This Sunday we commemorate the Holy Fathers of the Ecumenical Council held in Nicaea in 325. They had gathered to explain the relationship Jesus Christ to God the Father. A priest from Alexandria named Arius had been falsely teaching that Jesus was created by God and that there was a time that He (the Son) did not exist. This heresy was condemned by the bishops who attended this first Ecumenical Council. The bishops came from the various Christian communities throughout the Christian world. 

Arius had been spreading the false teaching or heresy for some time, as early as the year 315. The bishop of Alexandria had attempted to correct Arius through admonitions. Arius’ bishop had called for a local council in 321 to deal with this matter. The decision was to depose the unyielding cleric. Nonetheless, Arius continued to spread this false teaching, creating controversy and division within the Christian community.

Constantine the Great, Emperor of Byzantium at that time, possessed a zeal and concern for Christian unity. He therefore asked the bishops of the Church to gather in Nicaea and to resolve the issue of Arius’ false teaching. Emperor Constantine had asked Bishop Hosius of Corduba to convene the Council and was supported by Constantine. At the opening of the Council of Nicaea in 325, Emperor Constantine made a ceremonial entrance. He attended and participated in the ecumenical council, but did note officially vote.   

It was St. Constantine who in 313 had issued the Edict of Milan, which had permanently established religious tolerance for Christianity within the Roman Empire.  The Edict granted all persons the freedom to worship. This assured the Christians of their legal right to organize churches. It also directed the prompt return of confiscated property. Previous edicts that had been issued were short-lived. But the Edict of Milan had effectively and conclusively established religious tolerance.

It is widely accepted that the number of bishops in attendance was 318. A large majority of the attending hierarchy was from the East. Patriarch Alexander of Alexandria and Patriarch Eustathius of Antioch were actively participating in the Council. Papal legate(s) may have likewise been in attendance. The Holy Fathers of this first Ecumenical Council came from every region of the Roman Empire and from Christian communities within the Sassanid Empire (Middle or Neo-Persia). The participants came from Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem, Syria, Palestine, Phoenicia, Arabia, Assyria, Mesopotamia, Caesarea, Sardica, Thesosaly, Carthage, India, Armenia, Georgia, Calabria, the Danube, Gaul (France) and others. The early church historian Eusebius place St. Nicholas of Myra in attendance.

In response to Arius falsely teaching that Jesus was “created,” the Council asserted that Jesus Christ “was begotten, not made.” In response to Arius falsely teaching that Jesus was created out of nothing or out of something else, the Holy Fathers of the Council stated that Jesus Christ was begotten “of the same substance or essence of the Father.”  The Holy Fathers of the first Nicaean Council asserted the full or complete divinity” of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Second Divine Person of the Blessed Trinity. 

The decision to condemn the heresy espoused by Arius and to depose Arius was nearly unanimous. All but two bishops had made this resolution. Indeed, the issue of Arianism was their primary concern. In addition to that, the Holy Fathers of the Council also dealt with establishing a date for the celebration of Pascha (Easter) and the promulgation of Canons (church laws or regulations) regarding the standards for ordination of clerics (behavior and background), the reconciliation of lapsed Christians (public penance and repentance) and the readmittance of heretics and schismatics, and the role of deacons in the liturgical life of the Church. 

Regarding the celebration of Pascha/Easter, it was established to be the first Sunday after the full moon, which comes after the vernal or spring equinox. There was discussion whether to independently designate the date or to rely on the Jewish calendar. The Holy Fathers of the Council decided to separate Easter computation from all dependence on the Jewish calendar.

The Holy Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council in Nicaea had safeguarded the holy faith from error, the heresy of Arianism and had sought to state clearly and adequately the relationship between Jesus, the Son of God, and God the Father. They affirmed the true and complete divinity of Christ. They asserted their belief “in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father (the only-begotten; that is, of the essence of the Father, God of God), Light of Light, true God of true God, begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father…” 

This credo or creed of Nicaea along with the teaching and promulgations of the Council of Constantinople in 381 would help formulate the “Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed” that Eastern Catholics and Orthodox profess at each Divine Liturgy. May we honor the steadfastness of Faith of the Holy Fathers of the Ecumenical Councils. May we Ukrainian Catholics come to a deeper appreciation of the great and precious treasury of Faith inherited. May we understand and share this “pearl of great price” that is ours.            

Rev. D. George Worschak


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