Sunday of the Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council

Sunday of the Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council May 26, 2017

 Icon from the Mégalo Metéoron Monastery in Greece, representing the First Ecumenical Council of Nikea 325 A.D., with the condemned Arius in the bottom of the icon. By Jjensen (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Icon from the Mégalo Metéoron Monastery in Greece, representing the First Ecumenical Council of Nikea 325 A.D., with the condemned Arius in the bottom of the icon. By Jjensen (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
The church is called to be universal. It is called to go forth across the world, spread the grace of Christ, helping to heal the world from the wounds of sin. The church is to make its presence in the world, not by rejecting it, but by transforming it. It is in the world but not of the world.  Those who are in the church find themselves being transformed so that their existence, their way of life, is already connected to the eschatological community of Christ. And yet, insofar as they continue to sin, they are not fully there. They find themselves still tainted by their fallen mode of existence. Original sin has been cleansed, but concupiscence remains.

This “not yet there” aspect of the Christian life is manifest in the sins of the people, in the divisions among churches, and in erroneous theology which distorts the truth and leads people astray. Christian fights against Christian, and the unity which Christ wanted Christians to have, the unity which he prayed for, barely manifest in the world. It exists in the church only so far – it is the foundation of ecclesial reality which is experienced in and through the reception of communion, and where they allow their love to bring them together in worship, they give themselves over to the eschatological reality which forms the church. The unity of the church is meant to be a unity of love, a unity which reflects the love between the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. As the Trinity is one, so Christians are called to be united in love and find themselves to be one:

When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify thy Son that the Son may glorify thee, since thou hast given him power over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom thou hast given him. And this is eternal life, that they know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent. I glorified thee on earth, having accomplished the work which thou gavest me to do; and now, Father, glorify thou me in thy own presence with the glory which I had with thee before the world was made. I have manifested thy name to the men whom thou gavest me out of the world; thine they were, and thou gavest them to me, and they have kept thy word. Now they know that everything that thou hast given me is from thee; for I have given them the words which thou gavest me, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from thee; and they have believed that thou didst send me. I am praying for them; I am not praying for the world but for those whom thou hast given me, for they are thine; all mine are thine, and thine are mine, and I am glorified in them. And now I am no more in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to thee. Holy Father, keep them in thy name, which thou hast given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. While I was with them, I kept them in thy name, which thou hast given me; I have guarded them, and none of them is lost but the son of perdition, that the scripture might be fulfilled. But now I am coming to thee; and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves”  (Jn. 17:1-13 RSV).

By realizing the unity which allows Christians to be one in the church, Christians should be able to realize the unity and oneness of the persons of the Trinity. This is why it was important for the church to come together in the time of Constantine at the Council of Nicea. Not only did it proclaim the truth of Christ, that he is homoousios with the Father, it also promoted, as a practical ramification of this truth, the unity which is to be had between particular churches.

The Apostles had gone throughout the world, set up many sees of authority, many bishoprics which are to be seen as successors of the Apostles, continuing the work of the Apostles, even as they went throughout the world and converted people to the Christian faith. The more cities and communities which were converted, the more bishops were set up to represent and lead that local community. Many particular churches, with their own distinct liturgical and spiritual practices, as well as their own unique theological nuances, developed.  While there was already some form of relationship which existed between the various particular churches as can be seen in the way they shared various scriptural texts with each other, there was still much confusion as to which groups, which particular churches, represented authentic Christian beliefs, and which diverged from the tradition of the Apostles. Various local councils helped bring together several communities in making sure they understood one another, so that through them, some general agreements as to what constituted the Christian faith began to develop. that they had a basic agreement on what constitutes the Christian faith.  But because of the persecutions which caused many Christian leaders to be executed, it was difficult, and dangerous, for many leaders to come together in person, and so it was hard for the church throughout the world to come together and proclaim their faith together and realize in actuality their unity in Christ.

This was the unity which Christ desired not just for Christians, but for humanity as a whole. It was made possible as a result of his earthly ministry. In light of the resurrection, the divisions which separated and divided the people of the world could be overcome by grace.  And yet, for this reason, the church had to come together, the people of the church had to reveal their unity of faith together, to manifest to the world the unity which they could and should represent the oneness of God.  This meant that the unity of God had to be explored and established in a concrete expository form; declarations which failed to address that unity had to be corrected or entirely rejected. Constantine, directed by Ossius of Cordova, therefore established the first ecumenical council, not only to heal the rifts which happened in the church as a result of ignorance and sin, but also to find the means to truly understand the unity of the Trinity so that the church can find itself unified in its faith and be one as Christ prayed for them to be.

The two concerns went together. By establishing unity in the church, it would be easier to understand, in analogous form, the unity of the persons in the Trinity. The equality of the persons of the Trinity reveal to us the equality of human persons to each other, the realization of which is a part of the goal of the incarnation. We are to be one as God is one, and so we are to be persons united together in love, each unique and equal to each other.  To properly understand the revelation of God provided to us by Jesus Christ is, then, to properly understand who and what we are as persons.

The Apostles’ preaching and the Fathers’ doctrines have established one faith for the Church. / Adorned with the robe of truth, woven from heavenly theology, / It defines and glorifies the great mystery of Orthodoxy! (Kontakion of the Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council).

The purification of theology led, therefore, to the realization of the dignity of the human person.  Christians were better equipped to realize what Paul proclaimed when he said there is to be neither Jew nor Gentile, male or female, in Christ Jesus. It was due to the unity of Christians at Nicea that what it meant to be a person was itself explored, and allowed for human personality be properly understood. What is now taken for granted was itself a result of the Christian revelation, and demonstrates how Christ has indeed raised the awareness of the world of the truth. Even those who deny him are affected by his grace, by the way he has revealed the Trinity and the consequences of that revelation.  It is therefore proper for the Sunday of the Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council to fall within the Paschal sequence as the Seventh Sunday of Pascha. The lifting up of all human persons in the world is established by the revelation of Christ, showing to all that Christ indeed has raised fallen humanity and made it something different, something greater.  Even those who remain in their sins are forever changed by his work.

 

 

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