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Three Millennia of Greek Literature

Alexander Schmemann

3. The Age Of The Ecumenical Councils (50 pages)













From Schmemann's A History of the Orthodox Church
Page 2

Metropolitan councils decided general matters; they were the court of appeals for complaints against the local bishop and regulated relations between bishops, changed boundaries of bishoprics if necessary, and so forth. All the bishops of a province under the chairmanship of the metropolitan participated in the consecration of new bishops. Decrees of the councils concerning Church structure, discipline, and such matters received the name of canon (rule); and starting with the fourth century, collections of canons began to appear. For example, in that century eighty-five so-called apostolic canons were widely distributed, and they form the foundation of the Orthodox canonical tradition to the present day. The canons of the ecumenical councils were gradually added to them, as were those of the local councils having general ecclesiastical significance, such as the Antiochene council of 341, mentioned in the preceding chapter. The canonical collections received their final form much later, but study of the canons even at this early stage demonstrates the gradual development of Church structure. We may note here that the Second Ecumenical Council concentrated attention solely on the Eastern half of the empire, and from this time the difference in canonical evolution between East and West becomes fully discernible.

Nicaea had taken note and sanctioned the form of the universal unity of the Church, its catholicity, as it had evolved toward the end of the third century. This did not hold back the development of form, however; in the course of the fourth century we see an increasingly definite coordination of Church structure with that of the state. The empire was divided into “dioceses,” and the second rule of the Ecumenical Council of 381 notes a corresponding division of the Church, too, into dioceses: the ecclesiastical region of Egypt, with its center in Alexandria; the East, centered at Antioch; Pontus, centered at Caesarea of Cappadocia; Asia, centered at Ephesus; and Thrace, at Heraclea. In this way the previous structure was combined, as it were, with the new, in which the decisive factor became the civic importance of the city. Dioceses were in turn divided into “provinces,” and the latter into “eparchies”; we must remember that all these terms are taken from Roman administrative terminology.
Later the principle according to which “the administration of Church affairs must follow civil and rural administration” was officially sanctioned by Church rule.[5]


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