The Holy Fathers of the Ecumenical Councils

(from the OCA's web site: Lives of the Saints)

Commemoration of the Holy Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council

Commemorated on June 8

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 Eastern bishops.

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: St Nicholas, Archbishop of Myra in Lycia (December 6 and May 9), St 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. St 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.

 

Memorial Saturday of the Holy Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council

Commemorated on June 14

Today we remember all pious and Orthodox Christians who have fallen asleep in the Lord, and also recall the dread Day of Judgment. May Christ our God be merciful to them, and to us.

Two Epistles (Acts 28:1-31, I Thess. 4:13-17) and two Gospels (JN 21:14-25, JN 5:24-30) are appointed to be read at Liturgy. The readings from Acts and the Gospel of St John, which began on Pascha, now come to an end. The book of Acts does not end, as might be expected, with the death of Sts Peter and Paul, but remains open-ended.

In his article "With all the Saints," Fr Justin Popovich says that the Lives of the Saints are nothing less than a "continuation of the Acts of the Apostles." Just as the book of Acts describes the works of Christ which the Apostles accomplished through Christ, Who was dwelling in them and working through them, the saints also preach the same Gospel, live the same life, manifest the same righteousness, love, and power from on High. As we prepare for the Sunday of All Saints, we are reminded that each of us is called to a life of holiness.

On this seventh Saturday of Pascha, St John Chrysostom's "Homily on Patience and Gratitude" is appointed to be read in church. It is also prescribed to be read at the funeral service of an Orthodox Christian.

 

Commemoration of the Holy Fathers of the Second Ecumenical Council

Commemorated on May 22

The Second Ecumenical Council was convened in the year 381 and consolidated the victory of Orthodoxy attained in the year 325 at the First Ecumenical Council.

During the difficult years which passed after the acceptance of the Nicene Symbol of Faith (Creed), the Arian heresy developed new offshoots. Under the guise of struggle against the Sabellian heresy, which taught about a blending of the Hypostatic Persons of the Father and the Son [as mere aspects or modalities within the Trinity], Macedonius began to employ the word "homoiousios" "of similar essence" [in contrast to the Orthodox teaching of "homoousios", "of the same essence"] regarding the essence of the Son and that of the Father.

This formula still presented a danger because Macedonius presented himself as a struggler against the Arians, who used the term "like the Father." Besides this, the Macedonians, being semi-Arians, depending on conditions and advantages of the moment, sometimes inclined towards Orthodoxy, sometimes towards Arianism. They blasphemed the Holy Spirit by suggesting that He was not "of the same essence" with the Father and the Son.

A second heretic, Aetius, introduced the concept "anomoion" ("different in essence." He said that the Father has a completely different essence from that of the Son. His disciple Eunomios taught a hierarchical subordination of the Son to the Father, and of the Holy Spirit to the Son. Everyone who came to him was rebaptized into the "death of Christ," denying Baptism in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, which is commanded us by the Savior Himself (Mt. 28:19).

A third heresy arose from the teachings of Valentius and Ursacius at the Arimonian Council. They attempted to deceive the Orthodox bishops, proclaiming that the Son of God is from God, and is in the likeness of God the Father, and is not a created being as the Arians taught. The heretics did not wish to use the term "one in essence" in describing the relation of the Son to the Father, saying that the word "essence" is not found within the Holy Scripture. Besides these three main heresies, there were also many other false teachings. The heretic Apollinarios said, "The flesh of the Savior did not have a human soul or reason. The Word of God took the place of the absent soul; and Divinity remained dead for three days."

For dealing with these crafters of heresy, the holy Emperor Theodosius the Great (379-395) convened an Ecumenical Council at Constantinople, at which 150 bishops were present. Upon investigation by the holy Fathers it was proposed to affirm a Confession of Faith from a Roman Council, which holy Pope Damasus had sent to Bishop Paulinos of Antioch. After reading the document aloud, the holy Fathers rejected the false teaching of Macedonius, and unanimously affirmed the Apostolic teaching that the Holy Spirit is not a subordinate being, but is rather the Life-Creating Lord, Who proceeds from the Father, and is worshipped and glorified with the Father and the Son. In order to combat other heresies, of the Eunomians, Arians and Semi-Arians, the holy Fathers affirmed the Nicene Symbol of the Orthodox Faith.

In the Symbol (Creed), accepted by the First Ecumenical Council, the divine nature of the Holy Spirit was not addressed, since at that earlier time [in 325] heresies against the Holy Spirit had not become widespread. Therefore, the holy Fathers of the Second Ecumenical Council added to the Nicean Symbol its eighth, ninth, tenth, eleventh and twelfth sections. They definitively formulated and affirmed the Nicene-Constantinople Symbol of Faith, which is used even now by all the Orthodox Churches.

The Second Ecumenical Council also established the norms for ecclesiastical courts [Canon VI], and it decided to receive those repentant heretics who were properly baptized in the name of the Holy Trinity through Chrismation, but those baptized with a single immersion were to be received as pagans.

 

Commemoration of the Holy Fathers of the Third Ecumenical Council

Commemorated on September 9

The Third Ecumenical Council was convened in the year 431 in the city of Ephesus (Asia Minor) during the reign of the emperor Theodosius the Younger (408-450). The Council was convened to investigate without further delay, the false teachings of Patriarch Nestorius of Constantinople (428-431).

Contrary to the dogmas of the Ecumenical Church, Nestorius dared to assert that the Son of God Jesus Christ is not one Person (Hypostasis), as Holy Church teaches, but is rather two distinct persons, one Divine, and the other human.

Regarding the Most Holy Theotokos, he impiously asserted that She should not be called the Mother of God, but rather only the mother of the man Christ. The heresy of Nestorius is opposed to one of the basic dogmas of the Christian Faith: our Lord Jesus Christ's divine and human natures.

According to the false teaching of Nestorius, Jesus Christ was born as an ordinary man, and afterwards because of His sanctity of life, He was somehow joined to the Godhead. With this blasphemous teaching of Nestorius the Enemy of the race of man, the devil, attempted to undermine the Christian Faith on these points: that the Pre-eternal God the Word, the Son of God, actually was incarnate in the flesh of the All-Pure Theotokos. Having become Man, He thereby redeemed the human race from slavery to sin and death by His own suffering and death, and by His glorious Resurrection He trampled down Hades and death and opened the path to the Kingdom of Heaven to those who believered in Him, and to those striving to live according to His commandments.

A long while before the convening of the Ecumenical Council, St Cyril, Archbishop of Alexandria, repeatedly tried to reason with the heretic Nestorius. St Cyril in his letters explained the mistakes of judgment by Nestorius, but Nestorius stubbornly continued with his teachings.

St Cyril wrote about the danger of the rising heresy to Celestine, the Pope of Rome, and to other Orthodox bishops, who also attempted to reason with Nestorius. When it became clear that Nestorius would continue with his teachings and that they were becoming widespread, the Orthodox bishops appealed to the emperor Theodosius the Younger for permission to convene an Ecumenical Council. The Council was convened on the day of the Most Holy Trinity, June 7, 431.

Two hundred bishops attended the Council. Nestorius also arrived in Ephesus, but he did not appear at the Council even though the Fathers suggested three times that he attend the sessions. Then the Fathers began to discuss the heresy in the absence of the heretic.

The sessions of the Council continued from June 22 to August 31. At the Council of Ephesus were present such famous Fathers of the Church as St Cyril of Alexandria, Juvenal of Jerusalem, Memnon of Ephesus (St Celestine, Pope of Rome, was unable to attend because of illness, but he sent papal legates).

The Third Ecumenical Council condemned the heresy of Nestorius and confirmed the Orthodox teaching on these matters: that it is necessary to confess the Lord Jesus Christ as One Person (Hypostasis) in two natures, the Divine and the Human, and that the All-Pure Mother of the Lord be acclaimed as Ever-Virgin and truly the Theotokos. In the guidance of the Church the holy Fathers issued eight Canons, and the "Twelve Anathemas against Nestorius" by St Cyril of Alexandria.

 

Commemoration of the Holy 165 Fathers of the Fifth Ecumenical Council

Commemorated on July 25

The Fifth Ecumenical Council (Constantinople II) was held at Constantinople, under the holy Emperor St Justinian I (527-565) in the year 553, to determine the Orthodoxy of three dead bishops: Theodore of Mopsuetia, Theodoret of Cyrrhus and Ibas of Edessa, who had expressed Nestorian opinions in their writings in the time of the Third Ecumenical Council (September 9).

These three bishops had not been condemned at the Fourth Ecumenical Council (July 16), which condemned the Monophysites, and in turn had been accused by the Monophysites of Nestorianism. Therefore, to deprive the Monophysites of the possibility of accusing the Orthodox of sympathy for Nestorianism, and also to dispose the heretical party towards unity with the followers of the Council of Chalcedon, the emperor St Justinian issued an edict. In it "the Three Chapters" (the three deceased bishops) were condemned. But since the edict was issued on the emperor's initiative, and since it was not acknowledged by representatives of all the Church (particularly in the West, and in Africa), a dispute arose about the "Three Chapters." The Fifth Ecumenical Council was convened to resolve this dispute.

165 bishops attended this Council. Pope Vigilius, though present in Constantinople, refused to participate in the Council, although he was asked three times to do so by official deputies in the name of the gathered bishops and the Emperor himself. The Council opened with St Eutychius, Patriarch of Constantinople (552-565, 577-582), presiding. In accordance with the imperial edict, the matter of the "Three Chapters" was carefully examined in eight prolonged sessions from May 4 to June 2, 553.

Anathema was pronounced against the person and teachings of Theodore of Mopsuetia. In the case of Theodore and Ibas, the condemnations were confined only to certain of their writings, while they personally had been cleared by the Council of Chalcedon, because of their repentance. Thus, they were spared from the anathema.

This measure was necessary because certain of the proscribed works contained expressions used by the Nestorians to interpret the definitions of the Council of Chalcedon for their own ends. But the leniency of the Fathers of the Fifth Ecumenical Council, in a spirit of moderate economy regarding the persons of Bishops Theodore and Ibas, instead embittered the Monophysites against the decisions of the Council. Besides which, the emperor had given the orders to promulgate the Conciliar decisions together with a decree of excommunication against Pope Vigilius, for being like-minded with the heretics. The Pope afterwards concurred with the mind of the Fathers, and signed the Conciliar definition. The bishops of Istria and all the region of the Aquilea metropolia, however, remained in schism for more than a century.

At the Council the Fathers likewise examined the errors of presbyter Origen, a renowned Church teacher of the third century. His teaching about the pre-existence of the human soul was condemned. Other heretics, who did not admit the universal resurrection of the dead, were also condemned.

It pleased the Lord that the Holy Spirit should inspire the Fathers of the Council in a further definition of Orthodoxy that preserves the integrity and dignity both of God and of mankind, without the distortion of either that occurs within the Nestorian or Monophysite heresies.

 

Commemoration of the Holy Fathers of the Sixth Ecumenical Council

Commemorated on January 23

The Sixth Ecumenical Council was convened by the emperor Constantine Pogonatos (668-685) at Constantinople in the year 681 to combat the Monothelite heresy. At it 171 holy Fathers were present, who affirmed the doctrine of two wills in Jesus Christ, the divine and the human.

This Council was followed by another Council in the year 691, called the Council of Trullo. This Council addressed certain practical matters, and 102 canons were promulgated.

 

Commemoration of the Holy Fathers of the Seventh Ecumenical Council

Commemorated on October 14

Today the Church remembers the 350 holy Fathers of the Seventh Ecumenical Council under the holy Patriarch Tarasius (February 25).

The Synod of 787, the second to meet at Nicea, refuted the Iconoclast heresy during the reign of Empress Irene and her son Constantine Porphyrogenitos.

The Council decreed that the veneration of icons was not idolatry (Exodus 20:4-5), because the honor shown to them is not directed to the wood or paint, but passes to the prototype (the person depicted). It also upheld the possibility of depicting Christ, Who became man and took flesh at His Incarnation. The Father, on the other hand, cannot be represented in His eternal nature, because "no man has seen God at any time" (John 1:18).

In Greek practice, the holy God-bearing Fathers of the Seventh Ecumenical Council are commorated on October 11 (if it is a Sunday), or on the Sunday which follows October 11. According to the Slavic MENAION, however, if the eleventh falls on Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday, the service is moved to the preceding Sunday.