Sunday, June 5, 2011

Holy Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council

The Holy Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council are commemorated today.  The primary impetus for the council, held in the city of Nicea in 325 AD, was to address the errors of the heretic Arius.  Arius is best known for promulgating the heresy that there was a time when the Father was but the Son was not, a heresy continued to this very day by modern Jehovah's Witnesses.

Among the Holy Fathers at this council were Saint Athanasius, who was a young Deacon at the time attending the Council with his hierarch, Patriarch Alexander of Alexandria, and Saint Nicholas, the famed Bishop of Myra who is more commonly known for his connection with the Nativity.  Saint Nicholas is reputed to have punched Arius in the face, so angered was he at the heretic's teachings.  Since he called the Council, the Emperor, Saint Constantine the Great, was also present.

It is after this council that the Nicene Creed is named (though it is more properly known as the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed, since the Creed in its present form was not finalized until the Second Ecumenical Council at Constantinople in 359, which greatly expounded upon the Third Article dealing with the Holy Spirit).  The Faith as articulated at this Council and at Constantinople has, in large measure, united all of Christianity since, with the only real division being the filioque controversy wherein the Western Church added the phrase "and the son" to the Third Article provision dealing with procession of the Holy Spirit.  Leaving this controversy aside, the great uniting feature of the Creed as comprised at Nicea was in the Second Article, where the Council confessed that Christ is "of one essence with the Father. . . ."  The Greek word in the Creed for "essence," homoousion, has become a rallying point for all of Christendom over and against those who would make the Son to be something less than the Father.

318 bishops convened at Nicea, along with incalculable numbers of attending presbyters and deacons.  No small number of these arrived bearing the marks of their persecution, wounds inflicted prior to the Edict of Milan.  It was said at the time that "all the world follows after Arius."  These great men quelled the heresy and preserved the Apostolic Faith from one of the most pervasive heresies in the history of the Church.  It is fitting, then, to close this post with the Creed by which they did so (in its current, Niceno-Constantinopolitan form):

I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible;
And in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Only-begotten, Begotten of the Father before all worlds, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, Begotten, not made, of one essence with the Father, by Whom all things were made:  Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again with glory to judge the living and the dead, Whose kingdom shall have no end.
And I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, and Giver of Life, Who proceedeth from the Father, Who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified, Who spoke by the Prophets; and I believe in One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.  I acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins.  I look for the Resurrection of the dead, and the Life of the world to come. Amen.

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