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/ Weekly Message / 05-20-07: Sunday Of The Fathers Of The First Councils

05-20-07: Sunday Of The Fathers Of The First Councils

On this, the seventh Sunday after Pascha, our blessed Orthodox Church is in between two of the 12 Great feasts which happen to fall closely together, namely, the Ascension of our Lord, which we celebrated this past Thursday, and the Descent of the Holy Spirit, or Pentecost, which we’ll celebrate next Sunday.  On this Sunday, we remember the Fathers of the 1st Ecumenical Council, who met in Nicea.  This council of Holy Fathers proclaimed and confessed that the Son is of the same essence and honor as the Father.  This council stated our faith as we profess today in the Nicean Creed, which is a part of each and every Divine Liturgy celebrated in the Church. So, following the feast of the glorious Ascension, today’s commemoration has been set forth in order to prove the Divinity of Christ.

This is an appropriate Sunday to receive converts into the Church; it is an appropriate Sunday for First Penance and Corporate Communion, because during these parochial celebrations, individuals make their Profession of Faith by reciting publicly the Nicean Creed as a testimony to what they believe.  And it’s a good refresher for all of us to listen to these words and ponder on them, for the Fathers of the First Council prayed and argued and fought over these articles of our Faith.

How did it all come about?

This council took place during the twentieth year of the reign of St. Constantine the Great, following a period in which the early Christians were persecuted by pagans. During that time, there was a Deacon named Arius, who began to blaspheme against the Son of God, saying that He is a creature, born out of nonexistence.  He claimed that is was wrong to call Jesus the Wisdom and the Word of God.  Arius was ultimately removed from the diaconate, but was granted forgiveness when he promised to correct his false teaching.  Some time later, after his ordination to the priesthood, it was discovered that Arius was spreading the same blasphemy, and that he had made the blasphemy even worse. A council was summoned, which deposed Arius from the Church in 321 AD.

It is recorded that Arius drew many astray with his errant teaching.  The great St. Constantine gathered the early Fathers whom we commemorate from all parts of the world to Nicaea.  They spoke in regard to Arius and denounced not only him, but all those who were in agreement with him. The Holy Fathers confessed that Jesus, the Word of God IS of the same essence and honor with the Father.  Then as a group, they formulated this Symbol of Faith up to the point where we pray, “And I believe in the Holy Spirit…”, the rest of the Creed was completed at the Second Ecumenical Council.  And when they completed this Symbol of Faith, St. Constantine sealed the final version with his own signature in red ink.

What then, are we to learn from all of this?  I believe the underlying theme of this 1st Ecumenical Council was that of unity.  The bishops, priests, deacons, and monks who attended this council were all united in their beliefs about Jesus.  And our early church fathers were wise to select the Epistle and Gospel readings we read this morning, for these readings speak of this same unity. 

Listen again to a portion of this mornings Epistle reading from the Acts of the Apostles.  In it, St. Paul tells the early church: “Keep watch over yourselves, and over the whole flock the Holy Spirit has given you to guard…men will present themselves distorting the truth and leading astray any who follow them.” (Acts 20: 28, 30). It seems that almost 300 years earlier, St. Paul knew there would eventually be a problem, and he tried his very best to head off the heretical and false teaching that the early Fathers would encounter from the blasphemy spread by Arius.  Our heavenly patron worked tirelessly to ensure that the church would rise on a firm foundation – a foundation of truth, a foundation of Tradition given to him, and passed on from him to all of the communities he founded as a Disciple of Christ. 

Listen again to the Gospel account of St. John, where Jesus is praying in solitude to His Father shortly before He was arrested: “Holy Father, keep them in your name, that they may be one, even as we are one. (John 17: 11).   

Unity….that they may be one…a concept our world still hasn’t quite mastered. 

But, there is some progress, for a great milestone occurred just this past week, which was not covered by the secular, godless media.

As we celebrated our Lord’s Glorious Ascension into heaven on Thursday, two of our sister Orthodox jurisdictions celebrated their own reunification.  The Act of Canonical Communion between the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia and the Moscow Patriarchate was signed at Christ the Saviour Cathedral in Moscow. The ceremony of the reestablishment of the fullness of communion within one Local Russian Orthodox Church was attended by President Vladimir Putin of the Russian Federation, along with other government officials.

Now think about this for just a moment.  Did you ever believe in your lifetime, you would hear of a Russian leader acting as a catalyst to church reunification?  Less than 20 years ago, Russia was still a communist nation, and religion had no place in the country.  But, times have changed.  The structure of government is completely different; the faithful can now celebrate Orthodoxy without fear of punishment or imprisonment.  Russian television even broadcast the entire event across the nation.  I think we can all agree that The Holy Spirit’s work has enlightened the people, and with open minds and open hearts, change is able to be made.  During the Divine Liturgy, Patriarch Alexy told the packed Cathedral, “An historic event has taken place, which we have awaited for many years. The unity of the Church is restored. This ceremony is precious for the Church, as she gathers her children together; it is precious for our entire people. Church division is being overcome, overcome also is the conflict within society inherited from the days of the revolution. The Church is being strengthened—our Fatherland, too, is being reborn.”

My brothers and sisters in Christ, these actions show me that there is still hope for the rest of us. Unity is something that still can be achieved in our lives; unity among churches, unity among families, unity among all mankind.  The words of the Lord are clear. Our unity happens when He becomes in us as the Father is united to Him. Our perfection and growth becomes possible when Jesus abides in us, so that we become perfected in Him and united to Him.

This is what the Church celebrates today, the Sunday of the Holy Fathers of the First Council.

The Holy Fathers with their personal example, their teachings, their kindness, and self-denial gave courage to the faithful during times of persecution and tribulation.

We, the Orthodox Christians of today, honor and give gratitude to all those who struggled for our blessed Orthodox faith. And so, my brothers and sisters in Christ, my prayer for all of us this day, as we continue our journey as Disciples of Christ, is that our loving Father in Heaven gives us the same strength, so that we too may be able to be defenders of Faith, imitating those holy men, who sacrificed even their own lives for the Truth, and became Shepherds and Teachers of the Church.  Let us imitate their example by making our Lord’s words in today’s Gospel our own motto, “that they may be one.”

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