With us, like us, and for us…
These were the words of Saint Dioscorus, the Champion of Orthodoxy and 25th Pope of Alexandria concerning our Saviour. This excerpt is from “The Story of the Copts”, volume I, by Iris Habib el-Masri.
When Kyrillos the Great went to his reward, the Copts elected Dioscorus to succeed him and became the 25th Head of their Church. He was well-liked, trusted, and respected by his own people. He had accompanied his predecessor to the third Ecumenical Council and was quite aware of what had transpired there and of the attitudes of some of the churches towards the Church of Alexandria. Because of the influence of the court, and the prominence of Abba Kyrillos, those attitudes seemed to have subsided. In fact they had only been held in abeyance, and were to resurge in full strength as the events in the life of Abba Dioscorus were to prove.
As described by one of the great church historians, Dioscorus was “a man of excellent disposition and much beloved for his humility and also for his fiery zeal for the faith, his great courage, and his presence of mind,”1 virtues which stood him in good stead during the times of tribulation he was destined to face. The specific event which started the series of actions and reactions that involved Dioscorus and finally led to the rupture between the Churches of Africa and Asia and their sister churches in the West, was the appearance of a new heresy promulgated by a man called Eutyches. This Eutyches was an ascetic who had spent several decades in strict monastic training, and was superior of a monastery in Constantinople. He opposed Nestorianism vehemently, and in his ardent wish to eradicate it, expressed a counter view about Christ that erred from the Orthodox view established by Nicea and the two subsequent ecumenical Councils. He denied the physical body of the Christ altogether, and said that He had passed through the womb of the Virgin in an ethereal fashion.
The erroneous view of Eutyches was reported to Flavianus, Bishop of Constantinople, who wrote to him immediately point out where he erred and asked him to cease from spreading this teaching. At the same time, Flavianus, having heard that Eutyches had written to Leo I, Bishop of Rome, wrote to him also. Leo answered Flavianus by what is known as the ‘Tomes’, or an exposition of the Dogma. The expressions of Leo in his Tomos savoured of Nestorianism.
When all his friendly efforts failed, and served only to publicise the Eutychian heresy, Flavianus convoked a local council to discuss the controversy. Florentius was imperial deputy at this council. Euytches was duly thrice summoned; he ignored the first two but answered the third. By the time he arrived, the Council was holding its seventh session. As soon as he appeared, Eusebius, Bishop of Dorylaeum, accused him of being a heresiarch. This accusation was followed by the reading of Leo’s Tomos. Eutyches was then asked to declare his faith. Instead of giving a direct answer, he presented a written confession so full of ambiguous terms that it angered the convening bishops.
Florentius, the imperial commissioner, intervened, requesting Eutyches to answer as clearly as possible. When he did not do so, the Council decreed that he was to be excommunicated. The verdict based on Leo’s Tomos was more Nestorian than Orthodox, and greatly alarmed the people of Constantinople. Eutyches, sensing this popular anger, took advantage of it and wrote appeals to Emperor Theodosius, to the bishops of Rome, Alexandria, Jerusalem and Thessalonica. The Roman Prelate sent him the following answer: “To the beloved son Eutyches the Priest, from Leo the Bishop – We have gathered from your letter that some people of wicked aims have once more asserted the heresy of Nestorius. We are glad because of your zeal and your care in this matter. We doubt not, therefore, that God Who granted us the Universal Faith will succour you in your endeavour. As for us, having heard of the hypocrisy of those who are following this heresy, we are bound by God’s Grace to cut off this evel. And may God the Almighty guard you, my son.”
Upon hearing that Eutyches had appealed to the bishops of other churches, Flavianus thought it fit to write to them also to explain and justify his actions. The answer he received from Leo stated that Eutyches had complained of having been unjustly excommunicated and ended on this wise: “…Eutyches promised in is letter to correct the error he committed against the Doctrine. In this case, we should evade all discord and uphold Christian Love with no aim other than the Truth. We know what Eutyches did, but he seems to be worthy of the sacerdotal honour, even though denuded of all wisdom and knowledge.” At the same time, the Roman Bishop write to the Emperor proclaiming to him that he rejoiced because “the Emperor, not only had an imperial heart, but a sacerdotal one too.”
Pursuing the matter, the party of Eutyches succeeded in persuading Emperor Theodosius to convoke a general council. Then, in anticipation of this assembly, Eutyches wrote again to several bishops among whom was Abba Dioscorus, hoping thereby to move the whole church in his favour before the council actually assembled. The site selected by the Emperor for this Council was Ephesus again, and the date fixed for its inaugurationwas August first, A.D. 449. When he sent his circular letter to all the bishops, inviting them to the Council, the Emperor sent in addition three letters to Abba Dioscorus: one requesting him to preside over the council; another making an express demand that Theodoret the Nestorian bishop of Cyrrhus be excluded from the council because he had not repented after his deposition by the third ecumenical council; and the third letter was a special invitation to the Egyptian Archimandrite Barsumas, to attend and represent the archimandrites of the Orient at the Council.
The Emperor’s goal in convoking the council was to reconsider the sentence passed on Eutyches by the Flavian council, thus deeming it a court of appeal.
Upon hearing of the imperial decision to hold this council, Leo was filled with misgivings. He wrote to the Emperor saying that it would have been preferable not to convoke a council. He also sent several letters to Flavianus urging him to remain true to the Faith, and at the same time deal kindly with Eutyches. In addition he sent a letter to Pulcheria, eldest sister of the Emperor, which he began by lauding her on her great zeal, then added that Eutyches fell into the heresy by ignorance rather than wickedness, and saying that if he came to himself he should be pardoned.
Yet, even though he would have preferred to have the Emperor revoke the convocation of a council, when the time for it cam Leo sent three delegates to attend it, for he knew just as well as all others, that the Emperor of Constantinople alone had the prerogative of convoking an ecumenical council. And after the legates of Rome had left, he wrote a few lines to Flavianus announcing to himtheir departure and adding: “to sum up, the council convoked by the Emperor was not altogether necessary.”
The council opened its sessions a week later than the scheduled date. “The Patriarch of Alexandria presided as well by virtue of his dignity as by the express demand of the Emperor.” Juvenal of Jerusalem and Domnus of Antioch were also charged by the Emperor to share the presidency with Abba Dioscorus. From the acts of this second Ephesian council, it is evident that one hundred and thirty bishops attended it.
The Emperor appointed two imperial deputies to attend the Council, and dispatched a letter to Proclus, Pro-consul of Asia, asking him to support with his authority the two imperial commissioners, and to defend the council against the intrigues of the Nestorians. At the opening session, the Roman delegates delayed in arriving. When the council sent for them, Dolcitus answered: “The letters entrusted to us by Leo chief Bishop of Rome bade us attend the holy synod when examining the case of the priest, the God-loving Archimandrite Eutyches; and not to attend it while conferring on other matters.” Then John the chief notary began by reading the imperial letter of convocation, which also contained the Emperor’s wish that peace be established within the Church.
As soon as the reading ended, the delegates of the West declared that they carried a message from their Prelate. At this declaration, Abba Dioscorus exclaimed: “Let the message of our brother and Co-bishop Leo to this Council be read.” The chief notary, however, declared that there were other letters from the Emperor which should be read first. The delegates from the West acquiesced. Then Juvenal of Jerusalem ordered the reading of the imperial missives, one of which related to the admittance of the Archimandrite Barsumas into the council.
Abba Dioscorus then asked if there was any question concerning the Faith legated by the Fathers. All present replied that they strictly adhered to it. “In which case, declared Abba Dioscorus, we are not assembled to search into the Doctrine, but simply to examine the acts of the local council held by Flavianus.”
Here Eutyches was called upon to proclaim his faith. Instead of speaking, he handed to the chief notary a declaration of his faith in his own handwriting requesting him to rad it aloud; he said: “Since my youth, I diligently sought to live in retreat. Today I am exposed to a grave danger because in my strict fidelity to the Faith, and my refusal to admit any innovation. I sincerely uphold the faith declared at Nicea; and rely continuously on the writings legated to the Church by Abba Kyrillos of blessed memory.” No sooner had this name been mentioned than the Fathers declared that they all upheld the faith expounded so clearly by that Alexandrian Patriarch. Then John, chief notary resumed reading the confession of Eutyches, which said: “I believe in One God the
Almighty, Maker of the visible and the invisible; and in the Lord Jesus the Christ the Only Begotten Son – I mean that He is Consubstantial with the Father; by Him were all things made, in heaven and on earth; He is the One, Who, for us mankind and for our salvation, came down from heaven; He was incarnate and became man; He suffered and rose from the dead on the third day; He ascended up to heaven from whence He shall come again to judge the living and the dead.
“As for all those who say that there was a time when the Son was not, or that He was not before He was born, or that He was created out of nothing or that He is of a different substance, or that His two natures were mixed or mingled, – all those who say such things are excommunicated by the mouth of the Church Universal. This is the faith I declare, and which I have received from my fathers; in this faith was I born, and in it was I baptised and consecrated, and ordained priest; by it I lived unto this day and I shall uphold it until I depart from this life.”
Pondering this written confession, the assembled bishops found it clearly Orthodox. It was followed by an anathema on all heretics from Simeon the magician to Nestorius. After the anathemas, the document of Eutyches stated: “While I was living in this faith and persevering in prayers, Eusebius Bishop of Dorylaeum calumniated me before Flavianus the honoured Bishop of Constantinople, stating unustly that I was a heretic and beguiling me through some vain words. A council was held with the premeditated intention of degrading me whether I responded to its summons or not. This evil intention was made clear to me through the chief guard of the imperial office.”
Eutyches, then, affirmed by mouth that the minutes of the Flavian council were falsified, and appealed for justice. At this point Abba Dioscoruis requested the reading of the Flavian Council minutes. The bishops unanimously consented with the exception of the Roman legates who suggested reading the message sent by their own bishop. Eutyches interrupted; he explained hismistrust of the two Western legates because they were the friends of Flavianus. Consequently, it was decided to hear the minutes of the Flavian council (of Constantinople) on the proceedings of which both Flavianus and Eutyches presented written reports.
The reading of these reports followed and then Flavianus stood up to defend himself. For the second time his justification savoured of Nestoriansim, so much had Leo’s Tomos confused his thoughts.
Having heard both accuser and defendant, and discussing the case at length, Abba Dioscorus asked the bishops to pronounce their verdict. In answer, Juvenal of Jerusalem who was the first to speak said: “Since Eutyches confesses the Creed of Nicea and accepts what the Fathers declared in the great Council assembled in this same city, it is clear to me that he is an Orthodox. Therefore, I suggest that he be reconfirmed in is sacerdocy and in his abbotcy over his monks.” The council responded: “This is true and just.” Domnus of Antioch followed by saving: “When I received from Constantinople the verdict passed by Flavianus and his Council, I signed it, but after hearing the written declaration submitted to this council by Eutyches, I find that he is an Orthodox. For he clearly states that he upholds the Faith of the three hundred and eighteen assembled at Nicea as well as the Fathers who assembled in this city. In consequence, I consent to his worthiness of the priesthood and of the supervision of his monks.”
The first to sign the verdict were Juvenal of Stephen of Ephesus and Thasius of Caesarea of Cappadocia made similar statements concerning the orthodoxy of Eutyches and his fitness to be reinstated. The estimate of these four bishops was accepted by all those assembled with them an so they unanimously acquitted Eutyches. At this unanimity, Abba Dioscorus said: “I confirm the judgment of this holy council, and I decree that Eutyches be counted among the priests and resume being archmandrite of his monastery as before.” Jerusalem and Domnus of Antioch; the last was Barsumas the Archmandrite. Abba Dioscorus, after approving the affixed signatures, signed his own.
An inevitable consequence of the acquittal of Eutyches was the condemnation of Flavianus and those who signed with him, for the Orthodox Church had already established the principle that ex-communication was a two-edged sword, if passed unjustly must rebound on whoever pronounced it. The Fathers of Ephesus informed the Emperor, therefore that their verdict was the reinstatement of Eutyches and the excommunication of the seven bishops who had condemned him. Theodosius set his seal to it and banished Flavianus and his co- bishops.
Flavianus immediately resolved to make an appeal. He perceived that all the assembled bishops had signed his condemnation; that among them there were three who had consented with him to the ex-communication of Eutyches but had rescinded their verdict; that the bishops of Jerusalem and Antioch had also turned against him. Notwithstanding, he sent an encyclic letter to all the bishops of Orient and Occident, declaring to the Bishop of Rome specifically that he had relied on his Tomos when he condemned Eutyches.
As noted before the bishop of Rome had been unfavourably inclined towards the convocation of this second Council of Ephesus. He reacted to the appeal of Flavianus by writing a letter to Emperor Theodosius in which he strongly attacked what he unfairly called the ‘Dioscorian’ council, appealing to the Emperor to give his consent to the convocation of another council somewhere in Italy. To add pressure to his entreaty, Leo enlisted the aid of Valentinianbus III, Emperor of the West, his wife Empress Eudoxia, and his mother Galla Placida. Each of them wrote to the Emperor of the East endorsing Leo’s plea.
Emperor Theodosius answered each of them separately, saving that the second Ephesian council was “an assembly of pious bishops who had behaved according to the fear of God, and in conformity with the Orthodox Faith as I know for certainty. It would, therefore, be better that you do not interfere in the matter, hence why another council?”
Meantime, Leo persisted in his endeavour, and sent letters to the clergy of Constantinople, to its people and to its archmandrites, hoping thereby to provoke them. But all his efforts were fruitless because the Emperor, to emphasise his respect for the Dioscorian council, authorised the people of Constantinople to elect a new Bishop, entreating them to concentrate on an Orthodox, and evade all Nestorians. Accordingly Anatolius was chosen to fill the vacated chair.
This choice angered the Bishop of Rome because the new elect had originally been a deacon from Alexandria, and an apocrisiary of the Alexandrian Pope in Constantinople.
Abba Dioscorus presided over the ceremony of consecrating Anatolius Bishop of Constantinople, then set sail for his native shores.
Such was the state of affairs when Emperor Theodosius died heirless in A.D. 450. His eldest sister – Pulcheria – had the lust for power. So jealous had shebeen in guarding her father’s throne, that she had selected her brother’s wife for him. Also, she had taken the nun’s vow, enforcing it on her two younger sisters. All these measures had been aimed at barring the way before any would-be rival to her brother. When her brother’s wife bore him no children, Pulcheria urged him to marry another wife, heedless of the Christian ideal of monogamy. Theodosius, however, silenced her by seeking the counsel of the Egyptian Desert Fathers who advised him to maintain his principle of monogamy and he obeyed them.
Pulcheria, finding that all her efforts had been in vain and still avid for power, renounced her oath of virginity and married General Marcianus whom she raised to the throne. Her marriage was sanctioned by Leo who readily gave her his blessing, while all other bishops were not quite ready to validate such a marriage because it was in disregard of a sacred vow willingly taken.
Being of such mettle, Pulcheria could stand no power but her own, so she was insensately jealous of St. Mark’s Successor because f the authority he wielded. Thus her accession to the throne afforded Leo with the long-sought opportunity to hold the council for which he had vainly solicited Emperor Theodosius. He therefore sent a letter of congratulations to the new imperial couple at the end of which he suggested the convocation of a council. Each of them wrote him a separate answer.
Several other letters were also exchanged between the Bishop of Rome and Emperor Marcianus. Their special interest likes in the fact that they reveal the inward motives of Leo. Two of these letters were sent insuccession to the Emperor. In the first, he said: “From Leo the Bishop to Marcianus the Trumphant: Know, O King, that I have received your letter with great joy. I pondered over it and understood its symbols… Accept now this short letter carried to you by the deacons of Anatolius. Later on, by God’s Will, I shall send you another letter with my own delegates in which I will tell
you of all that is worthy concerning the holy churches and the concord between the venerable clergymen.”
The second letter which followed shortly after, stated: “From Leo the Bishop to Marcianus the Triumphant – Know, O King, that after I gave the answer to your monks… I received with joy the letter of your Tenderness… it was a source of great joy to me, for I gathered from it your resolve to amend Church affairs… Be it known unto you, O great king, that my reliance on God’s Guidance is coupled with my hope that through your love, matters will be straightened out. Now, therefore, I do entreat and implore you by the Mystery of Salvation, to strengthen your heart, and by your authority forbid any deluded ignorant dissenter from examining the Faith in his craftiness… It is neither fitting nor proper that we should revert to worldly discussions and search into the meaning of what ignorant men say and stray from the confirmed Truth as though there is some doubt with regard to It. It is not our duty to doubt Eutyches, whether he has erred because of his evil principles or not; we should not suspect the judgment of Dioscorus against Flavianus of blessed memory whether it was deceitful or not; but a number of bishops have repented and have made known to us the evil that has happened. They have asked to be forgiven for all their short-comings. Therefore, we should not investigate their faith, we should accept and forgive them.”“… It is not our duty to doubt Eutyches… we should not suspect the judgment of Dioscorus against Flavianus… we should not investigate their (the bishops’) faith, we should accept and forgive them…”
A deliberating reader may well wonder what interest motivated the Roman bishop to grant his forgiveness, or on what possible basis could forgiveness be justified without investigation? For what reason should a council be held, if he was neither doubting Eutyches nor suspecting the judgment of Dioscorus against Flavianus?…
All these first letters of Leo show that he advocated kindness towards Eutyches. It is not
astonishing that a bishop would taken such an attitude, but it certainly is astonishing to see how he forgot his own counsel when his delegates intrigued with some other bishops at Chalcedon against Abba Dioscorus, maliciously presumed that he supported Eutyches in his heresy.
After this correspondence, Marcianus declared his readiness to convoke a council. Leo then requested him to hold it in some place in Italy. This request was refused, for Marcianus used his prerogative as Emperor of the East, to fix the time and place he chose.
Leo, however, retracted this request for a council, and sent the following answer: “From Leo the Bishop to Marcianus the Triumphant – I ask of you to delay a little the convocation of the requested council for the reconciliation of the churches of the Orient because certain bishops who cannot come now because of the wars raging in their countries may be able to attend later on without fear or worry. I know by your devotion that you give first place to heavenly matters, preferring themto worldly ones. Therefore, I do not gainsay your wishes in any way, in that I desire that the Orthodox Faith which is One, should be established in the hearts of all the faithful. As for Nestorius and Eutyches, they have both erred from the purity of the faith. And though they differ in words, both are equally cunning. Everyone should, therefore, disdain their teaching altogether… And though I cannot come in person, yet will I send my delegates… they are Paschasinus and Lecentius, the bishops, together with a priest.”
Thus, the Bishop of Rome accepted to attend the council convoked by Marcianus, at the time and place designated by the Emperor. His acceptance came after he had actually retracted his desire for calling a council. This behaviour is but another proof of the many inconsistencies displayed in his attitudes and thinking.
Empress Pulcheria was active too. She sent a letter to Leo saying: “From Pulcheria the Triumphant to the venerable Father, the bishop of the great city of Rome, know – O Father – that we have received the letter of your holiness with the great honour due to all bishops. Reading it, we knew that your faith was pure… I myself, and my husband the strong king, diligently believe according to your faith. As for doubts, heresies and dissensions, they are far from us. Then I would like to tell you of the venerable Anatolius, Bishop of this great city, that he upholds the Orthodox Faith and confesses the Apostolic teachings. He has evicted the heresy sown by some in the Church. You will know his true faith from the letter he sent you… As for me, I would like to tell you that my tender husband has brought the body of Flavianus, of blessed memory, from the place of exile to the great city of Constantinople, and has buried it with great honour in the Church of the Apostles where his predecessors, the bishops, are buried. My husband has also ordered the return of all the exiled bishops who were agreed with Bishop Flavianus of blessed memory concerning the faith, that the assembled bishops may judge their case, and restore them to their Sees according to the merit of their labours.” (It should be noted here that Marcianus, even though Emperor, had absolutely no
right to order the return of the exiled bishops; and that Pulcheria, by declaring beforehand their restoration to their Sees, had also exposed the pre-meditated intention she and her husband had towards their case. Why, then, was it necessary to call another Council to pass judgment on it?)
Leo answered the Empress, thanking her particularly for the succour she gave to his legates, the return of the exiled bishops, and the honour paid to the mortal remains of Flavianus.
To the Orthodox bishops, the compliance of Pulcheria to Leo’s faith implied her slipping into Nestoriansim unawares, just as Flavianus had done when judging Eutyches. It is evident from all these letters that the whole Church was made intensely aware of the renewed Eutytchian case; that even before the council assembled, all those concerned were already taking sides. When Marcianus decided on convoking the Council, his first plan was to select Nicea, as its site, for on more than one occasion he had likened himself to Constantine the Great. Under the influence of Pulcheria, however, and because of the threat of the Huns, he decided on Chalcedon, a town near Constantinople.
The council of Chalcedon was inaugurated on the eighth of October 451 A.D. No two historians are agreed on the number of bishops who attended it, but hey all agree that both Pulcheria and Marcianus attended the opening sessions, and that they had appointed to it nineteen civil judges as court commissioners. These civil judges were charged with directing the sessions and establishing order, thus forming a cabinet for the council, which occupied the centre of the church of St. Euphemia, the meeting place of the council. To the right of the Emperor and Empress sat Abba Dioscorus, Juvenal of Jerusalem, and Heraclas of Corinth, the Bishops of Egypt, Illyria and Palestine. To the left sat the Bishop of Constantinople, the delegates of the Roman Bishop, and the bishops of Antioch, Caesarea, Ephesus, Pontus, Achaia and Thracia. Togther with the civil authorities, the Bishops (who, since then, were given the title of Patriarch) presided over the council, consecutively – all except Abba Dioscorus, against whom ill-will was manifested, according to a previously laid plan, from the very outset.
For no sooner did the council assemble than Paschasinus – one of the Roman delegates – rose and requested the imperial officers to evict Abba Dioscorus, otherwise he and his colleagues would have to withdraw from the assembly. Being asked why, his associate – Lucentius – answered that “this man came not to sit among the saints, but to give an account of what he had committed at Ephesus”. Here one of the bishops asked: “But what has he committed?” To which Lucentius answered that he had dared convoke a council without the authorisation of the bishop of Rome. It is amazing that in the face of this flagrant pretentiousness, none produced the letter of convocation that had been signed by the late Emperor Theodosius, neither did anyone say that the Emperors of the Orient only could authorise such Council convocation.
Marcianus sat silently listening though he had insisted on fixing the time and place of that very council wherein such prevarication was uttered. One of the dismayed bishops simply remarked: “If you are come to judge, why do you, then, accuse?” To maintain peace and evade a needless disturbance, “the Godfearing” Dioscorus left his place, and sat beside the civil judges in the midst of the church.
The Roman delegates persisted in carrying out their plan. They accused Abba Dioscorus of breaking the canons, to which he replied: “Who of us is the law breaker: I, who responded to the request of Emperor Theodosius by sitting at the second Ephesian council and by refusing admittance to Theodoret the Nestorian bishop of Cyrrhus in deference to the verdict passed upon him by the third ecumenical council, or you, who have permitted this same Nestorian to sit among you, when he has been cut off from the church Body and has not repented since his disposition?”
This query of Abba Dioscorus was left unanswered. Dissembling it, Eusebius of Doryloeum stood up assuming the role of accuser: he pretended that he and his colleagues had been unjustly condemned by Dioscorus at Ephesus. Following this verbal accusation, he handed a written one in which he stated that Dioscorus was Eutychian. This accusation was accepted unquestioningly by the council which had declared, at the same time, its formal acceptance of the membership of
Theodoret Bishop of Cyrrhus.
Such an act denoted the complete disregard of the Chalcedonians for the decrees of the third ecumenical council. As soon as Theodoret appeared, the Egyptians protested loudly, and were loudly responded to. A tumult arose. Regrettably, the civil judges had to remind the bishops that their behaviour was not in accordance with the Christian spirit; and that they should speak quietly and soberly.
When the tumult subsided, Abba Dioscorus asked that the minutes of the second council of Ephesus be read. Afte rthe first part was read the Alexandrian Patriarch turned to the moderators of the council and said: “You can see from these minutes that Emperor Theodosius, of blessed memory, is the one at whose request the past council was convoked. You can also see that it was the Emperor who had entrusted the direction of that council to Bishops Juveral of Jerusalem, Domnus of Antioch and myself. The three of us, together with all those who were assembled there, passed the judgment, after each expressed his opinion freely. Unanimously we all agreed to the verdict of acquitting Eutyches, and then each put his signature to it.”
Here, the Oriental bishops cried out: “We did not consent except under coercion; we condemned Flavianus against our will; we signed a blank paper under the threat of being beaten by the imperial guards.”
This cry was asserted by the Bishop of Ephesus who swore to its veracity under oath. Roused by his behaviour, the Egyptians cried out: “A soldier of Christ fears no worldly power; light a fire and we will show you how martyrs can die”. And Abba Dioscorus added quietly, “It would have been more compatible with abishop’s dignity to refuse signing what he knows not specifically when it is that which concerns the majesty of the Faith”.
Complete silence ensued. Then one of the bishops accused Abba Dioscorus and his monks, headed by Barsumas, of having assassinated bishop Flavianus. Thereupon the Egyptians requested the reading of Pulcheria’s letter to Leo, in answer to his plea for the convocation of a council, and his reply to her. Both these letters disclosed that Flavianus died in exile, and his body was brought to Constantinople by Pulcheria and Marcianus with due honour. After reading them, the accuser felt shamed and discomfited. His feelings permeated those bishops who were in league with him.
To dispel the tension, the imperial deputies asked the chief notary to resume reading the minutes of the Ephesian-Dioscorian council. He read to the point which mentioned the Tomos of Leo; immediately the delegates of the West interposed asking Abba Dioscorus why the letter of their bishop had not been read. He replied: “I ordered its reading, not once but twice”. Again he was asked: “Then why was it not read?” He answered: “Ask my colleagues the bishops of Jerusalem and Antioch. Juvenal then said: “When Dioscorus ordered its reading, the chief notary had presented to us all the letters of his imperial majesty Theodosius, of blessed memory, – and these were naturally given precedence. After reading them, none of the notaries reminded us of Leo’s Tomos, so it was simply forgotten”.
This answer seemed to have satisfied the questioners, for they kept quiet.
Once more, the chief notary resumed the reading of the minutes. After reading the confession of Eutyches, Basilius bishop of Seleucia exclaimed that he had not accepted this Eutychian declaration and that his signature was forged. Immediately Abba Dioscorus rejoined: “I know not why Basilius denies his signature when he knows that he consented to a pure Orthodox teaching”. At this remark, the bishops unanimously exclaimed that it was their duty as well as their trust to preserve the
Faith bequeathed to the Church Universal by the Fathers of Nicea who framed the Constitution – or Creed – of true Orthodoxy, and to transmit that Faith, pure and intact from one generation to the other. Wht they said was the echo of the assertions of Abba Dioscorus who had repeated before all those present that he firmly upheld the teachings of Athanasius and Kyrillos. So the bishops responded to his assertions with the words: “Dioscorus, Head of the Bishops keeps the Faith”. Having uttered these words, the bishops were faced with the necessity of setting in a clear-cut manner their stand in relation to the Eutychian heresy. They asked Abba Dioscorus to be the first one to declare his faith in the nature of Christ. He replied: “If a piece of iron, heated to white heat, be struck on the anvil, it is the iron which receives the blows and not the white heat, even though the iron and the white had form one indivisible whole. And though indivisible, the heat mingles not with the iron, nor is it fused into it, nor changed by it. This same is true of the iron, and is in a measure, symbolic of the incarnation of Our Lord where the divine and the human natures united without mixing, fusion, nor change, though neither parted from the other – not even for a
moment or the twinkling of an eye. This unity, the Fathers of the Alexandrian Church define as “the one Nature of God the Word made flesh” and is synonymous with St. John’s saying “the Word was made flesh”.
Finding that Dioscorus was impeccable, the Chalcedonians decided to press him a little further, so they asked him: “If Eutyches has uttered by mouth what was contrary to the written confession submitted to you, what would your judgment be?” He replied: “If Eutyches has, indeed, denied the faith written by him and submitted to us, I would not decree his ex-communication only but would order burning him too. As for me, I steadfastly uphold the Faith of the Orthodox Church: One, Holy, Universal and Apostolic. Neither Eutyches nor any other person can make me swerve from this most holy Faith”.
This frank avowal fell like a thunderbolt on all the opponents of Abba Dioscorus and greatly moved the Oriental bishops; they cried out immediately: “We have sinned and we ask for forgiveness”. Again they were asked to validate their accusation that Dioscorus assassinated Flavianus, and for the third time they repeated: “We have sinned and we ask for forgiveness”. Despite this triple avowal, the Chacedonians persisted in their efforts of antagonism, they submitted Leo’s Tomos to Abba Dioscorus that the may express his opinion on it. When he read, it he found it to be more
Nestorian than Orthodox. Immediately and without any hesitation he declared that it deviated from Orthodoxy, and hence he ex-communicated it and its author. Many of the assembled bishops shared this same view of Abba Dioscorus concerning the Tomos of Leo, but did not possess the courage of conviction that he had, therefore they kept silent. Others were assailed by doubts over theTomos, and their faces expressed their perplexity. The civil judges observing their confusion asked: “Are they are thought-provoking terms in this Tomos?” The Bishops assumed that there were none, but asked for an adjournment of five days that they may inquire into the exact meaning of some Latin terms. Their request was immediately granted.
Three days later (instead of the five requested) the bishops resumed the official Council meetings without informing the civil judges.
Upon assembling, they sent deputies to the abode of Abba Dioscorus to inform him of their meeting and to request him to come to the Council. Dioscorus was virtually under house arrest, for Pulcheria had appointed guards around his house, with orders that they bar his way and that of his bishops. When the delegates of the council came to him, he remarked to them that only three days had elapsed since the adjournment, and asked if the imperial commissioners had been notified. To the first remark, he received no answer; to the second he was told that in church matters the attendance of the laity was irrelevant. He then asked them if they had spoken to his guards that they may allow him to go out. They replied: “We were not sent to speak to your guards, but to invite you, personally, to come to the council”.
This so-called invitation was enacted twice again, so as to give the semblance of a triple summons in accordance with church regulations. After the second summons, the assembled bishops admitted some men who had presumably come to accuse Abba Dioscorus. Their accusations centred around material subjects, which had no relation whatsoever to the faith. One of these accusations was the age old one of preventing the Egyptian corn from being sent to other parts of the Empire, the very accusation which had angered Constantine against Athanasius the Apostolic more than a century earlier. When this accusation needed proof, other accusations were not wanting. And when, to all appearances, the Alexandrian Pope refused the Council’s enacted triple summons, his case was discussed in his absence and the absence of all the Egyptian bishops as well as those who sided with them.
The legates of Rome accused him by saying that he had prevented the reading of Leo’s Tomos at the Ephesian ‘Dioscorian’ council; that instead of repenting, he dared pass the sentence of ex-communication on the Roman bishop and his Tomos; and that – since he had refused to respond to the synod’s triple invitation, he had thereby pronounced his own condemnation.
Consequently, the Council pronounced against Abba Dioscorus the following sentence: “From the great ecumenical and holy council, convoked by the Grace of God in compliance with the decree of our pious Godfearing kings at Chalcedon of Bithynia, in the church of St. Euphemia the triumphant martyr – to Dioscorus: Be it known unto you that, because of your disdain of church canons, and the disobedience which you have committed with regard to the holy synod by refusing to appear after our triple summons without counting all your other crimnes; [which were not specified] you have been, on the thirteenth of October, 451 A.D., deposed of your Episcopal dignity by the Holy Synod, and declared incapable of fulfilling your ecclesiastical functions.”
When the civil judges (being the imperial commissioners) heard of what had happened, they were filled with anger. Going straight to the Council, they openly declared that the council’s judgment was glaringly inequitable, and that the session held in their absence was illegal. They endeavoured to make them revoke the sentence but failed. Consequently they exclaimed to the assembled bishops: “You shall give account unto God of what you have committed against Dioscorus whom you deposed in the absence of the Emperor, and in our absence too”.
In is account of these unfortunate events that took place at Chalcedon, Mar S. Ya’Kub, Antiochene Patriarch and historian, gives a number of reasons for the unfairness
and illegality of the verdict passed on Abba Dioscorus. Most important among them were: – that he was an impeccable Orthodox; – that no deviation was attributed to the Council of Ephesus (called the Dioscorian); that the verdict was passed in his absence and he was given no chance to defend himself; that the session was held before the date set for it and without official notification of all those who ought to have been present; and that all those who passed it were Nestorians.
While Mgr. Hefele – a Catholic Cardinal – records the witness of Bishop Anatolius which, when translated reads: “Dioscorus was not deposed because of his Orthodox Faith, but because he had ex-communicated Leo 1 (of Rome) and had not obeyed the Synod”. After inserting this witness, Mgr. Hefele adds: “In the synodal decree against Dioscorus, there is no express mention of his heresy, and the sentence passed on him by the Pope’s (Leo) legates says nothing either”.
The Council, having passed this inequitable verdict on Abba Dioscorus, continued to convene. In the session reckoned the fifth, the discussion centred round the Faith, and Anatolius, Bishop of Constantinople, seized the opportunity to declare that the orthodoxy of Abba Dioscorus was impeccable. The veracity of this witness is clearly manifested by the fact that despite its injustice, the Council could only depose Abba Dioscorus, but could neither degrade nor ex-communicate himn. Had they really found that he swerved from Orthodoxy, they would not have been satisfied with a sentence of deposition alone.
The Council held several sessions after passing its sentence on Abba Dioscorus, and discussed several worldly matters, one of which was: who among them would be first and have more prerogatives. Sadly enough, this revealed the unworthy intentions and ambitions of a few among them, who – quite obviously – wanted to bring the heretofore highly influential Coptic Church of Alexandria to a position of inferiority, so that Constantinople and Rome could gain superiority over it.
Before the Council wound up its final sessions, word came from Marcianus that he had ratified its sentence and decreed the exile of Abba Dioscorus to the island of Gangra – off the coast of Asian Minor. The imperial confirmation was necessary on account of the immense possessions administered by the Patriarch of Alexandria. And, with the ratification, the Emperor gave the bishops the permission to return to their Sees.
Abba Dioscorus was voluntarily accompanied in his exile by four Egyptian clergymen: two bishops, an archdeacon and Theopistus his secretary. As for thesaintly Bishop Macari of Edko, he fain would have gone with them too. But Abba Dioscorus told him, “You go back to our beloved country, for the Crown of martyrdom awaits you in the very city where St. Mark shed his own blood”. Abba Macari readily complied and returned to Alexandria. In due time he joined the innumerable host of triumphant Egyptians who joyfully dared to pay the toll of blood for their Orthodox Christian Faith.
The exile of Abba Dioscorus, did not stop many of his friends from remaining faithful to him, and keeping in touch with him either through correspondence or whenever possible, through personal visits. Among those who corresponded with him was a bishop from Iberia (present day Spain) called Peter. In the first letter he sent him, he gave him a full report of what happened in Chalcedon after his departure. The answers of Dioscorus to Peter were always full of the serene sense of resignation of the person who felt he had done rightly and had stood up for his faith without bowing to worldly power. He also displayed a spirit of forgiveness for those who had wronged him and “spitefully used him and persecuted him”.
One of his visitors was a merchant from Egypt who stopped by the island shores one day, and wept bitterly at the sight of his exiled Patriarch. The man-of- God comforted him by saying: “My son, as long as we conserve intact the faith legated to us, we are safe despite all physical woes”. The merchant offered him some money saying: “Holy Father, accept this gift because you are in a strange land”. Abba Dioscorus replied: “My son, we are not in a strange land – God Who created the whole wrold and Who has given us the courage to fight for the true faith is able to make us feel that we are not stringers in any land, for – as the Psalmist says – the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof”. The merchant’s heart was comforted, but he so earnestly begged Abba Dioscorus to accept his donation that he finally prevailed on him. This money, the Man-of-God distributed among the poor. Abba Dioscorus assented, adding that it also symbolised the blessed Virgin Who bore Christ within her womb, but was not scorched thereby.
Five years after this sentence of exile had been pronounced, the maligned Head of the Church of Alexandria joined the ranks of the Church Triumphant. During his exile, he had succeeded in winning many pagan residents of the island to the Christian faith, and a number of heretics to Orthodoxy – thus serving his Lord even unto the end.
But since the Heavenly Father never forgets love’s labour, even against all appearances, He raised for Abba Dioscorus loyal witnesses in different ages. Severus, Patriarch of Antioch in the sixth century said of him: “He was a martyr of Christ; he alone, refused to worship Baal in that false council”. While Mar Zakareya, Bishop of Modally in Asia Minor, described him as “the man whose faith was like that of Athanasius, Kyrillos, and the other Church Doctors. And seeing that this intrepid man – Dioscorus – had trained himself from his tender years in the Orthodox faith, he refused to bow to the doubt-faced idol set up by Leo at Chalcedon”. Abba Petros, 27th Pope of Alexandria referred to him as “Christ’s loyal martyr”.