The First Ecumenical Council, Canon 11.previous | next
As concerns those persons who have transgressed without any need, or without being deprived of goods, or without being in any peril or in any such strait as obtained during the tyranny of Licinius, it has deemed fit to the Council, notwithstanding that they did not deserve philanthropic (or humane) treatment, to be kind to them. As many, therefore, as genuinely repent and are remorseful shall pass three years among audients as believers, and for seven years they shall do penance as succumbents. In addition, for two years they shall commune without oblation in prayers with the laity.
(c. VI of Ancyra; c. III of Peter; cc. LXXIII, LXXXI of Basil; c. II of Nyssa.)
There are other Canons which deal with those who deny the faith as a result of great violence or dire necessity. The present Canon deals with those persons who deny it without being forced to do so. It says in effect: As for those who have transgressed the faith in Christ without being prompted to do so by any necessity, or peril, or deprivation of their property, as happened to those who lived in the time of the tyrant Licinius, though they, I say, have not deserved to be treated philan-thropically and clemently, it has appeared best nevertheless to the Council to show them mercy. So, as many as truly and from the depth of their heart, and not feignedly and falsely and lyingly, are repentant on account of the sin they committed, shall be obliged to spend three years with the so-called “listeners” (audients). This means that they shall have to stand in the narthex (of the church) at the “beautiful and royal gates” of the temple (or nave), and of the church, in order to listen to the Holy Scriptures until the deacon pronounces the words “All catechumens come forward”; thereupon they shall leave the church. For seven (Note of Translator. — The original says “two,” apparently by mistake) years they shall be succumbent; that is to say, in other words, they shall enter the nave, and shall stand, when there, in the rear of the pulpit, but shall leave along with the catechumens when the deacon pronounces the words “all catechumens come forward.” And for two years they shall join in prayer with the laity. That is to say, in other words, they shall stand together with the faithful and pray, and not leave with the catechumens, though without partaking of the divine mysteries (communion) until the two years are ended.
All those persons who denied the faith simply because the tyrants threatened to torture them, which is tantamount to saying without being forced to do so, are excluded from the divine mysteries for six years, according to c. VI of Ancyra. Those, on the other hand, who have denied the faith of their own accord, without suffering anything terrible, but only cowardice and fear, after showing fruit worthy of repentance over a period of four years, shall be allowed the benefit thereof, according to c. III of Peter. But according to c. II of Nyssa whoever denies Christ of his own accord, shall have his whole lifetime as his term of repentance, without being allowed to pray together with the faithful in the church, or to partake at all of the divine mysteries. In identically the same manner his brother Basil, too, commands the same things in his c. XIII, by saying that anyone that has denied Christ is under obligation to remain all his life long with the “weepers” (called flentes in Latin), or, in other words, to stand outside of even the narthex in the vestibule of temple (or of the nave), and to beg the laity entering the church to pray for him to the Lord. In c. LXXXI of the same saint it says that those who without any great necessity denied the faith and ate of the table of the demons, and swore Greek oaths, are to be excommunicated for three years, and after eight more years are to be allowed to commune. In order to enable you to understand better, O reader, what positions were occupied by “weepers,” by “listeners,” by “kneelers,” and by “costanders,” behold, at the end of this book we have inserted a diagram, or drawing, or architectural plan, of the church building; and you should carefully and diligently examine it. Concerning “weepers,” and concerning penitents in general, a historical account is given by Sozomen, who says (Book VII, ch. 16): “In the beginning it seemed fitting to the priests for sinners to tell about their sins with the congregation of the church acting as witnesses like spectators in a theater. Later, however, the best policy prevailed, which was indeed one of discreetness and sageness, whereby sinners approached and confessed their life deeds . . .” And again he says: “In the church of the Romans the place of penitents is exposed to view . . . So there penitents stand downcast and mournful, and after the divine liturgy is over the poor wretches, instead of partaking of communion, fall to the ground upon their face with much sobbing and wailing. From the other direction comes the Bishop running and he too likewise falls to the ground weeping tears and uttering laments, and along with them the entire congregation burst out crying and shedding copious tears. Afterwards the Bishop is the first to lift himself up from the ground and stand up, and he lifts up the penitents, and after praying aloud to God on account of their sins, he dismissed them and they go their way.”
 Impious Licinius, who was brother-in-law to Constantia the sister of Constantine the Great, and enjoyed second place in the royal honor after Constantine himself, but later conceived an envy against the brother of the latter’s wife, and launched a fierce war upon God. Hence he first of all drove every Christian out of his house; afterwards he commanded that all Christian soldiers in every city in the realm should be deprived of the honor of their military office unless they sacrificed to the idols (Eusebius, Eccl. Hist., Book X, ch. 8; and concerning the life of Constantine, Book I, ch. 54). But after he was gone, most pious Constantine made a contrary law to the effect that all former Christians who had been in military service and had been persecuted on account of their faith in Christ by Licinius and had been deprived of the honor, should be given the choice of remaining imperial soldiers, just as they had been formerly, or, if they did not care for the honor, of being allowed each his freedom. (Eusebius, concerning the life of Constantine, Book II, ch. 33; and Sozomen, Eccl. Hist. I, ch. 1).
 Concerning Audients (or “listeners”), Succumbents (or “kneelers”), and Consistents (or “costanders”), see c. LXXV of Basil.
 The present-day custom of the Church treats faith-deniers for the most part considerately, in accordance with the formulation of Methodius of Constantinople. On this basis, if anyone was made a captive when a child, and as a result of fear or ignorance he denied the faith, when once he has returned thereto, after listening to the usual propitiatory prayers for seven days, on the eighth day he is bathed, and is anointed with Holy Chrism, and thus he partakes of communion, remaining thereafter in the church for eight days, and listening every day to the sacred liturgies and services. But if he was an adult and denied the faith after being tortured, in this case he is obliged to fast first for a period of twice forty days, abstaining from meat, and cheese, and eggs, and on three days in the week (namely, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday) abstaining from oil and wine. (Notice that the fast of Wednesday and Friday which is obligatory on all Christians was given to this person as a canon by way of philanthropy and clemency). For seven days he listens to the same prayers, and thus he too is bathed, like the one above, and is anointed, and communes. If, on the other hand, he willingly went and denied the faith, he too has to fast for two years in identically the same manner as the one above fasted, and, according to his ability, he must make one hundred or two hundred genuflexions thereafter he also listens to the propitiatory prayers, and is bathed, and receives the other treatments, like the ones above. (Blastaris, in his synopsis of the Canons of the Faster; and Armenopoulos, Section 5, Heading 4, of his Epitome of the Canons. See also this formulation in the Euchologium, where these prayers are to be found, more in extenso.)
 In some such manner as this a confessor (or spiritual father) ought to shed tears and mourn over the sins of Christians who confess to him; not, however, when they are confessing to him, but after their confession, when he has to advise them, because these tears of his show that he loves sinners as a father loves his children, and is sorry for them as Jacob lamented Joseph, and as Moses as well as Jeremiah lamented for the Israelites, and just as the Lord shed tears over Jerusalem. Notice also in the discourse of Gregory of Nyssa concerning repentance how stijpngly therein he urges spiritual fathers to mourn for sinners.
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