Sermon: Sunday of the First Ecumenical Council

Sunday of the First Ecumenical Council

Acts 20:16–18,28–36
John 17:1–13

Today the Church commemorates the First Ecumenical Council held in Nicea, and the 318 godbearing Fathers who were gathered there.

In the eighth chapter of John’s Gospel, the Lord, teaching in the Temple, speaks about himself and his relationship to God the Father, and says: “If ye believe not that I AM, ye shall die in your sins” (8:24). In other words, the correct belief about the identity of Christ is not something philosophical and academic, but a matter of life and death. He does not say, “Let each person believe whatever they like, all religions lead to God, being a good person is enough”. No! He says, “If you do not believe that I am the light of the world (8:12), the creator of the world (1:3), the Word of God who pre-existed before the ages with God the Father (1:1–2) and the Holy Spirit as one of the three consubstantial persons of the Holy Trinity, that ‘I am in the Father and the Father is in Me’ (14:11), if ye believe not that I AM, then you shall die in your sins” (8:24). A matter of eternal life and death. The same Lord says also says elsewhere, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (14:6), and if Christ is the truth, it is not possible to draw near to him with a faith and teaching that is not correct and truthful, which is not Catholic (that is, whole).

This is the reason why the Church places such emphasis on the Ecumenical Councils and the fathers of the Church who defended the right, Orthodox faith from the false teaching of heretics, which was leading people astray and away from the framework of salvation. In his prayer to the Father in today’s Gospel, the Lord says, “Holy Father, keep through Thine 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” (17:11–12). This is exactly what the Church seeks to do when she accepts no compromises on subjects of faith: she is keeping those that God has given her, so that none of them is lost.

Therefore, it is not out of stubbornness, pride or arrogance that the Church refuses to compromise on matters of dogma, but out of her deep love for mankind. Pride cannot coexist with Orthodoxy, not only because pride pushes away the grace of the Holy Spirit and hinders our spiritual progress, but because it is completely irrational to be proud of our faith. The Orthodox faith is not the product of any human mind, nor of any human work, but is a free gift of divine revelation, before which the only rational response is deep humility and gratitude.

The Lord says as much in today’s reading: “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, and they have believed that Thou didst send Me” (17:8).

The Lord says that “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (10:10), and today he explains to us that “This is life eternal, that they might know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent” (17:3).

A little later on, when we all together recite the words of the Creed, the Symbol of Faith drawn up by the Fathers of the first two Ecumenical Councils, let us bear in mind that the words we are reciting are “words of eternal life” (6:68), and an expression of the great love that God and His Church have for us.

“Let us love one another, that with one mind we may confess: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Trinity consubstantial and undivided”. Amen.

Fr Kristian Akselberg