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Κυριακή, 20 Μαΐου 2018

Constantine and the Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council.

"And kings shall be thy nursing fathers, and their queens thy nursing mothers: they shall bow down to thee with their face toward the earth, and lick up the dust of thy feet; and thou shalt know that I am the LORD: for they shall not be ashamed that wait for me." --Isaiah 49:23

This Sunday the Orthodox Church commemorates the 318 God-bearing Fathers who gathered in Nicaea in 325 at the request of the Emperor Constantine the Great, to address the heresy of Arianism together with other issues that concerned the unity of the Church. Modern deconstructionists/ revisionists have sought to denigrate the memory of these men and downplay the contribution they made to Christianity. As a former Protestant who for many years was associated with the Conservative Anabaptists, my perception of the bishops of the Nicene Council was colored by such teachings. I saw them as worldly "churchmen" who had betrayed the primitive faith of the apostles and martyrs, being swept off their feet by the promise of wealth and power by the conniving and power-hungry Constantine. However, reading the following eyewitness account of the convening of the First Nicene Council completely changed my perception of these men, and of Constantine himself.  I offer this in hopes that any who have been swayed by the same false teachings might likewise come to embrace the truth.

"A brief account of the council (of Nice), as given by Marutha of Meparkat by direction of the Patriarch Isaac."

"The blessed Apostles, when they went forth to proclaim the glad tidings of the glorious Gospel of Christ, did not establish creeds and confessions, but their main care was to turn men from the worship of idols to the worship of the holy cross; and that those, who were discipled should keep themselves from fornication, from the uncleanness of things offered to idols, from strangled and from blood. But when their message went forth into all the world and their words into all the earth, and the faith of Christ was spread abroad in every country through their instrumentality and Jews and Gentiles received and became subject unto it, Satan showed his wickedness and his servants became manifest and clothed themselves with disgrace and shame; and since the evil one gained nothing in his first war but reproach, he set his forces in battle array again with more bitterness than ever, and spread wide dissentions, controversies, and confusion among those who were invited to Heaven, and introduced numerous heresies into the church. So that the number of heresies equalled the number of bishops and right was oppressed and the truth was persecuted. True believers diminished and heretics increased. Then, like the rays of the Sun in the midst of dark clouds, was seen the faithful crown of the pure kingdom of the blessed Constantine, the holy emperor and worthy of immortal honor, who, being stimulated by zeal from the true faith, wrote to the most excellent and orthodox Bishop of Jerusalem, Alexander, * to wit, "I have learned from the Holy Scriptures that out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. You will then immediately upon the reception of this my royal epistle, come to my presence, for it is necessary to the Holy Church, that the true faith of Christ should issue from those sacred temples (of Jerusalem). I have two Bishops who give me trouble daily, and by their controversies produce confusion and irregularity. It has not been practicable for me hitherto to give attention to this subject in consequence of the many wars which we have been prosecuting against our enemies, and especially against Jews and Heathens who are without the Christian fold. But now that we are at peace with all around, and both friends and enemies are subject to our authority, I have no other care than to settle the disputes which have arisen in the church. We now wait for your arrival in order that we may learn from you the truth and then proceed to action. You will of course do as we have directed, and we desire your prayers in behalf of our kingdom.

"When the blessed Alexander received the letter, ordering him to proceed to the Capital, he immediately made preparations for his journey and fearing to go by land on account of the heretics that he would meet with, he selected a ship to go by sea. The very day that he went on board, a man appeared unto him in a dream and said to him, "You will not see the face of the earthly king, for you will be taken speedily to behold the face of the heavenly king." He then wrote a letter in relation to the true faith of Christ, that the emperor desired to learn, which he sealed and committed to Priest Makaris to carry by land to the Capital. Alexander then proceeded by sea and arrived at an island called Pataia. There he was seized by the heretics, who made him large promises if he would join himself to their party. But as he did not listen to their alluring words, they sent his soul to the presence of the Lord, with excruciating torture. He was thus honored with the crown of martyrdom for the sake of the words of Christ, and departed from this world of sorrow. When the Emperor Constantine received the news of his death, he was overwhelmed with grief, and when the letter of Alexander which was brought by Priest Makaris reached him, he burned with divine zeal and wrote the following order to all the Bishops in the world; viz. Constantine Augustus Caesar, Constantine Autocrat and king, to every church under heaven, obedient and not obedient to Christ our king, be peace. Give heed all of you to this order, and delay not to assemble in General Council at the city of Nice in the province of Bithynia for the investigation of the true Christian faith. Let not any delay to come either of those who agree in sentiment or of those who disagree, and let no man prevent another's coming that he may declare his faith in the council in the presence of all the Bishops, in order that there may be one mind and one bond of faith and perfect unity, and that the whole church may stand in one body with an undivided faith with one perfect will, and that no man may transgress or despise the command of the church or state. We will allow one year and two months which will be sufficient time for all to assemble from every quarter. In the month of October let all the Bishops be found in Nice, a city of Bithynia, which is in the neighborhood of our Christian Capital. May you all be prospered in the Lord."

"As the presence of all Bishops whether in the dominions of Constantine or not of them was desired, Mar Shimeon, Bar Sabae, Patriarch of Seleucia and Ctesiphon was desired to be present, but on account of the disturbed state of the surrounding countries he was prevented from going. He wrote a letter, which he forwarded by the hand of Priest Shahdost, of the following purport: "If it were not that the heathen are thirsting for my blood, I should by all means attend and be blessed by the ecclesiastical council and by the pure state of Constantine. But whatever the Bishops in council assembled who have been persecuted for the sake of the true faith may do, I shall gladly agree to."

"When the Bishops had assembled according to the royal command, the king read the declaration of faith, which Alexander, Bishop of Jerusalem had written and forwarded by the hand of Priest Makaris. It was read in the presence of 2048 Bishops, but only 318 of these assented to it. The king then took his ring, sceptre and sword and gave them into their hands, saying, Here is given to you authority over the whole church, over ecclesiastical and civil affairs, and over all the orders in church and state. Do whatever you please, and God will require at your hands an account of the sons of the church. The General Council having thus received authority from the king, the fathers directed that there should be gradations in the assembly and that each Bishop should sit in his place according to his rank. Chairs were there made for all and the king entered and sat with them. He kissed the spots which were the marks of Christ in their bodies. Of the 318 fathers, only 11 were free from such marks, whose name were Absalom, Bishop of Edessa, and son of Mar Ephrem's sister, Jonah of Raikson, Mara of Dora, George of Shegar, Jacob of Nisibis, Marouta of Mepairkat, John of Goostia, Shimon of Diarbekir, Adai of Agal, Eusebius of Caesarea and Joseph of Nicomedia. But all the others were more or less maimed in their persecutions from heretics. Some had their eyes taken out; some had their ears cut off. Some had their teeth dug out by the roots. Some had the nails of their fingers and toes torn out; some were otherwise mutilated; in a word there was no one without marks of violence; save the above-named persons. But Thomas, Bishop of Marash was an object almost frightful to look upon; he had been mutilated by the removal of his eyes, nose and lips; his teeth had been dug out and both his legs and arms had been cut off. He had been kept in prison 22 years by the Armanites [Armenians] who used to cut off a member of his body or mutilate him in some way every year, to induce him to consent to their blasphemy, but he conquered in this fearful contest to the glory of believers and to the manifestation of the unmercifulness of the heretics. The fathers took him with them to the Council and when the king saw him, he fell down upon the ground and worshipped + him saying, "I worship thee, O thou martyr of Christ, who art adorned with many crowns."

"To describe the doings of the Council from the beginning to the end is a great task, for the fathers were in sessions three years engaged in discussions about every kind of heresy. Protracted controversies took place between the fathers and the heretics, once party giving their views in writing and the other answering them in the same manner.

"The following Confession of Faith was agreed upon by the 318 holy fathers, who assembled in Nice a city of Bithynia in the time of the Emperor Constantine, on account of the blasphemous doctrines of the accursed Arius. We believe in one God, Father Almighty, maker of things visible and invisible; and in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, only Begotten and first born of all creatures; who was born of the Father before all worlds and was not created; true God, of the true God, of the nature of the Father, and by whom the worlds were made and all things created, and who for our sakes and for our salvation descended from Heaven, took a bodily form by the power of the Holy Ghost, and became man; was conceived and born of the Virgin Mary, suffered and was crucified in the days of Pontius Pilate, was buried and rose again the third day as it is written, ascended to Heaven and sat down at the right hand of the Father, and will come again to judge the dead and the living; and in the Holy Ghost, the Spirit of truth that proceedeth from the Father, a life giving Spirit and in one holy Apostolic Catholic church; and in one Baptism for the remission of sins; and in the resurrection of the body, and in life everlasting."

The following account by Theodoret of Cyrrhus, written a century later, confirms many of the details of Marutha's eyewitness account and likewise bear witness to the noble character of both Constantine and the 318 Fathers:

"The emperor, who possessed the most profound wisdom, having heard of these things, endeavoured, as a first step, to stop up their fountain-head. He therefore despatched a messenger renowned for his ready wit to Alexandria with letters, in the endeavour to extinguish the dispute, and expecting to reconcile the disputants. But his hopes having been frustrated, he proceeded to summon the celebrated council of Nicaea ; and pledged his word that the bishops and their officials should be furnished with asses, mules, and horses for their journey at the public expense. When all those who were capable of enduring the fatigue of the journey had arrived at Nicaea, he went thither himself, with both the wish of seeing the multitude of bishops, and the yearning desire of maintaining unanimity: amongst them. He at once arranged that all their wants should be liberally supplied. Three hundred and eighteen bishops were assembled. The bishop of Rome , on account of his very advanced age, was absent, but he sent two presbyters to the council, with authority to agree to what was done.

"At this period many individuals were richly endowed with apostolical gifts; and many, like the holy apostle, bore in their bodies the marks of the Lord Jesus Christ . James, bishop of Antioch, a city of Mygdonia, which is called Nisibis by the Syrians and Assyrians, raised the dead and restored them to life, and performed many other wonders which it would be superfluous to mention again in detail in this history, as I have already given an account of them in my work, entitled "Philotheus ." Paul, bishop of Neo-Caesarea, a fortress situated on the banks of the Euphrates, had suffered from the frantic rage of Licinius. He had been deprived of the use of both hands by the application of a red-hot iron, by which the nerves which give motion to the muscles had been contracted and rendered dead. Some had had the right eye dug out, others had lost the right arm. Among these was Paphnutius of Egypt. In short, the Council looked like an assembled army of martyrs. Yet this holy and celebrated gathering was not entirely free from the element of opposition; for there were some, though so few as easily to be reckoned, of fair surface, like dangerous shallows, who really, though not openly, supported the blasphemy of Arius.

"When they were all assembled , the emperor ordered a great hall to be prepared for their accommodation in the palace, in which a sufficient number of benches and seats were placed; and having thus arranged that they should be treated with becoming dignity, he desired the bishops to enter in, and discuss the subjects proposed. The emperor, with a few attendants, was the last to enter the room; remarkable for his lofty stature, and worthy of admiration for personal beauty, and for the still more marvellous modesty which dwelt on his countenance. A low stool was placed for him in the middle of the assembly, upon which, however, he did not seat himself until he had asked the permission of the bishops. Then all the sacred assembly sat down around him. Then forthwith rose first the great Eustathius, bishop of Antioch, who, upon the translation of Philogonius, already referred to, to a better life, had been compelled reluctantly to become his successor by the unanimous suffrages of the bishops, priests, and of the Christ-loving laity. He crowned the emperor's head with the flowers of panegyric, and commended the diligent attention he had manifested in the regulation of ecclesiastical affairs.

"The excellent emperor next exhorted the Bishops to unanimity and concord; he recalled to their remembrance the cruelty of the late tyrants, and reminded them of the honourable peace which God had, in his reign and by his means, accorded them. He pointed out how dreadful it was, aye, very dreadful, that at the very time when their enemies were destroyed, and when no one dared to oppose them, they should fall upon one another, and make their amused adversaries laugh, especially as they were debating about holy things, concerning which they had the written teaching of the Holy Spirit.

"For the gospels" (continued he), "the apostolical writings, and the oracles of the ancient prophets, clearly teach us what we ought to believe concerning the divine nature. Let, then, all contentious disputation be discarded; and let us seek in the divinely-inspired word the solution of the questions at issue."

"These and similar exhortations he, like an affectionate son, addressed to the bishops as to fathers, labouring to bring about their unanimity in the apostolical doctrines. Most members of the synod, won over by his arguments, established concord among themselves, and embraced sound doctrine. There were, however, a few, of whom mention has been already made, who opposed these doctrines, and sided with Arius; and amongst them were Menophantus, bishop of Ephesus, Patrophilus, bishop of Scythopolis, Theognis, bishop of Nicaea, and Narcissus, bishop of Neronias, which is a town of the second Cilicia, and is now called Irenopolis; also Theonas, bishop of Marmarica, and Secundus, bishop of Ptolemais in Egypt . They drew up a formulary of their faith, and presented it to the council. As soon as it was read it was torn to pieces, and was declared to be spurious and false. So great was the uproar raised against them, and so many were the reproaches cast on them for having betrayed religion, that they all, with the exception of Secundus and Theonas, stood up and took the lead in publicly renouncing Arius. This impious man, having thus been expelled from the Church, a confession of faith which is received to this day was drawn up by unanimous consent; and, as soon as it was signed, the council was dissolved."

*It is also worth noting that Constantine did not send to the Bishop of Rome for an infallible declaration of the true faith, but to the Bishop of Jerusalem.

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