On the 7th Sunday after Pascha, the Orthodox Church commemorates the Holy Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council. Fr. Georges Florovsky offers a thought about the authority of these ancient fathers in the life of the Church today. Florovsky commented:
“ Just yesterday the question was put to me in my Patristic seminar, by one of the participants: we enjoy immensely, he said, the reading of the Fathers, but what is their ‘authority’? Are we supposed to accept from them even that in which they obviously were ‘situation-conditioned’ and probably inaccurate, inadequate, and even wrong? My answer was obviously, No…The ‘authority’ of the Fathers is not a dictatus papae. They are guides and witnesses, no more. Their vision is ‘of authority’, not necessarily their words. By studying the Fathers we are compelled to face the problems, and then we can follow them but creatively, not in the mood of repetition…So many in our time are still looking for authoritative answers, even before they have encountered any problem. I am fortunate to have in my seminars students who are studying Fathers because they are interested in creative theology, and not just in history or archaeology.” (Fr. Georges Florovsky in The Wheel: Issue 2, Summer 2015, pp 40-41)
The Church Fathers are not there to keep us looking back into history, rather their voice is alive in the Church today to keep us moving toward the coming Kingdom of God. We are not simply to repeat what the Fathers said, but to understand how they engaged their world and their era, so that we can engage our own. The Church is not a museum of some golden age that we retreat into in order to hide from the modern world. A truly patristic mind keeps looking foward to the world to come, with faith, hope and love.