Sunday of the 1st Ecumenical Council

At that time, Jesus lifted up his eyes to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him power over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work which you gave me to do; and now, Father, you glorify me in your own presence with the glory which I had with you before the world was made. I have manifested your name to the men whom you gave me out of the world; yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you; for I have given them the words which you gave me, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you did send me. I am praying for them; I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are mine; all mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. And now I am no more in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me; I have guarded them, and none of them is lost but the son of perdition, that the scripture might be fulfilled. But now I am coming to you; and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves.

JOHN 17:1-13

Today is the Sunday on which we commemorate the 1st Ecumenical Council which took place in 325 AD, after Christianity was no longer persecuted by the Romans. The main reason for the council was actually to establish rules of good governance by the churches as well as church discipline.

But what the council is best known for is the rejection of the teachings of a bishop called Arius, who claimed that Jesus is not God. The council proclaimed clearly that Jesus is God, and more specifically the council taught that Jesus is “of one essence” with God the Father.

The reason Arius taught this heresy was that the ancient idea of God was one of a distant all-powerful force that could hardly be communicated with. Gods did not care, they just had power. This was taken to be the primary truth, and the gospel of Christ was something Arius tried to fit into the narrow box of his pre-Christian categories of thought regarding God.

Because of the victory of the council, our church has given us this particular passage from the gospel of John. In this passage Jesus speaks about the relationship He has with His Father. It speaks of the glory that the son had with the Father before the world was made.

Let us imagine that we were in ancient Rome at the time of the council of Nicea. Let us imagine that we were speaking to a man who was not a Christian, but who was born into a modestly wealthy family. The family had land and buildings and money. This man spent his life working hard to grow the family business. He knew that he needed to show respect to the gods and honour to the gods. This was because everyone knew that if the gods were angry, they would give you bad luck and misfortune. 

So the man made sacrifices to the gods … now and again. He had pretty good luck. He got a bit richer and a bit richer. It seemed that his life was both prosperous and religious.

But the man had slaves who had to work much harder than their master ever did. He had poor neighbours who struggled to have enough food to feed their children. All around this man there were people suffering to some degree.

The man in our story thought that other people’s problems are their problems. That’s between them and the gods. The gods help the people they want to help.

Along came a Christian who explained that the gift of God to us is that we may feed the poor, and treat all people as our brothers and sisters. The Christian explained that God himself had become a man. And what God did as a man was to feed the hungry, and to have mercy on the poor. When God became man he associated with the outcasts.

That was something unheard of for the Romans. How can it be a divine thing to show human kindness? The Roman argued that is not what gods do. The Roman argued that divinity is not the same as human compassion.

But the Christian argued: the glory of God is a man fully alive. What it means to be divine is to love your fellow humans. What God did when he became human was to love his fellow humans with a love that was so great that he was willing to die for them.

For the Roman in our story, this was a conceptual crisis. He thought: If I have been sacrificing to the gods all this time, but the gods do not care about sacrifice, how did I become so rich and prosperous? Do sacrifices have nothing to do with making the gods happy? Did they not give me what I have because I pleased them?

No. They did not. You do not have riches and material prosperity because you made the gods happy, the Christian explains. “But why did God allow me to be prosperous and rich then?” asks the man.

John Chrysostom would have told him that he does not have riches, but the riches have him. We justify having as much as we have by saying that we need these things. But would we not be freer if we did not need them? If I do not need things they cannot be taken from me, and I cannot be deprived.

God allowed you to have your riches so that you could do the same kind of things that God himself did when he became man. God’s generosity is that you have the opportunity to use what you have to show the love of God to other people. God is calling you to take care of others. When you do that you are one with God and you shine with the glory of God.

The Roman man again was faced with a crisis. How can I live up to this calling! It is too hard. The Christian explained to him that only the gift of the Holy Spirit is enough to help us be like Jesus.

If Jesus were just a man who did nice things, we would powerless to follow in his footsteps. But if Jesus is God who became man, then Jesus can make us alive with the same love that he has If Jesus is God, then he can make us who he is because he became who we are.

God’s super power is love. The glory and majesty and power of God is shown in the compassion Jesus showed to the widows, the sick, the poor, and the sinners. What is successful in the life of Jesus? What is admirable and excellent? What about his life is an expression of what we want to be? It is his love and compassion and prayers.

There are ways for us to live out this calling in our church. Consider the reading today from Acts.

IN THOSE DAYS, Paul had decided to sail past Ephesos, so that he might not have to spend time in Asia; for he was hastening to be at Jerusalem, if possible, on the day of Pentecost. And from Miletos he sent to Ephesos and called to him the elders of the church. And when they came to him, he said to them: “Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God which he obtained with the blood of his own Son. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears. And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. I coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel. You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities, and to those who were with me. In all things I have shown you that by so toiling one must help the weak, remembering the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, ‘it is more blessed to give than to receive.‘ ” And when he had spoken thus, he knelt down and prayed with them all.

Acts 20:16-18, 28-36

St. Paul built up his churches without receiving any compensation because he wanted to set an example for the new Christians of the kind of spirit of responsibility and empowerment that is needed. We are the church. No one else is obligated or even called to help to pay for our church. God has called us.

The first way for us to imitate Christ in his divine condescension is to practice tithing. God has called us to give 10% of our income to the church. But you are not giving money. You are giving Church School to children. You are giving spiritual care and hospital visits. You are helping to build a safe haven for others. You are providing this city with a strong witness to the Orthodox faith. You are giving youth the chance to grow in faith. You are giving the frail a place of rest.

The next way we participate in the life of Christ is by serving. In many organizations 80% of the work is done by 20% of the people. In this community the number is better than that, but we still need more people to be involved. If you do not have a specific task in this church, you need to have one. You are missing out and we need you.

Another way of shining with the glory of God is for us to welcome people to church. You are the face of this congregation. Visitors need to be welcomed by you.

We show that Jesus is our only hope by taking responsibility for making church happen and by providing church for others. This is the glory of God. This is true spirituality.