Sunday of the 318 Holy Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council

Holy Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council

Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,


O Christ our God, At all times and every hour, in heaven and on earth, You are worshiped and glorified; You are long-suffering, most merciful, most compassionate, You love the righteous and have mercy upon the sinners; You call everyone to salvation through the promise of future blessings; Receive, O Lord, our prayers at this hour and direct our life toward Your Commandments. Sanctify our souls; make our bodies chaste; Correct our thoughts; purify our intentions; And deliver us from every grief and pain that comes from evil. Encompass us by Your holy Angels, so that guarded by them We may attain to the unity of the faith and to the knowledge of Your inapproachable glory, For You are Blessed unto the ages of ages. Amen.



The First Ecumenical Council held in Nicea, Asia Minor in 325 A.D. was convened under the Emperor Constantine the Great.

318 Holy Fathers (Bishops) of the Church were present. The First Ecumenical Council set a pattern for all later Ecumenical Councils. It primarily addressed the issue of Arianism (producing the original version of the Nicene Creed) and set a universal pattern for calculating the date of Pascha--the Paschalion. It is also referred to as the First Ecumenical Council of Nicea.

The Council was summoned in the year 325 A.D. by the Emperor Saint Constantine the Great, who desired unity in the Roman Empire and thus called the Church's Bishops together to settle the raging of the heresy of Arianism, the doctrine that Jesus Christ was a created being and therefore not truly the one God.

The Holy Synod had originally been intended to be held at Ancyra, but its location was moved by St. Constantine to Nicea (much closer to the imperial headquarters in Nicomedia) so that he might be able to participate more easily. The First Ecumenical Council assembled according to tradition on May 20th of 325 A.D. Earlier in the year, there had already been a council at Antioch, presided over by Saint Hosius of Cordoba, which condemned Arianism and its followers, even explicitly naming Eusebius of Caesarea (who is believed to have waffled somewhat on the question). When Constantine convened the Council at Nicea, he did so primarily out of a desire to have a unified Empire rather than in attempt to affect Church doctrine.

Arius denied the Divinity of Christ. If Jesus was born, then there was time when he did not exist. If He became God, then there was time when He was not. The Ecumenical Council declared Arius' teaching a heresy, unacceptable to the Church and decreed that Christ is God. He is of the same essence "homoousios" with God the Father.

The first part of the Seven Articles of the Creed were ratified at the First Ecumenical Council. The text reads as follows:

"We believe in One God. The Father Almighty. Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible. And in One Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Only-Begotten, Begotten of the Father before all ages. Light of Light; True God of True God; Begotten not made (created); of one essence with the Father, by Whom all things were made; Who for us men and for our salvation came down from Heaven, and was Incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and became man. And He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered, and was buried. And the third day He rose again according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again with Glory to judge the living and the dead; whose Kingdom shall have no end."


Saint Athanasius the Great (297-373 A.D.)

Fearless champion of Orthodoxy; spent sixteen of his forty-five years as Bishop of Alexandria in exile; one of the most profound Theologians; Father of the Church.

Saint Basil the Great (330-379 A.D.)

A natural leader and organizer; spoke and wrote against Arianism; Founded hospitals, orphanages, welfare agencies; revised and updated the Divine Liturgy; made a great contribution to Monasticism (East and West); one of the famous Cappadocian Fathers (together with Saint Gregory of Nyssa; his younger brother and Saint Gregory of Nazianzus the Theologian; his close friend). The Cappadocians, along with Saint Athanasius the Great, laid the pattern for formulating the doctrines related to the Mystery of the Holy Trinity. Saint Basil the Great, along with Saint Gregory of Nazianzus (the Theologian) and Saint John Chrysostom are called the Three Hierarchs.

The early Christian Fathers fall into three basic categories: Apostolic Fathers, ante-Nicene Church Fathers, and post-Nicene Church Fathers.

The Apostolic Church Fathers were contemporaries of the holy Apostles and were probably taught by them, carrying on the Tradition and teaching of the holy Apostles themselves as their direct successors. Examples of Apostolic Fathers would be Saint Clements and Polycarp.

The ante-Nicene holy Fathers were those who came after the Apostolic Fathers and before the Ecumenical Council of Nicea in A.D. 325. Such individuals as Saints Irenaeus and Justin Martyr are ante-Nicene holy Fathers.

The post- Nicene Church holy Fathers are such noted men as Saint Basil the Great, Saint Athanasius, Saint Gregory the Theologian, Saint John Chrysostom, Saint Jerome, Saint Eusebius and others.

The Orthodox teaching of the holy Fathers is not something of one age, whether 'ancient" or "modern". It has been transmitted in unbroken succession from the time of Christ and His holy Apostles to the present day, and there has never been a time when it was necessary to discover a "lost" Patristic teaching. There have been great Patristic ages, such as the dazzling epoch of the 4th century, and there have been periods of decline in patristic awareness among Orthodox Christians; but there has been no period since the very foundation of Christ's Church on earth when the Patristic Tradition was not guiding the Church; there has been no century without holy Fathers of its own. Saint Nicetas Stethatos, disciple and biographer of Saint Symeon the New Theologian, has written: "It has been granted by God that from generation to generation there should not cease the preparation by the Holy Spirit of His Prophets and friends for the order of His Church."

As Orthodox Christians we must turn to the holy Fathers of the Church in order to become their disciples, to receive the divine teaching of true life, the soul's salvation, even while knowing that by doing this we shall lose the favor of this world and become outcasts from it. We shall find that the holy Fathers are most "contemporary" in that they speak directly to the spiritual struggle of the Orthodox Christian today, giving answers to the crucial questions of life and death. Holy Fathers whose only aim is to lead us, their spiritual children, to God and His Heavenly Kingdom where we shall walk and converse with these angelic men in unutterable joy forever.

Saint Basil the Great, as much as anyone who ever lived, pondered the mystery of Sacred Tradition--the deposit of faith, the doctrines and the rites first entrusted to the holy Apostles and the to the Church Fathers. At the middle of the 4th century, he spoke of "sharing the same teachers" with us and how this contributes to our fellowship, our communion with one another. Moreover, he says, our teachers are more than mere instructors. They are Fathers. "Both you and we have not only the same teachers of God's mysteries, but also the same spiritual Fathers who from the beginning have laid the foundations of your following the other like rising stars".

They are Fathers. They do what good fathers do in families. They teach us to pray and think and live as Christians, and they model such a life for us. They have provided for future generations of the family. They have kept the family property in good condition, guarded its boundaries, and passed it alone as a heritage.


Saint Basil the Great, "Put God at the beginning".

"No matter what scientific explanation you come up with for the origin of the universe," says Saint Basil," you'll go far wrong if you don't put God at the beginning of it."

"In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth".

"I stop with admiration at this thought. What shall I say first? Shall I demonstrate the vanity of the Gentiles? Shall I praise the truth of our faith?"

The philosophers of Greece have tried very hard to explain nature, and not one of their systems has remained firm and unshaken. They are enough in themselves to destroy one another. Those who were too ignorant to rise to a knowledge of God could not allow that an intelligent cause presided at the birth of the universe--a primary error that trapped them in sad consequences.

Some fell back on material principles and attributed the origin of the universe on the elements of the world. Others imagined that atoms, and invisible bodies, molecules and tubes, unite to form the nature of the visible world.

It is because they did not know how to say, "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth". Fooled by their inherent atheism, they thought that nothing governed or ruled the universe, and that everything was given up to chance.

To keep us from this error, the writer on creation, from the very first words, enlightens our understanding with the name of God: "In the beginning God created". (St. Basil, Hexameron, 1.2)


Saint Clement of Rome tells us that belief in the Resurrection should come naturally. God has given us signs everywhere: in the day and night, in the way sees disappear and grow into fruitful plants. We should contemplate the constant resurrection of the natural world and learn from its example.

"Think, dear friends, how the Lord continually proves to us that there will be a resurrection to come, of which he made the Lord Jesus Christ the first-fruits by raising Him from the dead.

Contemplate the resurrection that is always going on. Day and night declare the resurrection to us. The night sinks to sleep, and the day rises; the day departs, and the night comes on. Look at the crops, how the grain is sown: the sower goes out and throws it on the ground, and the scattered seed, dry and bare when it fell on the ground, is gradually dissolved. Then out of its disintegration the mighty power of the Lord's providence raises it up again, and from one seed come many bearing fruit." (St. Clement, 1 Corinthians 24)


In ancient times as well as our own, people brought forward supposedly scientific arguments against the Resurrection. Saint Gregory of Nyssa answers them: "Don't judge God's capabilities by your own."

"Because human reason is so weak, there are some who--judging divine power by the limits of our own--insist that what is beyond our capacity is impossible even for God. They point to the fact that the dead of past ages have disappeared, and to the ashes of those who have been cremated. They bring up the idea of carnivorous animals, and the fish that consumes the body of the shipwrecked sailor--the fish then becoming food for people, and passing by digestion into the mass of the one who eats it. They bring up many similarly trivial things to overthrow the doctrine of the resurrection--as though God could not restore man the way he made him in the first place.

But we make quick work of their convoluted logical foolishness by acknowledging that the body does indeed dissolve into the parts it was made of. Not only does the earth return to earth, as God's word says, but air and water also revert to the like element. Each of our parts returns to the elements it was made from.

But although the human body may be scattered among vultures, or the most savage beasts, by becoming their food; and although it may pass through the teeth of fish; and although it may be changed by fire into smoke and dust--wherever you may suppose, for the sake of argument, the man has been removed, he certainly remains in the world. And the world, as the voice of inspiration tells us, is held by the hand of God.

If you, then, know what is in your hand, do you suppose that God's knowledge is weaker than your own power? Do you suppose that it would fail to discover the smallest things that are in the palm of God's hand?" (Saint Gregory of Nyssa, On the Making of Man, 26)

With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George