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Canons of the seven ecumenical councils
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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.”