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Saint Euphemia and the 4th Ecumenical Council


Saint Euphemia and the 4th Ecumenical Council.

The amazing events following the life of a martyred woman of Christendom have led church historians to subordinate her life story to what was wrought by her spirit one and a half centuries later. The net result is that the revered Euphemia was cloaked in virtual anonymity until she gave her life for Christ in A.D. 308, prior to which it has been ascertained that her life was devoted to the Saviour and that she laid down her life for Him.

So many truly miraculous incidents followed her death that although they have illumined humanity they have blotted out her temporal life, with the emphasis shifted by her fellow Christians, so preoccupied with her postmortem deeds, they lost sight of what transpired in her lifetime. It is enough to know that Euphemia was born in Chalcedon, and after a brief life of Christian service was burned at the stake for refusing to deny Jesus Christ. The lethal flames could not completely destroy her mortal remains which were entombed within the walls of a chapel in Chalcedon named in her memory. The chapel grew into a shrine when it was discovered that earnest prayer involving her name near these walls resulted in cures for the afflicted and though many were to leave disappointed, religious pilgrims came from all over the Byzantine Empire to pray in this small chapel. Enough miraculous cures were affected to assure a steady stream of Christians, each of whom spread the word of the wonders of the chapel in Chalcedon on returning to his respective community.

The magnetism of Euphemia may not in itself have caused Chalcedon to be selected as the scene of the Fourth Ecumenical Synod but as events were to prove, it was very much a factor in assembling hierarchs from all over the empire, gathered where pilgrims from all walks of life had been visiting over a period of years. This momentous meeting is known as the Synod of Chalcedon, convened for the final settlement of a dispute that had been spreading unrest and uncertainty within the Church. It stemmed from the heretical doctrine that the Messiah had but one nature, the divine, which contradicted the concept long accepted that there was a dual nature in Jesus, the human with which man could identify and the divine which set him apart. Several well-meaning clerics, as well as those always on the lookout for a cause, came to accept the single and narrow view of the Saviour, and undiscerning Christians in considerable numbers joined in embracing this heresy.

Nearly 150 years had passed since the death of Euphemia when the Synod convened in the city of her resting place in A.D. 451. The assembled church dignitaries took sides in debate which resolved nothing, since neither side could offer concrete evidence that their viewpoint was the right one, despite the fact that tradition dating from the early days of the Church dictated that the dual nature of Christ was the only logical concept. The proceedings were orderly, but an impasse had been reached and every one looked to the patriarch for a final solution which would bring the now wearying Council to an end so that they could return to their respective parishes with a definitive conclusion. Since any form of compromise offered nothing in the way of settlement, the patriarch pondered the issue and then made the startling proposal that a spirit not of this world that had been performing miracles could be called upon to decide once and for all where the truth lay.

He proposed that a book of each doctrine be placed in a casket of the renowned St. Euphemia, wherein it may by some divine manifestation be determined which was in God’s favour. The casket of Euphemia was opened and the two books placed in her hands, after which all concerned retired to pray for a divine intervention that would guide them in the direction. When the casket was once again opened, the book espousing the single nature of Jesus Christ was at her feet and in her hands was clutched the age old book that spoke of the two natures of the Saviour.

Not even the most adamant of the opponents of the truth that lay in the hand of St. Euphemia could doubt this divine manifestation and the issue was put to rest with the miracle-working saint. The casket of St. Euphemia rests today in the patriarchal Church of St. George which has sheltered it with those of St. Theophan0 and St. Salome since A.D. 750.

Feast Day: July 11 (Commemoration of the miracle), September 16 (Commemoration of her Martyrdom)

Reference:  Orthodox Saints, v. 3by Fr George Poulos, Holy Cross Orthodox Press