The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. John 17:1-13
In today’s gospel passage we hear a portion of Our Lord’s great high priestly prayer which he prayed on the night in which He was given up, or rather gave Himself up, for the life of the world.
Our Holy Church gives us this reading today as we commemorate the Holy fathers of the First Ecumenical Council held in the city called Nicaea in the year 325 ad. This council was convened by the great emperor and saint Constantine. This council of many of the Christian bishops from around the world, assembled together guided by the Holy Spirit in order to discuss and clarify something which was causing great division, confusion and disturbance within the body of Christ. The primary concern of the Holy fathers was to unite the Church in the truth of the person of Jesus Christ.
As we have discussed over the past several weeks when we’ve looked at some of the modern heresies, what we notice is that usually the target of the heresies and false teachings is the person of Jesus Christ. Who is this Jesus? Is He simply a man or something more than that. If He is something more than a mere human, how is this possible? What does it mean that He is both human and divine? What does it mean when we call Him the “God-Man”? Proper faith starts with proper belief and proper doctrine, which is also known as “dogma”. The world would have us be afraid of the word “dogma” but in essence, it is the rejection of any dogmas that should cause us great concern. When we speak of dogma we are speaking of the clear, unchangeable, unshakeable truths of our faith as handed down to us from the Lord Himself and His holy apostles. When we speak of dogma we are speaking of a teaching which offers us life and communion with the God who created the heavens and the earth and all that exists within them.
Our faith is filled with stories of heroic defenders of the faith who were willing to give up everything including their lives in order to defend the truth. Why? Because Our Lord Jesus teaches that “the truth will set you free.” The Lord, and by extension His body, the Church, does not desire it’s people to be slaves of lies and delusions. The Lord does not want to see His people enslaved to the Devil and his vile works. The Lord and His Church desire people to be free to live a life that is well pleasing to God. All of this freedom to be well-pleasing to God, this freedom to become great and holy saints (because that is what you are called to become), all of this freedom comes through the laying down of a proper foundation upon which to build. This foundation is the definition of the faith that has been fully expressed by the Orthodox Church and no others. To put it another way, it is the Orthodox Church alone that has given full expression to the fullness of the truth of the Christian faith as it has been delivered to us from the holy apostles of the Lord. This is not a cause for triumphal boasting or a cause for looking down at others. It is both a cause for gratitude and a cause for sorrow. It is gratitude for what we have been given by God. Yet, it is sorrow for what others are missing in their lives.
We start with gratitude to Almighty God for the gift of a faith that has been passed down to us like a great treasure. Are we thankful for the fact that God has brought us into His holy house? Sometimes we find that people who once begged to become Orthodox Christians lose their focus, they become restless and begin to turn their wandering eyes to other places. They think that they will find peace if they jump to another denomination or even, God-forbid, another religion. In many ways this is like a man who goes through a mid-life crisis. In actuality it is much worse than that. The truth is that another denomination cannot bring you peace because the lack of peace comes from a sinful condition within and not from external sources or from some perceived deficiency within our Church. It is not a change in our environment that will bring us peace, it is a change in the depth of our relationship with Jesus Christ. We give thanks to God for the Orthodox Church which is the mother of sanctity and holiness and great spiritual progress for those who struggle to repent and turn to Him. We truly thank God for His Church which is the fountain of the truth. We thank God that He inspired His leaders to come together and to show the difference between life giving truths of our theology and the false teachings which bring nothing but separation from God and the life that He offers.
Yet we also sorrow. We sorrow because there are so many who do not know Jesus Christ and many more who do not know Him within the context of the Orthodox Christian faith. The Lord Jesus prayed that his disciples would be one. One mind, one heart, one body, one voice, one faith. The purpose of an ecumenical council is precisely to maintain this unity of faith. The council of Nicaea is to be considered completely essential to being a part of this One Church which Christ Himself prayed for because it is this Church which convened together at that time in order to faithfully answer the prayer of the Lord for unity within His body. In it’s faithful obedience to the Lord’s prayer for unity, the council and those who participated in it were elevated high above the stars of heaven. Even now, even today, those who treasure the teachings of the Church are elevated by God and recognized as precious vessels because of the treasures that they carry. The Lord says in today’s passage “I am glorified in them.” Yet in His gracious mercy He is the one who truly glorifies us when we are faithful to the sacred teachings of the faith because within these sacred teaching of the faith we don’t find abstractions and philosophies, we find the person of Our Lord Jesus Christ. May God allow each of us to become sacred vessels, like the Holy fathers of Nicaea, who are worthy to carry the teachings of the Church and share them with the world. Glory be to God forever, AMEN.