Beloved in Christ,
The liturgical life of the Orthodox Christian has its own special ebb and flow. It
is marked by feasts and fasts as well as the times in between. Through the course
of the year we commemorate those moments and events in the life of the Lord that
are significant because they are the story of our salvation. Of course, the greatest
moment in salvation history and the most significant of our commemorations is that
of the Lord’s victory over death in the glories of His Resurrection. We recently
celebrated this on Pascha, we continue to celebrate it now during the forty days
of the Paschal Season (until the Eve of the Ascension), and we commemorate it every
Sunday throughout the year.
In the next few weeks, however, our focus will change as we celebrate the Great Feast
of the Lord’s Ascension into Heaven (May 25th this year). Then, having celebrated
the Lord’s return in glory to His Father’s right hand, we spend ten prayerful days
in anticipation of the Feast of Pentecost and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon
the Lord’s apostles and disciples. The days between these two feasts are quiet,
simple, still days of prayer. There are no specially-appointed Divine Services.
During these days nothing out of the ordinary that takes place in the liturgical
life of the Church.
For some, these inter-festal days might be seen as somewhat boring. But, then, there
are a lot of people who do not know how to live without excitement, without the sense
that something “special” is happening. Whether it comes from the pleasures of life,
leisure, or from crisis, there are those who simply thrive on activity, on doing
things, on solving problems, on getting things done, on adrenalin.
In the Book of the Acts of the Apostles we’re told that, after the Lord’s Ascension,
the disciples found themselves in this kind of situation, in a period of quiet waiting
- now they found themselves having to face a period in which they would simply have
to wait for Christ's promise to them to come true.
The Lord had taught them, he encouraged them, he commissioned them to do a job, and
then - on the day of his ascension into heaven, when they were anxiously asking him
when his kingdom would be established, when the next phase of the divine plan would
take place, he tells them that it is not for them to know the times or periods established
by God - but that they should go back to Jerusalem - and wait, wait for the coming
of the Holy Spirit - wait for the power they would need to witness to him there,
and in Judea and all of Samaria, and ultimately in all the world.
Living between times, living between occasions in which all of our minds and hearts
and energy are absorbed can, in fact, be quite wonderful. It can be for us a “pause
that refreshes,” a time in which we gain strength, a time in which we quietly grow
and are prepared for that which will come next. God knows that we too need periods
of rest - periods of waiting - periods in which we can be changed, refreshed, and
During these days as we transition from Pascha to the Lord’s Ascension, to Pentecost
(June 4), and beyond; as we prepare for the coming summer months with their own special
focus of rest and respite, let’s attempt to quiet down a bit, to enter more deeply
into the spirit of hopeful prayer and waiting for the Lord’s promises to us to be
fulfilled. Let us “wait upon the Lord.” After the Lord’s Ascension, the apostles
and disciples stayed together and they prayed - and in so doing, they prepared themselves
for the job Jesus had told them that they would do when the Holy Spirit came upon
them as He had promised it would.
As Jesus told the disciples, the Lord also tells us: “You will receive power when
the Holy Spirit comes upon you - and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all
Judea and Samaria—and to the ends of the world.” May these days be prayerful days
of reflection and preparation as we prepare to celebrate the Great Feast of Pentecost
and as we prepare ourselves anew for the mission the Lord has entrusted to us.
Indeed He is risen!
With love in the Risen Lord,
Commemoration of the Holy Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council
Commemorated on May 28
On the seventh Sunday of Pascha, we commemorate the holy God-bearing Fathers of the
First Ecumenical Council.
The Commemoration of the First Ecumenical Council has been celebrated by the Church
of Christ from ancient times. The Lord Jesus Christ left the Church a great promise,
“I will build My Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Mt.
16:18). Although the Church of Christ on earth will pass through difficult struggles
with the Enemy of salvation, it will emerge victorious. The holy martyrs bore witness
to the truth of the Savior’s words, enduring suffering and death for confessing Christ,
but the persecutor’s sword is shattered by the Cross of Christ.
Persecution of Christians ceased during the fourth century, but heresies arose within
the Church itself. One of the most pernicious of these heresies was Arianism. Arius,
a priest of Alexandria, was a man of immense pride and ambition. In denying the divine
nature of Jesus Christ and His equality with God the Father, Arius falsely taught
that the Savior is not consubstantial with the Father, but is only a created being.
A local Council, convened with Patriarch Alexander of Alexandria presiding, condemned
the false teachings of Arius. However, Arius would not submit to the authority of
the Church. He wrote to many bishops, denouncing the decrees of the local Council.
He spread his false teaching throughout the East, receiving support from certain
Investigating these dissentions, the holy emperor Constantine (May 21) consulted
Bishop Hosius of Cordova (Aug. 27), who assured him that the heresy of Arius was
directed against the most fundamental dogma of Christ’s Church, and so he decided
to convene an Ecumenical Council. In 325, 318 bishops representing Christian Churches
from various lands gathered together at Nicea.
Among the assembled bishops were many confessors who had suffered during the persecutions,
and who bore the marks of torture upon their bodies. Also participating in the Council
were several great luminaries of the Church: Saint Nicholas, Archbishop of Myra in
Lycia (December 6 and May 9), Saint Spyridon, Bishop of Tremithos (December 12),
and others venerated by the Church as holy Fathers.
With Patriarch Alexander of Alexandria came his deacon, Athanasius (who later became
Patriarch of Alexandria (May 2 and January 18). He is called “the Great,” for he
was a zealous champion for the purity of Orthodoxy. In the Sixth Ode of the Canon
for today’s Feast, he is referred to as “the thirteenth Apostle.”
The emperor Constantine presided over the sessions of the Council. In his speech,
responding to the welcome by Bishop Eusebius of Caesarea, he said, “God has helped
me cast down the impious might of the persecutors, but more distressful for me than
any blood spilled in battle is for a soldier, is the internal strife in the Church
of God, for it is more ruinous.”
Arius, with seventeen bishops among his supporters, remained arrogant, but his teaching
was repudiated and he was excommunicated from the Church. In his speech, the holy
deacon Athanasius conclusively refuted the blasphemous opinions of Arius. The heresiarch
Arius is depicted in iconography sitting on Satan’s knees, or in the mouth of the
Beast of the Deep (Rev. 13).
The Fathers of the Council declined to accept a Symbol of Faith (Creed) proposed
by the Arians. Instead, they affirmed the Orthodox Symbol of Faith. Saint Constantine
asked the Council to insert into the text of the Symbol of Faith the word “consubstantial,”
which he had heard in the speeches of the bishops. The Fathers of the Council unanimously
accepted this suggestion.
In the Nicean Creed, the holy Fathers set forth and confirmed the Apostolic teachings
about Christ’s divine nature. The heresy of Arius was exposed and repudiated as an
error of haughty reason. After resolving this chief dogmatic question, the Council
also issued Twelve Canons on questions of churchly administration and discipline.
Also decided was the date for the celebration of Holy Pascha. By decision of the
Council, Holy Pascha should not be celebrated by Christians on the same day with
the Jewish Passover, but on the first Sunday after the first full moon of the vernal
equinox (which occured on March 22 in 325).
The First Ecumenical Council is also commemorated on May 29.