Sunday of the Seventh Ecumenical Council

On this Sunday, we also remember the Nicea II Council in 787, which defined that we can make images (icons) of our Lord and the saints, and venerate them. This council was held in the midst of the iconoclastic (the “image breaking”) controversy, the first phase from 726-787, and the second phase from 814-842. It draws attention to how important images are for us. I know of few homes that do not have a picture, today usually a photograph but sometimes a portrait or drawing, of those we love. If we love Christ first with our whole heart and mind and soul, the image helps us to focus that love.

We know these images are only paper or wood and ink or paint, but through the eyes of our body they make the person present in spirit. Yet some people hate images. There is a danger of idolatry, and the council did dialogue with those people who had that fear of idol-worship, and so defined clearly how images are to be venerated: “For the more they are contemplated, the more they move to fervent memory of their prototypes. Therefore, it is proper to accord to them a fervent and reverent adoration, not, however, the veritable worship which, according to our faith, belongs to the Divine Being alone — for the honor accorded to the image passes over to its prototype, and whoever adores the image adores in it the reality of what is there represented.” This is the Christian faith.

We cannot make images of the divine nature, but the mystery of the incarnation, in which the Word of God became truly a human being, the two natures united in one person, allows us to make images of Jesus, who was like us in every way except sin. This leads us to a deeper mystery, that we are created in the image of God, and that “all of us, gazing with unveiled face on the glory of the Lord, are being transformed from glory to glory, as from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18). And the glory and the wisdom of the Lord is his emptying, his love, his cross and his resurrection.

Meditation by Archpriest David Petras

On the 7th Ecumenical Council

[be sure to watch the video linked below]

Why is the Seventh Ecumenical Council important to Christians? Is the consideration of the Council relevant to us today? This council was held in Nicaea, Asia Minor in AD 787 under the presidency of Empress Irene and history tells us that 367 bishops were present. It is also called Second Council of Nicaea.

The Iconoclast Controversy: The very heated debated centered around the use of icons in the Church and the controversy between the iconoclasts and iconophiles. The Iconoclasts (“icon-smashers”), started by the Emperor Leo III, were suspicious of religious art especially sacred art that depicted Trinity, saints, biblical acts, and humans; they demanded that the Church rid itself of such art and that it be destroyed or broken (as the term “iconoclast” implies). Philosophically, the Iconoclasts were very likely influenced by the Jewish and Muslim thinking that prohibits the creation and use of sacred images. For them, the fear was idolatry —the worship of things over the worship of God. And we ought to avoid wrong and false worship.

The controversy over images spilled over into matters concerning what it means to say (1) that Jesus is the “image of the Father,” the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity,” and that we are redeemed. we are “persons”; and (2) that man and woman are persons (not mere individuals). Curiously, we are still fighting many of these issues in 2017.

The Church’s response: The people who love icons (“iconophilles”) believed that icons served to preserve the doctrinal teachings of the Church; they considered icons to be man’s dynamic way of expressing the divine through art and beauty. Iconophilles remind us that idolatry is wrong, and false. The veneration of icons is not false worship but images are not the problem. There is a difference between worship and veneration. We worship God (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) the creator of all things. We venerate (give honor to) the Cross, the saints, the Bible because these things and people are connected to Jesus Christ.

The Iconoclast controversy was a form of Monophysitism: distrust and downgrading of the human side of the Son of God.

Saint John of Damascus taught in his First Treatise on the Divine Images: “I do not worship matter, I worship the fashioner of matter, who became matter for my sake and accepted to dwell in matter and through matter worked my salvation, and I will not cease from reverencing matter, through which my salvation was worked.”

7th Ecumenical Council

7th-ecumenical-councilMeditation by Very Rev. Dr. David Petras

On this Sunday, we also remember the Nicea II Council in 787, which defined that we can make images (icons) of our Lord and the saints, and venerate them. This council was held in the midst of the iconoclastic (the “image breaking”) controversy, the first phase from 726-787, and the second phase from 814-842. It draws attention to how important images are for us. I know of few homes that do not have a picture, today usually a photograph but sometimes a portrait or drawing, of those we love. If we love Christ first with our whole heart and mind and soul, the image helps us to focus that love. We know these images are only paper or wood and ink or paint, but through the eyes of our body they make the person present in spirit. Yet some people hate images. There is a danger of idolatry, and the council did dialogue with those people who had that fear of idol-worship, and so defined clearly how images are to be venerated: “For the more they are contemplated, the more they move to fervent memory of their prototypes. Therefore, it is proper to accord to them a fervent and reverent adoration, not, however, the veritable worship which, according to our faith, belongs to the Divine Being alone — for the honor accorded to the image passes over to its prototype, and whoever adores the image adores in it the reality of what is there represented.” This is the Christian faith. We cannot make images of the divine nature, but the mystery of the incarnation, in which the Word of God became truly a human being, the two natures united in one person, allows us to make images of Jesus, who was like us in every way except sin. This leads us to a deeper mystery, that we are created in the image of God, and that “all of us, gazing with unveiled face on the glory of the Lord, are being transformed from glory to glory, as from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:18)” And the glory and the wisdom of the Lord is his emptying, his love, his cross and his resurrection.

More on the subject can be found here.