A HOMILY FOR THE FEAST OF THE
About a Miracle of
and Contemporary Ecumenism
Brothers and sisters!
Today we celebrate the memorial of one of Christ’s greatest martyrs, the all-praised Euphemia, who suffered in about the year 304, during the reign of Diocletian, in Chalcedon, a city of Asia Minor across the Bosphorus from Constantinople. Having adorned her soul with the “excellencies of virginity,” the maiden Euphemia did not hesitate to serve Christ despite the peril of the times, and was seized with other Christians while praying in a house-church. Putting aside “womanly weakness,” she steadfastly confessed that she was a Christian. For this, Euphemia was subjected to horrible tortures. The Proconsul Priscus, Governor of Chalcedon, had her spun on a wheel over knives that sliced her flesh, thrown into a fiery furnace, and subjected to other gruesome torments typically employed by the pagan Romans; but the Lord preserved her. Finally, wild animals were released in the arena in the hope that they would kill and eat Euphemia, but they merely licked her feet. A bear, however, did hurt her foot, and as blood flowed from the wound, Christ summoned His bride to heaven. Euphemia’s parents buried her remains and, after the persecution came to an end, the relics were enshrined in the cathedral of Chalcedon.
The relics of the holy Euphemia were renowned throughout the Empire because at times blood would flow from them as from a newly wounded body; thus, the saint’s special title of the “All-famed.” The greatmartyr’s grave consisted of a marble sarcophagus on the outside and a wooden coffin on the inside. On the left side of the sarcophagus, there was a small opening, just big enough to admit a hand. The window was normally locked, and was opened only at certain special times. On these occasions, after the Vigil, but before the Liturgy, the Bishop would use a sponge attached to a long iron rod to absorb the blood, which would then be squeezed out into a special vessel. Seeing the blood, the congregation would shout the praise of God and His holy greatmartyr. Everyone would smear the blood upon himself as a blessing and for the healing of his infirmities. The blood, which was highly fragrant, would flow not only on this day, the feast of the saint, but at other times, especially when the Bishop was a man of God-pleasing life. In those days Saint Euphemia appeared in dreams and visions to many people, with the result that the cathedral of Chalcedon was always crowded with devout visitors from near and far, but especially from Constantinople.
During the early and middle years of the fifth century, there lived in Constantinople an archimandrite named Eutyches who denied that Christ had two natures after the Incarnation and refused to accept that Christ was consubstantial with mankind. Eutyches found a powerful ally in Dioscorus, the Patriarch of Alexandria. Many clergy and laity, including highly placed government officials, were led astray by Eutyches’ errors, especially after a false council held at Ephesus in 449 confirmed these errors. This, even though Saint Flavian, the right-believing Patriarch of Constantinople, had earlier condemned and defrocked Eutyches, an action upheld by Pope Saint Leo the Great. At the “Robber Council” of Ephesus, Saint Flavian was not only unjustly deposed, but was brutally murdered by supporters of Eutyches and Dioscorus, who in this way set off months of unrest in the heart of the Eastern Empire.
As a result of the turmoil, the pious sovereigns Marcian and Pulcheria convened an œcumenical synod at Chalcedon in 451, which met in the Cathedral of Saint Euphemia. Six-hundred and thirty holy fathers attended it. Presiding over the council were Anatolius, Patriarch of Constantinople; Juvenal, Patriarch of Jerusalem; and the legates sent by Pope Saint Leo. Eutyches, Dioscorus, and Maximus, Patriarch of Antioch, were among the many heretics present.
As one might expect, there were heated debates at the synod, and neither side was willing to capitulate. In order to effect a resolution, Saint Anatolius, after consulting with the other holy fathers, proposed to the heretics that each party write out on a scroll its confession of faith, that the scrolls be sealed, that they be placed in the tomb of the holy greatmartyr Euphemia, and that all should fast and pray for three days, begging the saint to reveal which confession was correct. Both sides agreed to this. After the scrolls had been placed in the grave, the sarcophagus secured with the imperial seal, and a guard set, the three-day fast commenced.
On the fourth day, the Emperor and the bishops opened the grave and found the scroll with the Orthodox confession in the passionbearer’s hand and the heretical confession beneath her feet. But what was even more amazing was that at that moment the saint, as though alive, stretched out her hand, offering the Orthodox scroll to the Emperor and Patriarch. Seeing this, the Orthodox were filled with ineffable joy and sent up glory to God and to the holy greatmartyr. After everyone had lovingly venerated the relics of Saint Euphemia, the Orthodox faith was acclaimed as God-confirmed, since it had been so clearly upheld by the martyr; but heretical misbelief was condemned with the anathema. Many of the heretics came over to the side of the Orthodox, while the incorrigible were deprived of their rank and sent into exile. From that time on iconographers began depicting Saint Euphemia holding the scroll in her right hand: a constant reminder of the greatmartyr’s support of the truth of the Orthodox doctrine of the holy fathers of the Œcumenical Council of Chalcedon; namely, that Christ has two perfect natures after the Incarnation, one human and one divine. It also served as a reminder of the all-famed one’s condemnation of the heresy of Monophysitism, the error that Christ has only one nature after the Incarnation.
Unfortunately, this was not the end of Monophysitism, which lives on to this day, although in a somewhat less severe form than in the original teaching of Eutyches. Monophysitism or “Miaphysitism,” as its supporters like to call it, continues to be the official doctrine of the Coptic, Armenian, Ethiopian, and Syrian Jacobite churches.
Because the Protestant sects which are members of the World Council of Churches and, to a lesser degree, the Roman Catholic Church are moving away from Orthodoxy rather than towards it, the initiatives of World Orthodoxy towards union with the Western heresies have stalled recently. The Monophysite churches, however, are more traditional, so the “Orthodox” Ecumenists continue to cultivate the closest relations with these bodies. As is well-known, the Patriarchates of Antioch and Alexandria have gone so far as to endorse officially partial intercommunion with certain of these groups for years now. Other member-churches of World Orthodoxy engage in joint prayers with the Monophysites, despite the fact that Monophysitism falls under the anathemas not just of the Fourth, but of the later Œcumenical Councils. Such prayer is strictly forbidden by the canons of the Orthodox Church.
One of the principal reasons for our separation from World Orthodoxy is the direct involvement of most of its member-churches in the Ecumenical Movement, and the acceptance of that involvement by the rest, for example by the ROCOR-MP. Although, as I said, the intensity of ecumenical relations with the Western denominations has dropped somewhat in recent years, the same cannot be said with respect to dealings with the Monophysites. A good example of this is how, in June of this year, Serbian Patriarch Irenej, during a visit to Syria, joined John, Patriarch of Antioch, in an ecumenical service with Monophysite Jacobite clergy, including the Monophysite patriarch. In addition to the joint prayers with the Monophysites, Patriarch Irenej proclaimed that his Serbian Church and the Syrian Monophysite Church were, in fact, “one Church,” and that the “theologians of both churches agreed that we confess the same belief in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word.”
On this day when we commemorate the holy greatmartyr Euphemia, the champion of Orthodoxy against Monophysitism even as she lay in the grave, we would do well to consider exactly what that would mean…
Because the possibility of union between World Orthodoxy and any of the Western denominations has receded in recent years, we sometimes are apt to think of Ecumenism as a less significant problem than in the past. But the truth of the matter is that partial union between World Orthodoxy and the Monophysites has already been achieved. While the Monophysite groups are in numerous ways closer to Orthodoxy than are any of the Western denominations, with respect to their Christology — their doctrine concerning the Saviour — they are further than many, certainly further than the Roman Catholic Church. To understand the full gravity of this situation, it is necessary to remember also that few of the Western groups fall so explicitly under the anathemas of not one, but several œcumenical councils, as do the Monophysites.
By the prayers of the holy greatmartyr Euphemia the All-praised and of our celestial patron Saint Maximus, defenders of our blameless faith against the heresies of Eutyches, Dioscorus, and their successors, may we always keep a healthy distance from World Orthodoxy until the grievous problem of Ecumenism is fully resolved. Equally, may we ever remain steadfast in True Orthodoxy. Amen.