The Seventh Sunday of Pascha The Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council, May 31, 2020
“It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us.” (Acts 15:28)
Brothers and Sisters in Christ!
The first verse of today’s epistle to the coming great Feast of Pentecost next Sunday. It says: “For he hasted to be at Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost.” (Acts 20:16). To be in Jerusalem in spirit at next Sunday’s Liturgy (in spite of our quarantine!) ..is this not what we desire…remembering that the Liturgy pierces the veil between time and eternity, making us truly present at the first and unending Pentecost!
Do we not believe as fervently in the power of the Holy Spirit.. that power which overshadowed and inspired the Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council of Nicea in 325 A.D. which we celebrate today? If we could only see them…maimed, crippled, blinded by the persecutions against the Christians! It is said that the Emperor St. Constantine who called the First Council, got up off his royal throne and kissed the empty sockets of the eyes that had been put out and the stumps of the limbs that had been severed. Imagine who those
figures at that Council were: Saints Athanasius, Nicholas, Spyridon, Eusebius of Caesarea, Hosius of Cordova in Spain…They suffered to transmit the Faith to us..while we sometimes live as though the Holy Spirit was powerless! The same Holy Spirit which descended on the apostles and disciples at Pentecost and on the Holy Fathers at the Council of Nicea is waiting to descend on us!
The Orthodox Church is also called “The Church of the Ecumenical Councils”. Today we celebrate the very first of those Seven Ecumenical Councils. The First Council gave us the Nicene Creed which we recite at every Liturgy, and, I hope, every day.
Councils of the Church are only deemed valid if they are received and acknowledged by the People of God, the “Laos” or laity. The bishops can promulgate whatever they like, but if the people do not accept it, the council is deemed a “Robber Council”, robbed of grace and truth. There have been some of these Councils, perhaps the most famous being the Council of Florence where St. Mark of Ephesus defeated the proposed union between Rome and Orthodoxy by refusing to sign the Tome of Union …being the only bishop who did not! Over and over again, the Church has been saved by one man or by a faithful remnant! How different is a Church in which one man claims to be “infallible” promulgates doctrine! In Orthodoxy, the Faith is ratified from “the bottom up” not from “the top down”!
At a later Council, the arch heretic was no less than Nestorios, the Patriarch of Constantinople. At a Council later than that, St. Maximus the Confessor said: “When the Patriarch of Constantinople returns to Orthodoxy, I will return to the Patriarch; but ‘though the whole world return to the Patriarch, I alone will not!” They cut out his tongue for saying that and when he continued to say it in writing, they cut off his hand. So you see, being Patriarch of Constantinople is no guarantee of Orthodoxy!
The Julian Calendar, known by Our Lord and in use at the same time as the Council of Nicea has been sanctifed by more than 2,000 years of use. This is why we continue to use it today. It has nothing to do with astronomical accuracy, but with its usage by the saints! Why do we insist on calling the Julian Calendar the “Old Calendar” as opposed to the “New Calendar”? It is the “Church Calendar’ as opposed to the “Civil Calendar”!
“For he hasted to be at Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost.” (Acts 20:16)
A Note on the Opening of Our Churches
Brothers and Sisters!
We are Christ’s rational flock… God gives us a brain to use! If we understand that refusal to practice “social distancing” results in communication of disease (a proven fact) then we must practice social distancing. We are also Orthodox Christian believers who know that we cannot get sick from receiving the Body and Blood of Christ! As a priest for fifty years who had to consume the remains of the chalice after 300 persons had received Communion on Christmas Eve, I can testify to the truth of this fact.
At the same time, we cannot presume on the mercy of God, or that God will somehow protect our congregation as members of others fall sick! Is the Church a building or a congregation? Surely it is more than that! It is where “two or three are gathered together” that God is in our midst. The “two or three” are God, my Guardian Angel and myself!
I see the pandemic as a test of our faith. If we return to church with as much enthusiasm and appreciation as we seem to have now that our churches are closed, all well and good. How many services in the past have been poorly attended, though? Will we increase our church attendance? We know that in the Church we have all that we need for our salvation.. have we made full use of it until now?
By all means, we should open our churches now… if we thought people would practice social distancing.. but will the Orthodox? Lighting of candles, veneration of icons, etc.
In the meantime, let us practice the social distancing which is required, and not expect that God will somehow, by a miracle, preserve us while the members of other congregations fall
sick and die.
We are missing you all! Please free to call us at anytime! 416 767 3579
Love in Christ,
Father David, Presbytera Justine