The Orthodox Pages



18th FEBRUARY 2010























































































































































This coming Sunday, the first Sunday of Great Lent is called the Sunday of Orthodoxy or the Sunday of the Triumph of Orthodoxy. On this day the Church commemorates the victory over Iconoclasm and the restoration of the veneration of the Icons which occurred on 11 March 843 in Constantinople. The Feast has nothing to do with the spirit and meaning of Lent. Its celebration on this day is purely historical as the first celebration of this Feast in 843 actually took place on the first Sunday of Lent and the Orthodox Church has ever since continued to celebrate this feast every year on the same Sunday. This victory of Orthodoxy was in fact much more than just the a victory over those who opposed the veneration of Icons; it was a victory over all the many heresies that the Church over the centuries had to fight to preserve the true teachings concerning who Jesus Christ was and how his divine and human natures were interpreted and understood. Thus at the centre of the dispute was the dogma of the Incarnation [the church’s beliefs concerning God becoming man]. The Icon is directly connected to this dogma, which is the very foundation of Christianity and which all our hopes of salvation depend on. For us to fully understand the deeper meaning of the feast we need to be aware of the many heresies that troubled the Church in the preceding centuries so today we will have a historical and theology lesson. To do this we must go back to the very beginnings of these different understandings that developed and continually divided the Church into two camps. Without mentioning all the heresies which are very many and confusing, I think it would be easier for you to understand their theological approach. In the early Church there were two rival catechetical Schools, those of Alexandria and Antioch. Both played an important part in the understanding of who Jesus was but each using a different approach. So let’s first see the School of Alexandria.
Alexandria itself was founded by Alexander the Great in 332BC, and it became the second most important city of the ancient world. It was a point where east and west met and it took pride in its famous library and its reputation as the centre for Greek philosophy and learning. It was here in 285BC that the Hebrew Scriptures were translated into the Septuagint Greek making them widely accessible to the Greek speaking Jews of the dispersion. Almost three hundred years later an Alexandrian philisopher Philo, a Hellenic Jew (c. 25 BC-AD 40) strove to integrate Greek philosophy with Judaism; and early Christians, by following his lead, worked to integrate Greek philosophy with Christianity.

The renowned catechetical school in Alexandria was greatly influenced by Platonism and Stoicism and one of its early leaders Clement of Alexandria (c.155-220) taught that just as God gave the Law to the Jews, so he gave philosophy to the Greeks - as an instrument to lead them to Christ. God’s eternal Word (Logos) was the source of both. He believed the truth was to be found in Scripture, but sometimes it was hidden, and could only be discovered through allegorical interpretation. Clement was succeeded by his young pupil Origen (185-254), who presided over the Alexandrian school for the next thirty years. He lived an ascetic life and took his asceticism to the extremes by taking the Lord’s counsel in the literal sense and having himself castrated (Matth. 19:12) to avoid any possible scandal while giving private instruction to women catechumens. Origen’s writings were some of the most influential in the early church. Origen taught that Scripture had a threefold meaning or in other words it had three levels of interpretation - Literal, moral, and spiritual meanings which corresponded to the human body, soul, and spirit. The “simple man” may be edified by the “flesh” of Scripture, in other words the literal meaning of the historical events which was for him the least important for the Christian, just as the body was less important than the soul or spirit. The man who has ascended a certain way may be edified by the “soul” and the perfect man may be edified by “spiritual law”. Thus because the historical events were the least important the Alexandrian philosophical approach adapted a theology that stressed the divine aspect of the unity of Christ sometimes at the expense of His humanity, which portrayed a Christ whose humanity was absorbed by His divinity. This teaching lead to various monophysite heresies where Christ was no longer seen as having two natures, a human and divine, but only one divine nature.
From Alexandria we have the Arian heresy named after an Alexandrian priest Arius who taught that the Eternal Son was inferior to the Father denying him the Divine Nature of God, and taught that Jesus Christ was a mere creature. Arius and his teaching were condemned at the First Ecumenical Council of Nicaea in 325.
Next in importance was Apollinaris who was bishop of Laodicea in Syria but represented the Alexandrian school of thought. He attributed to Christ a human body and an animal soul, but he did not ascribe him a human rational soul, as the seat of rationality and intelligence. Instead of a human rational soul, the divine Word of God took its place and was the divine nature in Christ. Thus Christ was not completely human. Apollinaris was a strong opponent of Arius but arrived at a similar view of the Person of Christ as Arius. Apollinaris was strongly opposed by Gregory of Nazianzus as well as the Antiochian school, but was also denounced by many subsequent synods.
Lets now see the Antiochian School. The Antiochian school seemed to have been more influenced by the philosophy of Aristotle. It developed a literal approach in the explanation of Scripture and theology rather than the allegorical approach of Alexandria and emphasised the human nature of Christ rather than the divine and put great weight on the human experiences of Christ’s temptations and sufferings.
But as Alexandria’s overemphasis of the divine led to heresies which denied Christ a human rational soul, the Antiochians overemphasis of the human led to heresies which denied him his divinity. Thus from Antioch we have heresies such as Adoptionism and Nestorianism. There were different types of Adoptionism but basically what they taught was that Christ was born an ordinary man and at some point in his life God adopted him as his son. For example, Paul of Samosata was bishop of Antioch from AD260-272. He subscribed to an Adoptionism heresy which taught that Jesus was an ordinary man, born of Mary and Joseph and that at his baptism the Spirit or Christ descended upon Jesus and then at his crucifixion the Christ departed, leaving the man Jesus to suffer alone. Thus Christ did not become one in substance with God, but when he was raised from the dead was given a kind of delegated divinity. Paul of Samosata was excommunicated by a synod held in Antioch in 269.
Nestorianism is named after Nestorius who as a presbyter of Antioch was then made Patriarch of Constantinople in AD 428. His teaching had divided the person of Christ into two and he was unwilling to call the Blessed Virgin Theotokos – Mother of God. He held that Mary could only be called Christotokos - the mother of Christ the man for she did not give birth to the divine pre-eternal Son of God.
Thus for the first few centuries the Church had to battle which the teachings that developed from the two Schools which when taken too far always led to heresy. When the Church finally defined the true teaching then another problem arose concerning the will and action of Christ which it fact was just an extension or another side of the Monophysite heresies. It short it claimed that if Christ had only the divine nature then he only had one will and action – the divine, thus denying him of any human attributes other than just a human body. The heresy came to be known as Monothelite meaning one will. When the Monothelite teaching was also finally defeated, all the various heresies had to find another course to attack the true teaching of the Church. This route was found in the Icon. It should be noted that even after the Church had defined the true teachings concerning the human and divine elements in Christ, there were still many Bishops who secretly subscribed to the Monophysite, Monothelite and Nestorian heresies, but kept silent for fear of being deposed. Many Emperors also were caught up in the Christological disputes and were often influenced by these heresies. Another thing we must keep in mind is that for the first five centuries Icons were accepted but with reservations and many felt that the Old Testament commandment which forbade any kind of graven image should be observed to avoid the spread of superstitious practices associated with Icons and which many people believed had magical powers.

At this time the opponents of the Icon believed that the Church should stress her worship in spirit and in truth and avoid any kind of material objects that could lead to idolatry. Thus Icons always had its opponents in the Church especially from those with a puritan outlook who thought of Icons as an influence from the old Greek world of idolatry, but in general they were accepted as being essential items helpful in narrating the religious stories in pictures. In time they were accepted as representing the person portrayed in his absence, similar to the images of the emperor which under Roman law was a legal substitute used in place of the Emperor being there in person. This of course doesn’t mean that the Icon was used as a substitute for Christ and the saints: it was never worshipped as an idol, but was only a material symbol and the Church clearly taught that it should only be given relative honour and veneration but never to be worshipped in the same way that God alone is worshipped. But the Icon was something much more that just a symbol because as we shall see later, it had a doctrinal significance and was essential in teaching the true dogma on the incarnation and on man’s salvation.
At the beginning of the eight century another problem was also facing the Byzantine Empire – the Muslim faith and their increasing power. Some eastern territories like Syria and Egypt where now under Muslim control and Caliph Yazid II ordered the removal of all Icons from his territory. The two religions were now coming face to face and as both shared the Old Testament there was common ground to build on to keep peace between the two religions. The Muslims favoured the Monophysite and Nestorian Churches and in AD 725 the Emperor Leo III, who was originally from Syria and was brought up in the Monophysite Jacobite Church, felt that relations with the Muslims could be improved if the Old Testament prohibition on images was imposed. He was a firm believer that Icons where a form of idolatry, and wanted to reform the Empire and rid the Church of Icons. He was supported by top clergymen among whom were three Bishops from Asia Minor, Thomas of Claudiopolis, Theodosius of Ephesus and Constantine of Nacolia. Constantine went to Constantinople to try and win over the Patriarch Germanos to the iconoclastic cause, but the Patriarch refused to accept any doctrine that contradicted the councils and the tradition of the Church and wrote a long letter in support of the holy images. This did not stop the unholy movement. The three bishops proceeded to destroy the images in their respective regions and the Emperor made his opposition to the veneration of Icons public by a series of speeches. His attempt to win over public opinion had failed: the people and the clergy were opposed to his plans. Leo then ordered the destruction of a greatly venerated Icon of Christ which was above the Bronze Gate in Constantinople. This immediately caused a riot resulting in the death of an officer. Leo ordered the punishment of the guilty persons, which resulted in arrests, tortures and executions.
Things were getting out of hand and the Emperor invited the Patriarch to the Senate to sign an act that prohibited Icons. The Patriarch removed his Bishop’s stole (omophorion) and refused to have any other faith that that which he received from the Ecumenical Councils. Some days later, Leo had a new patriarch elected from among those who were loyal to his cause. Now with the Emperor and Patriarch united in the one cause, icons were removed from the Churches and replaced with images of flowers, ornaments and birds. The citizens of Constantinople were ordered to bring their icons to a public place so that they could be burnt. Many who resisted were condemned, tortured and killed, while others were exiled or left the Capital.
The fight against the Iconoclasts was taken up by the new Pope, Gregory III, in 731. He convoked a council in Rome which condemned the Iconoclastic policies of the Emperor and excommunicated everyone who opposed the veneration of the icons and blasphemed and destroyed them. Leo was not pleased to say the least. To punish Rome, he took from the Pope's jurisdiction and ceded to the patriarchate of Constantinople the Greek provinces of southern Italy as well as Sicily and Illyricum.
Leo III died in 741 and his son Constantine V Copronymus now sat on the throne of the Roman Emperors continuing his father’s persecution of the Iconodules. Around this time another adversary of iconoclasm came to the defence of the holy Icons: St. John of Damascus. He lived in Palestine which was then occupied by the Arabs and was therefore outside the jurisdiction of the Emperor. St. John was an eminent Theologian and belonged to an equally eminent family. His father, Sergius Mansur, was a treasurer at the court of the caliph and after his death; John occupied ministerial posts at court and became the city prefect. John wrote three treatises entitled, “Against those who revile the Holy Icons.” John’s writings enraged the emperor, but since the author was not a Byzantine subject, the emperor was unable to lock him up in prison, or to execute him.

John’s treatises set out a theology of the Icon that has been used by theologians ever since. He took all the arguments used by the Iconoclasts and proved through Holy Scripture and ancient testimonies that in reality they subscribed to Arian and Monophysite heresies. He showed that by opposing the Icon, as did the Iconoclasts, they were denying that God had become man which at the same time broke the union between God and man which Christ united in Himself. If man’s union with God is broken then that also means that man has no means to be saved, his salvation is lost and faith in Christ is in vain. John’s teaching can be summed up in the following lines that he wrote: “In former times, God, who was without form or body and was uncircumscribable, could never be depicted, but now that God has appeared in the flesh and lived among men, I make an image of the God who can be seen. I do not worship matter; I worship the creator of matter, who became matter for my sake, who willed to take his abode in matter, who worked out my salvation through matter.” [St. John of Damascus]
The legitimacy of the Icon was therefore founded on the Incarnation which abolished the Old Testament law prohibiting images and changed the relation between the Creator and the creatures.
St. John’s writings along with those of Pope Gregory III were having their effect throughout the Church. As tensions mounted everywhere, the Emperor was forced to convoke a council to condemn those in favour of Icons. The Council was held in 754 at Hiera in an imperial palace near the Capital. They called the synod the Seventh Ecumenical Council, but it was never recognized by any of the Patriarchates and is commonly called the mock synod of Constantinople. The synod decreed that Icons were a blasphemy. The main argument was that if we have an image of Christ who is God-man, then that image represents both the created flesh and the Godhead which cannot be represented. They thus accused the Iconodules of Monophysite heresies and Nestorianism which in fact they were the ones who subscribed to these heresies by thinking that the Icon shared in the human or divine nature. They thought on material levels without understanding the true dogma concerning Christ’s two natures in one Person, one Hypostasis. The Icon therefore didn’t share in the two nature’s of Christ, but in the Person as was made clearer at a later date by another defender of Icons, St Theodore the Studite who we shall see later on.
The Synod which was composed of 338 bishops, all in favour of the Iconoclast movement, condemned the Icons and those who honoured them. With their closing Anathemas they singled out three defenders of the Icon for special anathemas and excommunication: They are the Patriarch Germanos, George of Cyprus and St. John of Damascus who they called by his family name Mansur. After the mock synod, a new wave of persecutions began. The Emperor singled out the more noted monks and required them to comply with the decrees of the synod. Everyone who opposed the Iconoclasts was now officially branded as a heretic and harsh punishments awaited them. As a result many were tortured, exiled or executed and many monks were forced into marriages. In 766 the Emperor exacted an oath against images from all the inhabitants of the Empire. The monks refused with violent obstinacy and Copronymus appears to have amused himself by treating them with ruthless harshness to the point of contemplating the extirpation of monasticism. Monks were forced to appear in the hippodrome at Constantinople hand in hand with prostitutes while the people spat on them. The monastery relics were thrown into the sea and the monasteries themselves which had become centres of resistance were destroyed, turned into army barracks or stables. Other stories tell of how monks were gathered together, forced to wear white and then being presented with wives were forced to choose between marriage and the loss of their eyesight.
The Emperor died in 775 and was succeeded by his son Leo IV the Khasar. Leo was also an Iconoclast but he applied the decrees in a more liberal fashion. His short reign is marked by the easing of the persecution. He died in 780 and the regency was assumed by his wife Irene because their only son Constantine was still only six years old. The Empress Irene came from Athens and was a devoted and faithful laywoman and a supporter of Icons. She planned to change the state of affairs, but had to carry out her policy with great caution. A whole generation had grown up accustomed to a Church without images; it was not going to be easy to bring them back to venerating Icons, but she was helped by a series of miracles performed by re-emerging relics and Icons that had been thrown into the sea. When the Patriarch died she had Tarasius elected as the New Patriarch. Tarasius had until then been the Patriarch’s secretary and was still a layman at the time of his election. He immediately abolished the iconoclast decisions of the mock synod and with Irene called together a truly Ecumenical Council which was held in 787 at Nicaea and is recognized by all as the Seventh Ecumenical Council. The Council was attended by 350 Bishops, monks and other representatives from Rome and all the other patriarchates.
Using texts from Holy Scripture and the fathers, the council proved that the veneration of Icons was a legitimate practice, but they were most explicit in declaring that this veneration was merely a veneration of honour and affection which can be given to the creature, but under no circumstances could the adoration of divine worship be given to them which is reserved for God alone. In the words of the council this is what was unanimously decreed: “We define the rule with all accuracy and after thorough examination, that in a manner similar to the precious and vivifying cross, the venerable and Holy Icons, painted or mosaic, or made of any other suitable material, be placed in the Holy Churches of God, upon sacred vessels and vestments, on walls and panels, houses and streets, both of our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ, and of our undefiled Sovereign Lady, the Holy Mother of God; and also of the Holy Angels, and of all the Saints. For the more often and frequent their representation in an image is seen, the more those beholding are led to remember the originals which they represent and for whom the person beholding begets a yearning in the soul and grows to love them more. Also such persons are prompted to kiss and pay them honorary veneration, not the true adoration which according to our faith, is proper only to the one divine nature, but in the same way veneration is given to the image of the precious and vivifying cross, the Holy Gospels and other sacred objects, which we honour with incense and candles according to the custom of our forefathers by way of manifesting piety. For the honour given to the Icon is passed on to the original, and whosoever bows down in reverence before the Icon, is at the same time bowing down in reverence to the person represented on it”.
The Seventh Ecumenical Council was originally accepted by all, but certain political events lead to a distancing between the east and the west which resulted in the Frankish kingdom questioning the Orthodoxy of the Council. For many years, the Frankish court towards the Greeks had been more than just unfavourable. There were bad feelings and memories between Irene and the Frankish king Charlemagne after Irene broke off an engagement between her son and Charlemagne’s daughter. Charlemagne it seems was unaware of the Seventh Ecumenical Council until he was sent by Pope Hadrian a copy of the acts translated into Latin in order that he might signify his acceptance of the Council. But the translation was so badly done that either the translator was ignorant of Latin as well as Greek or the translation was purposely changed to discredit the Greek Council. It contained such errors as using the word “worship” instead of “venerate” and quotes from bishops meaning exactly the opposite of what they actually said. Charlemagne cannot be blamed for the translation, but it has been said that he also had in his possession a copy of the original Greek text which he probable ignored. He also had serious grievances against Irene and with the translation of the Acts of the Council he found reasons to have her council rejected. As a result of these bad feelings Charlemagne ordered a written reply to the Pope and the Council, which have come to be known as the Caroline Books.
From the contents of the books, it is clear that the authors had never read the acts or decrees of the Seventh Ecumenical Council of which they were writing about and were also ignorant of the Mock council that took place in 754. They quoted things that were apparently said at the Seventh Council which were actually said at the Iconoclast Mock council and made such serious mistakes as attributing to Constantius the Bishop of Cyprus the monstrous statement that the sacred images were to be given the supreme adoration due to the Holy Trinity. The Caroline Books based on the false translation of the Seventh Ecumenical Council found the Greeks to be Idol worshippers and totally rejected the Seventh as being Ecumenical in character. Now this is a clear contradiction to how they began the Books. After praises and exalting the Roman See, they mention that the Roman See (that is the Pope) is the absolute authority of all matters pertaining to the faith of the Church. What they seemed to have forgotten is that at the Seventh Ecumenical council there were present representatives of the Pope and that the Pope himself accepted the Seventh as truly ecumenical. Their rejection now was also rejecting the Popes authority and placed him among those who they accused.
The Caroline Books lead to a council being held at Frankfurt in 794. This council devoted its attention to the question of veneration due to images and the claims of the Second Council of Nicaea (which is the same as saying the Seventh) to being an Ecumenical Synod. The second canon of this synod reads: “The question was brought forward concerning the recent synod which the Greeks had held at Constantinople concerning the adoration of images, that all should be judged as worthy of anathema who did not pay to the images of the Saints service and adoration as to the Divine Trinity. Our most holy fathers rejected with scorn and in every way such adoration and service, and unanimously condemned it.”
Now for a synod held to examine such important matters they should have done their homework beforehand so that at least they would have got their facts right. The recent synod they are referring to was not held at Constantinople but in Nicaea. What was held in Constantinople was the mock council. It seems these two synods were completely mixed in their minds. Another grave mistake was that neither of the synods decreed that the service and adoration due to the Holy Trinity was to be given to the images of the saints.
The fathers of the Frankfurt synod often made profession of acting under the obedience of the Roman Pontiff and even Charlemagne in his letter to the Spanish bishops said that in the first place he had consulted the pontiff of the Apostolic See and that “I am united to the Apostolic See, and to the ancient Catholic traditions which have come down from the beginning of the new-born Church.” If that were the case how could they condemn the very sacred Synod of Nicaea which had been confirmed by the Apostolic See of Rome? When the Pope received the Caroline Books and the acts of the Frankfurt Synod, he rejected the condemnation of the Seventh Ecumenical Council.
If Charlemagne had intended to discredit Irene and the Greek Church he only succeeded in showing that the Franks lacked the sharpness and theological understandings of the Byzantines. They were not aware of the Christological dimensions of the Icon and this was probably due to the fact that they never had to fight against the Monophysite heresies and Islamic influences. He also succeeded in worsening the relations between east and west.
Back at Constantinople, things were not all roses. Although Irene was the Empress and was even officially called Emperor, her son Constantine the VI was the official Emperor. When he came of age, he showed that he was a weak and cruel man, an incompetent commander of troops and a man afraid of responsibility: Irene had no intention of giving up her authority. He tried by force to overthrow her, but without success and in 797 she removed him from the throne by ordering his blinding.
In the west following lengthy negotiations and preparations the new Pope Leo III crowned Charlemagne as Emperor in Rome, on Christmas day of 800. They claimed that the Imperial throne was vacant since the Emperor Constantine had been overthrown by his mother. Constantinople refused to recognize Charlemagne’s crowning and denounced it.
In 802, in order to reach a compromise, Charlemagne and the Pope dispatched to Constantinople ambassadors who brought a marriage proposal between Charlemagne and Irene. The ambassadors' message said that that was the best way for the two parts of the Roman Empire to become again united. But the proposal had come too late: in October 802 Irene was forced to abdicate, she was succeeded by a competent top bureaucrat Nicephorus. Nicephorus Logothete as he was known and his successor Michael Rhangabe remained loyal to the decisions of the Seventh Ecumenical Council. In Constantinople the monasteries were again becoming centres of religion and power, most notable the monastery called the Studion with its abbots Plato and his nephew St. Theodore. After the death of the Patriarch Tarasius a simple lay hermit again called Nicephorus was elected as Patriarch. The monks protested claiming that the election was not canonical. When the New Patriarch by orders of the Emperor violated Church regulations by restoring to the Church a previously excommunicated priest on his own authority, St. Theodore and the Studite monks broke communion with the Patriarch and were imprisoned.
In 813 Bulgarian military leaders overthrew the Emperor Michael and set Leo V the Armenian on the throne who was an Iconoclast. He didn’t immediately impose his beliefs, but after a year in 814 he demanded the patriarch to either prohibit the liturgical veneration of Icons or prove that they were legitimate. There doesn’t seem to be much of a debate because the Patriarch Nicephorus was exiled and replaced with a layman Theodore in 815. The New Patriarch quickly called a council at Agia Sophia and confirmed the Iconoclastic mock council of 754 and rejected the Seventh. He then prohibited the veneration of Icons and the Second Iconoclastic period began. This time however, the Orthodox opposition was more solid with St. Theodore the Studite as the new defender of the images. He organized a procession for Palm Sunday in which 1000 monks carrying Icons took part. St. Theodore was summoned to the council of Agia Sophia, but he refused to go as long as the legitimate Patriarch was exiled. As a result Theodore himself was exiled.
St. Theodore is also well known for his treatise that he wrote on the Holy Icons. He took all the arguments used by the Iconoclasts and answered them with the Orthodox answers formulated by the fathers and especially those formulated by St. John of Damascus, but he also went one step further. The Iconoclasts claimed that any image of Christ must be of the same nature as Christ, so his image portrayed both his human and divine natures which was absurd. St. Theodore defined how the natures are not portrayed at all, but that the Icon shares in the Hypostasis of the person. In Orthodox doctrine God has one essence (nature) and three hypostasis (persons). Christ and the Holy Spirit have the same nature as the Father. Christ on the other hand also became a human so that he also has a human nature. But now in the human form Christ is not a different person, he is still the second person of the Holy Trinity. Christ has two natures but only one hypostasis in other words he is only one person. In helping us to understand how the Icon participates in the hypostasis and not the nature, St.Theodore the Studite gave us an example by using the image of a seal on a ring and its imprint. He said that if we take a ring which has carved upon it the image of the Emperor and make an imprint with the ring in wax or clay, the imprint would be the same in both the wax and the clay, but the two would still be different from each other because they are made of different materials. The wax has the image of the Emperor but it is still wax, and the clay has the image of the Emperor but it is still clay. In this same way, they are also different from the ring, which is the original (prototype). Neither the wax nor the clay image can be the ring; the only thing that all three share together is the image of the Emperor. It is the same with Christ and His Icon: the Icon is the image, or as in the case with the ring, it is the imprint, but it cannot be more than this, that is, it cannot be His human body or His divine nature.
In 820 Leo the Armenian was murdered by his own soldiers, and was replaced by the equally impious though tolerant emperor Michael II Traulos (the Stammerer). The new emperor freed all the Orthodox Fathers and confessors from prison, but he prohibited icon veneration in the capital. He was himself an Iconoclast, but he wanted to reconcile the Orthodox and Iconoclasts by bringing them together in a council. St. Theodore refused to meet his enemies and demanded that the question of Icons should be submitted to the judgement of old Rome. In his letter to the western emperor Louis the Pious, Michael wrote that he allowed the use of holy images but refused to venerate them liturgically, which he felt was a practice that had degenerated into superstition. A council was held in Paris in 825 which was acceptable to both emperors but not to the Pope who was at that time Pascal I. What happened at this synod is not altogether clear, but its seems that this council also rejected the Seventh Ecumenical Council accepted by the Pope and further charged the Pontiff with having commanded men to adore superstitiously images and asking the reigning Pontiff to correct the errors of his predecessors.
The emperor Michael the Stammerer died and was succeeded by his son Theophilus in 829. Theophilus was considered a brilliant army leader, a good administrator, a great builder and art lover, but he lacked understanding when it came to religious matters. Probably influenced by the Patriarch John the Grammarian, he convoked a council in 832 to be held in the Church of the Mother of God known as Blachernae in Constantinople. The council was again called to renew the Iconoclastic decrees. The Orthodox responded by arguing the legitimacy of the liturgical veneration of Icons. The other Patriarchs of the east also responded by sending a letter to the emperor which was a treatise in favour of Icons. Irritated by this opposition Theophilus took measures to rid the churches and private homes of Icons and once again the prisons were filled with bishops monks and iconographers. The persecution however was limited to the capital and the surrounding area.
Theophilus died in 842 and with him died the Iconoclast persecution. Power passed into the hands of his wife Theodora and her three year old son Michael. Throughout the persecution Theodora had remained faithful to Orthodoxy and had secretly venerated icons. She wanted to re-establish the Icons in the Churches, but first had to overcome certain obstacles. After a year of preparations, Theodora convoked a Council and when the Patriarch John the Grammarian refused to take part, she had him deposed and replaced by Methodius who was a confessor of Orthodoxy and highly regarded in Constantinople. The council proclaimed the canons of all the Seven Ecumenical Councils and proved the legitimacy of venerating Icons. The Iconoclasts and all heretics were finally condemned. The only thing that Theodora asked for was that the memory of her husband should not be blackened with an anathema which she was granted.

With the final victory of the Orthodox there remained only one more thing to do and that was to celebrate this great event. It is this victory that we celebrate every year on the first Sunday of Lent. The feast then is a celebration of the victory of the true faith over all the heresies and errors that the Church has had to do battle with. At the end of the Liturgy the priest will stand by the royal Doors and say in a loud voice: “A yearly thanksgiving is due to God on account of that day when we recovered the Church of God, with the manifestation of the pious dogmas and the overthrowing of the blasphemies of wickedness.” After this a procession with the holy Icons is made around the Church and at intervals the priests says petitions on behalf of all those that defended the Orthodox faith. When he reaches the main entrance again, he reads extracts from the synodical decree of the Seventh Ecumenical Council. The service is said in an abbreviated form leaving out the 60 anathemas against the various heretics from the third to the fourteenth century.