7th Sunday of Pascha – Orthodox Homily on the Church

Today we remember the Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council of 325 A.D.   The Church brings to remembrance those faithful Fathers who defended the Apostolic, Orthodox Faith in the face of the greatest challenges to the truth of Christ.  We commemorate them so that we may be vigilant in our own day and in our own lives to safeguard what Christ has revealed, so that keeping that truth, we may faithful, love God, grow in the knowledge of the truth that unites us to Him, and be His witnesses to those who don’t yet know the fullness of life in Him and His holy Orthodox Church.

The Council at Nicaea, today, Iznik in western Turkey, was summoned by St. Constantine the Great to respond to the challenge of the priest Arius, who infamously propagated the erroneous belief that “there was a time when (Christ) was not.”  Arius denied the eternal divinity and being of Christ, believing Him to be a creature of God the Father’s making, rather than “Light of Light, true God of true God, begotten not made,” the One who created all things—as our fore-Fathers proclaimed in the Creed, the fruit of the Council’s prayer and the Holy Spirit’s inspiration.  

The challenge was all the more severe in that the Arians used the Scriptures to argue their case, quoting Jesus, for instance, when, in explaining His place in the Godhead as the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, proclaimed, “The Father is greater than I” (Jn. 14:28) and points to why the Church is needed.  The claim by some that they can interpret the Holy Scriptures on their own, without the history of faithful interpretation as “the Book of the Church,” a lived revelation from God, means that it will continue to be misused by the prideful and those ignorant of the Church and her faithful interpretation that has been passed down to us.  This reality should give us great caution in listening to interpretations of the Scriptures outside the Orthodox Church. In the end, the one essence (or nature) shared by the three Persons of the Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, was unmistakenly and miraculously demonstrated at the Council.  

The truth is, doctrine, right belief, matters: it safeguards our knowledge of God and our ability to knowthe one, true God as He has revealed Himself—and not in accordance with any particular one person’s latest ‘take’ on Jesus or the way of Christ. We hear the Lord say in today’s Gospel: “this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent… And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.”

If Christ were not truly God, truly divine as the Father is divine, then He couldn’t defeat sin and death on our behalf, He couldn’t renew human nature, making a way of salvation for the fallen race of Adam.  It’s in knowing Jesus Christ, as He’s revealed Himself to His Church, that we enter into that renewed race of Adam and find salvation in Christ.  Were He a creature like us, He could do nothing: such a one could not make us into the deified beings through our communion with Him and in obedience to the Church.

St. John the Theologian testifies at the beginning of his Gospel, “In the beginning was the Word (Logos) and the Word was with God and the Word was God.”  The same Word who created all life is the very Word that took on human nature to renew that life and defeat sin and death on our behalf, creating a new race of man capable of “putting on Christ” in baptism, i.e., being ‘born anew,’ and likewise becoming victors over sin and death by virtue of that sacramental relationship with Christ: “As many as have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ, as St. Paul exclaims in Galatians 3:27.  

This is the wonderful truth we testify to in our celebrations of Pascha and Ascension just past.  This is the Good News of the Gospel on this Sunday of the Fathers.  Christ God has completed His salvific mission to redeem the fallen race of Adam.  He’s gone up with a shout to where He was before so that we who are living out our baptism, may likewise be transformed, resurrected, and ascend to heaven as well where He has gone to prepare a place for the faithful.  

St. Athanasius the Great, defender of Orthodoxy against the Arians, puts it this way, “It was in the power of none other to turn the corruptible to incorruption, except the Savior himself, that had at the beginning also made all things out of nought; and that none other could create anew the likeness of God’s image for men, save the Image of the Father” (On the Incarnation). 

The faithful Orthodox Fathers of the age of Nicaea rightly understood that Arius threatened the very salvation of many and had to be condemned so that the right faith (Orthodoxy) could continue to be proclaimed, so that generations hence, including our own, could continue to come to knowand be incommunion with the One true God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

In our own day, like in the day of the First Council, we hear people making Jesus into whomever they want Him to be, picking and choosing which parts of the authority of His Church, they are ‘willing’ to embrace: what suites their modern lifestyle, their own ‘personal’beliefs.  Modern man has flipped the axiom: it’s no longer wewho need changing, conforming to the likeness of God, but rather, Godwhom we think to change and conform to ourlikeness or that of our culture, as if God needs to “get with the times.”

Many today say that they are ‘Christians,’ but want Jesus without the Christ and Christianity without the Church, which turns out to be yet another ‘manmade’religion.  Christ on our terms is a ‘god’ (small g) we’ve made and not God incarnate who’s revealed Himself to us through His Church, outside of time, and who alone can illumine, save from fallen humanity, and deify us.  

For early Christians as for faithful Orthodox today, the idea of being a Christian apartfrom the Church, is an oxymoron.  The two belong together as our head belongs to our body; they cannot be separated without losing something integralto what isChristianity, what is the Way of Christ.

It makes no sense to say you believe the Gospels and Scriptures if you don’t also believe the faithful interpretation given by the Church that has given us those Scriptures and defended their  right interpretation so that we can live them now.  A so-called ‘church’ catering to the culture in form and belief can’t stand the test of time, won’t hold anyone accountable, and won’t be capable of refuting heresy—or even recognize heresy—those ‘savage wolves’ St. Paul speaks of in today’s Epistle—when they come to ravage the flock.  And so, this kind of so-called ‘church’ cannot show us the timeless Truth that is the God-man, Jesus Christ and the way and means by which we find healing from our sin-sickness, deification, and the fullness of life in Him.  

While we decry the changing of  the non-Orthodox religions around us to ‘fit’ with the culture, we as Orthodox also judge ourselves: If we know the fullness of the truth of Christ and come to church every weekend but aren’t striving to live the faith or are doing so in accordance with our own preferences, not listening to the bishops and priests of the Church, then a change in our priorities, in our hearts, is also required of us.  Do not think for a moment that such individualism is helpful for us and our salvation or, for that matter, pleasing to God.  We honor the heroic Fathers of the First Council by living out this faith once delivered to the Saints in our daily lives, as we ‘run’ the race of faith, testifying to the truth that Christ is and in whose likeness we are each one being conformed.  And so, we ask the Holy Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council to pray for us and for our salvation this day that we may keep and live the fullness of the Orthodox life in Christ that has been revealed and untrusted to our generation, that believing, we too may come to know the One true God and Jesus Christ whom He has sent and love others into the Kingdom as well!  Christ is ascended!  Indeed, He is ascended

Fr. Robert Miclean
Holy Archangels Orthodox Church
Sunday of the Fathers of the 1stEcumenical Council
9 June 2019
Epistle:            Acts 20:16-18, 28-36
Gospel:            John 17:1-13