There have been seven Ecumenical Councils in the true
Orthodox Christian Church: 1. Nicea; 2. Constantinople; 3. Ephesus; 4.
Chalcedon; 5. the second at Constantinople; 6. the third at Constantinople; 7.
the second at Nicea.
The first Ecumenical Council.
The First Ecumenical Council was convened in 325
A.D., in the city of Nicea, under the Emperor Constantine I. This Council was called
because of the false doctrine of the Alexandrian priest Arius, who rejected the
Divine nature and pre-eternal birth of the second person of the Holy Trinity,
namely the Divine Son of God the Father, and taught that the Son of God is only
the highest creation.
318 bishops participated in this Council, among
whom were St. Nicholas the Wonderworker, St. James, bishop of Nisibis, St.
Spiridon of Tremithus, and St. Athanasius, who was at that time a deacon.
The Council condemned and repudiated the heresy of
Arius and affirmed the immutable truth, the dogma that the Son of God is true
God, born of God the Father before all ages, and is eternal, as is God the
Father; He was begotten, and not made, and is of one essence with God the
Father. In order that all Orthodox Christians may know exactly the true
teaching of the faith, it was clearly and concisely summarized in the first of
seven sections of the Creed, or Symbol of Faith.
At this Council, it was resolved to celebrate
Pascha on the first Sunday after the first full moon following the spring
equinox, after the Jewish Passover. It also determined that priests should be
married, and it established many other rules or canons.
The Second Ecumenical
The Second Ecumenical Council was convened in the
year 381, in the city of Constantinople, under the Emperor Theodosius I. This Council was convoked
against the false teaching of the Arian bishop of Constantinople,
Macedonius, who rejected the deity of the third Person of the Holy Trinity, the
Holy Spirit. He taught that the Holy Spirit is not God, and called Him a
creature, or a created power, and therefore subservient to God the Father and
God the Son, like an angel.
There were 150 bishops present at the Council,
among whom were Gregory the Theologian, who presided over the Council, Gregory
of Nyssa, Meletius of Antioch, Amphilochius of Iconium and Cyril of Jerusalem.
At the Council, the Macedonian heresy was
condemned and repudiated. The Council affirmed as a dogma the equality and the
single essence of God the Holy Spirit with God the Father and God the Son.
The Council also supplemented the Nicene Creed, or
"Symbol of Faith," with five Articles in which is set forth its
teaching about the Holy Spirit, about the Church, about the Mysteries, about
the resurrection of the dead, and the life in the world to come. Thus they
composed the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, which serves as a guide to the
Church for all time.
The Third Ecumenical Council.
The Third Ecumenical Council was convened in the
year 431 A.D., in the city of Ephesus, under Emperor Theodosius II. The Council was called
because of the false doctrine of Nestorius, Archbishop of Constantinople, who
profanely taught that the Most-holy Virgin Mary simply gave birth to the man
Christ, with whom then God united morally and dwelled in Him, as in a temple,
as previously He had dwelled in Moses and other prophets. Therefore, Nestorius
called the Lord Jesus Christ, God-bearing, and not God incarnate; and the Holy
Virgin was called the Christ-bearer (Christotokos) and not the God-bearer
The 200 bishops present at the Council condemned
and repudiated the heresy of Nestorius and decreed that one should recognize
that united in Jesus Christ at the time of the incarnation were two natures,
divine and human, and that one should confess Jesus Christ as true God and true
Man, and the Holy Virgin Mary as the God-bearer (Theotokos).
The Council also affirmed the
Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, and strictly prohibited making any changes or
additions to it.
The Fourth Ecumenical
The Fourth Ecumenical Council was convened in 451
A.D., in the city of Chalcedon, under Emperor Marcian. The Council met to challenge the
false doctrine of an archimandrite of a Constantinople
monastery, Eu-tychius, who rejected the human nature of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Refuting one heresy and defending the divinity of Jesus Christ, he himself fell
into an extreme, and taught that in the Lord Jesus Christ human nature was
completely absorbed in the Divine, and therefore it followed that one need only
recognize the Divine nature. This false doctrine is called Monophysitism, and
followers of it are called Monophysites.
The Council of 650 bishops condemned and
repudiated the false doctrine of Eutychius and defined the true teaching of the
Church, namely that our Lord Jesus Christ is perfect God, and as God He is
eternally born from God. As man, He was born of the Holy Virgin and in every
way is like us, except in sin. Through the incarnation, birth from the Holy
Virgin, divinity and humanity are united in Him as a single Person, infused and
immutable, thus reputing Eutychius; indivisible and inseparable, reputing Nestorius.
The Fifth Ecumenical Council.
The Fifth Ecumenical Council was convened in 553
A.D., in the city of Constantinople, under the famous Emperor, Justinian I. It was called to
quell a controversy between Nestorians and Eutychians. The major points of contention
were the well-known works of the Antiochian school of the Syrian church,
entitled "The Three Chapters." Theodore of Mopsuestia, Theodoret of
Cyrus, and Ibas of Edessa, clearly expressed the Nestorian error, although at
the Fourth Ecumenical Council, nothing had been mentioned of their works.
Nestorians, in argument with Eutychians
(Monophysites), referred to these works, and Eutychians found in them an excuse
to reject the Fourth Ecumenical Council and to slander the universal Orthodox
Church, charging that it was deviating toward Nestorianism.
The Council was attended by 165 bishops, who
condemned all three works and Theodore of Mopsuestia himself, as not having
repented. Concerning the other two, censure was limited only to their Nestorian
works. They themselves were pardoned. They renounced their false opinions and
died in peace with the Church. The Council reiterated its censure of the
heresies of Nestorius and Eutychius.
The Sixth Ecumenical Council.
The Sixth Ecumenical Council was convened in the
year 680 A.D., in the city of Constantinople, under the Emperor Constantine IV, and was composed of 170
The council was convoked against the false
doctrine of heretics, Monothelites, who, although they recognized in Jesus
Christ two natures, God and man, ascribed to Him only a Divine will.
After the Fifth Ecumenical Council, agitation
provoked by the Monothelites continued and threatened the Greek Emperor with
great danger. Emperor Heraclius, wishing reconciliation, decided to incline
Orthodoxy to concession to the Monothelites, and by the power of his office,
ordered recognition that in Jesus Christ is one will and two energies.
Among the defenders and advocates of the true
teachings of the Church, were St. Sophronius, Patriarch of Jerusalem, and a
Constantinople, St. Maximus the Confessor, who for his firmness in the
faith had suffered having his tongue cut out and his hand chopped off.
The Sixth Ecumenical Council condemned and
repudiated the heresy of Monothelitism, and formulated the recognition that in
Jesus Christ are two natures, Divine and human, and in these two natures there
are two wills, but that the human will in Christ is not against, but rather is
submissive to His Divine will.
It is worthy of attention that at this Council
excommunication was pronounced against a number of other heretics, and also
against the Roman Pope Honorius, as one who acknowledged the teaching of one
will. The formulation of the Council was signed by a Roman delegation,
consisting of Presbyters Theodore and Gregory, and Deacon John. This clearly
shows that the highest power in Christendom belongs to the Ecumenical Council,
and not to the Pope of Rome.
After eleven years, the Council again opened a
meeting in the imperial palace, called Cupola Hall (in Greek, Trullos), in
order to resolve questions of primary importance pertaining to the Church
hierarchy. In this regard, it supplemented the Fifth and Sixth Ecumenical
Councils, and therefore is called the Fifth-Sixth (Quintsext) Synod.
This Council established canons by which the
Church must be guided, namely, 85 canons of the holy Apostles, canons of the
six Ecumenical and seven local councils, and canons of thirteen Fathers of the
Church. These canons afterward were supplemented by canons of the Seventh
Ecumenical Council and another two local councils, and comprise the so-called
"Nomocanon," in English, "The Rudder," which is the
foundation of Orthodox Church government.
Here several innovations of the Roman Church were
condemned as not being in agreement with the spiritual decisions of the
Ecumenical Church, namely, the requirement that priests and deacons be
celibate, a strict fast on Saturdays of the Great Fast, and the representation
of Christ in the form of a lamb, or in any way other than He appeared on the
The Seventh Ecumenical
The Seventh Ecumenical Council was convened in 787
A.D., in the city of Nicea, under the Empress Irene, widow of the Emperor Leo IV, and
was composed of 367 fathers.
The Council was convened against the iconoclastic
heresy, which had been raging for sixty years before the Council, under the
Greek Emperor Leo III, who, wishing to convert the Mohammedans to Christianity,
considered it necessary to do away with the veneration of icons. This heresy
continued under his son, Constantine V Copronymus, and his grandson, Leo IV.
The Council condemned and repudiated the
iconoclastic heresy and determined to provide and to put in the holy churches,
together with the likeness of the honored and Life-giving Cross of the Lord,
holy icons, to honor and render homage to them, elevating the soul and heart to
the Lord God, the Mother of God and the Saints, who are represented in these
icons. After the Seventh Ecumenical Council, persecution of the holy icons
arose anew under the Emperors Leo V, of Armenian origin, Michael II, and
Theophilus, and for twenty-five years disturbed the Church.
Veneration of the holy icons was finally restored
and affirmed by the local synod of Constantinople in 843 A.D., under the Empress Theodora.
At this council, in thanksgiving to the Lord God
for having given the Church victory over the iconoclasts and all heretics, the
celebration of the Triumph of Orthodoxy was established on the first Sunday of
Great Lent, which is celebrated by the Orthodox Church throughout the world.
Note: The Roman Catholic Church, in addition to
these seven Councils, recognizes more than 20 "ecumenical" councils.
Incorrectly included in this number were councils in the Western Church, held after the separation of the Western Church. Protestants, in spite of the example of the Apostles and
acknowledgment of the entire Christian Church, do not recognize a single one of
the Ecumenical Councils.
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