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Is the Holy Spirit "obliged" to descend upon the participants, simply because they who convened it are Bishops?
Just because a Synod strives to be called and be recognized as "Ecumenical", does that mean the Holy Spirit is necessarily "obliged" to validate its decisions ?
Are the decisions of an ecclesiastic Synod binding for Christians - like the commands of a general to his subordinates - if those decisions conflict with the Faith and the doctrine of the Church up until that time?
These are just a few of the questions that are raised in the conscience of many Christians, when specific events bring them in conflict with the views of the Church's administration and Her conciliar decisions.
Judging by Her history so far, the experience of the Church gives us a clear-cut reply to the above questions: «N Ď»!
Before referring to specific examples, we would first of all like to quote the words of an acclaimed Professor of Theology on the matter: "The age-old history of the Church alone is undeniable testimony that not every synod of bishops is a guarantee of the truth or is exempt of all fallacy. The fact that holy and great men of the Church such as Athanasius the Great and the divine Chrysostom were removed from episcopal synodsfully justifies the grievance of Gregory the Theologian. [...] It is a historical fact that has been often witnessed, that neither the number of participant Bishops or their originating from every corner of the world and the Churches that exist in every place, nor the participation of all the central thrones and Archbishops are enough for the convening of an Ecumenical Synod. Hence, in the rightly called "robber synod of Ephesus" (in 449 A.D.), its participants were 135 bishops, among whom were Dioscorus [Patriarch] of Alexandria, Juvenal of Jerusalem and Thalassius [Archbishop] of Caesaria and Cappadocia .
In fact, let's take a look at a few more historical facts regarding synods:
The «twin synods» of Arminium (Rimini, Italy) and Seleucis of Isauria, convened (in 359 A.D.) by the heretic (Arian-minded) Emperor Constantius for the resolution of the Arian quarrels - in which respectively Bishops of the West and the East had participated - were comprised respectively of 300 Bishops in the first one (80 of whom were Arian-minded) and of 160 bishops in the second one (15 of whom were Orthodox). Eventually, in 359 A.D., they accepted the Arian creed of Niki - a city of Thrace - because it had been imposed by the Emperor despite the contrary decisions that had been reached by them.
And of course there are many other heretical and robber Synods.
We should remind you that when these Synods were being convened, they were not characterized as "heretical", nor did they present any other official signs of being heterodox; in fact, most of them were organized by the "official Church" of the State, with the protection of the local (royal or imperial) authorities, and with the pretext of striving for ecclesiastic and social peace. Only pursuant Orthodox Synods could stigmatize and condemn the preceding heretical ones.
The very important theologian fr. Georges Florovsky, when formulating the historical reality of whether the truth is always found with the crowd or not, writes as follows:
But then, when is a Synod recognized as Ecumenical, or as generally acceptable?
What is the significance of Holy mens' participation in them?
What is the significance behind the opinion of the corpus of the Church (locally and perennially), with regard to the validity of a Synod's decisions?
How much of a determining factor is the preservation of the Catholic Church's Tradition intact, with regard to the acceptance or the condemnation of a Synod's rulings by the Orthodox faithful People?
In the end, the validity of a Synod is judged by its alignment with the Truth that is revealed to the Saints (Patriarchs, Prophets, Apostles, Fathers).
The Orthodox Patriarchs of the East in their response to Pope Pius IX in 1948 had announced - in compliance with ecclesiastic Tradition - that "for us, neither Patriarchs nor Synods were ever able to introduce innovations (dogmas and customs), because the defender of the Faith is the corpus of the Church - in other words, the people themselves, who want their religion eternally unvarying and identical to that of their fathers».
That is why, in the Minutes of the 7th Ecumenical Synod (787 A.D.) during the time of the Iconomachy, the following words of the Holy Fathers were repeated:
«This is the Faith of the Apostles; this is the Faith of the Fathers; this is the Faith of the Orthodox; this is the Faith that sustained the world. [...] We uphold the ancient institutions of the Catholic (Orthodox) Church; whosoever adds or removes something from the Catholic Church, we anathematize.»
Article published in English on: 30-9-2009.
Last update: 30-9-2009.