The Orthodox have collected canons and commentaries upon them in a work known as the Pēdálion (“Rudder”), so named because it is meant to “steer” the Church.
The Orthodox Christian tradition in general treats its canons more as guidelines than as laws, the bishops adjusting them to cultural and other local circumstances. Some Orthodox canon scholars point out that, had the Ecumenical Councils meant for the canons to be used as laws, they would have called them “laws” rather than “rules,” but almost all Orthodox conform to them.
The dogmatic decisions of the Councils are to be obeyed rather than to be treated as guidelines, since they are essential for the Church’s unity.
Deals mostly with the office and duties of a Christian bishop, the qualifications and conduct of the clergy, the religious life of the Christian flock (abstinence, fasting), its external administration (excommunication,synods, relations with pagans and Jews), the sacraments (Baptism, Eucharist, Marriage); in a word, they are a handy summary of the statutory legislation of the Early Church.
Its object was to heal the wounds of the Diocletian persecution, and it passed twenty-five canons relating chiefly to the treatment of those who had betrayed their faith or delivered the sacred books in those years of terror. Priests who had offered sacrifice to the gods, but afterwards repented, were prohibited from preaching and all sacerdotal functions, but allowed to retain their clerical dignity. Those who had sacrificed before baptism may be admitted to orders. Adultery is to be punished by seven years’ penance, murder by life-long penance.
The canons of the synod condemned and anathematized the practices of the condemnation of marriage, forbidding the eating of most forms of meat, urging slaves to flee their masters, arguing that married priests could not perform valid sacraments, and more.