Three Ecumenical Councils
The Council of Nicaea (9th of Hatour)
Also on this day, of the year 325 A.D., 318 fathers assembled in the city of Nicea, in the days of Emperor Constantine, the righteous Emperor. Among them were the heads of the four Sees and they were: Anba Alexandros, the 19th Pope of Alexandria, who was accompanied by Athanasius, his Archdeacon and private secretary; Estasius, archbishop of Antioch; Macarius, Archbishop of Jerusalem. Sylvestros, archbishop of Rome, because of his old age did not attend and sent two priests in his place.
The reason for their assembly was to judge Arius who was a priest in Alexandria. He blasphemed against the Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ by saying that he was not equal in essence to God, His Father, and there was a time when the Son did not exist.
Among those who attended this council were holy fathers, who were, in the rank of the Apostles, able to raise the dead, heal the sick and work great wonders. Among them also were those who were tortured for the sake of their faith, lost their eyes, or had their hands or feet cut off, or had their teeth smashed or their nails pulled out or their ribs broken. One of them was the fighter St. Bephnotius, the confessor, one of the bishops of upper Egypt who was tortured much during the days of Diocletian. They plucked out his right eye, burnt the flesh of his left leg, bound him in chains and took him to cut marble in a stone quarry. He was called the martyr among priests. He was a holy old man, loved by God and the people. The Lord worked many wonders through his supplications and prayers.
When the fathers convened, they sat on the chairs prepared for them. Then the righteous Emperor Constantine came and greeted them, starting with St. Bephnotius, the Bishop, whom he respected much. The Emperor kissed with honor the scars of his wounds. Then he placed his royal scepter and his sword before them saying: “Behold, this day, you have the power of the priesthood and the Kingdom, to loosen and to bind as the Lord said, ‘Whosoever you wish to exile or to keep, that will be in your authority.'”
The Holy Spirit enlightened the minds of those present and they were counted and there were found to be 319 but when they counted the visible chairs, they counted 318! This fulfilled the saying of the Lord Christ, “For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.” (Matthew 18:20)
They had Arius brought before them and asked him to state his faith. He blasphemed saying, “The Father was when the Son was not.” When they explained to him his error and he did not change his opinion, they excommunicated him and all those who shared his opinion and belief. Then they wrote the Canon of the Christian faith which is known as the “Nicene Creed”. It states:
- 1. Truly we believe in one God, God the Father, the Pantocrator, Who created heaven and earth, and all things, seen and unseen.
- 2. We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the Only-Begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all ages; Light of Light; True God of True God; Begotten not created, of One Essence with the Father, by Whom all things were made.
- 3. Who, for us men and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and of the Virgin Mary and became Man.
- 4. And He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate; suffered and was buried.
- 5. And the third day He arose from the dead, according to the Scriptures.
- 6. Ascended into the heavens; He sits at the right hand of His Father.
- 7. And He is coming again in His glory to judge the living and the dead, Whose kingdom shall have no end.
Later on, when the council of one hundred and fifty assembled in the city of Constantinople to judge Macedonius, the enemy of the Holy Spirit, they formulated the remainder of that creed saying:
- 8. Yes, we believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life, Who proceeds from the Father; Who, with the Father and the Son, is worshipped and glorified; Who spoke by the prophets.
- 9. And in One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.
- 10. We confess one Baptism for the remission of sins.
- 11. We look for the resurrection of the dead.
- 12. And the life of the coming age. Amen.
They forbade to add to or take away from the Creed and commanded all the believers, priests, laity, old and young, men and women, to recite it and to have it said during the Holy Liturgy and in all prayers.
After the fathers of the council of Nicea had excommunicated Arius and established the Creed, they issued other decisions as follows:
- I. With regards to Melitus, Bishop of Assuit, who had resisted his superior St. Peter the martyr, the Alexandrian Pope, the council confirmed the authority of the Pope of Alexandria over his subjects in the ordinances 5, 6, and 7.
- II. They settled the controversy between the bishops of Africa and Asia Minor and the bishop of Rome regarding the baptism of heretics. The council decided that the baptism performed by heretics was worthless in contrast to what the Bishop of Rome and his followers had thought. III. They also established the Resurrection feast day. It was decided that it would be on the Sunday that followed the full moon, on which was the Passover of the Jews. Thus, they would not celebrate before the Jews or with them. They authorized the Popes of Alexandria, because of their knowledge and accuracy in calculating the dates, to notify all the churches about the day on which they would celebrate the feast.
The holy fathers confirmed the church, they established the light of the faith and then departed to their parishes.
The Council of Constantinople (1st Amshir)
On this day of the year 381 A.D., one hundred and fifty fathers assembled upon the order of Emperor Theodosius the Great, in the city of Constantinople. They assembled to judge Macedonius, Patriarch of Constantinople, and Sabellius and Apollinaris, for their blasphemy against God the Word and the Holy Spirit.
When this blasphemy became widespread, the fathers of the church were concerned about the peace of the church, and made these heresies known to Emperor Theodosius. He ordered that a council be assembled, and invited Abba Timothy, 22nd Pope of Alexandria; Abba Damasus, Pope of Rome; Abba Petros (Peter), Patriarch of Antioch; and Abba Cyril (Kyrillos), Patriarch of Jerusalem. They came to the council with their bishops, except the Pope of Rome, who delegated others to attend on his behalf.
When the holy council convened in Constantinople, they called upon Macedonius. Abba Timothy, Pope of Alexandria, who was presiding over the council, asked him, “What is your belief?” Macedonius answered that the Holy Spirit was created like any other creature. Abba Timothy said, “The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of God. If we say as you claim that the Spirit of God is created, we are saying, in essence, that His Life is created, and therefore, He is ‘lifeless’ without it.” He advised Macedonius to renounce his erroneous belief. When he refused, Macedonius was excommunicated, anathematized and striped of his rank.
Then Abba Timothy asked Sabellius, “And you, what is your belief?” He answered, “The Trinity is one being and one person.” Abba Timothy said, “If the Trinity is as you claim, then the mentioning of the Trinity is groundless, and your baptism is futile, because it is in the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and the Trinity would have suffered pain and died, and the saying of the gospel would be invalid, when it is said that the Son was in the Jordan River, and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in the likeness of a dove, and the Father called upon Him from heaven.” Then Abba Timothy advised him to renounce his belief. When Sabellius did not accept, Abba Timothy excommunicated, anathematized and striped him of his rank.
Then Abba Timothy asked Apollinaris, “And you, what is your belief?” Apollinaris said, “The Incarnation of the Son was by His union with the human flesh without the rational being, for His divinity replaced the soul and the mind of the human being.” Abba Timothy replied, “God the Word united with our nature to save us, therefore if He only united with the animal body, then He did not save mankind but the animals. Humans will rise on the day of Resurrection with the rational and speaking soul with which there will be the communication and the judgement, and with it they will be granted the blessing or the condemnation. Accordingly, the Incarnation would be in vain. If that was the case, why did He call Himself a man if He did not unite with the rational speaking soul?” Then Abba Timothy advised him to turn away from his erroneous belief, but he also refused. He excommunicated Apollinaris as he did the other two friends.
Ultimately, the council excommunicated these three and all those who agreed with them. Then they completed the creed that was established by the fathers at the Council of Nicaea until its saying, “Of Whose Kingdom shall be no end.” The fathers of the Council of Constantinople added, “Truly we believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, Giver of Life… to the end.” They put down many canons that are still in the hands of the believers today.
The Council of Ephesus
On this day of the year 431 A.D., the Holy Council at Ephesus which was attended by 200 bishops, was convened. It was the third of the Ecumenical Councils. That was in the twentieth year of the reign of Theodosius II, son of Arcadius, son of Theodosius the Great.
They assembled because of the heresy of Nestorius who was Archbishop of Constantinople. He believed that St. Mary did not give birth to the incarnated God, but only to a human being, and that afterwards the Son of God dwelt in him, not the dwelling of unity but just the dwelling of will, and therefore, Christ because of that reason, had two natures and two wills.
So these fathers convened, debated with Nestorius, and proved to him that He, who was born of the Virgin, was the incarnated God, as the angel said, “The Lord is with you; that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God.” (Luke 1:28-32) And according to the saying of Isaiah, “Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Emmanuel,” (Isaiah 7:14) and also, “His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father.” (Isaiah 9:6)
St. Cyril, 24th Pope of Alexandria, explained to Nestorius that, “Natures cannot be separated after they have become one by their union. Therefore we say that the Incarnated Word of God has only One Nature.” Nestorius would not turn from his teaching nor change his opinion. St. Cyril along with the whole Council rebuked him and threatened that they would excommunicate him, but he was adamant. Therefore, they excommunicated him and banished him from his chair.
They confirmed that the Virgin St. Mary had given birth to the Incarnated God the Word, (Theotokos) or “The Mother of God”. They drew up the Canons and laid down the Laws. These are the laws of the faithful till this day.
If it is said that the Nestorians do not say that today, we reply by saying that it is because they have mingled with the Christians of the East, and that some of them have turned from their erroneous opinion.