Sermon of His Beatitude Daniel, Patriarch of Romania, delivered at the Holy Liturgy celebrated with His Holiness Bartholomew I,
Sermon of His Beatitude Daniel, Patriarch of Romania, delivered at the Holy Liturgy, Sunday, 31 May 2009, in Cappadocia:
THE HOLY FATHERS - DEFENDERS OF
ORTHODOX FAITH AND OF THE CHURCH UNITY
On the first Sunday after the Great Feast of the Ascension of the Lord, the Orthodox Church decided to commemorate the Holy Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council, in 325. The theological-spiritual meaning of the celebration of the 318 Holy Fathers, who came to the city of Nicaea at the call of Holy Emperor Constantine is that the teaching of faith on Christ, the Lord, and on the Holy Trinity is established on the basis of the Holy Scriptures and of the Apostolic Tradition, only by the Church in its fullness, represented through the voice and common expression of her bishops all over the world. Thus, the Church does this work of fixing the dogmas and interpretation of the Orthodox faith through the mysterious inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, namely the Spirit of Christ, the Lord, the One Who from the Pentecost day forward has never left the Church He established through His sending into the world by God the Father at the Son's request.
Another sense or reason for commemorating the Holy Fathers from Nicaea after the Ascension of the Lord is the affirmation of the permanent presence of the Saviour in His mysterious body, the Church, according to the promise He made to His Apostles: "And I will be with you always, until the end of the age" (Matthew 28:20), not because the disciples would be immortal, but because their descendants, the bishops, would be strengthened and renewed in their threefold activity, by Christ, the Saviour Himself, through the Holy Spirit. It is with this strong and vivid consciousness that the Fathers came from all over the Christian world to save the Church unity, threatened by division because of the heresy of Arius from Alexandria. But it would be also from Alexandria, Egypt, that the first great defender of the ecumenical Orthodoxy would shine, namely Saint Athanasius the Great, by whose inspired words the deification or the one essence of the Son with that of the heavenly Father was confessed.
Not only one Holy Father, no matter how wise he could have been, had to confess the eternal begetting of the Son and the one essence of the divine hypostasis, but the voice of the many shepherds, of those remained in the communion with the Church, bishops who did not hesitate to sacrifice their lives for their spiritual flock, according to the example and by the help of the Good eternal Shepherd (John 10:11). Two of them were: Saint Nicholas of Myra of Lycia, kind hearted, but firm in defending the true faith, and Saint Spyridon of Tremithus, humble hearted but bearer of the gift of miracle-worker, whose prayers made visible the mystery of the Holy Trinity out of the lifeless matter. Although of different ethnic and geographical origin, the Orthodox bishops turned out to be united in spirit as true guarding towers of Orthodoxy, shining lighthouses of universal Christianity, burning from the unfading light of the Holy Trinity.
Having always had the working mind or thought of Christ and guided by the light of the Holy Spirit, the Fathers of the Orthodox Church teach us too how to keep the Church unity, according to the image of the eternal Trinity. The Holy Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council showed that the words of Jesus' prayer on the night before His saving Passions were working in their souls: "Keep them safe by the power of Yours truly, name, the name You gave Me, so that they may be one just as You and I are one" (John 17:11).
But the unity of the Church for which Christ prayed it is kept through the continuous sharing of His holiness, of the invisible Head of the Church, through the work of, and with the mysterious coming of the Holy Spirit. Just for this reason, the Saviour asked His Father within the same prayer to entrust the disciples in His truth, namely through His word (John 17:17). A few hours later, Christ, the Lord, would add to this prayer His own sacrifice on the cross, by which "He dedicated Himself as human, so that they too, be truly dedicated"(John 17:19). Without their continuous participation in the divine holiness, shared to the people by the Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit, neither the Apostles, nor their descendents, nor those who believe in God through their word (John 17:20) could have kept the Church unity. Why? Because the sin of unlimited vanity, of pride, which blinds the minds of the heretics, is the bases of mental aberration and division, which have always hit the Church ship just like unchained waves. That is how we must understand the joining in the symbol of faith of the first two attributes of the Church, "one" and "holy", which stay or fall together; they stem from the One Holy Person of Christ, our Saviour, and are communicated to the Church through the Holy Spirit, "the Spirit of truth" and of the unity "in the bond of peace" (John 15:13; Ephesians 4:3), in order to show that the Church is the icon of the love of the Holy Trinity.
Going back in time to the "golden century" of the Christian Church, one can notice, just after the Council of Nicaea, that the Arian heresy revives in other forms. The enemies of the Orthodox faith fight now not against the eternal Son of the Father, but against the Holy Spirit, Who proceeds from the Father. The history sea, on which the Christ's Church sails like a ship, is getting rough again. The unlimited conceits of certain rationalist clergy or theologians with no piety unleash human passions once again, causing quarrels and division. But let's listen to Saint Basil the Great, Archbishop of Caesarea of Cappadocia, tireless fighter for the true faith and Church unity, speaking about the great danger of the heresies in his time: "The turmoil of the Churches is more violent than a storm on the sea. Just because of that all the boundaries fixed by the Fathers are moved, all the foundations, all the protection walls for the true teachings are shaken!... Whole Churches have fallen into the heretic traps, hitting against them as against rocks...A deep dark and sad night has fallen over the Church, because the ‹‹lights of the world›› that God put to shine over the souls of the peoples have been put out..." (Traité du Saint Esprit, cap. XXX, col. 212, 213).
In the full swing of the theological disputes, the heretics misinterpreted the Tradition and caused turmoil in the Church unity. If Christ, the Lord has called the Apostles "the lights of the world" (Matthew 5:14), their descendents, the bishops, are called to be light bearers, that is of the light of the true faith of teaching and of the true living. They must watch over the theology of the Church and over the communion in the Church.
The Pneumatomach (Spirit-fighing) heresy that denied the divine character of the Holy Spirit stemmed from Arianism and indirectly from Gnosticism. In fact, the Pneumatomach heretics denied even the consecrating and deifying work of the Holy Spirit in the Church. This is why both Saint Basil the Great and his brother Saint Gregory of Nyssa have fiercely raised against heretic Eunomius and defended the divinity, identity and equality of the Persons of the Holy Trinity. Thus, the salvation of the Church came from here, from Cappadocia. The voices of the Cappadocian Orthodox hierarchs were stronger than the deceitful teachings of the heretics, so that the sincere faithful saw the true shepherds of the Church and avoided false hearted ones (John 10:5).
In those hard times for the Church, Saint Basil, Archbishop of Caesarea of Cappadocia, asked all the Christians to show unity in faith, mutual love, good understanding and mutual aid, "by which all unite and witness the faith of our Fathers from Nicaea" (Epistle CXIV, P.G. XXXI, 529). The faithfulness towards the previous Fathers, whose uninterrupted chain starts from the Saint Apostles, represents, in fact, the fidelity towards Christ, the Lord, because the faith "practiced now is not different from the early one, but it is one and the same for ever and ever. We baptize according to the faith that we received from the Lord, and we baptize as we believe", resolutely says Saint Basil the Great (Epistle CXIV, P.G. XXXI, 529).
Today, when the Universal Orthodox Church is threatened by neo-Arianism, by Gnosticism and Agnosticism, by neo-iconoclasm and by secularism, her Shepherds must take good care to keep and deepen the faith, liturgical and canonical unity, so that the prayer of Christ, the Saviour, for unity should be fulfilled, so that "And unite us all to one another who become partakers of the one Bread and the Cup in the communion of the one Holy Spirit", as the Anaphora of the Liturgy of Saint Basil the Great reads. The unity of the Church is also a gift of God and our fructifying of the gift of the communion of the Holy Spirit, through fraternity, sacrifice and mutual forgiveness. Just because of the sins, the danger of division is permanently present in the world. This is why the Church prays using the words of Saint Basil the Great: "Prevent schism in the Church; pacify the raging of the heathen. Quickly stop the uprisings of heresies by the power of Your Holy Spirit ... Grant us Your peace and love, Lord our God, for You have given all things to us"(Anaphora of Saint Basil the Great).
While commemorating and bringing our respect this year to Saint Basil the Great and to the other Cappadocian Saints, we ought to constantly defend the Orthodox faith for which they have fought against the heresies and faced the persecutors of the Church. We shall ask the Holy Synod of the Romanian Orthodox Church to declare the next two years, 2010 and 2011 as years of the Orthodox Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed, elaborated at the First Ecumenical Council (325) and the Second Ecumenical Council (381) precisely in order to bring honour to the Holy Cappadocian Fathers and from other places too, who have contributed to defending and promoting the Orthodox faith.
Therefore, the honour shown to the Holy Fathers of the Church helps us to strengthen in faith and holy life, to grow spiritually and enjoy the presence and work of the Holy Spirit for the glory of the Holy Trinity and for our salvation. Amen.
PATRIARCH OF THE ROMANIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH