16 June 2013
Sunday of the Fathers of the First Council
In our day and in our country, when you don’t like something about your church, it’s no big deal. You just move on down the block and start a new one. It’s happening here in Dorr: there are little break-off groups from local congregations meeting, one at the township hall and another at Sycamore Elementary. And all that makes sense, if church is something we create. No wonder that according to a recent Pew study, there are about 41,000 different denominations in the US today!
But that’s not how they saw it in the early days of Christianity. Christianity became legal in 313 AD, and soon thereafter, a priest of Alexandria named Arius began to deny that Jesus is God. St. Paul had warned the Ephesians, “from among your own selves will arise men speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them.” Why didn’t Arius just try to start his own church? Why did he try to upset the faith the whole world knew?
It was everybody knew--even him-- that the church isn’t something we create. It’s something we receive from the hand of God, through the hands of those who served before us. Christ doesn’t have many bodies, but only one body. And that body isn’t some spooky spiritual thing. Just as, in the days of our Lord’s ministry you could point out his body, so also when he ascended into heaven you could point out his body, the Church. And the Church was one.
It’s worth noting how the issue was dealt with. Arius didn’t try to start a new church. Nor did all the other bishops just ask the Roman bishop to tell them what to believe. No; just as happened in the time of the apostles, the leaders of the church got together to discuss the issue. And so, 318 bishops from all over the Christian world gathered at Nicaea.
What was at stake was nothing less than eternal salvation. For if Christ is merely a good man, the first and greatest creature, then God remains infinitely distant from us and we are on our own. You cannot give what you do not have, and if Christ is not true God, how could he give us the divine life and glory?
Guided by the Spirit, the holy fathers proclaimed the truth: Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, begotten eternally from his Father without mother, and begotten in time from his mother without father. Our God is not a vague force or power, an abstract concept.
Nor do we call God “Father, Son and Holy Spirit” because we project earthly, human ideas onto that which cannot be known. We call God “Father” because he has been revealed to us by his Son made flesh. The Son poured out the Spirit from the Father onto us, to make us what we are: children of the Triune God. As we sing each Sunday morning in Matins: “God is the Lord and has revealed himself to us.”
Eternal salvation is to know and love and live in the life of the Holy Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. As the Lord says in today’s Gospel: “And this is eternal life, that they know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou has sent.” And we know the Father through the Son by the power of the Holy Spirit, as Paul says elsewhere: “No one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.”
That one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is known in Christ’s one body: the Church. See how Christ prays in our Gospel: “Holy Father, keep them in Thy Name, which Thou hast given Me, that they may be one, even as we are one. Just as Father, Son and Holy Spirit are one in essence and undivided, so also the Church is one. And just as Father, Son and Holy Spirit live one undivided life of love, so also with those joined together in one Lord, one faith and one Baptism.
So let us love one another, that with one mind we may confess Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Let us not grow cold in love, uncaring and insensitive to each other’s needs. But let us grow in prayer, in works of mercy, giving special honor to those who are weak and struggle. Let us not love in word only, but in deed and truth, and show ourselves to be children of the one true God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.