of St Nicholas
Redeeming the Time Vol. 03.06 - Sunday of the Holy Fathers if the First Ecumenical Council
then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the
time, because the days are evil.
News and Announcements *
Congratulations and many years to the newly-illumined infant Sven
and his parents Jason and Pelegia, and the sponsors John and Mary!
Fr. Constantine's travels
Fr Constantine will leave for Brazil this week, and return after he celebrates Pentecost, which among other things, discusses speaking in tongues, in another tongue! (Portuguese, and some Slavonic). May God bless and protect him on his trip. Please remember to pray for him.
Building Fund Update
Glory be to God for all things! Our building fund has $17,767. Please consider strongly regularly giving to our building fund - but don't take it from your tithe! Our operating expenses can't be met if you do. The parish council is discussing means for growing our fund - stay tuned.
Pentecost is coming - next Sunday will be the celebration of the coming of the Holy Spirit to the Apostles, and to us. Immediately following the Divine Liturgy next Sunday will be the Kneeling Vespers, during which we kneel for the first time since Holy Week.
Questions about the Sunday of the Holy Fathers of the 1st Ecumenical Council
When is the Sunday of the Holy Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council celebrated? Speculate why.
What is an Ecumenical Council? How many have there been? Why, in general, were they called? How do the Orthodox view the pronouncements of the Ecumenical Councils? What was the primary reason for the 1st Ecumenical Council? When and where was it called?
What major church document was produced in part by the 1st Ecumenical Council? Why? Comment on the importance of this document vis-à-vis a person's Orthodoxy.
Describe the pernicious heresy combated by the council. Are there any
recognizable groups outside the church that still hold to this heresy?
What Gospel is read for the Sunday of the Holy Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council? Why?
What is the definition of eternal life that Jesus gives in the Gospel for the Sunday of the Holy Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council?
Who were some of the Holy Fathers at the First Ecumenical Council? Which one struck an arch-heretic? What happened? How many holy fathers were at the council? Where else does this number appear in the Holy Scriptures?
Describe the Holy Fathers' treatment of Arius and compare and contrast this to the current activities and pronouncements of influential Orthodox bishops today.
What decision was made about Pascha at the First Ecumenical Council? Is this decision observed to this day by all the Orthodox?
What 3 commemorations are observed in the services for the Sunday of the Holy Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council? Explain.
Explain what being "guided by the Holy Spirit" means for an Orthodox Christian. Contrast this meaning with the meaning others who express belief in Christ, but are not Orthodox, hold.
By our Father among the Saints Leo the Great, Pope of Rome.
Today, best beloved, is completed the number of the forty days after the blessed and glorious Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, in which the divine power raised within three days the true temple of God, which Jewish impiety had demolished, - that number which by sacred ordinance was measured out for our profitable instruction, so that, during the space when the Lord drew out the duration of his bodily presence, our faith in the Resurrection might be fortified by necessary proofs. For Christ's death had greatly perturbed the disciples' hearts, and a sot of stunned disbelief had taken over their minds, weighed down as they were with grief at the torment of the Cross, the yielding up of his spirit, the burial of his lifeless body. When, indeed, holy women, as the Gospel-story discloses, brought word to the Apostles and other disciples of a stone rolled away from a tomb, a grave empty of a body, and angels testifying to the living Lord, their words seemed like ravings. The Spirit of Truth would surely never have permitted this state of doubt, an effect of human weakness, to exist in his own preacher's breasts, had not their dithering uncertainty and anxious hesitation laid the foundations of our faith. It was our bafflement and our difficulties that were provided for in the Apostles: it is we ourselves who are taught in these men how to meet the quibblings of the godless and the arguments of earthly wisdom. They see, and we are taught; they hear, and we are instructed; they touch and we are convinced. Let us give thanks for the divine economy and for the holy Fathers' (necessarily) hesitant belief. Others doubted so that we would not doubt.
The days, best beloved, between the Lord's Resurrection and his Ascension did not, then, pass by empty and uneventful: rather great mysteries were affirmed, profound truths disclosed in them. In them was abolished the fear of dreadful death, and immortality established not only of the soul but of the flesh as well. In them, the Holy Spirit is poured on all the Apostles by the Lord's breathing on them, and the care of the Lord's flock is entrusted to the blessed Apostle Peter more than to all the others, and the keys of the Kingdom as well. It was then that the Lord joined two disciples as a companion on the road, and chided them for their hesitancy and trepidation of heart, so that the fog of our uncertainty might all be swept away. As the Lord expounds the Scriptures their hearts, enlightened, catch fire with faith, and lukewarm though they had been, made to blaze. In the breaking of bread too their eyes are opened as they eat with him.
How much more blessed was the opening of the eyes of those to whom the glorification of their nature was revealed, than that of our first parents, on whom fell the disastrous consequences of their transgression!
In the midst of these and other wonders, when the disciples were beset by bewildering thoughts, the Lord appeared among them saying, "Peace to you." To avoid what was passing through their hearts becoming their fixed opinion (for they thought they were seeing spirit not flesh), he refutes their ideas so out of accord with truth, offering to the doubters' eyes the marks of the cross that remained in his hands and feet. He invites them to touch him and examine him carefully, for the scars of the nails and the spear had been preserved in order to heal the wounds of unbelieving hearts, so that they might understand, not with wavering faith, but with steadfast knowledge that the Nature which had been placed in the tomb would sit on God the Father's throne.
Accordingly, dearly-beloved, throughout this time which elapsed between the Lord's Resurrection and Ascension, God's Providence intended to teach and to impress upon the eyes and hearts of his people that the Lord Jesus Christ is to be acknowledged to have risen just as truly as he was truly born, suffered, and died. And thus the blessed Apostles and all the disciples, who filled with fear at his death on the Cross and with uncertain whether to believe in his Resurrection, were so fortified by the obvious truth, that when the Lord went up into heavenís heights, not only were they not affected with sadness, they were even filled with great joy. And truly great and beyond words was their cause for joy, when, in the sight of the holy gathering, the nature of humankind ascended above the dignity of all the creatures of heaven, to pass above the ranks of angels and to be raised beyond the height of the archangels, and to have no upward limit set to its ascent until it was received to sit enthroned with the Eternal Father, to share the glory of Him, to whose nature it was united in the Son.
Since, then, Christ's Ascension is our elevation, and the bodyís hope is summoned to where the glory of the head has already gone, let us exult, best beloved, with fitting celebration and rejoice to offer dutiful thanks. For to-day not only are we confirmed as possessors of paradise, but in Christ we have even penetrated heavenís height, and by Christís ineffable grace have gained abundantly, far beyond what we lost through the devilís envy. The poisonous enemy drove us from the bliss of our first home, but the Son of God has incorporated us in Himself and placed us at the right hand of the Father, with Whom He lives and reigns in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.
The Sunday of the Holy Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council is celebrated the Sunday before Pentecost, following Ascension Thursday. When Christ ascended, He reiterated His promise of the Holy Spirit to the apostles. The Holy Spirit guided the church, and this guidance is magnificently made manifest in the Ecumenical Councils, when dogmas were confirmed and heretics were put to shame. As we await the celebration of the giving of the Holy Spirit, it is appropriate to think of the ways in which He guides the church. Through the Holy Spirit, who guided the Holy Fathers in the Councils and confirmed their pronouncements in the mind of the Church, the Orthodox Faith, which is nothing less than the only correct and saving faith in the true God, was preserved.
The principle that hierarchs can meet and formulate doctrinal and disciplinary statements and resolutions that are the will of God and accepted by the entire church was established in the apostolic period with the first RECORDED council, which was reported by St. Luke in his Acts, with the famous statement which has become an anthem of sorts for the Orthodox: "For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us" (Acts 15:28).
There have been seven Ecumenical Councils, which were always convened when there was some heresy that was endangering the purity of the Orthodox faith. The First Ecumenical Council was held in 325 AD in Nicea. It was called primarily to combat the heresy of Arianism.
"Ye have become exact keepers of the apostolic traditions, / O Holy Fathers; / for in setting forth in council the dogma / of the consubstantiality of the Holy Trinity in Orthodox fashion, / ye cast down the blasphemy of Arius. / Then, after censuring Macedonius, the enemy of the Holy Spirit, / ye condemned Nestorius, Eutyches, Dioscorus, / Sabellius, and Severus the headless. / Wherefore, make ye entreaty / that we be delivered from their error, // and that our life be preserved blameless in the Faith, we pray."
(Vespers for the Sunday of the Holy Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council, The Litya Glory)
"Today the brilliant city of the Niceans / hath called together to herself from the whole world / three hundred eighteen hierarchs against Arius, / him that uttered blasphemy and made little account of the One of the Trinity, / the true Son and Divine Rod; / and having thus deposed this man from pow'r, // the Fathers mightily strengthened the Holy Faith."
(Matins for the Sunday of the Holy Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council, Sessional hymn after the 3rd Ode of the canon, Glory)
The Symbol of Faith, the Nicean Creed, was authored in part in Nicea. It is impossible for one to be a Christian if this symbol, which dogmatizes Divine Truth about God and His economy, is not believed.
"O ye assemblies of the Orthodox, / let us celebrate today with faith and piety / the annual memorial of the God-bearing Fathers / who, in the illustrious city of Nicaea, / came together from the whole inhabited world. / For with pious mind / they refuted the godless dogma of the grievous Arius, / and by synodal decree banished him from the Catholic Church. / And they instructed all to openly confess / the consubstantial and co-eternal Son of God, / Who existed before the ages. / This, in exactness and piety, / did they set forth in the Symbol of Faith. / Wherefore, following their divine doctrines / and believing with assurance, / we worship, in One Godhead, / the Father, Son, and All-holy Spirit, // the Trinity one in essence."
(Vespers for the Sunday of the Holy Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council, the Aposticha, Glory)
"The first gathering of Thy priests, O Savior, piously proclaimed Thee to be begotten and consubstantial with the beginningless Father and Creator of all." (Matins for the Sunday of the Holy Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council, The Canon of the Fathers, Ode 3)
"Having brought together all knowledge of things of the spirit / and made careful inquiry by the divine Spirit's grace, / lo, like godly scribes / the august Fathers wrote the celestial Symbol, / the august Creed of our holy Faith, / wherein they clearly teach that, like God the Father, / the Word of God is also unoriginate / and is consubstantial with Him in truth. / Thus did these all-blest and renowned and godly-minded ones / indeed follow in manifest manner // in that which the Apostles taught". (Praises for the Sunday of the Holy Fathers)
In essence, the heresy of Arianism, named after its chief architect the former Protopresbyter Arius of Carthage, held that Christ was created, and not perfectly God.
"Ere the morning star from the womb wast Thou born / from the Father motherless ere the ages, / though Arius held Thou wast created and thus not God, / boldly and mindlessly identifying Thee, the Creator, / with things created, / thus storing up fuel for the eternal fire. / But the Council gathered in Nicaea / proclaimed that Thou, O Lord, art truly the Son of God, // one with the Father and the Spirit in rank."
"O My Savior, who hath thus rent Thy raiment? / Thou didst say: It was Arius / who sundered the Trinity's headship, / which is one in rank and honor. / That Thou art One of the Most Holy Trinity he disputed: / and he taught Nestorius the godless not to say Theotokos. / But the Council gathered in Nicaea / proclaimed that Thou, O Lord, art truly the Son of God, // one with the Father and the Spirit in rank." (Vespers for the Sunday of the Holy Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council, Lord I have cried, Stichera 7 and 8)
The Jehovah's Witnesses are in essence Arians. Mormon heresies are also substantially influenced by Arianism.
The gospel read on the Sunday of the Holy Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council is from St. John (Jn 17:1-13), and consists of the words the Lord told His disciples just before His arrest on Holy Thursday.
His words shown below powerfully refute the heresy of Arius, as they show Him to be equal to the Father: "These words spake Jesus, and lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee:" (John 17:1)
A reciprocal relationship is seen where each person has the capacity
to equally glorify the other. Christ's own words here, "And now, O Father,
glorify thou me with Thine own self with the glory which I had with thee
before the world was," (John 17:5) directly refute the blasphemous idea,
first proposed by Arius, that Jesus Christ was created.
Our Lord defined eternal life in His High-Priestly prayer to the Father:
"And this is life eternal, that they might know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent." (John 17:3)
There were 318 Holy Fathers at the First Ecumenical Council in Nicea, a number which also prophetically appeared in the Old Testament:
"And when Abram heard that his brother was taken captive, he armed his trained servants, born in his own house, three hundred and eighteen, and pursued them unto Dan." (Gen 14:14)This refers to the incident in which Abram (later, renamed by God "Abraham") rescued Lot.
The First Council was particularly rich with Holy and God-bearing Fathers, among them being:
The Holy Fathers descended with ferocity against the horrible heresy of Arius, because they understood its implications, and the services faithfully capture the essence of this holy and violent battle:
"Mindless, foolish Arius / once divided the All-holy Trinity's one dominion / and made thus three essences dissimilar and foreign. / Hence, the God-bearing Fathers gathered together in their fervor, / burning with zeal like to Elias the Thesbite, / and they cut down with the sharp sword of the Holy Spirit / the vile blasphemer, / who taught doctrines of shamefulness. // Thus did the Spirit reveal to them." (Vespers, Lord, I have Cried)
The battle with Arius became so intense that Nicholas the Wonderworker, filled with divine zeal, struck the blasphemer on the cheek in order to silence his torrent of filthy doctrines
(The story of this event is in another of our Questions series, http://www.orthodox.net/questions/nicholas_1.htm)
In our ecumenical and compromising age, bishops often do not live as monastics, but act like politicians, and heresies even worse than Arianism are winked at. Documents are signed which are wholly unorthodox, such as the infamous "Balamand Agreement", and foolish shepherds hold services and worship with wolves, and encourage their sheep to be commingled with these wolves, in blasphemous "inter-faith" services. Much of this false shepherding is done in the name of "love", actually the love of this world. Too many hierarchs no longer resemble the God-bearing Holy Fathers of the Holy Councils.
The formula for the celebration of Pascha was decided in the First Council. This formula is somewhat complex, but in general, it assures these things:
Pascha is never celebrated before or at the same time as the Jewish feast of Passover.
Pascha is never celebrated in May.
The Church in Finland has wholly ignored the consensus of the church, and celebrates Pascha with the heretics. They follow the Western Paschalian. Those who follow the New Calendar innovation still celebrate Pascha with the Orthodox who have resisted this innovation; however, on their calendar Pascha sometimes falls in May.
The Sunday of the Holy Fathers of the First Ecumenical falls within the festal period of the Ascension. Therefore, three things are spoken of in the services:
The Resurrection (as always on a Sunday)
The Holy Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council
The church is guided by the Holy Spirit, and her members are also guided by this same Spirit. Since the Holy Spirit never contradicts Himself, an individual must agree with the corporate consensus of the One Holy and Catholic Church. The mistake that sectarians make is that they have lost the consciousness of this consensus, and depend unwisely on their own private interpretations.
"The Holy Spirit provideth all things; He gusheth forth prophecy; He perfecteth the priesthood; He hath taught wisdom to the illiterate. He hath shown forth the fishermen as theologians. He holdeth together the whole institution of the Church. Wherefore, O Comforter, one in essence and throne with the Father and the Son, glory be to Thee." (Lord, I have Cried, Vespers of Pentecost)
What is the ministry of the Holy Spirit?
What are two symbols for the Holy Spirit? Explain why symbols are used to depict Him, and the reason for these particular symbols. How did the Holy Spirit manifest Himself on the day of Pentecost? Describe three ways.
What is the complete text of the most famous prayer to the Holy Spirit? In which services is it used? There are certain days when it is not used. Which?
Describe the procession of the Holy Spirit, and the relationship of the Holy Spirit to the other persons of the Godhead. Is it important to be exact? Describe a popular heresy concerning the procession of the Holy Spirit, and the two divinely inspired documents which directly refute this heresy. What are the implications for those who believe this heresy?
Describe the gift of tongues, and comment upon the claims of many who say they have this gift today.
Describe the day of Pentecost. Can you do it from memory? If you do not remember much, this is a strong indication that you need to realign your priorities, and read more scripture, and go to more services. We have a lot of time to be dead, but not much time to learn the things that pertain to our salvation.
What very important prayer did the Holy Prophet David say concerning the Holy Spirit, and what are its implications? Hint - All Orthodox Christians should be saying this prayer every day.
How is the Holy Spirit given? Can He be lost? How?
Why is the feast of Pentecost called "Pentecost"? What Jewish feast was occurring at the same time? Explain some of the implications of the juxtaposition of the Jewish feast and the giving of the Holy Spirit to the Church.
Describe the services for Pentecost, and do not neglect to mention any special prayers that are said. This day is also unique in that the main scriptural text for the feast is not from the Gospels. Why not?
"Redeeming the Time"
is an almost weekly Journal of St.
Nicholas Orthodox Church, Dallas Texas. Distribute this text if you
wish, but only if attribution and all contact information are included.
I would appreciate being contacted if any large-scale use of this text
is desired. All unsigned or unattributed portions © 1998 Fr Seraphim
Holland. All rights reserved
Russian Orthodox Church
of St Nicholas
Phone: 972 529-2754
Priest Seraphim Holland
All rights reserved. Please use this Orthodox Christian material in any way that is edifying to your soul, and copy it for personal use if you so desire. We ask that you contact St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church if you wish to distribute it in any way.