Saturday, August 15, 2009

May 31, 2009

Our Lord spoke to the disciples and then He prayed, and He addressed His Father and He assumed for Himself a title that others had been hesitant to give to Him, and that was Christ, the Messiah. And He said that He, the Messiah, was one with the Father, and the Father, one with Him. This He witnessed, standing there, that the words might be established in the ears of the hearers, and that there could be no question in the future as to our Lord's humanity, or to His divinity.

St. Paul was on his way to Jerusalem where the Holy Spirit had revealed to him that he was going to be bound and sent in chains to Rome for trial. This was not a missionary journey any longer in the normal sense, although Paul preached even when he was in prison to the governors and to the jailors. It was quite a different thing. This was the beginning of his own road of sorrows, his own passion. And with eyes enlightened by the prophetic knowledge, and with the work of the Lord which had been spoken, he declared to those Ephesian elders that there would arise within the church those who for their own reasons would lead others astray; and that furthermore, there would enter into the church, those who appeared to be sheep but were in fact wolves in the clothing of sheep. This is not, by the way, simply an ironic statement, “wolve3s in the clothing of sheep,” for we know the hierarchs were vested with the omophorion, which in ancient times was made with the wool of a lamb, depicting innocence and also the way the good shepherds bore the lost sheep on their sheep on their shoulders. And yet, beneath the omophorion, at times, lurked the heart of a ravaging wolf.

So it was that the church began to spread and it confronted errors and it overcame them. The error that said we all had to be Jews first in order to be Christians. And then the error that said there was no moral law anymore because Christ had done away with the law. The Church said, “No, the moral law is still compelling, but the ritual laws of Judaism had been fulfilled.” And then the error that said that secret truth had been revealed to some of the disciples, and that those who had the gnosis, the Gnostics, the inner circle, were the ones who really knew what it was about. And to this the Church answered through Irenaeus: “Show us the list of your bishops, for in every true church there is an unbroken chain of chain of bishops to the apostles. And we know this,” Irenaeus says, “that Christ taught nothing secretly,” that there was no hidden knowledge but openly he taught his apostles. So, if you do not have an apostolic succession, an unbroken link to the apostles, you are not the true church.

Now in the fullness of time, in about the 290th year after our Lord's ascension into heaven, peace had come to the Church, at least within the Roman empire. Constantine had proclaimed an end to persecution. He had liberated the clergy. He had allowed the establishment of church buildings and even turned some of the public buildings, basilicas that is, imperial buildings, over to the worship of the Orthodox believers. Something began to happen. From within the church there arose wolves. Men whose interest was not in preserving and transmitting the unbroken faith for which the martyrs had shed their blood, but men who were interested in marketing their religious faith as a kind of a commercial item which could be sold in the marketplace. Men who decided that Christianity should be a growth industry. So these folks, they began to look for the ragged edges of the faith – the ones that cut to the dividing of the bone from sinew, the ones that made people who might otherwise embrace Christianity turn back from it. One of these was the idea that God is one, and yet eternally three. To all of the science, and all of the philosophy of that day, this was an absurdity. Everybody knew that there had been some kind of divine big bang, some kind of deposit of divine essence that then had blown itself up and given birth to new degrees or emanations of divine essence. And so, to say that there could be one God in three persons, was to this way of thinking absurd. The only reason we believe it is because our Lord taught it to us. The only reason why we accept it is because it was the teaching that was given to the apostles by God himself, not because it meets any kind of human logic. But these folks wanted to spread Christianity fast. They wanted to grow the Church, even if it meant killing it. Chief among these was Arius. Arius was a clever man. He was a kind of poet, sort of a rapper or his day, a rock music composer. He made these little ditties that people would hear and they would repeat: “There was a time when he was not.” Arius' argument was not anything positive. It wasn't that you had to believe this or that about Jesus. It was rather a negative: that there was a time when God the Son did not exist. Now if there was a time when God the Son did not exist, since time only affects creatures, it only affects material things that change, it would mean the Jesus was not true God of true God. But Arius didn't bother with this. He didn't even push the point home. He just wanted to make his Platonistic buddies happy, make it easy for them to join the Church. He probably would have been for gay marriage today too. So Arius was doing what was groovy, what was cool, what was generally accepted, what was normative. Couldn't understand that the church that now spanned the whole empire would not want to be inclusive – just let any idea in that didn't do any harm to what he considered to be the central message. So he went around teaching these things and it caused division, and anger, and apprehension.

And the emperor, at the advice of his spiritual father, decided to gather together the fragments of the church, not only from the empire but as far away as India, North Africa, Ethiopia, and Britain and the far shores of the Rhine river. So he brought together at the city of Nicea, across the Bosporous from Constantinople, from the new imperial city, 318 fathers. Now this number, 318, does not represent the number of invitations. Every church in the world was invited to send its bishops, and money was sent to some of the churches. And money was sent to some of the churches, for example, the church in Britain, to pay for the travel of one bishop, one priest, and one deacon to the council. We actually have the records of the money being sent. We don't have a record of whether anyone attended from there, but we assume they did. And when they gathered, they didn't get down to business by saying, “Somebody want to make a motion about what we believe?” They didn't hold a conference or some kind of discussion session; they didn't brainstorm. What they did was to have each head of each of the local churches, that is to say the larger local churches, the metropolitan of each national church, stand up and recite the creed that was recited by catechumens at his church before they were baptised. And they found that the words differed from place to place slightly, from India to England the words were not identical. From Rome to Asia minor they were not exactly the same syllables. But the doctrines they found that were put forward by each of these creeds were identical. Why? Because they reflected those things that Jesus had told the disciples during those forty glorious days in which, after His resurrection, He had remained with them and instructed them, as it says in the scripture, about all the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven.

You know, those who say, “Why do you do this? It's not in the bible,” have to remember John, that John said, “Jesus told us so many things, that if we wrote them all, we don't think there would be enough books to contain them.” He says, “These are written, not to explain the church to you, but that you might believe and that believing, you might be saved.” So the gospels are documents of faith; they are not a constitution of the Church. The constitution of the Church is here, in the heart. It rests in the memory of the bishops, received from the apostles, received from Jesus in unbroken succession. So it's no wonder that from every one of the churches the same creed came forth. It put forth two simple and easy to remember ideas, ideas that you represent when you make your cross every time. You know, in the church for a long time, people made their cross like this – the way that the priest blesses you – with these four letters: ICXC, the first and last letters of Iesous Christos. In other words, blessed themselves in the name of Christ. But when these heretics came along, gradually the Church changed the way that we mark ourselves with the cross so that we use these three fingers – and this tells us that God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, three persons in one undivided godhead. Three eternal persons. How important is this idea, besides the fact that truth is important? It is VERY important. Because if God was first one, then everything else God made because he needed it. But if God is three, a community, then everything else that exists is there because God wanted it. Because He shared His love with all of creation. That's why Muslims who believe in only one person in God, call themselves God. They say it means, “People of peace.” What it means is “people of submission”, “people who surrender,” people who allow themselves to be enslaved, because they see there god as some kind of oriental despot, some kind of tyrant, some kind of pasha, sitting on a throne, disposing this person here or that person there, and it's our choice: we either obey or are destroyed. But Christians see God as our Father. We understand that the Trinity was a community of such overflowing love that there was no need for anything else, only the want to share that love with a whole cosmos of creatures.

And we hold these two fingers down to declare that Jesus Christ is both truly God and truly man. If Arius had been right, Jesus could not be true God. In fact, Arius was willing to call Jesus “homoiousios,” that is, kind of like God, but not, “homoousios,” not one in God. This tells us Jesus is truly and completely God and truly and completely man. He lacks nothing about our humanity except that he never sinned. He lacks nothing of divinity. Even when He emptied Himself of the eternal bosom to descend in the flesh to earth and then to hell, He did not cease being at the right hand of the Father, He simply became present here as well. And when He assumed flesh, He did not cease being divine; He made flesh divine. And so Jesus Christ is true God, and true man. He is one of the Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

And having heard all of the fathers recite their creeds, the fathers chose the creed of the church in Nicomedia. It was compact and yet it was long enough not to leave any details dangling, or so it seemed. And with one voice they renounced.... They first offered to Arius, they said, “Arius, what you've taught you've taught in ignorance. A man can be a heretic and yet not a sinner, if he's just ignorant. But now you know what the Church teaches, do you accept it?” And Arius dissembled. And they excommunicated him. They pushed him out of the Church. Among the fathers who were there were St. Nicholas, Archbishop of Mira who we know lost his temper once and punched Arius in the nose. And among those who were there was St. Athanasius, who was the lawyer who argued the Apostles' point of view. And among those who were there was St. Spyridon, the married bishop of a little island diocese, a shepherd of a flock of sheep as well as the shepherd of his people, who stood up and said, “If a brick can be made of fire, and sand, and water, then why cannot God eternally be Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?” Not very good theology, but very good faith.

And these men proclaimed the creed. I would be exaggerating if I said that closed the issue. Arius went back with his cronies. He gathered them together and they said, “Okay, we'll just make an iota's difference. If you add an iota...” Have you ever heard, “It doesn't make an iota's difference?” You add an iota, a little i, the smallest Greek letter, to homoousios and you make it homoiousios – you say Jesus is not of one essence the Father, but of similar essence with the Father. And he also went on to question whether Jesus was true God. He said, “I'll call Him God from God, but not true God from true God.” And he also questioned whether the Holy Spirit was eternal. And so the Church had to gather very soon again. The Church had to gather at Constantinople within a century, and remove Arius' iota from all the places it had been put, and to declare that the Holy Spirit is worshiped and glorified with the Father and the Son and to declare that Jesus Christ is “true God of true God, begotten eternally, not made, of one essence with the Father by whom all things were made.”

Now, brothers and sisters in Christ, if you had been catechumens in the early church, you would have spent the six Sundays after Pascha, and the Saturdays as well, being reminded of everything that your baptism meant to you, and today you would be reminded of the faith that had been delivered to you in the creed a week before your baptism, because on Lazarus Saturday and the Sunday of palms, you would have been given the creed to learn and you would recite it as you went into the water. And on this last Sunday before Pentecost, the creed is gathered back together and you are reminded of the fathers' doctrine, the apostles' teaching that established one faith for the church. So you have finished your special education for soldierhood in Jesus' army. You have been instructed in Lent in the things that pertained to the kingdom of heaven before you received. You have been instructed during Pascha in the meaning of these things now. And you are ready so that next Sunday with power and great glory you will again experience in a special and mysterious way, an abundant outpouring of the Holy Spirit so much that we will gather together at 1:30 in the afternoon and offer prayers for all kinds of things that are our needs, our wants, our desires, even for those who are bound in hell but in whose souls there is some modicum of grace, knowing that in the power of that day of Pentecost, prayers are multiplied and grace abounds.

To Christ who gave us one faith and one baptism be glory and dominion unto ages of ages. Christ is in our midst.

He is and ever shall be.

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