Κυριακή, 28 Μαΐου 2017

Two voices from Africa about the Sunday of the Holy God-bearing Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council (seventh Sunday of Pascha)



Orthodox Metropolis of Zambia and Malawi

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.
The Council of Nicea was a historic gathering of Christian bishops in modern Iznik, Turkey, in 325 CE. Convened by the newly-converted Emperor Constantine, it condemned Arianism as a heresy and produced the Nicene Creed.

The Council of Nicea (325 CE) was an important meeting of about 300 bishops from across the Roman Empire to discuss theological and administrative issues. It is best known for resulting in the Nicene Creed, which is still used by most Christian denominations today as a statement of faith.

Arianism

Named for Arius, a priest in Alexandria, Egypt, Arianism taught that Jesus Christ was divine but not quite equal to God.
Arians held that Christ did not always exist along with the Father (was not "coeternal"), but was begotten by him before the world (and even time itself) was created. The two divine beings were of "similar substance" but not the same (not "consubstantial").

Constantine and Arianism

The newly-converted Emperor Constantine had hoped Christianity would be the uniting force of his empire. He was thus distressed to hear of the dispute over Arianism.
So in 325, Constantine convened a council of Christian bishops at Nicea (modern Iznik, Turkey) with full confidence that they could work out their differences.
The gathering at Nicea was significant both historically and theologically.
Although many local synods had been held, the Council of Nicea was the first to include bishops from several different regions, and is thus considered the first "ecumenical council" of the church. All three main branches of Christianity - Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestant - still consider the decisions of this and six other ecumenical councils to be authoritative.
The Council of Nicea also marked a major shift in Christianity's status. After centuries of persecution by Roman officials, Christian bishops from across the Empire now journeyed to Nicea under state protection to discuss theological problems with the help of the Roman emperor.
Official persecution had been so recent that many of the bishops still bore its scars; Constantine himself is said to have kissed the eyeless cheek of one attendee.



The Nicene Creed

By overwhelming majority, the bishops at the Council of Nicea voted to condemn Arianism.
In addition to condemning this doctrine as heresy, the Nicene bishops defined orthodox ("correct") Christian belief, focusing especially on the Son's relationship to the Father and using language specifically designed to refute Arius' teachings.
The official statement of faith issued by the Council of Nicea is called the Nicene Creed, which is still recited in many Christian churches today:
We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of all things visible and invisible; and in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only-begotten of his Father, of the substance of the Father, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance (homousion) with the Father, by whom all things were made, both which be in heaven and in earth, who for us men and for our salvation came down and was incarnate and was made man. He suffered and the third day he rose again, and ascended into heaven. And he shall come again to judge both the quick and the dead. And [we believe] in the Holy Ghost. And whosoever shall say that there was a time when the Son of God was not, or that before he was begotten he was not, or that he was made of things that were not, or that he is of a different substance or essence [from the Father] or that he is a creature, or subject to change or conversion—all that so say, the Catholic and Apostolic Church anathematizes them.
In addition to the creed, the bishops at the Council of Nicea issued 20 canons, or determinations, after the conclusion of the council. Most of them are fairly mundane and deal with administrative matters.


Primary Sources on the Council of Nicea
 

As the Council of Nicea was of such importance to the early church, quite a bit of information survives in ancient documents. Several church historians who lived during or shortly after the Council of Nicea documented the events of the council. In addition, writers such as Athanasius (the main defender of Nicene orthodoxy) referred to it in their letters.
Eusebius, Life of Constantine 3.4-23 (eyewitness account of a bishop at the council)
Athanasius, Letter to Bishops of Africa (eyewitness account)
Athanasius, Defense of the Nicene Definition (eyewitness, mainly on theology)
Theodoret, Ecclesiastical History 1.7 (early 400s)
Socrates Scholasticus, Ecclesiastical History 1.7-9 (early 400s)
Sozomen, Ecclesiastical History 1.15-17 (early 400s)
This Nicene Creed is documented in several contemporary sources, including the Acts of the Ecumenical Councils of Ephesus and Acts of Chalcedon, in the Epistle of Eusebius of Cæsarea to his own church, in the Ecclesiastical Histories of Theodoret and Socrates, and elsewhere.
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.


Saint Athanasius the Great of Alexandria, the pillar of Orthodoxy

This is a part from the post Three Africans ancients saints: Anthony the Great (the Professor of Desert), Athanasius the Great & Cyril of Alexandria
 
Saint Athanasius the Great, Archbishop of Alexandria, was a great Father of the Church and a pillar of Orthodoxy. ...It was as a deacon that St Athanasius accompanied Patriarch Alexander to the First Ecumenical Council at Nicea in the year 325. At the Council, St Athanasius refuted of the heresy of Arius. His speech met with the approval of the Orthodox Fathers of the Council, but the Arians, those openly and those secretly so, came to hate Athanasius and persecuted him for the rest of his life.
After the death of holy Patriarch Alexander, St Athanasius was unanimously chosen as his successor in the See of Alexandria. He refused, accounting himself unworthy, but at the insistence of all the Orthodox populace that it was in agreement, he was consecrated bishop when he was twenty-eight, and installed as the archpastor of the Alexandrian Church. Several times he was expelled from Alexandria and hid himself from the Arians in desolate places, since they repeatedly tried to kill him. St Athanasius spent more than twenty years in exile, returned to his flock, and then was banished again.
There was a time when he remained as the only Orthodox bishop in the area, a moment when all the other bishops had fallen into heresy. At the false councils of Arian bishops he was deposed as bishop. Despite being persecuted for many years, the saint continued to defend the purity of the Orthodox Faith, and he wrote countless letters and tracts against the Arian heresy. (...)



St Paphnutius of Egyptian Thebes, the Confessor, a prominent member of the First Council of Nicaea

A part from here
 
Paphnutius of Thebes, also known as Paphnutius the Confessor, was a disciple of Saint Anthony the Great and a bishop of a city in the Upper Thebaid in the early fourth century. He is accounted by some as a prominent member of the First Council of Nicaea which took place in 325 CE. Paphnutius had been persecuted for his Christian beliefs, and had suffered mutilation of the left knee and the loss of his right eye for the Faith under the Emperor Maximinus, and was subsequently condemned to the mines. According to some reports, at the First Council of Nicaea he was greatly honoured by Constantine the Great.
Some ancient church historians claim that he took a prominent, perhaps a decisive, part in the debate at the First Ecumenical Council on the subject of the clerical celibacy. It seems that most of the bishops present were disposed to follow the precedent of the Council of Elvira prohibiting conjugal relations to those bishops, priests, deacons, and sub-deacons who were married before ordination. Paphnutius, so certain ancient authors tell us, earnestly entreated his fellow-bishops not to impose this obligation on the orders of the clergy concerned. He proposed, in accordance "with the ancient tradition of the Church", that only those who were celibates at the time of ordination should continue to observe continence, but, on the other hand, that "none should be separated from her, to whom, while yet unordained, he had been united". 
The great veneration in which he was held, and the well-known fact that he had himself observed the strictest chastity all his life, gave weight to his proposal, which was unanimously adopted. The council left it to the discretion of the married clergy to continue or discontinue their marital relations. In addition, Paphnutius was a zealous defender of Orthodoxy in the face of the Arian heresy. Paphnutius supposedly accompanied Saint Athanasius to the First Synod of Tyre in 335 A.D. His feast is on April 19; in the Roman Catholic Church It is on September 11. (...)

St Anthony the Great publicly denounced Arianism

From Three Africans ancients saints: Anthony the Great (the Professor of Desert), Athanasius the Great & Cyril of Alexandria (icon from here)

(...) Another time St Anthony left the desert and arrived in Alexandria to defend the Orthodox Faith against the Manichaean and Arian heresies. Knowing that the name of St Anthony was venerated by all the Church, the Arians said that he adhered to their heretical teaching. But St Anthony publicly denounced Arianism in front of everyone and in the presence of the bishop. During his brief stay at Alexandria, he converted a great multitude of pagans to Christ. (...)


*****
Our Church in her holy church services continues to pray for “the unity of the holy Churches of God”


Orthodox Archbishopric of Zimbabwe
Icon from here

This Sunday’s is dedicated to the holy memory of the 318 God-bearing Fathers of the Church who participated in the 1st Ecumenical Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D., in order to verify the basic teachings of our Church, which are linked to our salvation through Christ. These basic principles are emphasised from the first articles of our Symbol of faith, the well known “I believe ….” which we Christians continue to repeat even today in fear of God, to emphasize our faith to God the Father as the Creator of the World and to Jesus Christ as His only begotten Son who came to this world to save us from sin and death and to direct us to Paradise.
In the first Ecumenical Council of Nicaea with the Creed of faith, the heretical teaching of Arius was condemned as was that of his followers who rejected the Divine nature of the Son and Word of God, saying with much disrespect that there was a time when Christ was not God and consequently that He was something that was made, that is one of God’s creations.
The followers of the heretical Arius successfully managed to influence the political authority of the time and to rule in the East in different ways. In stages however, the followers and believers of Arius began to disagree and consequently they dispersed into various heretical sects. Generally speaking, Arianism provoked one of the most serious crises in Church history because with the denial of the Divine nature of Christ they rejected the reality of the redemptive character of Christianity.
Arius, by completely disregarding the unity and oneness of God the Father hence devalues the other two Persons of the Holy Trinity. This furthermore is the qualifying characteristic of every heresy – the complete disregard of a certain part of the truth to the detriment of the whole truth of the dogmatic teaching of our Church. In reality, in this situation, for the understanding of the dogma an anthropomorphic element is working which is anthropocentric and self-centered, that is egoistical. It is a complete disregard of man’s logic and hence the dogma is fully understood not as the consciousness of our Church understands it but as a limited logic perceives it, which selfishly claims to think that it knows everything. 


The human word ministers theology without becoming a point of departure for theology. The human word projects the salvation of mankind when it presupposes the consciousness of the Church precisely because Church consciousness embodies the concept of a catholic consciousness.
This is a why a distinctive mark of Christianity is the breaking of the ego. Of our self, of human logic. when human logic is humbled then it bears fruit within the life of the Church as a service of love which serves the theology of the Church directing the people to work for salvation through Christ.
This Sunday, which is dedicated to the holy memory of the God bearing church Fathers of the 1st Ecumenical Council, conveys to us their great struggles which they faced in opposition to the heresy of Arius who, as we have already pointed out, violently shook the entire unity of the Church. Simultaneously, however the struggles of the church Fathers drove the Orthodox truth to victory as well as to the preservation of the unity of the people of God.
So, today’s Gospel extract, by presenting to the faithful a part of our Lord and Savior’s prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, reveals to us the Lord’s struggle for his holy disciples and Apostles and for all their successors and generally speaking his faithful disciples who were to follow - our Saints. Christ pleads with his Father to protect his disciples from every form of evil and cunning. Christ prays to His Father to safeguard His disciples and to look after them on the difficult road of the right teaching of the Gospel. Christ pleads with His Father to immerse them and sanctify them in the truth and for them to dedicate their whole life to this.


However, above all, Christ prays for the unity of all the people who believe in His Name. This unity will be strengthened by the unity which exists between Father and Son. The fruit of this unity is the upright faith of the people in the Holy Trinity. In her entire historical path, our church struggles and wrestles against heresies and schisms.

This is why our Church in her holy church services continues to pray for “the unity of the holy Churches of God” and for “their word of truth to be held upright and to be honored” and for all the faithful to be “as one” as is the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, our Triune God.
Therefore our Christian unity stems from the existence of the common faith of the common baptism of all who freely believe and with the fear of God in our Savior Jesus Christ. With the unity of the church as the foundation is the entity of the God-man Jesus Christ who also constitutes the Head of the Church. And since the church is one also unified is his body, which is the church. The church’s unity can be connected to the Holy Spirit, which also gives the church soul and courage. Furthermore the unity of the church is joined to God Father who in fact constitutes the first origin and reason for the church.
The unity of the church is connected by the one common faith of her members with the one holy Baptism in which all who become Christians are baptized and with which the faithful are joined to one body completely with the Church.
Saint John Chrysostomos tells us that “when all believe in the same way, then there is unity.” Hence every deviation of the Christian from the exactness of the faith creates a division in the unity of the church.
In the daily spiritual struggle for our Christianity and our sanctity with the grace of God we must pray to our lord Jesus Christ who strengthens us asking for the intercessions of our Most Holy Lady the Theotokos and of all the saints and especially of our God bearing fathers of the 1st Ecumenical Council whose memory our Church honours today.
Let us try therefore for the rest of our lives to be the light of Christ, which enlightens our path, all these great and heroic persons of the Goldbeating Church Fathers of the 1st Ecumenical Council. Their examples remind us of the great debt that we have as Christians to continue our spiritual struggle for our Orthodox faith. In this way, Christ’s existence will remain alive in the world so that we can have hope in our salvation through Christ and our entry into Paradise.


Christ Prays For Our Perfect Joy

 
The Mystic Dinner. Icon from here.
 
Orthodox Metropolis of Zambia and Malawi

Today, when the Church of Christ prayerfully remembers the Holy Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council – who, inspired by the Holy Spirit, were able to formulate, explain, and transmit to us the truth about God inscribed in the definitions of the Symbol of Faith – a passage from the Holy Gospel of the Apostle John the Evangelist, frequently called the High Priestly Prayer of Christ, is read at the divine service.
These words spoke 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: as Thou hast given Him power over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as Thou hast given Him. And this is life eternal, that they might know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, Whom Thou hast sent. I have glorified Thee on earth: I have finished the work which Thou gave Me to do. And now, O Father, glorify Thou Me with Thy own self with the glory which I had with Thee before the world was.
I have manifested Thy name unto the men which Thou gave me out of the world: Thine they were, and Thou gave them Me; and they have kept Thy word. Now they have known that all things whatsoever Thou hast given me are of Thee. For I have given unto them the words which Thou gave Me, and they have received them, and have known surely that I came out from Thee, and they have believed that Thou didst send Me.
I pray for them, I pray not for the world: but for them which Thou hast given Me, for they are Thine. And all Mine are Thine, and Thine are Mine: and I am glorified in them. And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to Thee. Holy Father, keep through Thy own name those whom Thou hast given Me, that they may be one, as We are.
While I was with them in the world, I kept them in Thy name: those that Thou gavest me I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition: that the scripture might be fulfilled. And now come I to Thee, and these things I speak in the world, that they might have My joy fulfilled in themselves (John 17:1-13).
The Lord prays for His people. The Lord, like a priest standing before the Holy Table, prays for the little ones of this world. Before ascending the Cross, before accepting horrible torment and terrible shame, our Lord prays for those who will be left orphaned after His departure. He prays for those who will betray Him at the very first sign of danger. The Lord prays for His people because He loves them.
This is something with which we are familiar. When a mother is dying, when the father of small and uncomprehending children stands at the threshold of death, their hearts are filled with horror at the fate of those they are leaving behind, their little ones who are soon to become orphans. This does not happen very often on this earth. Fathers and mothers usually depart from this world after their children have grown up and are standing on their own feet, no longer in need of their aging parents. Yet how the maternal heart overflows with grief when it sees that nothing can help her beloved child besides prayer! Some might say that this is due to lack of faith. Why should mothers fear for their children when God is with them? But let us listen once again to the loving, anxious words spoken by Christ as He prayed for His disciples and, thus, for us: I pray for them, I pray not for the world: but for them which Thou hast given Me… And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world… Holy Father, keep through Thy own name those whom Thou hast given Me.

He Who offers this prayer – so full of compassion and sympathy, anxiety and hope – is He Who said to His disciples: I am the light of the world (John 8:12). Of course, the Lord is not praying only for the eleven Apostles. He is God; time does not exist for Him. For Him there is neither “yesterday” nor “tomorrow”; for Him there is only one time: “now.” Therefore our Lord, in His High Priestly Prayer, is praying both for the Apostles and for the bishops and presbyters of the Church of Christ who three centuries later would gather at Nicaea to speak, sing, and proclaim our Symbol of Faith – the Symbol of our faith. He prays for them, that this Symbol might be accepted and proclaimed by the Church: For I have given unto them the words which Thou gavest Me, and they have received them, and have known surely that I came out from Thee.
Our Savior sees everything during this prayer: He sees us, lost in our own passions, embittered by grievances and loneliness, mean and trembling from fear; He sees us as we are today, asking of our common Father that He would keep us through His name. He prays for us, because He knows how difficult it will be for us to keep our faith, how difficult it will be for us to keep our child-like trust amidst the allurements and temptations of this world.

God is for us! God is with us! God did not turn away from us when we betrayed the Crucified One, when by our sins we dragged Him again and again onto the Cross. He continues to call us with Him to eternal life: to the joy that only He can give; to the happiness that is only possible with Him. We often make Him out to be a stern judge about to pronounce a fair but terrible sentence over us. But in His prayer to God the Father, the Lord intercedes for us. He does not simply ask for our preservation; He asks neither for rest, nor for truth, nor for justice for the human race; but rather – only listen to this! – He says to His Father and ours: And now come I to Thee, and these things I speak in the world, that they might have My joy fulfilled in themselves.
If only we would not forget this. If only we would, if only once, hear our Savior’s words about perfect joy not just with our ears – which are no longer capable of being surprised by words or astonished by speeches – but with our whole hearts and with all the depths of our souls. Perhaps then joy and truth might return to our lives, as warmth returns to earth wearied from cold. Amen.

Please, see also

The Orthodox Church of Alexandria & the Patriarchate of Alexandria
What do we mean by “Fathers of the Church”?

Ancient Christian faith (Orthodox Church) in Africa  
How “White” is the Orthodox Church?  
Three Africans ancients saints: Anthony the Great (the Professor of Desert), Athanasius the Great & Cyril of Alexandria  
The holy anarchists... in the Egyptian Desert
OBSERVING THE FEAST DAYS OF THE AFRICAN SAINTS  

Was st. Athanasius the Great an African Pygmy?
 
Sunday of the Samaritan woman (5th Sunday of Pascha): "Close to God is he who in his daily life becomes the light of Christ who enlightens his neighbours..." 
Sixth Sunday of Pascha: Sunday of the Blind Man 

The Holy Feast of the Ascension of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ: Through Christ, man becomes a "partaker of Divine Nature" 
Orthodox Spiritual Legacy: Pentecost (the Descent of the Holy Spirit)
 

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