very essence of Christianity, from its inception, since Christianity is the revelation by God-Man not only of the Word of God, but also of the Image of God.
Like today with the many Protestant churches preaching that the Orthodox Church subscribes to idolatrous practices, the Icon had many opponents in the early Church. They did not understand the true meaning of the Icon and by using various arguments, like the prohibition of images in the Old Testament law, they claimed that the Icon was an extension of, and linked to the pagan religions of ancient Greece. These opponents of the Icon came to be known as iconomache or iconoclasts [Icon smashers].
After forcing the abdication of Theodosius III, Leo III became emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire on 25th March 717. The new emperor was immediately forced to attend to the Second Arab siege of Constantinople, which commenced in August of the same year and lasted for 12 months. Leo is believed to have been born in Germanikeia (Maraş) in the Syrian province of Commagene, but according to the Byzantine chronicler Theophanes, his family were then resettled in Thrace. It is possible that Leo had been exposed to Moslem influences and was probably also influenced by the Monophysite heresy which was very strong in the Eastern provinces.
The Iconoclast movement first appeared in 723 under Caliph Yazid II. Some eastern territories like Syria and Egypt where now under Muslim control and the Caliph ordered the removal of all Icons from his territory. Whether this move by the Caliph influenced Leo to do the same cannot be verified, but Islam and Christianity were coming face to face and could find common ground in the prohibition of images of the Old Testament Law. The dates of Yazid’s edict (723) and Leo’s open war against Icons (726) have only three years between them that it cannot be ruled out as just a matter of coincidence. Semitic influences on Leo also cannot be ruled out.
Another factor which may have led to Leo’s decision to openly oppose the Icon was the growing abuse of the Icon especially among the lower classes who regarded it as having supernatural powers. The late sixth and seventh centuries saw a marked intensification in the use of images and honour was mistakenly substituted by worship. The extent of the veneration of images caused considerable anxiety and concern to some Christian leaders especially from Asia Minor. Leo must also have shared in this concern and must have had the conviction that Icons where a form of idolatry. In 726 he therefore set about reforming the Empire and ridding the Church of Icons. He was supported by top clergymen among whom were three Bishops from Asia Minor, Thomas of Claudiopolis, Theodosius of Ephesus and Constantine of Nacolia. Constantine went to Constantinople to try and win over the Patriarch Germanos to the iconoclastic cause, but the Patriarch refused to accept any doctrine that contradicted the Councils and the tradition of the Church and wrote a long letter in support of the holy images. This did not stop the unholy movement. The three bishops proceeded to destroy the images in their respective regions and the Emperor made his opposition to the veneration of Icons public by a series of speeches. His attempt to win over public opinion had failed: the people and the clergy were opposed to his plans. Leo then ordered the destruction of a greatly venerated Icon of Christ which was above the Bronze Gate in Constantinople. This immediately caused a riot resulting in the death of an officer. Leo ordered the punishment of the guilty persons, which resulted in arrests, tortures and executions.
Things were getting out of hand and the Emperor invited the Patriarch to the Senate to sign an act that prohibited Icons. The Patriarch removed his Bishop’s stole (omophorion) and refused to have any other faith than that which he received from the Ecumenical Councils. Some days later, Leo had a new patriarch elected from among those who were loyal to his cause. Now with the Emperor and Patriarch united in the one cause, Icons were removed from the Churches and replaced with images of flowers, ornaments and birds. The citizens of Constantinople were ordered to bring their Icons to a public place so that they could be burnt. Many who resisted were condemned, tortured and killed, while others were exiled or left the Capital.
The fight against the Iconoclasts was taken up by the new Pope, Gregory III, in 731. He convoked a council in Rome which condemned the Iconoclastic policies of the Emperor and excommunicated everyone who opposed the veneration of the Icons and blasphemed and destroyed them. Leo was not pleased to say the least. To punish Rome, he took from the Pope's jurisdiction and ceded to the Patriarchate of Constantinople the Greek provinces of Southern Italy as well as Sicily and Illyricum.
Leo III died in 741 and his son Constantine V Copronymus now sat on the throne of the Roman Emperors continuing his father’s persecution of the Iconodules. Around this time another adversary of iconoclasm came to the defence of the holy Icons: St. John of Damascus. He lived in Palestine which was then occupied by the Arabs and was therefore outside the jurisdiction of the emperor. John wrote three treatises entitled, “Against those who revile the Holy Icons.” John’s writings enraged the emperor, but since the author was not a Byzantine subject, the emperor was unable to lock him up in prison, or to execute him. John’s treatises set out a theology of the Icon that has been used by theologians ever since. He took all the arguments used by the Iconoclasts and proved through Holy Scripture and ancient testimonies that in reality they subscribed to Arian and Monophysite heresies. He showed that by opposing the Icon, as did the Iconoclasts, they were denying that God had become man which at the same time broke the union between God and man which Christ united in Himself. If man’s union with God is broken then that also means that man has no means to be saved, his salvation is lost and faith in Christ is in vain. John’s teaching can be summed up in the following lines that he wrote:
“In former times, God, who is without form or body (and was uncircumscribable), could never be depicted, but now when God is seen in the flesh conversing with men, I make an image of the God whom I see. I do not worship matter; I worship the creator of matter, who became matter for my sake, who willed to take his abode in matter, who worked out my salvation through matter. Never will I cease honouring the matter which wrought my salvation! I honour it, but not as God.” [St. John of Damascus]
The legitimacy of the Icon was therefore founded on the Incarnation which abolished the Old Testament law prohibiting images and changed the relation between the Creator and the creatures. St. John’s writings along with those of Pope Gregory III were having their effect throughout the Church. As tensions mounted everywhere, the Emperor was forced to convoke a council to condemn those in favour of Icons. The Council was held in 754 at Hiera in an imperial palace near the Capital. They called the synod the Seventh Ecumenical Council, but it was never recognized by any of the Patriarchates and is commonly called the Mock Synod of Constantinople. The synod decreed that Icons were a blasphemy. The main argument was that if we have an image of Christ who is God-man, then that image represents both the created flesh and the Godhead which cannot be represented. They thus accused the Iconodules of Monophysite heresies and Nestorianism which in fact they were the ones who subscribed to these heresies by thinking that the Icon shared in the human or divine nature. They thought on material levels without understanding the true dogma concerning Christ’s two natures in one Person (Hypostasis). The Icon therefore didn’t share in the two nature’s of Christ, but in the Person (Hypostasis) as was made clearer at a later date by another defender of Icons, St Theodore the Studite.
The Synod which was composed of 338 bishops, all in favour of the Iconoclast movement, condemned the Icons and those who honoured them. After the mock synod, a new wave of persecutions began. Everyone who opposed the Iconoclasts was now officially branded as a heretic and harsh punishments awaited them. In 766 the Emperor exacted an oath against images from all the inhabitants of the Empire. The monks refused with violent obstinacy and Copronymus appears to have amused himself by treating them with ruthless harshness to the point of contemplating the extirpation of monasticism. Monks were forced to appear in the hippodrome at Constantinople hand in hand with prostitutes while the people spat on them. The monastery relics were thrown into the sea and the monasteries themselves which had become centres of resistance were destroyed, turned into army barracks or stables. Other stories tell of how monks were gathered together, forced to wear white and then being presented with wives were forced to choose between marriage and the loss of their eyesight.
The Emperor died in 775 and was succeeded by his son Leo IV the Khasar. Leo was also an Iconoclast but he applied the decrees in a more liberal fashion. His short reign is marked by the easing of the persecution. He died in 780 and the regency was assumed by his wife Irene because their only son Constantine was still only six years old. The Empress Irene came from Athens and was a devoted and faithful laywoman and a supporter of Icons. She planned to change the state of affairs, but had to carry out her policy with great caution. A whole generation had grown up accustomed to a Church without images; it was not going to be easy to bring them back to venerating Icons, but she was helped by a series of miracles performed by re-emerging relics and Icons that had been thrown into the sea. When the Patriarch died she had Tarasius elected as the New Patriarch. He immediately abolished the iconoclast decisions of the mock synod and with Irene called together a truly Ecumenical Council which was held in 787 at Nicaea and is recognized by all as the Seventh Ecumenical Council. The Council was attended by 350 Bishops, monks and other representatives from Rome and all the other patriarchates. Using texts from Holy Scripture and the fathers, the council proved that the veneration of Icons was a legitimate practice, but they were most explicit in declaring that this veneration was merely a veneration of honour and affection which can be given to the creature, but under no circumstances could the adoration of divine worship be given to them which is reserved for God alone. In the words of the council this is what was unanimously decreed:
“We define the rule with all accuracy and after thorough examination, that in a manner similar to the precious and vivifying cross, the venerable and Holy Icons, painted or mosaic, or made of any other suitable material, be placed in the Holy Churches of God, upon sacred vessels and vestments, on walls and panels, houses and streets, both of our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ, and of our undefiled Sovereign Lady, the Holy Mother of God; and also of the Holy Angels, and of all the Saints. For the more often and frequent their representation in an image is seen, the more those beholding are led to remember the originals which they represent and for whom the person beholding begets a yearning in the soul and grows to love them more. Also such persons are prompted to kiss and pay them honorary veneration, not the true adoration which according to our faith, is proper only to the one divine nature, but in the same way veneration is given to the image of the precious and vivifying cross, the Holy Gospels and other sacred objects, which we honour with incense and candles according to the custom of our forefathers by way of manifesting piety. For the honour given to the Icon is passed on to the original, and whosoever bows down in reverence before the Icon, is at the same time bowing down in reverence to the person represented on it”.
The Seventh Ecumenical Council was originally accepted by all, but certain political events led to a distancing between the east and the west which resulted in the Frankish kingdom questioning the Orthodoxy of the Council. For many years, the Frankish court towards the Greeks had been more than just unfavourable. There were bad feelings and memories between Irene and the Frankish king Charlemagne after Irene broke off an engagement between her son and Charlemagne’s daughter. Pope Hadrian sent a copy of the Acts of the 7th Ecumenical Council translated into Latin to Charlemagne in order that he might signify his acceptance of the Council. But the translation was so badly done that either the translators were ignorant of Latin as well as Greek or the translation was purposely changed to discredit the Greek Council. It contained such errors as using the word “worship” instead of “venerate” and quotes from bishops meaning exactly the opposite of what they actually said. Charlemagne had serious grievances against Irene and with the false translation of the Acts of the Council he found reasons to have her council rejected. Charlemagne ordered a written reply to the Pope and the Council, which have come to be known as the Caroline Books.
From the contents of the books, it is clear that the authors had never read the acts or decrees of the 7th Ecumenical Council of which they were writing about and were also ignorant of the Mock council that took place in 754. They quoted things that were apparently said at the 7th Council which were actually said at the Iconoclast Mock council and made such serious mistakes as attributing to Constantius the Bishop of Cyprus the monstrous statement that the sacred images were to be given the supreme adoration due to the Holy Trinity. The Caroline Books based on the false translation of the 7th Ecumenical Council found the Greeks to be Idol worshippers and totally rejected the 7th as being Ecumenical in character.
The Caroline Books led to a council being held at Frankfurt in 794. This council devoted its attention to the question of veneration due to images and the claims of the Second Council of Nicaea (the Seventh) to being an Ecumenical Synod. The second canon of this synod reads:
“The question was brought forward concerning the recent synod which the Greeks had held at Constantinople concerning the adoration of images, that all should be judged as worthy of anathema who did not pay to the images of the Saints service and adoration as to the Divine Trinity. Our most holy fathers rejected with scorn and in every way such adoration and service, and unanimously condemned it.”
Now for a synod held to examine such important matters they should have done their homework beforehand so that at least they would have got their facts right. The recent synod they are referring to was not held at Constantinople but in Nicaea. What was held in Constantinople was the Mock council. It seems these two synods were completely mixed in their minds. Another grave mistake was that neither of the synods decreed that the service and adoration due to the Holy Trinity was to be given to the images of the saints. When the Pope received the Caroline Books and the acts of the Frankfurt Synod, he rejected the condemnation of the 7th Ecumenical Council.
If Charlemagne had intended to discredit Irene and the Greek Church he only succeeded in showing that the Franks lacked the sharpness and theological understandings of the Byzantines. They were not aware of the Christological dimensions of the Icon and this was probably due to the fact that they never had to fight against the Monophysite heresies and Islamic influences. He also succeeded in worsening the relations between east and west.
In 815, there was another iconoclast period until the Empress Theodora came to the throne. In 843, she called together a council, as had Irene before her, and once again proved and proclaimed the legitimacy of venerating Icons. A great feast to celebrate this victory took place on the first Sunday of Lent, March 11, 843. This feast is still celebrated by the Orthodox Church on the first Sunday of Lent each year, which is called the Sunday of Orthodoxy or the Sunday of the Triumph of Orthodoxy. The Church continues to celebrate this feast because it was not only the Icon that was being defended, but also the dogma of the Incarnation [the church’s beliefs concerning God becoming man]. If the Church was to oppose the Icon, as did the iconoclasts, then it would actually be denying that God became man and therefore the means to man’s salvation is lost, because it would break the union between God and man which Christ united in Himself. The iconoclasts also regarded all created matter as evil and despicable and therefore incapable of representing something that is spiritual. This school of thought was in reality saying that the incarnate body of Christ fell into the same category. It was to deny that His human body had been deified and at the same time, it betrayed the belief that man’s body, as well as his soul, can and must be saved. But if we accept that God became man and His flesh was deified, then in truth, God deified matter, making it spirit bearing, and as the flesh was sanctified, then so could other matter, though in a different way. God created nothing evil and despicable, for in all things that He created, He saw that it was good [Genesis 1].
With the multitude of Protestant Churches and each one believing something different from the other, our own differences with them are innumerable. It would not be feasible to mention any specific doctrinal difference because it could apply to one and not the other. Thus here we will limit ourselves to just the sacramental differences. The Orthodox Church like the Roman Catholic Church has seven Sacraments even if we are not agreed on how and when these are administered. These are:
2) Chrismation (Confirmation)
3) Holy Communion
5) Holy Unction
Most Protestant Churches accept Baptism but not all accept that baptism is a rebirth and the cleansing of all sins. Some reject infant baptism and insist on adult baptism. The Sacrament of Chrismation is rejected by most as are the majority of the other Sacraments except Holy Communion, but again this is seen as a symbolic remembrance and not as the actual Body and Blood of Christ. Some like the Church of England accept the Priesthood. I think therefore that we can safely say that no protestant church holds the whole truth, for they were all created to appease someone’s idea or interpretation of how the Christian faith should be.