continued ... "All About Antioch" - 4
Antioch and the Ecumenical Councils
At the beginning of the fifth century the Patriarchate of Antioch held ecclesiastical hegemony over a large area including Cyprus, Syria, Palestine, Arabia and Mesopotamia. Though still under some Antiochian influence, the Churches of Georgia and Persia were granted ecclesiastical independence by their Mother Church of Antioch. Antioch could not, however, long hold on to this prestigious position and would lose much to the doctrinal conflicts which either originated there or had as their authors men from the Patriarchate of Antioch.
In the fifth century the Patriarch of Constantinople, Nestorius, who was from Antioch, was condemned at the Council of Ephesus (431) for his heretical teachings. Although the Throne of Antioch concurred in this conciliar condemnation, many of the faithful in Persia and the East refused to accept it and broke from Orthodoxy by establishing the Nestorian or Assyrian Church.
Later in that same century the Monophysite heresy, whose leading opponent was Saint Cyril of Alexandria, gained a foothold in Syria from where many of its leading and most respected proponents came. The monophysite heresy was con-demned at the Council of Chalcedon in 451. However, as in the case of Nestorianism, many Christians including a number of the Antiochian faithful refused to accept this condemnation. The subsequent establishment of a permanent Monophysite hierarchy (Jacobite) in the sixth century again weakened the See of Antioch.
At this same time the geographical extent of the Patriarchate was reduced by decisions of the Ecumenical Councils. In 431 the Church of Cyprus was granted independence from Antioch, and in 451 the Patriarchate of Jerusalem was established and given jurisdiction of Palestine and Arabia.
In the early seventh century the Byzantine Empire was threatened with attack by the Persians in the East. In an attempt to reconcile the Orthodox and the Jacobite Monophysites to provide a united front against the invaders, Byzantine Emperor Heraclius proposed the compromise doctrine of Monothelitism. However the Orthodox would accept no political compromise when it came to matters of the Faith and at the Council of Constantinople in 680 Monothelitism was rejected as heresy. Very quickly thereafter Monothelitism died out, except at the Antiochian monastery of Beit-Maroon on the Orontes River- The supporters of this heresy rallied around the monastery and became known as Maronites.
These three schisms - Nestorian, Jacobite, and Maronite - combined with the geographical reduction of the Patriarchate of Antioch by decision of the Ecumenical Councils, greatly reduced the See from its former prestige.
In spite of the negative affect that the heresies had on the life of the Church, their tendencies attest to the vitality of the Patriarchate of Antioch and its ability to produce theological thinkers and to remain loyal to the Apostolic Faith despite all odds. In this context it should be noted that the Christian Faith, as we possess it today, was largely shaped, either directly or indirectly, by the theological "School of Antioch". In discussing this school of thought it is common to contrast it with the School of Alexandria, with which it often entered into doctrinal dispute. The Antiochian School represented an historical and concrete exegesis of the Scripture and understanding of Christ. The Alexandrian School, on the other hand, represented a more symbolical and allegorical interpretation. Ultimately it was the balance that was struck between these two tendencies in early Christian thought which produced the refined expression which we today designate as Christian doctrine, the fundamental tenets of the Faith, i.e., the nature of Christ, the nature of the Holy Trinity, the nature of Man. It was the famous School of Antioch which provided the necessary practical, concrete, and human balance to the more mystical approach of the Alexandrians.