July 16, 2023

Homily Five for the Sunday of the Holy Fathers of the Fourth Ecumenical Synod - Holy Hieromartyr Athenogenes (Metr. Hierotheos of Nafpaktos)

Sunday of the Holy Fathers of the Fourth Ecumenical Synod
Holy Hieromartyr Athenogenes
By Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou

Today's Sunday, beloved brethren, has been established by our Church as the feast of the Holy Fathers who gathered for the Fourth Ecumenical Synod in Chalcedon, to deal with the heresy of Monophysitism.

Monophysitism was a heresy that maintained that Christ was composed of two natures, the divine and the human, but after the union only the divine nature remained, since the human nature was absorbed by the divine. This teaching overturns the entire theology of Christ's Deity, and even overturns the mystery of man's salvation. Because since, in their opinion, there is no human nature in Christ, which, according to the Monophysites, was absorbed by the divine nature, then how can we partake of the Body and Blood of Christ and how can we be united with Him?

The Fathers confronted this heresy with the definition that the two natures in Christ, divine and human, were united and act "unconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably", that is, Christ was made of two natures, but also acts through both natures. This is of great importance for our spiritual life, but there is no time now to analyze this theological truth and its consequence for our life.

However, together with the Fathers of the Fourth Ecumenical Synod, our Church today also celebrates the memory of the holy hieromartyr Athenogenes, who was born in Sebaste of Cappadocia, during the time of Diocletian, and because of his virtue and his humility became Bishop of Pedachthoe. The pagan ruler of that region, named Philomarchos, arrested the Saint, together with his ten disciples, and after much torture beheaded them. In fact, according to the Synaxarion, when the Saint went to the Monastery and did not find his disciples who had been arrested before him, he met a deer, which they had raised in the Monastery. The Saint blessed her and prayed that her fawns would not be killed by hunters, and he also prayed that every year in his memory she would bring to the Monastery one of the fawns she would give birth to. And, as the Synaxarion says, every year on his feast day everyone saw the deer coming to the church, after the reading of the Gospel, together with a fawn, which she dedicated to the Saint and which the Christians slaughtered and ate "to the glory and honor" of Saint Athenogenes.

In the troparia of the Church that are chanted on this day, all the spiritual content of Saint Athenogenes is presented. Mainly two points will be highlighted.

The first is that, according to the holy hymnographer, Athenogenes wore the bright garment of the priesthood, which he made holier and brighter after he dyed it with the blood of martyrdom. Thus, he became among the deified and intercedes for us. It is a great blessing to receive the grace of the priesthood, but this priesthood becomes brighter with martyrdom, either of conscience or of blood. Anyone who does not live the priesthood as a martyrdom and sacrifice cannot understand its value.

The second point is that Saint Athenogenes emerged as a "sacred teacher" who educated his ten disciples with ascetic struggles and methods, and through them he calmed down the passions and thus destroyed the arch-evil one, the devil, who had no power over them. This shows how the true pastors work, since they educate their spiritual children with the established methods of the Church, with spiritual asceticism, in order to overcome the passions and be ready for martyrdom, if necessary. The Church does not know any other teaching, beyond that which the Prophets, Apostles and Fathers lived and taught.

Besides these things, the life of the holy hieromartyr Athenogenes also shows how holiness has an effect on nature and on the irrational animals, which obey them, because they recognize in them the Grace of the Holy Spirit.

The holy hieromartyr Athenogenes shows how the doctrine of the Fourth Ecumenical Synod is lived in practice, that Christ is perfect God and perfect man and through Him man can become a god by Grace.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

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