Tag Archives: St. Athanasius

Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council

The Apostles’ preaching and the Fathers’ doctrines
have established one faith for the Church.
Adorned with the robe of truth, woven from heavenly theology,
it defines and glorifies the great mystery of Orthodoxy!
-Hymn for the feast

On the seventh Sunday of Pascha we Orthodox commemorate the Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council. This gathering was organized by the Emperor Constantine in 325. St. Nicholas of Myra and many others whom we now know as saints were present.

Arianism (not Aryanism) had been a recurring source of controversy in the early Church, and when Constantine called for a council, it was primarily out of a desire to settle the underlying theological questions. This was the Council at Nicea in Asia Minor, held in 325, where the major part of the Nicene Creed was formulated. Many of the hymns and readings for this feast are very theological, too.

St. Athanasius

On the site linked above, we read, “A list of bishops at the council exists, including about 230 names, though there are indications that the signature lists are defective. St. Athanasius of Alexandria (Athanasius the Great) puts the number at 318, which is regarded as a mystically significant number, as in Genesis 14:14, the number of servants whom Abraham (then still named “Abram”) took with him to rescue his nephew Lot.”

Though we aren’t commemorating the Fathers of the second council today, those who completed the Creed as we know it, I wanted to post the full Symbol of Faith here, as we profess it in our daily prayers and in many services. The majesty and splendor of The Holy Trinity and of His loving plan of salvation captivate me from the first few lines, and by the time we get to “the Life of the age to come,” I am full of joy at being a participant in this Life. Here is some background:

The Creed as it now stands was formed in two stages, and the one in use today in the Orthodox Church reflects the revisions and additions made at the Second Ecumenical Council. Some centuries later, the Roman Catholic Church attempted a unilateral revision of the Creed by the addition of the Filioque, this being one of the causes of the Great Schism between Rome and the rest of the Church.”

THE CREED

We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible;
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Only-begotten, Begotten of the Father before all ages, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, Begotten, not made; of one essence with the Father; by whom all things were made:
Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and was made man;
And was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered and was buried;
And the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures;
And ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of the Father;
And He shall come again with glory to judge the living and the dead, Whose kingdom shall have no end.
And we believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, and Giver of Life, Who proceeds from the Father, Who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified, Who spoke by the Prophets;
And we believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins.
We look for the Resurrection of the dead,
And the Life of the age to come. Amen.

You are most glorious, O Christ our God! 
You have established the Holy Fathers
as lights on the earth! 
Through them you have guided us to the true faith! 
O greatly Compassionate One, glory to You!

They trample on it.

On my drive home yesterday, I listened in turn to both of the books that our women’s book group will discuss soon. This passage from On the Incarnation by St. Athanasius is one I’ve shared before; in its quiet way it reminds me of the enduring foundation of our Christian faith, that Christ has destroyed death. This is a thought and phrase that we Orthodox sing extravagantly every Pascha, but we don’t always act as though we believe it. St. Athanasius calls across the centuries to refresh our hearts by the witness of our brothers and sisters in the faith:

“A very strong proof of this destruction of death and its conquest by the cross is supplied by the present fact, namely this. All the disciples of Christ despise death; they take the offensive against it and instead of fearing it, by the sign of the cross and by faith in Christ trample on it as on something dead. Before the divine sojourn of the Saviour, even the holiest of men were afraid of death, and mourned the dead as those who perish. But now that the Saviour has raised his body, death is no longer terrible, but all those who believe in Christ tread it underfoot as nothing, knowing full well that when they die they do not perish, but live indeed, and become incorruptible through the resurrection. But that devil who of old wickedly exulted in death, now that the pains of death are loosed, he alone it is who remains truly dead.”

-St. Athanasius, On the Incarnation

Holy Martyr Gordius of 4th-Centry Cappadocia is one of those who took a fearless stance regarding death. He is commemorated on January 3rd.

Returning to non-existence.

“Instead of remaining in the state in which God had created them, they were in process of becoming corrupted entirely, and death had them completely under its dominion. For the transgression of the commandment was making them turn back again according to their nature; and as they had at the beginning come into being out of non-existence, so were they now on the way to returning, through corruption, to non-existence again. The presence and love of the Word had called them into being; inevitably, therefore when they lost the knowledge of God, they lost existence with it; for it is God alone Who exists, evil is non-being, the negation and antithesis of good.”

-St. Athanasius, On the Incarnation

St. Athanasius of Alexandria, d. 373.

Read the whole book online.

Busy being alive.

It was a drippy and drizzly morning when I drove to the post office to ship Christmas presents to a few of my family. I thought there would be a long line, so I gave myself plenty of time, because I wanted to go directly from there to the cemetery in time to pray with a friend at her husband’s interment.

But few people were at the post office, and three workers, so I finished that business and was out the door with time to spare. Before I got my car door open a man with a long and full beard said, “Hi, Gretchen!” but I didn’t recognize him behind his face mask. Actually, I wouldn’t have known him without the face mask, because I hadn’t seen him in six years, and never with such facial hair. I had to ask, “Who are you?” and as soon as he told me his name I gave him a big hug and a kiss. Mike doesn’t live in my town, but the last time we’d met was in the same shopping center, the year in which we both lost our spouses. Back then we weren’t in the talking mood, but this time we stood in front of the post office and caught up for half an hour. He told me that recently he has fallen in love — with the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom! What a joyous meeting we had.

I had another visit with friends yesterday, for which I made a big pot of chili beans; this afternoon a little tea time with a sister from church when I got back from the cemetery; and last week, a walk with two friends. It’s still fall here, but the colors are all turning to browns and grays, so I was surprised to see this mushroom, the brightest I’ve ever encountered. It was one of several of its kind popping up under bushes.

Some of my family are expected to arrive next week for a nice long Christmas visit. I need to hire a Christmas elf assistant, to help me accomplish all my projects — but that doesn’t sound likely, so I cheerily push one thing after another on to the list of what we can do together, after they arrive.

And for this month, our church women’s reading group has picked a great pair of books: A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, and On the Incarnation by St. Athanasius. I am just amazed at us! Last month when Pippin’s family was down for Thanksgiving, the Professor and I were sitting around chatting about church history and doctrine, and he shared with me a paragraph from the first chapter of On the Incarnation. My response was that it was crystalline. That’s probably the first time I ever used that word, which just popped into my mind — that’s what Athanasius will do! And I told the Professor that since I was soon to start reading the book again, I would be sure to post that passage on my blog.

Beginning to read St. Athanasius again has been soothing and encouraging. I got the idea of posting a series of excerpts this month of Advent, when we anticipate The Incarnation. But as I looked over my past blog posts to make sure I didn’t repeat myself too much, I discovered that I have already posted that very paragraph the Professor read to me, plus many more long and short quotes. Maybe I will find something different, but not likely a series.

Tomorrow is the Feast of the Conception of the Theotokos. I’m looking forward to attending Liturgy for the feast. I feel very happy at the moment, thinking about it. The world is full of trouble and strife and unknowns, questions about what governments will do, and what I should do. But for at least many hours of every day, I know what to do, and I do it — one thing after another. My mind gets distracted constantly, but often when I bring it back to here and now, a great gush of joy falls on me, knowing that I am alive.