“Wisdom of the Holy Fathers”
By Archbishop Cyril Salim Bustros
Sunday of the Holy Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council
We celebrate today the memory of the three hundred and eighteen Bishops who attended the first Ecumenical Council of Nicaea (325), in which the Catholic doctrine of the Holy Trinity was defined. These bishops came from East and West. That is why we call this Council an Ecumenical Council. Its doctrine is recognized by all the Christians: Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants.
Why did all the Bishops of the world gathered in this first Ecumenical Council? There was a priest from Egypt, called Arius, who taught that the Son of God is not equal to God, that he was created by God, and that the Holy Spirit is not God, but is created by the Son. So according to him, God the Father created the Son and the Son created the Holy Spirit. That was his conception of the Holy Trinity. This is not the true faith. We read in the Gospel of St. John: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… And the Word became flesh (that means, a human being) and lived among us, and we have see, the glory as the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth. (Jn 1:1,14).
This Ecumenical Council defined the doctrine of Trinity in the Nicene Creed, which all the Christians recite, and which expresses the true faith concerning the Son of God. The Creed comprises 6 parts: 1) God the Father the Creator; 2) Jesus Christ the Son of God; 3) The Holy Spirit; 4) The Church; 5) The Baptism; 6) The life of the world to come.
The three first parts concern God’s action in the world: 1) God as Father Creator; 2) God as Savior; 3) God as sanctifier. The second part is the result of God’s action: By God’s action, 1) the Church is constituted; 2) the baptism is the mystery of entering in the Church and being incorporated in the Body of Christ; 3) the eternal life is the final goal of every human being and the final step of the salvation.
In the Anaphora of the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, when the priest says: “Let us stand well, let us stand in awe, let us be attentive to offer the holy Oblation in peace”, we answer: “A mercy of peace, a sacrifice of praise”. The first part of the Creed is “A mercy of peace”: it is God’s action in the world. The second part is “a sacrifice of praise”: it is our action as Christian to thank God for his deeds.
The part concerning Jesus Christ is the most developed because Arius denied the divinity of Christ and at the same time denied salvation. If Christ is not the Son of God, we are not saved. If he is only a human being, we can not be saved, because no man can save other men. Since all men are slaves of the sin, a man must come who is without sin to liberate men from the slavery of sin. This man is Jesus Christ the Son of God, who “for us and for our salvation”, as we say in the Creed, “came down from heaven…”:
The passage of the Gospel we read today is called the priestly prayer of Jesus. In this prayer Jesus expresses his relation to God the Father, and the purpose of his mission: He has been sent by the Father to give eternal life to all men and woman. This is salvation. He said: “Eternal life is this: to know you, the only true God, and him whom you have sent, Jesus Christ”. We know the true God through Jesus Christ: “No one has ever seen God. It is God the Only Son, ever at the Father’s side, who has revealed Him” (Jn 1:18). That is why when Philip asked Jesus: “Show us the Father and we will be satisfied”, Jesus replied: “after I have been with you all this time, you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (Jn 14: 8-9).
The knowledge spoken of here is not speculative but practical, not theoretical but experimental, not intellectual but spiritual, not inactive but saving. Salvation consists in knowing, living on, having communion with, and enjoying endless satisfaction in God through his Son Jesus Christ and his Holy Spirit. This is salvation and this is spiritual or eternal life.
The only true God is the God revealed to us through Jesus Christ. If there is a God, He cannot be but the God revealed to us in Jesus Christ. In that sense, Jesus is the Mediator of our knowledge and of our salvation.
Then Jesus goes on: “I have given you glory on earth, by finishing the work you gave me to do”. The glory is the manifestation of the deity of God outside the Trinity. God was glorified in that sense by the miracles of Jesus, by his words, by his holy life, and finally by his death. Jesus will be glorified by His Resurrection, and his Ascension into heaven. This is the meaning of the following verse. “So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed”.
Then Jesus prays for the living disciples and for their preservation from evil.
“I have made your name known to those you gave me out of the world”: To make known the Father’s name was to reveal Him, to manifest His character, and display His perfections. “I entrusted to them the message you entrusted to me, and they received it. They have known that in truth I came from you, they have believed it was you who sent me”.
“I am in the world no more, but these are in the world as I come to you. O Father most holy, protect them with your name which you have given me, that they may be one even as we are one”. We are called to holiness, and this holiness consists in the unity with Christ and God. And because we are one in Christ, we can be, as the first community of Jerusalem, “one heart and one soul” (Acts 4:32).
Then Jesus extends his prayer to all Christians throughout history:
“I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are I me and I am in you, may they also be one in us, so that the world may believe that you have set me”
The necessity of the unity of Jesus’ disciples is based on the fact that the world cannot believe in Jesus if the Christians are not one. That is why in every Liturgy we pray for the unity of the Church:
“For peace in the whole world, the well-being of the holy Churches of God and the union of all, let us pray to the Lord.”
God our Father we thank you for having sent us Jesus Christ as Savior. Strengthen our faith, deepen our spiritual knowledge, keep all the Christians in the unity, so that we bear testimony to your love and render glory to you, eternal Father, and to your Only-Begotten Son and to your Holy and life-giving Spirit now and always and forever and ever.