Today is the Commemoration of the First Six Ecumenical Councils.
Icon of St. Constantine the Great and the Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council (325 AD), holding the scroll of the Nicene Creed – see below for more.
All of the Seven Ecumenical Councils have their own day of celebration, however the Council of Chalcedon and the Second Council are both remembered in July. Ultimately the other four were added on, to a new feast on the Sunday closest to July 16. These six Councils are the foundation of the Christian faith of which we are part of today.
Nicaea I (325 AD) defeated Arianism and confirmed that Jesus is the eternal Son of God. It is so important that it is also observed on May 29 and on the seventh Sunday after Easter. This Council also adapted a Syrian baptismal creed into our Nicene Creed.
Constantinople I (381 AD) condemned Macedonius’ heresy and confirmed that the Holy Spirit is the Third Person of the Trinity and co-eternal with the Father and the Son. The Nicene Creed was expanded to include this testimony: “the Lord, the Giver of Life …” Also observed on May 22.
Ephesus, (431 A.D.) is commemorated separately on September 9. This Council refuted the heresy of Nestorius, and thus confirmed that Mary is the Mother of God, the Theotokos (God-bearer) not only of the human Jesus. The Church of the East broke off in opposition to this.
Chalcedon, (451 A.D.) is commemorated separately on July 16. This Council refuted the Monophysite heresy, and proclaimed that Jesus Christ has two natures, divine and human, united in One Person. The Oriental Orthodox Churches were formed in opposition to this.
Constantinople II, (553 A.D.) is commemorated separately on July 25. It was summoned to re-affirm all of the above teachings, and to condemn attacks made against the teachings of them. It was an attempt to reconcile theGreatChurch with the Oriental Orthodox.
Constantinople III ( 691 A.D) is commemorated separately on January 23, and confirmed that Jesus has two free wills, human and divine. This was to reject the theory that Jesus had only one will (monothelitism), which had been proposed to try and reunite with the Oriental Orthodox.
These councils are the result of over 300 years of theological and philosophical debate, which was followed intently by the ordinary people of the Roman, Byzantine and Persian empires. God is Three Persons, co-eternal and united. The Second Person, the Word, became incarnate in the womb of the Virgin Mary through the power of the Holy Spirit and lived among us and was crucified for us. If Jesus is not both human and divine, with free will from each nature, we would not be saved. Despite our lack of unity, all of the Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant churches and sects of today adhere to this, the Chalcedonian Definition of Christ.
Today is also the feast of Saint Volodymyr the Great,
the grandson of Saint Olga (about whom we read last week), and who led Kiev-Rus’ into Christianity. Volodymyr was raised a pagan, but desired to give his people a better religion from one of the other civilizations. He rejected Judaism and Islam, and while he had friendly relations with the Latin Church, he chose Byzantine Christianity. In 988, he was baptized, and the small Christian community of Kiev was augmented by an influx of Greek missionaries, iconographers, teachers, and monks. Volodymyr himself underwent a sincere conversion: he pulled down the idols of the gods, and had them dragged in the mud or burned to show the people that these were false gods with no powers. He founded churches and monasteries, founded schools, supported the work of missionaries, and abolished the death penalty.
He set out to be a good ruler of his nation, and ruled with compassion and justice. At his death in 1014, the common people mourned their loss of a compassionate ruler, and acclaimed him as a saint. Because of the success of his work as missionary, the Orthodox and Catholic Churches both acclaim him as “equal to the apostles.”
Because of his choice, the Byzantine form of Christianity became the foundation of modernUkraine,Russia, andBelarus, and their Churches. This event took place before the Orthodox-Catholic split.
And – for those who know him – it is the name day of my long-time helper, Volodymyr Mysak, who did so much translating and interpreting for me. Volodymyr now lives in Kyiv, Ukraine, with his wife and daughter. He works for DTZ, which is a global real estate company. Happy name day, Volodymyr (well, in 13 days as Ukraine’s Churches use the Julian calendar).