The Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council

Last week, the Sunday of the Blind Man, we heard the blind man’s response to the Pharisees: “If this man were not from God, he could do nothing” (John 9:33). That’s the point, Jesus was from God.

This past Thursday the Feast of the Ascension was celebrated; it was a day of glory. On the feast, we read the following words in the Gospel of John (16:28): “I came from the Father and have come into the world; again, I am leaving the world and going to the Father.” Our Lord Jesus Christ is taken up into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father. The feast prepares the way for the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.

We are reminded by St. Cyril of Jerusalem to believe Jesus was one with the Father, throughout His being (and His being is by an eternal generation) He sits together with the Father.

The saint goes on to say, and this throne the Prophet Isaiah having beheld before the incarnate coming of the Savior, says,

I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up (Is. 6:1),”

and He who then appeared to the Prophet was the Son.

The Psalmist also says, “Thy throne is prepared of old; Thou art from everlasting (Ps. 93:2).”

But now I must remind you of a few things out of many which are spoken concerning the Son’s sitting at the right hand of the Father. For the 109th Psalm says plainly,

The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit Thou on My right hand, until I make Thine enemies Thy footstool (Ps. 110:1).”

And the Savior, confirming this saying in the Gospels, says that David spoke not these things of himself, but from the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, saying,

How then doth David in the Spirit call Him Lord, saying, The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit Thou on My right hand (Matt. 22:3)?”

And in the Acts of the Apostles, Peter on the day of Pentecost standing with the Eleven (Acts 2:34), and discoursing to the Israelites, has in very words cited this testimony from the 109th Psalm.

Now may He Himself, the God of all, who is Father of the Christ, and our Lord Jesus Christ, who came down, and ascended, and sits together with the Father, watch over your souls.

May He keep unshaken and unchanged your hope in Him who rose again; raise you together with Him from your dead sins unto His heavenly gift; count you worthy to be

caught up in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air (1 Thess. 4:17).”

St. Cyril of Jerusalem is to the point and sums everything concisely.

Yet, here, again, we’ve come to a different type of well. The well of which we have heard of today, too, is deep.

And despite all of the tradition embedded in the depth of the well, a priest from Alexandria proclaimed that Jesus was created – not eternal. The priest was Arius and he was relying on his human frailties, his human rationality, to reach his conclusion. He was not reasoning in the metaphysical, the spiritual dimension. His failure was in not holding fast unto traditions – the Bible and way of life of the Church given to us by Christ.

The short story is that Arius was, because of his beliefs and teaching, run out of Alexandria. From there he fled to Jerusalem. There his teaching reached a more favorable and tolerant audience. Yet the body of the Church was unsettled – so much so that people claiming to be “of the Church” got into fisticuffs – fights, even riots broke out.

What was confronting the Church was not an external threat, rather the threat itself was from within.

Seeing his kingdom fracturing, Constantine summoned a gathering – a council – of bishops at Nicæa; 318 came for the deliberation. The council condemned the Arian beliefs – and Arius fled to, what is today, the region of Romania/Hungary.

Indeed, perhaps sensing the error of his ways, Arius later attempted a reconciliation with the Church – and some have written that the proposed reconciliation was without sincerity.

As with the Samaritan Woman, God came before her – confronting her. Last week we read of God coming before the blind man, confronting him. Perhaps Arius, too, was confronted by God. On the day of his reconciliation, on his way to the church, he fell ill and suddenly died.

It merits stating that on the day of the Ascension, Jesus gave his disciples “the Great Commission” –

And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen. (Matthew 28:18-20)

People often misquote the Great Commission when they say:

“teaching them everything I have commanded you,”

when the actual words are

“teaching them to obey [literal: ‘to be keeping’ – (tErein)] everything I have commanded you” (NIV).

Christian discipleship is not about learning a set of doctrines as it is adopting a lifestyle based on Christ’s teachings. The phrase

“everything I have commanded you”

is the basis for Holy Tradition which comprises both written and oral Tradition (2 Thess 2:15). That is why Orthodox catechesis emphasizes not just learning a system of doctrines but also learning a way of worship and a set of spiritual disciplines – a mode of living cooperation within the Church.

This is what the Council of Nicæa did – it remained true to Holy Tradition – “to obey everything I have commanded you”. That is where Arius went wrong. That is where people are going wrong today.

May our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ bless us, the people of Pascha. Amen.

Christ is Ascended in Glory! And We With Him!