It Is Not About Numbers

Orthodox, Orthodoxy, and the Lord’s Vindication of a Courageous Simple Monk Who ‘Faced Down’ the “Slick Orthodox Goliath” of His Day

by †Fr. Dr. Photios (W)

But you say– they are many and we may be few, so few… Remember the Saviour’s words: “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”

Numbers are irrelevant. Is it possible for the vast majority to be wrong? Certainly. Let us recall such an era where one of the greatest Orthodox Saints was persecuted by all five of the ancient patriarchate sees. He faced their hierarchical armada alone as a monk not even entitled to celebrate the Holy Mysteries. That great Saint was St. Maximus the Confessor (+21 January 662).

All the ancient patriarchal sees of the East had acceded to a compromise confession of our Lord’s Incarnation put forward by the Monothelites that also confessed His divine and human natures had but one will, the divine– simply, a variant of the heresy of Monophysitism. Maximus, a simple monk, not even ordained as a hieromonk, meaning he could not celebrate the Mysteries, refused to ‘go along with’ this compromise, to enter into communion with the “official church hierarchy”. The exact details of his encounters with his tormentors and torturers are too extensive to give here. We will concentrate on his courage and conviction, his ‘stand and deliver’ in the face of fire and his staunch upholding of Holy Orthodoxy no matter what… His is the highest example of true Orthodoxy. Christ expects no less of all of us. Will we measure up?

St.Maximus the Confessor:

The official hierarchy sent a delegation to interrogate him announcing they had been sent by the Patriarch of Constantinople. They reminded Maximus that Byzantium (Constantinople), Rome, Antioch, Alexandria and Jerusalem were all in unity on this compromise issue. What ecclesiastical power! All five patriarchates including the Mother Church of Jerusalem. How could their ecclesiastical decisions on this issue be ‘wrong’? How could one simple monk be right as opposed to them? (And yet he was.)

St. Maximus refused to change his position maintaining that their confession must adhere to the “true and saving confession of the Faith” for which Christ called Peter blessed and declared He would found His Church upon it. Apparently, they had misrepresented Rome’s position. It was maintaining Orthodoxy.

The Saint was saying that their strength in unity needed to correspond to the “true and saving confession of the faith” - it had to be divine Truth!

Some time later during his last interrogation by the Byzantine authorities, the Saint still refused to enter into communion with the Throne of Constantinople. It is fitting we close this discussion with it:

...they have excommunicated themselves from the Church many times over and accused each other of erroneous thinking. In addition to having excommunicated themselves from the Church, they have been deposed and deprived of the priesthood at the local council which took place recently in Rome. What Mysteries, then, can they perform? Or what spirit will descend upon those who are ordained by them?

“Then you alone will be saved, and all others will perish?” they objected.

To this the Saint replied,

When all the people in Babylon were worshipping the golden idol, the Three Holy Children did not condemn anyone to perdition. They did not concern themselves with the doings of others, but took care only for themselves, lest they should fall away from true piety. In precisely the same way, when Daniel was cast away into the lion’s den, he did not condemn any of those who, fulfilling the law of Darius, did not wish to pray to God, but he kept in mind his own duty, and desired rather to die than to sin against his conscience by transgressing the Law of God. God forbid that I should condemn anyone or say that I alone am being saved! However, I shall sooner agree to die than to apostatize in any way from the true Faith and thereby suffer torments of conscience.

“But what will you do,” inquired the envoys, “when the Romans are united to the Byzantines? Yesterday, indeed, two delegates arrived from Rome and tomorrow, the Lord’s day, they will communicate the Holy Mysteries with the Patriarch.”

The Saint replied,

Even if the whole universe holds communion with the Patriarch, I will not communicate with him. For I know from the writings of the holy Apostle Paul: the Holy Spirit declares that even the angels would be anathema if they should begin to preach another Gospel, introducing some new teaching.

The Apostle Paul to the Galatians:

I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel:

Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ.

But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.

As we said before, so say I now again. If any man preach any other gospel unto you than ye have received, let him be accursed.

For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ.

But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man.

For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.

Holy Orthodoxy demonstrated that this simple unordained monk was the Orthodox one:

When the Sixth Ecumenical Council was finally convened, among those condemned for heresy were four Patriarchs of Constantinople, one Pope of Rome, one Patriarch of Alexandria, two Patriarchs of Antioch and a multitude of other Metropolitans, Archbishops and Bishops.

During all those years, that one simple monk was right, and all those notable bishops were wrong.”

+ In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

source has footnotes:

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