In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Christ is in our midst! He is and shall be!

Today we remember the Father’s of the 1st Ecumenical Council. Homilies can have many different approaches or focuses, and this morning I’d like us to spend some time learning about the 1st Council. If the Church feels that it’s important for us to commemorate these Father’s on the 7th Sunday after Pascha every year, then it’s also important for us to know about what they did.
The 1st Ecumenical Council was convened by the Emperor St Constantine in the city of Nicea in 325 AD. It was called for a very specific purpose – to discuss certain beliefs that were gaining in popularity among the Christian laity and even the clergy. These beliefs we know today as Arianism – the beliefs were held and taught by the Alexandrian priest Arias. In fact, the heresy of Arias became so wide spread at one point that a majority of our bishops identified themselves as Arians. It was an incredible danger to the Church. The Arian controversy was tearing apart the Church, and therefore having a great impact on the Empire, hence Constantine’s decision to convene the Council. As I’ve already mentioned, during the Council, by the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the teachings of Arias were condemned as heresy, and Arias as a heretic (heresiarch). So what were these teachings which were powerful enough to have such an effect on the Church, and for the 1st Council to be called to deal with it?
Arianism was, and is (there are still people who hold to these beliefs today) a belief regarding the inner life of the Holy Trinity. This belief was explained by Arias himself in a letter – “But we say and believe and have taught, and do teach, that the Son is not unbegotten, nor in any way part of the unbegotten; and that he does not derive his subsistence from any matter; but that by his own will and counsel he has subsisted before time and before ages as perfect God, only begotten and unchangeable, and that before he was begotten, or created, or purposed, or established, he was not.” This long phrase is often simplified to the phrase – “There was a time when He was not.” Arians believed that only God the Father was unbegotten and existing for all of eternity, but that the Word, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, had been created by the Father at some point before the creation of the world. The Word was still considered and called divine, but He was less in His divinity than the Father. The fullness of the Divinity was not present in the Word. They also taught (though it’s talked about less) that then the Father and the Son created the Holy Spirit. So they would say that there is one God, the Father, and while the Son and Spirit were considered divine, they were lesser divinities than the Father.
The implications of this belief on the Incarnation are obvious – the created Word was incarnate as Jesus, who was a created man. So for the Arians, God did not become man, but rather the Word, who was Himself a creature, became man. The Father’s immediately saw that this teaching undermined man’s salvation. If God did not become man, then there is ultimately no salvation for man. Our salvation is ensured because God took human flesh, joined our nature eternally to the fullness of the Godhead. The teachings of the Arians, though they failed to initially see it, undermined man’s salvation. Any perversion of the fullness of the truth about Christ, about God, puts at risk a proper understanding not only of God, but also of humanity, and our salvation.
In response to the Arian heresy, not only did the Father’s formulate Orthodox Christology at the 1st Council, but they also composed the Nicene Creed, in which we confess: “…one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all ages; Light of Light, true God of true God; begotten, not made, of one essence with the Father, by whom all things were made.” The Father’s were very careful not to try and explain the inner workings of the Holy Trinity (many heresies have started with that attempt). We preserve the Biblical language – only-begotten – we don’t attempt to explain it, it is a great mystery. As the Fathers say, what can we understand about a Son begotten of a Father with no mother, a Son equal in age and sharing in everything of His Father. It surpasses human logic. But it’s vitally important that we know and confess that the Word is co-eternal and equal with the Father and the Spirit.
The Faith was once and for all delivered to the Saints, as St Jude says in his epistle. And our duty as Christians is to preserve this Faith, to live this Faith, to share – to witness to – this Faith, and to pass it on to the next generation unchanged.
Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!

Matthew Jackson

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