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June 14, 2021

Homily on the Sunday of the 318 Holy Fathers of the First Ecumenical Synod (St. Luke of Simferopol)

By St. Luke, Archbishop of Simferopol and All Crimea

(Delivered May 25, 1947)

On the Sunday before the great day of Pentecost, the Holy Church celebrates the memory of the Holy Fathers of the First Ecumenical Synod.

We need to know what an Ecumenical Synod is and what the significance of the First Ecumenical Synod was.

The holy apostles told the bishops to hold an Ecclesiastical Synod, that is, a conference of bishops, who together had to decide on the affairs of the Church. It was decided that such Synods should be convened frequently, twice a year. This is how it was done, and such local Synods were convened to resolve not very important issues.

But the First Ecumenical Synod was convened because of the enormous importance of a problem unprecedented in the history of the Church. The First Ecumenical Synod was a great event in the history of the Church, because it was convened to condemn the heresy of Arius, about which Blessed Jerome said: "Arius was a spark, but he burned nearly the whole inhabited world." Do you see what it was!

And the Holy Father Dimitri of Rostov speaks with the following words: “O accursed spark, part of the eternal fire! O, the most horrible spark that burned countless temples of the Holy Spirit! O, the wretched and gloomy spark that fell from the fire of gehenna! The Holy Fathers, as soon as they could, extinguished it with the pure spring of the word of God, as well as the water of life, with which you may all fill the vessels of your hearts!"

You see how awesome this was in the history of the Church.

What was the essence of the event?

Until Arius there were the heretical Gnostics and the Manichaeans, but such a terrible heretic, like Arius, did not exist and may God never allow one like him again.

Arius was a priest in Alexandria, Egypt, and began to teach that the Lord Jesus Christ was not the True God, the true Son of God in essence and in nature, but only in a moral sense. He denied the eternality of the Lord Jesus Christ, said that the Lord came from nothing, while the whole Church believed that the Lord was begotten of the Father, that He was His pre-eternal Son. Arius managed to embellish his teaching with good ideas, and tried to base it on Holy Scripture, so that many were influenced by his lies and heresy.

It seemed as if Arius was speaking very correctly, because he had a great mind and a great ability to present the lie as true. And many followers of this terrible heretical teaching were found.

And when it became clear that Arius was gaining more and more followers, the Archbishop of Alexandria became alarmed and, as soon as he was convinced that no matter how hard he tried to persuade him, despite the arguments, Arius remained steadfast in his heresy, he cut him off from the Church.

The unrest in the Church was so great that the emperor of Byzantium considered it necessary to convene an Ecumenical Synod, to which all the bishops had to come to condemn Arius.

The Synod took place in the city of Nicaea in the year 325. At this Synod the Lord brought forward many great fathers, bishops and priests, illumined by the Spirit of God, who demolished all the false arguments of Arius. And in this Synod, Saint Eustathios of Antioch, Saint Markellos of Ankara and Saint Athanasius, the Deacon of the Church of Alexandria, who later became the great and holy hierarch Athanasius the Great, especially shone with their mind and the power of their eloquence.

Athanasius showed such power of mind and speech that together with the other bishops he completely rejected the heresy of Arius and the Synod cut off Arius from the Church, cursed him and, as you know, they wrote the first Symbol of Faith, which was completed with additions about the Holy Spirit during the Second Ecumenical Synod.

We confess our faith in accordance to this Symbol of Faith.

On what did Arius base his denial of the divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ, of His equality with God the Father?

He quoted the text of Holy Scripture: "I go unto the Father: for my Father is greater than I" (John 14:28). Christ Himself once said that He is inferior to the Father, so how do we consider Him equal to the Father, how do we consider Him God? The wise holy fathers answered, "Yes, the Father was superior to the Lord Jesus Christ, when Jesus was God-man, when He performed the work of salvation for the human race, in His human nature He was inferior to the Father. But only in His human nature, since in His divine nature He was always equal to the Father."

Numerous verses from Holy Scripture were presented, which unequivocally prove the Lord Jesus Christ was begotten of the Father. I will quote the most important at the end of the sermon, but now I will tell you about another argument, which was quoted by Arius: "I came down from heaven not to do my will, but the will of the Father who sent me" (John 6:38) And Arius said that the Lord Jesus Christ was therefore a servant of God, an apostle of God, therefore we are not allowed to consider Him the true God.

But in this case Arius acted as the devil had done, when he tempted the Lord Jesus Christ: he quoted from Holy Scripture, but hid the words that followed. He did this when he brought the Lord Jesus to the pinnacle of the temple in Jerusalem and said to him, "If you are the Son of God, cast yourself down; for it is written, 'He shall give his angels charge concerning you: and in their hands they shall bear you up, lest at any time you dash your foot against a stone'" (Matt. 4:6).

As you can see, the devil relied on Holy Scripture, but he hid the last words, "You shall tread upon the lion and asp: the young lion and the dragon you shall trample under feet" (Psalm 90 [91]:13). He hid them because it would be like admitting that the Lord Jesus Christ would crush the head of the snake, He would redeem the world from his authority.

Listen to what has been written by Saint John the Theologian: “For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me. And this is the Father's will who sent me, that of all which he has given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day. And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one who sees the Son, and believes on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day”(John 6:38-40).

Who can resurrect except God, who can have such authority?

But Arius hid this, extracting some words from Holy Scripture and interrupting their sequence with the ones that follow.

This is how all sectarians act to this day, who extract individual words from Holy Scripture and seduce illiterate people who do not know Holy Scripture, people who cannot judge and who precisely believe in the first word they hear. Thus the Seventh Day Adventists say: "How is it possible to celebrate Sunday, if the third commandment directly says: 'Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord your God'" (Exodus 20:8-10). They say, "If the Lord so commanded, who can disobey this commandment?"

Therefore ask these Seventh Day Adventists: "If so, if you believe that all things must be done as they are recorded in the Mosaic Law, which in many places has been abolished, amended and supplemented by the Lord Jesus Christ, why do you not offer a sacrifice? Oxen, cows, sheep, as commanded in the Old Testament books?" They overlook these things in silence.

Much more can be said against the false thinking of the sectarians; the only unfortunate thing is that they seduce the simple people, who cannot stand up against anything and believe everything that is said by those who deceive them with texts of Holy Scripture.

The First Ecumenical Synod did a great job, weakening all heresies, because Arius was a spark, but he burned almost the whole inhabitable world. The Holy Church immediately resisted the momentum of the Arian heresy. After the Synod of Nicaea, when they deposed Arius and drafted the Symbol of Faith, not everyone obeyed the decisions of the Synod for long. Those who accepted the teachings of Arius, followed him and did not want to give up, therefore they continued furiously to seek the triumph of heresy; a controversy broke out between the Orthodox and the Arians, which continued for another 55 years.

These were the years of the great martyrdom of the Church, of the unspeakable enmity within the Church itself, because the number of the followers of Arius was growing.

Some Byzantine emperors believed that Arius was right not to submit to the Synod of Nicaea and demanded that everyone confess the faith which Arius taught.

There was a series of Arian emperors who, having state authority but also enormous ecclesiastical authority, afflicted the Church. For 55 years the intense controversy spread. The Arians began to modify the teaching of Arius in order to moderate it, to make it more acceptable, they introduced substantial modifications and thus Semi-Arianism was born.

And the controversy with the Semi-Arians was extremely serious and had enormous losses for the Church. The emperor Julian handed over all the churches to the Arians, the Orthodox bishops and priests were sent into exile, their churches were closed.

During the last period of the Church's dispute with the Arians, the three great hierarchs flourished: Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian and John Chrysostom.

They waged a decisive battle against the Arians. How serious this controversy was is shown by the fact that, when Gregory the Theologian was elected Archbishop of Constantinople, he did not find a single orthodox church - they all belonged to the followers of Arius.

He had to start doing the Divine Liturgy and giving the sermon in a simple house, but his sermons were so strong that after 2-3 years all the people followed Saint Gregory the Theologian and the churches were returned to the Orthodox.

Behold how serious, how long the controversy with the Arians lasted and there were peoples, like the Goths, who forever remained Arians.

You now understand all the power of Arius, you understand why the blessed Jerome called him a spark and Saint Dimitri talks about the cursed spark that came from the fire of hell.

You see how great an event we celebrate today, because we celebrate not only the memory of the First Ecumenical Synod, but we celebrate and glorify the memory of the 318 Fathers of the Synod of Nicaea, we celebrate the triumph of Orthodoxy over heretics, expressed by the great Synod in the first Symbol of Faith.

I told you that the Byzantine emperors played an important role in this controversy. When the Arian emperors took the throne, then the Orthodox Church was persecuted, when again, after their death, other emperors, rivals of the Arians, ascended the throne, life in the Church was reborn and revived.

If the involvement of emperors in the affairs of the Church was of such great importance, do we approve of imperial power, of state power over the Church? By no means, because not only in this time of conflict with the Arians but also in an even more difficult, terrible period, the period of persecution of those who honored the holy icons, did the emperors afflict the Church even more than the Arian emperors.

Is it beneficial, when the Church is dependent on such state power, to be forced to accept something it does not want? Certainly not.

We know of other such examples from history, where the interference of state power in ecclesiastical affairs has been extremely damaging.

Can we not say that it would be much better if the Church was left alone, if no one put pressure on it, if it faced its problems with the synod of bishops.

On the other hand, we cannot deny that the Church sometimes needs the help of state power. It would be great if the Church enjoyed absolute recognition and, where necessary, the contribution of authority.

There are cases when the Church is weak, that only state power can restore the proper order.

I will give a small example. I deposed a priest who was given over to drunkenness and many insults. That's why I had to remove him from office. So what happened was, the one who was deposed continued to liturgize as a priest, did not take off the cassock, the cross, continued to have long hair and dared to perform sacraments. He went to the villages and performed the sacrament of baptism, the sacrament of marriage, performed supplications and memorials. I could do nothing at this point, he could only be tamed by the state power. Behold, in such cases the help of state power in the Church is necessary.

Therefore, the separation of the Church from the State is favorable for the Church, if on the part of the state there is an attitude of sympathy towards ecclesiastical affairs and it helps when necessary.

There is an important commandment of the Lord Jesus Christ to the Church. The Lord says it is incumbent upon us, in these moments, when we are weak, to place all our hopes in God. Because, despite all the persecutions by the Arians, the Orthodoxy that was restored and consolidated, completed the drafting of the Symbol of our faith and triumphed over all the heretics.

So let us believe only as the Symbol of Faith teaches us.

Let us believe that the Lord Jesus is the True God, the True Son of God, because there are deep foundations for this. The Lord Himself revealed it many times in His words, as did His holy apostles:

Apostle John: "He is the true God and eternal life" (1 John 5:20).

Apostle Jude: "Denying the only Lord God our Lord Jesus Christ" (Jude 1:4).

The apostle Paul, addressing Titus, speaks of the hope of the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ (Titus 2:13).

The apostle Paul to the Romans: "Christ, the everlasting God blessed forever" (Rom. 9:5).

The apostle Paul to the Colossians: "That in him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily" (Col. 2:9).

And the Lord Himself: "Before Abraham was born I am" (John 8:58). "And now You, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world existed" (John 17:5).

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.