Today is the Sunday of the Holy Fathers of the 7th Œcumenical Council. The feast is kept each year on the Sunday falling on 11 October or next after.
The Council, which was convoked by the Empress Irene and presided over by St Tarasius, Patriarch of Constantinople, met at Nicæa in Bithynia, 24 September–13 October 787. It anathematised the impious and ignorant men who refused to honour the holy icons and accused the Church of idolatry for requiring their veneration, who had persecuted the faithful, especially the pious monks, for over seventy years under the iconoclast emperors Leo the Isaurian and Constantine V Copronymus.
At the conclusion of the Council, the Holy Fathers declared, ‘Just as representations of the holy and life-giving Cross, so should the venerable holy images, as well the image of our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ, as the images of our immaculate sovereign Lady the Mother of God, of the holy Angels and of all the Saints, whether represented in paint, mosaic or any other appropriate material, be placed in the holy churches of God, on the sacred vessels and vestments, on walls and boards and in the streets … But as incense and candles are offered in honour of the figure of the precious and life-giving Cross, of the holy Gospels and of the other sacred things [whose veneration the iconoclasts had permitted], so we do the same in honour of the holy icons, according to the pious custom of the elders. For the ‘honour paid to the image goes up to its prototype’ [quoting St Basil, On the Holy Spirit, cap. 18, para. 45] and whoever venerates an icon thereby venerates the hypostasis who is represented by it. By so doing, we maintain the teaching of our holy Fathers and the tradition of the Catholic Church which has proclaimed the Gospel from one end of the world to the other.’
The Synaxarion says, ‘The second Council of Nicæa is the seventh and last Ecumenical Council recognized by the Orthodox Church. This does not mean that there may not be ecumenical Councils in the future, although, in holding the seventh place, the Council of Nicæa has taken upon itself the symbol of perfection and completion represented by this number in holy Scripture [as in the seven days of Creation]. It closes the era of the great dogmatic disputes which enabled the Church to describe, in definitions excluding ambiguity, the bounds of the holy Orthodox faith. From that time, every heresy that appears can be related to one or other of the errors that the Church, assembled in universal Councils, has anathematized from the first until the second Council of Nicæa.’ (Both quotations above from Hieromonk Makarios of Simonos Petra, The Synaxarion, Ormylia, Chalkidike: Convent of the Annunciation, 1998, I, 368–369.)
The Gospel reading for the Feast is, appropriately, Jesus’s parable of the Sower in Luke 8: 5–15: ‘A sower went out to sow his seed: and as he sowed, some fell by the way side; and it was trodden down, and the fowls of the air devoured it. And some fell upon a rock; and as soon as it was sprung up, it withered away, because it lacked moisture. And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprang up with it, and choked it. And other fell on good ground, and sprang up, and bare fruit an hundredfold …
‘Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. Those by the way side are they that hear; then cometh the devil, and taketh away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved. They on the rock are they, which, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, which for a while believe, and in time of temptation fall away. And that which fell among thorns are they, which, when they have heard, go forth, and are choked with cares and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to perfection. But that on the good ground are they, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience.’
Occasional comments by a convert to Orthodoxy.