In a recent encyclical marking the 1700th anniversary of the Edict of Milan, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, wrote:

The Wisdom of God, the Lady Theotokos our Pammakaristos and Conciliation, St. Demetrios Kanavis, St. George the Trophy-bearer of the Phanar, and all the saints of our Church are not keepers of the law but legislators according to St. Symeon the New Theologian. The institution of the Church is charismatic, and the charismata of the saints function as institutional signposts for the faithful of the Church.

The Greek text seems to be basically word-for-word the same, except that "charismatic" is emphasised:

Ἡ τοῦ Θεοῦ Σοφία, ἡ Κυρία Θεοτόκος ἡ Παμμακάριστος καί ἡ Παραμυθία, ὁ Ἅγιος Δημήτριος ὁ Κανάβης, ὁ Ἅγιος Γεώργιος ὁ Τροπαιοφόρος τοῦ Διπλοφαναρίου, οἱ Ἅγιοι συνολικῶς τῆς Ἐκκλησίας ἡμῶν δέν εἶναι φύλακες τοῦ νόμου, ἀλλά νομοθέται, κατά τό Ἅγιον Συμεών τόν Νέον Θεολόγον. Ὁ Θεσμός τῆς Ἐκκλησίας εἶναι χ α ρ ι σ μ α τ ι κ ό ς καί τά χαρίσματα τῶν Ἁγίων λειτουργοῦν ὡς θεσμοί καθοδηγητικοί διά τό ἐκκλησιαστικόν πλήρωμα.

What does he mean by the statement that the saints are "not keepers of the law, but legislators", with reference to the Orthodox perspective on the nature of the Church? What significance is there to the particular saints (plus Wisdom) listed? What teaching of St Symeon is being referenced?

  • I think someone swiped/scraped your question: owen-shree2jan1991.blogspot.com/2013/06/…
    – Dan
    Jun 2, 2013 at 6:08
  • 1
    @DanO'Day - it's a pity the spammer didn't also answer it... all would have been forgiven
    – James T
    Jun 2, 2013 at 16:40
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    P.S. I am working on answering this question, but I can't find the St. Symeon quote yet and haven't been able to fully understand the exact context in which he said this (to where I am positive I sufficiently understand it).
    – Dan
    Jun 2, 2013 at 17:02
  • Wish I knew the Orthodox answer, isn't the law in this encyclical just positive law not eternal, natural or divine? So isn't that the same sentiment echoed by Martin Luther King of St Augustine in a letter from a Birmingham Jail wherein an unjust law is no law at all. And it is the example of the saints which shows us what laws are just and what laws aren't.
    – Peter Turner
    Jun 4, 2013 at 11:16
  • Imagine someone who possesses or embodies a skill to such a degree of perfection, that he himself, or his own practice thereof, becomes a (new) standard in that domain; like Nadia Comaneci in gymnastics, or David Copperfield among illusionists, etc. So are the (great) saints in terms of interpreting the gospel within their own lives.
    – user46876
    Nov 12, 2021 at 3:45

4 Answers 4


"The Wisdom of God, the Lady Theotokos our Pammakaristos and Conciliation, St. Demetrios Kanavis, St. George the Trophy-bearer of the Phanar, and all the saints of our Church are not keepers of the law but legislators according to St. Symeon the New Theologian."

This answer will be in keeping with Symeon’s perspective! Symeon identifies himself with the saints contrasting himself (a legislator of the law) with his chief adversary, Archbishop Stephen who was a (keeper of the law). Symeon’s views were born from an actual encounter with the Holy Spirit (charismatic) as opposed to Stephen’s views which were theoretical yet not personal.

Consider the Gospel of Luke 7:35 “wisdom is justified of all her children”.

“All the saints” are “children of wisdom”, “wisdom” is the Holy Spirit, which legislates the will of God the Father through the hearts of the saints.

When Gabriel prophesies to Zacharias about his son John the Baptist: Luke 1:16,7 And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God. And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.

The "keepers of the law" are watchdogs of the law they are like those that sat in the marketplace claiming John the Baptist had a demon and Jesus was a drunkard:

Luke 7:31-35 And the Lord said, Whereunto then shall I liken the men of this generation? and to what are they like? They are like unto children sitting in the marketplace, and calling one to another, and saying, We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned to you, and ye have not wept. For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine; and ye say, He hath a devil. The Son of man is come eating and drinking; and ye say, Behold a gluttonous man, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners! But wisdom is justified of all her children.

The children of wisdom are the legislators of the law!

  • This seems quite plausible, but I'd like to see sources that confirm this is what Symeon meant. Jun 2, 2015 at 4:56

Coming from a purely language-based perspective, I should say the difference between a Keeper and a Legislator is that a Keeper merely enforces or protects the law, whereas a Legislator has the authority to enact rules based on the Law. Like how the police can keep the law of a country, and the government can enact new legislation (as long as it does not violate the constitution).


Also coming from a purely language-based perspective, the saints are not successful at obeying or keeping the law. This is a common teaching in Christianity.

The quote however speaks of two positive, God-given roles for these officers of the church: 1) Legislate, which would mean making rulings on the practical application of God's Law, and 2) Serving as a signposts of the faithful church, which would mean providing inspiration and leadership. I read the statement as saying these positive duties are fulfilled even though leaders are not perfect in obeying the law.


Phrase “the saints are not keepers of the law, but legislators” recalls me Romans 2:13-15

13 For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. 14 (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.)

So I think this means the saints are those who obey the law and not those who hear the law.

  • Could you perhaps explain why you think this beyond the simple statement of scripture. You need to exposit your scripture verse to show why it supports your conclusion.
    – wax eagle
    Jul 16, 2013 at 15:11

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