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Anyone who reads the “Synodikon of Orthodoxy” will discover at once that, on the one hand, the heretics are anathematized and on the other hand the holy Fathers and confessors are acclaimed. For the former those present proclaim “anathema” three times, for the latter the people proclaim “eternal memory” three times at each proposal.
Some people are scandalized when they see and hear such action, particularly when they hear “anathema”. They consider it very harsh and say that the spirit of hatred of other doctrines which the Orthodox Church has is being expressed in this way.
But the facts are not interpreted in this way. The anathemas cannot be regarded as philosophical ideas and as states of hatred for other doctrines, but as medical actions. First of all the heretics by the choice which they have made have ended in heresy and in their departing from the teaching of the Church. By using philosophy they have opposed themselves to theology and the Revelation. In this way they demonstrate that they are ill and in reality are cut off from the Church. Then excommunication has the meaning of showing the separation of the heretic from the Church. The holy Fathers by this action of theirs confirm the already existing condition, and besides this, they help the Christians to protect themselves from the heresy-illness.
There is a characteristic extract from the records of the Fourth congress of the Seventh Ecumenical Council. It says there that the holy Fathers fulfill the word of Christ, in order to set the lamp of divine knowledge “on the lampstand” to shine on all those in the house and not to hide it from them “under a bushel”. In this way those who confess the Lord are helped to travel unimpeded the path of salvation. The holy Fathers “push away every error of heretics, and if the rotten limb is incurable they cut it off; and possessing the shovel, they cleanse the threshing-floor; and the grain, or the nourishing word, that which supports the heart of man, they store up in the warehouse of the Catholic Church, but the chaff of the heretical wrong teaching they throw out and burn in unquenchable fire”.
Thus the heretics are incurably rotten limbs of the Church and are therefore cut off from the Body of the Church. The heretics must be examined in this light. In this way one can see the Church’s love for mankind. For, as we have emphasized elsewhere as well, when someone employs erroneous medical teaching, there are no therapeutic results, one can never achieve the cure. The same is true with the doctrines or the erroneous teaching. An erroneous teaching which is based on a wrong methodology can never lead man to deification.
It is in this light that we must examine the fact that the anathemas as well as the acclamations are referred to particular persons, because these particular persons are the ones who shape these teachings and as a result win adherents. And indeed it is characteristic that dreadful epithets are used for the heretics. We must add that the awful epithets which are used must not be examined in a moral sense, but in a theological sense, for many of the leaders of heresies were “moral” men. In what follows I would like to look at a few such epithets and some very indicative characterisations.
The iconoclasts who inveighed against the holy icons are called in the “Synodikon of Orthodoxy” “damaging” to the glory of God, “venturers against the icon and insolent, cowardly and fleeing”.
Those who started the heresy of iconoclasm, in the time of the Isaurians were called “sacrilegious and leaders of perdition”.
Gerontios is anathematized for “the poison of its abominable heresy… with its perverse dogmas”. Heresy is an illness and the heretical dogmatic belief is perverse, because it twists the truth of the revelation of the Church. Anathema is given to “the raging gathering against the venerable Icons”.
As we said, all the heretics are mentioned in the “Synodikon of Orthodoxy”. By this it seems, on the one hand, that all the heretics used the same method and in essence coincide with one another, and on the other hand, that both the Seventh Ecumenical Council and what is taken to be the Ninth Ecumenical Council regard themselves as expressing the Church and as a continuation of the earlier Ecumenical Councils. Arius is called a fighter against God and ringleader of the heresies, Peter the Purifier is called mad. The same characterization “mad” is used of many heretics. Of course they are called mad not in a biological sense, but first and foremost in the theological sense. Barlaam, Akindynos, leaders of the anti-hesychastic teachings and all their followers are called an evil gang. By contrast, for the defenders of the orthodox teachings such adjectives as devout, most holy, and unforgettable are used.
And again I must point out that heresy reverses the true way of man’s cure for reaching deification. If we think that purification of the heart, illumination of the nous is therapy in order for man to take the path to deification, then we understand that heresy reverses this way and leaves man permanently without a cure, without hope of cure and salvation.