Word Magazine October 1961 Page 11
ORTHODOXY AND THE CHURCH FATHERS
(From the special Easter 1961 issue of the Zoë” Brotherhood. Athens Greece, dedicated to ORTHODOXY.)
The Fathers of our Church derived all of their teachings from Orthodoxy. However, they gave everything they possessed for the triumph of the Orthodox Faith, which is the priceless treasure of Christian truth. Nowadays, when we speak about Orthodoxy, we immediately think of all the great figures of the Church, who were the pillars of Orthodoxy. The life, work and spiritual struggles of the Church Fathers are organically and inextricably interwoven with Orthodoxy.
There is a common characteristic among the great figures of Orthodoxy, the guardians of our Faith. That is, they did not only speak and write or struggle against heresy, but they also lived and radiated the spirit of Orthodoxy through the example of their holy lives. This is their great secret. To this they owe their eternal spiritual greatness and also their triumph against all those, who with such madness sought to counterfeit and falsify the truth of Christ. For this reason, they are not simply called Teachers, but Fathers of the Orthodox Church. They had lived a life “in Christ’’ before they began to struggle against those who fought the deity of our Lord. Saint Paul’s “in Christ” which we find in all his Epistles was a blessed reality for the Fathers.
The spiritual struggles of the Fathers against those who fought the Holy Spirit do not derive only from a theological knowledge concerning the Holy Spirit. The Fathers lived in the Holy Spirit. For this reason, they became the spiritual Heralds of Orthodoxy. They had personally lived every Christian truth, for the sake of which they entered fearless and unyielding into the arena of the spiritual struggle.
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This general realization about the vivid spiritual relation of the Fathers with Orthodoxy may be illustrated by the following examples:
The apostolic Church Father St. Ignatius the “Theophoros” (God-bearing) fought the heresies of his time and called them “bad offsprings,’’ “old fables,” ‘‘bad leaven,” “false teaching,” “hooks,” “herbs of the devil,” “deadly drug mixed with wine and honey.” Let us not forget that St. Ignatius was “heophoros” in his life, too. He could not live without the strongest link with the Lord. He asked: “How can we live without Him?” And gave himself the answer: “In Jesus Christ, without whom we cannot possess the true life.”
In addition, the example of St. Athanasius tells us about the absolute devotion of the Fathers to Orthodoxy. This “rock of Faith,” who became “adamant against his enemies and a magnet for the apostates,” was the complete incarnation of Christian life. “Praising Athanasius we
praise virtue,” wrote St. Gregory the Theologian . St. Basil the Great wrote to Athanasius: “We are all reconverted by your perfection.” Athanasius’ great soul was “full of Faith and the Holy Spirit.” Even alone he fought against the strong array of the Arians and finally succeeded in dispersing their falsehood and delusion. He suffered much for the sake of the Orthodox truth. He wrote: “We shall not be afraid of bodily death nor shall we be jealous of their
St. Gregory the Theologian, who was a thoughtful interpreter of Orthodoxy, fought the heretics not only by theology. He also had his soul armed with the armor of the Spirit. He knew that almost all the churches of Constantinople were occupied by the heretics: however, this did not cause him any fear. He himself was a dwelling of Christ and a temple of the Holy Spirit, He said to his audience: “They have the temples we have the Tenant,” that is the Lord. If he had not Christ dwelling within his soul, with what force or power would he be able to bear the trophy of Orthodoxy and disperse the legions of the heretics? He became the paramount exponent of Orthodox Theology, for his soul had been sanctified by the Holy Spirit. To this he also attributed the triumph of Orthodoxy. He said: “The delusion of heresy has been revealed. Heresy is dispersed by the Holy Spirit like trust and the clear light of peace shines again.”
But there are many more examples besides those illustrated by the immortal figures of St. Basil the Great, St. Gregory of Nyssa, St. John Chrysostom, St. Cyril of Alexandria. There are so many more Fathers of our Church whose life, work, and struggle for Orthodoxy one may take as an example. Not only do the Fathers keep the unperishable truth of Orthodoxy. They radiate it by the holiness of their lives.
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Every year we celebrate the triumph of Orthodoxy, the victory, which is due to the divine wisdom of the Fathers, a wisdom derived from their communion with the Holy Trinity. This victory gives us a great spiritual message today. We often speak of the ecumenical mission of the Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church must carry out this mission. It is necessary that her light should shine upon all those who live “in the land and shadow of death.” However, this will happen only if we, the Orthodox, keep the priceless heritage of Orthodoxy unspoiled and if we live at the same time a spiritual and holy life such as was proclaimed by those living examples, the Church Fathers.