The Remembrance of the First Ecumenical Council

Commemorated on May 29

      The Remembrance of the First Ecumenical Council is celebrated by the Church of Christ from the times of antiquity. The Lord Jesus Christ left the Church a great promise: "I will build My Church, and the gates of hell shalt not prevail against It" (Mt. 16: 18). In this joyous promise is the prophetic declaration that, although the life of the Church of Christ on the earth will pass through difficult struggle with the enemy of salvation, victory is on its side. The holy martyrs witnessed to the veracity of the words of the Saviour, undergoing suffering in confessing the Name of Christ, but the sword of the persecutor doth yield before the victory-bearing Sign of the Cross of Christ.
      During the IV Century the persecutions of Christians ceased, but within the Church itself arose heresies, the struggle with which occasioned the Church to convene Ecumenical Councils. One of the most pernicious of heresies was Arianism. Arius, an Alexandrian presbyter, was a man of immense pride and ambition. In repudiating the Divine dignity of Jesus Christ and of His equality with God the Father, Arius falsely taught that the Son of God is not One-in-Essence with the Father, but was rather created by the Father in time. The Local Council, convened with the Alexandria Patriarch Alexander presiding, condemned the false-teachings of Arius. But Arius would not submit, and having written to many bishops a letter of complaint against the determinations of the Local Council, he spread his false-teaching throughout all the East, therein receiving support in his errors from certain of the Eastern bishops. Making investigation into the arising dissentions, the holy emperor Equal-to-the-Apostles Constantine (Comm. 21 May) took recourse of bishop Hosius of Cordova and, having received from him assurance, that the heresy of Arius was directed against the most fundamental dogma of Christ's Church, he decided to convene an Ecumenical Council. With Saint Constantine presiding, in the city of Nicea in the year 325 there gathered together 318 bishops the representatives of Christian Churches from various lands.
      Among the bishops present was many a confessor, who had suffered during the time of persecutions and who bore upon their body the marks of torture. Among the participants of the Council were likewise great luminaries of the Church Saint Nicholas, Archbishop of Myra in Lycia (Comm. 6 December and 9 May), Saint Spiridon, Bishop of Trimiphuntum (Comm. 12 December), and others, venerated by the Church as holy fathers.
      With the Alexandria Patriarch Alexander came his deacon, Athanasias (himself afterwards Patriarch of Alexandria, Comm. 2 May), termed the "Great", in proving a zealous champion for the purity of Orthodoxy. The emperor, Equal-to-the-Apostles Constantine, presided over the sessions of the Council. In his speech, pronounced in reply to the welcoming by bishop Eusebios of Caesarea, he said: "God hath helped me cast down the impious might of the persecutors, but incomparably more distressful for me than any soldier, any bloodspilling of battle and incomparably more ruinous is the inner internecine strife in the Church of God".
      Arius, having among his supporters 17 bishops, remained arrogant, but his teaching was repudiated and he was excommunicated from the Church. The holy deacon of the Alexandrian Church Athanasias in his speech conclusively confuted the blasphemous conjectures of Arius. The fathers of the Council declined the acceptance of a symbol of faith as proposed by the Arians. Instead, they affirmed the Orthodox Symbol (Creed) of the Faith. The Equal-to-the-Apostles Constantine proposed to the Council to insert into the text of the Symbol-Creed of the Faith the wording "One-in-Essence" ("Edinosuschnyi") which he frequently had heard in the speeches of the bishops. The fathers of the Council unanimously accepted this suggestion. In the Nicean Creed the holy fathers formulated the Apostolic teachings about the Divine dignity of the Second Person of the MostHoly Trinity the Lord Jesus Christ [trans. note: i.e. that He is "homo-ousios" ("one selfsame essence") rather than merely "homoi-ousios" ("similar in essence") with God the Father this being the very significant "controversy over a mere iota"]. The heresy of Arius, as an error of haughty reason, was exposed and repudiated. After resolving this chief dogmatic question, the Council established also Twelve Canons (Regulae-Rules) on questions of churchly governance and discipline. There was decided likewise the question about the day of celebration of Holy Pascha. By decision of the Council, Holy Pascha ought to be celebrated by Christians not on the same day with the Jewish (Passover), but invariably on the 1st Sunday after the day of the Vernal Equinox (which in the year 325 came on 22 March).

1996-2001 by translator Fr. S. Janos.

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