The Fathers of the 1st Ecumenical Council

The Sunday after the Feast of the Ascension is also the Sunday before the Feast of Pentecost.  In the Orthodox Church today, this Sunday commemorates the Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council.  The connection to the entire post-Paschal season is that the Sundays after Pascha all explore both the meaning of the Resurrection of Christ and our personal experience of Christ’s death and resurrection through our own baptisms.  In baptism, we are buried with Christ – immersed under the water –  and raised with Him to the new life as we come up out of the baptismal waters.  In baptism we participate in Christ.  The baptismal font is as the tomb of Christ, but for us it becomes the watery grave for our sins, for the old corrupt flesh, and for our Adamic nature.   We are raised to a new life, born again in Christ.

The importance of our baptism is made clear in the person of Jesus Christ.  For Christ being fully God and fully man, he it is who heals each of us, taking away all that separates us from God, and destroying death so that we might be united to God again.  It is who Jesus is – one person of the Holy Trinity – which makes our salvation possible.  Thus we rejoice in knowing who Jesus is for He is our salvation because of who He is.  The Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council defined what is it that Christians believe about Jesus Christ as one of the Persons of the Holy Trinity and as being fully God and fully human.

“It was with a spirit of reverential fear that the Fathers were then compelled to defend the divinity of the Son at the council of Nicaea in Ad 325. They sought to remind Christians that Christ’s coming into the world was a true manifestation of the eternal God and that his Incarnation opened the way to the fullness of salvation and deification: ‘[God] was made man’ said St. Athanasius, following St Irenaeus, ‘that we might be made God’. But such insistence on the eternal unity of the Father and the Son risked compromising or minimizing the uniqueness, or irreducible specificity, of each of the divine persons. The Cappadocian Fathers worked in the course of the fourth century to formulate a theological language and to establish the meaning of precise terms that would permit Christians on one hand to distinguish the unity of the Three in essence, or shared substance, and, on the other, to express the mystery of each of the three persons by using the philosophical term ‘hypostasis’. This term settled the Trinitarian debate more conclusively than did the term ‘person’, which had been introduced by Tertullian in the early third century, by emphasizing the unfathomable depth of personal being of each member of the Trinity.” (Boris Bobrinskoy in The Cambridge Companion to Orthodox Christian Theology edited by Mary B.Cunningham and Elizabeth Theokritoff, pgs.50-51)