Augustine Sokolovski

On the Sunday between Ascension and Pentecost, the Church celebrates the memory of the Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council. This Council took place in 325 at Nicaea. The main outcome of this event, at which the bishops of the Ecumenical Church pondered questions of doctrine, was the proclamation of the Son of God, who became a man in Christ Jesus, consubstantial with God the Father.

The Lord Jesus is the Alpha and Omega of the Christian faith (Rev. 22:13). His Resurrection from the dead is a pivotal event in salvation history. Ascension and Pentecost, that is, the Descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles, in turn, are the culmination of Christ's Resurrection. Thus, Easter, Ascension and Pentecost form a triune unity, by which, by the gift of the grace of faith, the world is given life. According to the great Christian theological axiom, God became man so that man might become God, or, in other words, so that man would know the divine in himself. Such knowledge is the fruit and method of grace. Grace is the communication of the Resurrection, Ascension, and Pentecost to the depths of human hearts in Christ. This is the theological explanation why the memory of the Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council, is celebrated precisely on this Sunday.

The text of the Creed confesses faith in the "One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church". The word "catholic" is translated into Church Slavonic as “synodal” or "conciliar". In this case, we are dealing with a translation error. The word "conciliar" is not identical with the word "catholic". In modern language, this word very close to this adjective is the noun “sbornaja”. In modern language, the word “sbornaja” used in sports is very close to this adjective. In Russian, it denotes a national, or simply selected team. Perhaps it would be correct to leave the term "catholic" in the Creed without translation. However, a mistake can be providential, it can become a tool in understanding the events of church history.

After all, if the word "catholic" has nothing to do with the councils and synods of the Church, then the adjective "conciliar" is fully correlated with these organizational phenomena of church life. Thus, largely under the influence of this translation error, in the 20th century Orthodox theology formulated for itself a new definition of Orthodoxy as the "Church of the Seven Councils." We are talking, of course, about the Seven Ecumenical Councils, the memory of each of which is still liturgically celebrated in the liturgical calendar. By the way, there is no such liturgical celebration of the Councils in the Christian West. It is an exclusive feature of Orthodoxy.

So, the Sunday between Ascension and Pentecost is dedicated to the remembrance of the Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council. The history of the Church is such that many of the most authoritative Fathers of the Church lived in the era between the Ecumenical Councils, and therefore never participated in them. Basil the Great (330-379), and Augustine of Carthage (354-430), and John Chrysostom (347-407) were not at the Ecumenical Councils. They missed each other in time. Thus, when Augustine was sent to Africa by mail from Constantinople to attend the Council of Ephesus in 431, he had already fallen asleep in the Lord in his diocesan city of Hippo, besieged by vandals. Today it is a large Algerian port of Annaba.

Nevertheless, this did not stop those Fathers who did not participate in the Councils from making their decisive contribution to the development of Christian dogma, doctrine, and morality. That is, what the theological texts call "the rule of faith and order." In the language of modern theological protocol, this is the term "faith and order."

On the other hand, there were also outstanding Church Fathers who not only attended the Ecumenical Councils, but also made a key contribution to their agenda, conduct and outcomes. Such a combination of colossal personal authority and participation in the collective authority of this or that Ecumenical Council could influence subsequent church history in a special way.

The most striking example of such special authority was St. Cyril of Alexandria (+444). After the dogmatic triumph of the Christology of this Father at the Ecumenical Council at Ephesus in 431, the Egyptian Church accepted Cyril's idea of "the one nature of God the Word of the Incarnate" as its own absolute doctrinal canon.

After the Fourth Ecumenical Council in 451 at Chalcedon, which formulated the doctrine of the two natures in Christ, the Alexandrian Church was unable to change the previously given direction. As a result, Alexandria and Constantinople came to a complete break in communion, a bloody confrontation involving the army and even monastics started. Two centuries later, this division was used by Arab troops who spread Islam in Egypt.

God saved the First Ecumenical Council from such an outcome. It was convened in May 325, shortly after the final accession of Constantine the Great over the entire Empire in 324. At that time, the city of Constantinople did not yet exist. The primacy in the Church belonged to the apostolic sees of Alexandria, Antioch, with which Rome, which had an undoubted apostolic origin, was also in communion.

According to various sources, from 200 to 318 Fathers participated in the Council of Nicaea. At the same time, there were much more bishops in the Universal Church. So after just a century, the Orthodox Christian episcopate numbered about two thousand bishops. A bishop could not move from pulpit to pulpit, he was elected for life, or, as in the first three centuries, until his martyrdom. The primacy in the Church belonged to those churches which were founded by the Apostles.

There was no ranking of other dioceses. However, it can be said that Augustine, whom subsequent tradition called the "Master of Masters" and "Father of Fathers", was in a city located approximately at the intersection of the first and second thousand ecclesiastical dioceses. His department numbered only a few parishes and was extremely modest. At the same time, he spent most of his time teaching his church people. Such details help to understand the essence of the character of those who then "led" the Church, who could participate in the Ecumenical Councils.

At the Council of Nicaea there were such pillars of the Catholic Church of that time as Alexander of Alexandria (250-326), Eusebius of Caesarea (265-339), Hosea of Cordoba (256-359), James of Nisibis (+350), Spyridon of Cyprus (270-348) , and many, many others.

It is important that the Fathers of the First Council were witnesses of the former Church of the era of the persecution of Christians, survived the Great Persecution under Diocletian (303-313), many became confessors. “Of the servants of God, some were famous for the word of wisdom, others were adorned with the severity of life and asceticism, and others were distinguished by humility of disposition. There were among them those who were respected for longevity, there were others who shone with youth and cheerfulness of soul, there were also persons who had recently entered the field of service,” wrote Eusebius of Caesarea (265-339) in his work The Life of Constantine (3.9). "Witnesses of the former Church" - how much this word can mean. The Council of the Witnesses of the former Church became the essence of the Nicene Council.

The Alexandrian deacon Athanasius (295-373) also participated in the Council. He was the secretary of Bishop Alexander, and it was he, according to the practice of the Ancient Church, who was destined to soon become an archbishop. He went down in history under the name "Great" and was the main champion of Nicaean Orthodoxy. Nicene Orthodoxy is an extremely important term for theology. This is the faith formulated by the Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council in Nicaea. The Nicene Faith says that the Lord Jesus is the Word incarnate, consubstantial with the Father. “For God so loved the world that He gave His Son, so that everyone who believes in Him should not perish,” as it is written in the Gospel (John 3:16).

For Athanasius, and similar Fathers over the next centuries, this was the first and last, final Council. The First Ecumenical Council was a meeting of the episcopate of the Church, at which about Christ Jesus, by the Holy Spirit, according to the conviction of the Fathers, everything was said that should have been and could be said at all. Hence the explanation of the symbolic, biblical number of its participants: 318. According to the Book of Genesis, this was the number of Abraham's servants in the battle against the wicked kings for the release of his nephew Lot (Gen.14:14).

For us, this was the first of the subsequent Councils. After all, the history of the Church gradually but inexorably led to the understanding that the Dogma about Christ Jesus will always manifest the life-giving synergy of final utterance and fundamentally inexhaustible understatement.

Finally, the practice of calling bishops and priests "fathers" goes back to the Council of Nicaea, and the meaning attached to it by Athanasius and theologians close to him. In the image of the father of all believers, Abraham (Gal. 3:10), the Nicene Fathers preserved the faith, freed it from human errors. They passed it on to subsequent generations of believers, and in their person to the entire Church and the Universe. Therefore, a pastor who does not teach faith and theology cannot be called a "father." Such, perhaps, is one of the most important consequences of the Council of Nicaea.