On the 7th Sunday of Pascha we commemorate the Holy Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council. [2018 Sermon notes]
Note: it is the Sunday of the Holy Fathers, not of the decisions of the Fathers or the decisions of the Council. The focus is on the people involved in the Council . Christ did not come to reveal dogma, but to unite all of us humans to God. The Fathers of the Council wrestled with finding a vocabulary with which to express this truth, but what is even more important is they were writing about what they experienced in Christ.
Love – the main teaching of Christ is about people. Our goal as Christians is to be united to Christ, not just follow some rubrics or rules or regulations.
Tone 4 Troparion (Ascension)
You ascended in glory, O Christ our God, granting joy to Your Disciples by the promise of the Holy Spirit. Through the blessing, they were assured, that You are the Son of God, the Redeemer of the world!
Christ’s brings joy to His disciples by the promise of the Holy Spirit. The disciples benefit from the blessing. Christ is oriented toward those who love Him, toward those who follow Him, to the people of God, the Church. His focus is not doctrine or buildings but people, the people He wishes to unite to the Holy Trinity – to us!
Tone 8 Troparion (Fathers)
You are most glorious, O Christ our God! You have established the Holy Fathers as lights on the earth. Through them You have guided us to the true Faith. O greatly compassionate One, glory to You!
Christ establishes the Holy Fathers as lights on the earth – not their doctrines. It is the Fathers that guide us to the true faith, not their decisions. Very people focused.
In the Epistle, St. Paul is worried about “the flock” – the people of God – and he warns the leadership about impending problems that require them to deal with and protect the people, the Body of believers. He is warning them about the destructive false teachings, but his concern is the believers themselves.
Acts 20:16-18, 28-36
Paul said to them: “You know, from the first day that I came to Asia, in what manner I always lived among you, Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears. So now, brethren, I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.
Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock – pay attention to people. The elders are overseers and shepherds of the flock – the people. We are not to make rubrics or rules more important than the flock. Doesn’t mean that rubrics or doctrines are unimportant, but that the focus has to be the membership, the people. The troubles that will arise are also from the members! We need to pay attention to the members.
Finally, we have the Gospel lesson in which it is clear that Jesus is also concerned about His followers, His disciples, about all of us in the Church.
Gospel: John 17:1-13
Jesus spoke these words, lifted up His eyes to heaven, and said: “Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You, as You have given Him authority over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as You have given Him. And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do. And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was. I have manifested Your name to the men whom You have given Me out of the world. They were Yours, You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word. Now they have known that all things which You have given Me are from You. For I have given to them the words which You have given Me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came forth from You; and they have believed that You sent Me.
I pray for them. I do not pray for the world but for those whom You have given Me, for they are Yours. And all Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine, and I am glorified in them. Now I am no longer in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are. While I was with them in the world, I kept them in Your name. Those whom You gave Me I have kept; and none of them is lost except the son of perdition, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. But now I come to You, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have My joy fulfilled in themselves.
Christ’s concern is that we might know God. For Him, knowing God means experiencing eternal life. Any concern about right doctrine is a concern about our really experiencing God as God reveals Himself to us. It is ultimately a concern about us, that we might fully experience what God is offering to us. And Christ wished that we might experience the oneness, the unity, the love that is shared by the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity – the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The concern about Church unity and Church doctrine is focused on us, our salvation, our experience of the blessed Trinity. It is all about God’s love for us.