So Christ is ascended…into heaven! Now we are in expectation, along with the apostles, of the coming of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter. In the midst of the apparent void of these days, we have this Sunday devoted to the Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council. Do we now have an unromantic bit of bureaucracy impinging on the series of stories elsewhere in the Pentecostarian?
It seems that we commemorate the Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council today so that, in the time between the great feasts of the Ascension and of Pentecost, we are compelled to consider the names of Christ, Who in today’s Gospel prays: “Holy Father, keep through Your own name those whom You have given me, that they may be one, as we are” (John 17:11). A footnote in the Orthodox study Bible to this verse indicates that Christ’s prayer here is echoed in thanks to the Holy Father for ‘Your holy Name which You have made to dwell in our hearts and for the knowledge, faith and immortality which You have made known to us through Your Son Jesus’ (Eucharistic prayer of the Didache 10:2)(1) .
So the first name we can mention is ‘Son’, the Uncreated Son: ‘begotten, not made’. If the Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council had not, with authority, made these stipulations as to who Christ was – and thus what we call Him - there would have been no Christianity, and no understanding in the church that God and Man are united in the Person of Christ in eternity: ‘of one essence with the Father’. Last week, we saw how, in the lead-up to the story of the blind man, a crowd wanted to stone our Lord for blasphemy – for asserting He was one with God: ‘I AM’. (John 8, 58), reflecting His words to the Samaritan Woman the week before (John 4, 26). What other names does Christ give Himself? Of course, He says, I am the Way, the Truth and the Life (John 14:6). Again, we can see parallels of these in the abovementioned prayer from the Didache: the Way: knowledge to find the right path, Truth: we believe it and thus have faith in it; Life: eternal life, that is, immortality.
Another name given to Christ is the ‘Word’, (John 1, 1) which we may understand as the ‘Wisdom’ and ‘Power’ of God.(2) If Christ had been part of God’s creation, as advocated by Arius, it would have been impossible that, through the perfect oneness of Christ’s divinity and humanity, we may also become sons of God in Him. (3) Arius labelled Christ a creature, but if Christ had been created by God, I suppose He would have been considered as a precursor of the primordial Adam. How would it therefore be possible to differentiate between Christ and Adam, who was‘created in the image and likeness of God’ (Gen 1: 26) and was in communion with God, but not God? Although Christ is also called the 'Second Adam', St. Paul makes the vital distinction: ‘The first man was of the earth, made of dust, the second Man is the Lord from heaven’. (1 Cor, 15: 47). He concludes in v. 49: ‘As we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly Man’. Crucially, refuting Arius was the task of the Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council and remains our task today.
There are surely other names for Christ that I haven’t mentioned here. But the important thing today is to tread our course from the Ascension to Pentecost in the security of Orthodox teaching about the nature of Christ and His identity as revealed by the names He is given: this Sunday can’t be viewed as something casually slipped in, or a laborious piece of theology. Like the apostles we are waiting, but not idly – instead, today, we are reaffirming the holy purpose of God for our salvation by His grace and in His love.