This Sunday is the commemoration of the Holy Fathers of the 4th Ecumenical Council held in Chalcedon, 451 AD. In the Greek tradition it is always on the Sunday that falls between the 13th to the 19th of July. It coincides with the Feast of the miracle of St Euphemia which is on July 11.
In the Slavic tradition there is not a separate Sunday for the 4th Ecumenical Council. Instead, the Fathers of the first six Ecumenical Councils are celebrated on that same Sunday. There was a previous article I wrote which discussed the life of St Euphemia, her martyrdom and her miracle at the Council of Chalcedon.
At the 4th Council, there was a dispute between the Monophysites, Miaphysites and the Dyophysites. The Monophysites believed in the complete absorption of Christ’s manhood in His single divine nature.
The Miaphysites who were similar to Monophysites, believed that the Person of Jesus Christ was from two natures, divine and human, and that after His Incarnation, there was a synthesis of the two natures of Christ, human and divine to make one incarnate nature. The Non-Chalcedonians are the: Armenians, Coptics, Syriacs, Malankara Syriacs, and Ethiopians.
The Dyophysites, or Chalcedonian Orthodox Christians are the Eastern Orthodox Churches: Greeks, Russians, Antiochians, Bulgarians, and Romanians, to name a few. The Chalcedonian Orthodox or Dyophysites believe that Jesus Christ is one hypostasis, one Person in two natures, divine and human. Jesus Christ is fully divine and fully human. There is no synthesis of natures, no half-God, half-man, rather one Person in two natures.
Before the final decisions of the Council of Chalcedon were made, both the Dyophysites and Monophysites by the recommendation of the Patriarch of Constantinople at that time,
Anatolius, submitted their confessions to the Holy Spirit through the great martyr Euphemia. They each wrote their tomes on separate scrolls, sealed them and placed them upon her bosom.
After three days of intense prayer and fasting, they opened up the tomb and the scroll of the Dyophysites was in her right hand and that of the Monophysites was at her feet. At that moment a great miracle occurred, St. Euphemia as though she was alive raised her hand and gave it to the Patriarch. This confirmed that the Tome of the Dyophysites was correct and that of the Monophysites and Miaphysites was a heresy.
At the vespers for the Sunday of the Holy Fathers of Chalcedon, we hear in one of the stichera: Holy Fathers, you subdued Pyrrhus, Honorius, Sergius, Dioscorus, Eutyches, obdurate Nestorius, and all the heretics. From each one’s heresy you preserved the divine flock of Christ, as from a precipice, for you proclaimed that Christ, who is in two natures, and manifests the energies peculiar to each, is indeed one hypostasis. You taught us to worship the Father and the Spirit and the Son, who became man and is perfect God; and we glorify you, O Saints.
So who was Eutyches and Dioscorus? Eutyches was a priest from Constantinople who believed that the human nature of Christ was overcome by His divine nature or that Christ did have a human nature but it was unlike the rest of humanity. He said Christ’s divinity consumed His humanity as the ocean consumes a drop of vinegar. Eutyches was a staunch supporter of Monophysitism.
Dioscorus, was Pope of Alexandria and upheld the Christological formula of Cyril of Alexandria: one nature incarnate of God the Word (μία φύσις του Θεού Λόγου σεσαρκωμένη). Cyril of Alexandria is indeed a revered Holy Father of the Orthodox Church. His formula was accepted at the 3rd Ecumenical Council held in Ephesus, 431 AD.
However, further explanation and expansion on the terms nature (φύσις) and hypostasis (υπόστασις) was needed and so was clarified at the Council of Chalcedon. Unfortunately, Cyril died before he could attend that Council. Nevertheless, Dioscorus who supported Cyril’s Christological formula, did not accept two natures after the union. After the union is referring to the Incarnation where the Word (Christ) took on flesh. He also upheld the formula: from (εκ) two natures after the union. This reason among others led Dioscorus to be deposed at the Council of Chalcedon. His Christological position was Miaphysitism instead of the more extreme Monophysitism.
The Chalcedonian definition, i.e. Dyophysites which is that of the Eastern Orthodox Faith says: one hypostasis in (εν) two natures. Υπόστασις means entity or person. Τhe One Person Jesus Christ in two natures, divine and human.
The definition of the Council of Chalcedon reads as follows:
Following the Holy Fathers we teach with one voice the Son and our Lord Jesus Christ is to be confessed as one and the same (Person), that He is perfect in Godhead and perfect in manhood, very God and very man, of a reasonable soul and (human) body, one in Essence with the Father as touching His Godhead, and one in essence with us as touching His manhood; made in all things like unto us, as touching sin only excepted; begotten of His Father before the world according to His Godhead, but in the last days for us men and our salvation born of the Virgin Mary the Theotokos, according to His manhood. This one and the same Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son, must be confessed to be in two natures, unconfusedly, immutably, indivisibly, inseparably…not separated or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son and only-begotten God the Word, our Lord Jesus Christ, as the prophets of old time have spoken concerning Him, and as the Lord Jesus Christ hath taught us, and as the Creed of the Fathers hath delivered to us.
The original Greek text οf the Chalcedonian Definition uses the word πρόσωπον instead of υπόστασις (hypostasis). Fundamentally they are both very similar, translated into English as person but πρόσωπον is a more complicated term that can also mean speaker or face. The One Person, Jesus Christ is both fully God and fully man, thus fully divine and fully human.
Divinity and humanity refer to Ηis two natures. The confusion perhaps of Cyril’s formula and his theology that needed further clarity was the meaning of Incarnate nature
: two natures (human and divine) fuse together to make the Incarnate nature of Christ. The Council of Chalcedon wrestled with the interpretation of Incarnate nature. It rightly affirmed that the two natures of Christ did not make or form a distinct Incarnate nature. Instead, the word υπόστασις
were used instead of φύσις
So instead of the Incarnate nature of Christ, it is the Person of Jesus Christ in two natures. Also, it is not two natures coming together, rather the Word of God who is eternal took on flesh (humanity) and dwelt among us. The Word of God became Incarnate. The humanity of Christ came from the Theotokos who was fully human.
To the present day, both sides, Chalcedonian and Oriental Orthodox still remain not in communion with each other. There were attempts at the Fifth Ecumenical Council to unite the two sides, but it never happened. Over the years there was debate that the difference in the theology was more about linguistics than it was doctrine. Many say the Tome of Pope Leo brought further division than it did reconciliation. Certainly the understanding and use of the terms hypostasis and nature differ between the languages of Greek and Syriac.
However, both sides still maintain their positions. To this day there is still dialogue in hopes of reconciliation but that remains to be seen. St Cyril of Alexandria is the Common Father between both sides and his quintessential treatise On the Unity of Christ is a means of hope of ecclesiastical communion one day. We pray by the Grace of God for this day to come; sooner than later.
Nevertheless, let us venerate the 630 Holy and God-bearing Fathers of the 4th Ecumenical Council at Chalcedon and triumphantly chant the hymn dedicated to them:
Supremely blessed are You, O Christ our God. You established the holy Fathers upon the earth as beacons, and through them You have guided us all to the true Faith, O greatly merciful One, glory be to You (Festal Apolytikion).
A graduate of Long Island University, College of Pharmacy, and Saint Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary, John works to share the richness and beauty of the Orthodox Faith with the wider community.
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