Source: ORA ET LABORA
The Orthodox Church today prayerfully remembers the Fathers of the First
Ecumenical Council of Nicaea, which once met in the city of Nicaea in
order to investigate and judge the heresy of Arius. We know that in the
first centuries of Christianity, the Church endured severe persecution,
first from the Jews and then from the pagan Roman imperial power. But
despite the fact that the persecution was bloody, despite the fact that
thousands of Christians died under torture for their confession of
faith, nonetheless, it was not dangerous for the Church.
The Christian of the first centuries remembered well that the Lord Jesus Christ said: “And
fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the sou:
but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Mt 10:28). And in the Apocalypse He said: “be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life”
(Rev 2:10). In these bloody persecutions Christians were faithful to
death, went to martyric death, and received from the Lord Savior the
crown of eternal life earned by them.
When the era of persecution
ended, another began. This was much more dangerous for the Church. Then
inside the Church appeared heresy, delusion, and distortion of the
truth. They appeared immediately, but the first were not much noticed,
and did not attract many followers. The heresy of Arius, which appeared
when the persecution had ended, agitated the entire Church. Arius was a
scholar and an eloquent presbyter, that is, a priest – a pastor in the
city of Alexandria. The bishop of Alexandria died. At that time the
flock choose its own pastors. The eloquent, educated Arius, who held a
prominent position, was certain that he would be chosen, and that he
would be the bishop. But the majority of the clergy and people chose
another bishop, the presbyter Alexander, who was also well read,
educated, and knowledgeable. He was not as outstanding and talented as
Arius, but he was marked by his piety, and was truly of righteous and
holy life. For this reason the clergy and flock honored him and elected
This piqued Arius’ wounded self-love. Unfortunately, this is
always the story in the history of heresies. In the beginning there
lies an evil motive, an evil impulse of a personal character, which is
wrapped in a robe as a kind of fidelity to truth.
Thus Arius, in
his self-love, decided to speak out against his own bishop – he could
not accept the fact that he was not a bishop. Once Bishop Alexander
spoke with his clergy about the Mystery of the Holy Trinity, about the
equality of its Persons, that the Holy Trinity is a Trinity of Unity,
inasmuch as in three Persons there is One Divine Essence, One Divine
Nature. Arius boldly stood up and began to contradict him and began to
assert that the Son of God is not equal to God the Father, as Bishop
Alexander had said, or not born of Him, but created by Him, as a
creature, as creation. True, higher, more perfect, but still creation, a
creature. Alexander tried to reason with gentle admonitions to reason
with Arius, but he persevered. And since he was eloquent, this heresy
arose, and because of him it spread and eventually roused the entire
Alexander, as a bishop, excommunicated him from the
Church. He left, but began to spread his doctrine further and further.
In the end, the Equal-to-the-Apostles Emperor Constantine himself
commissioned the Elder Hosius of Cordova, well known for his piety and
deep wisdom to make out what this was, what this was for a heresy. The
elderly Bishop Hosius, pious and wise, arrived in Alexandria. Without
any prejudice, absolutely impartial, he investigated this question, and
returned and told the Emperor that Arius was preaching a horrible
heresy, which subverts all of Christianity. For if the Son of God is not
equal to God the Father and is not born of Him, then He is not God, but
creation, which means that he was not incarnate as the true God-Man.
That means that the deed of our salvation was not accomplished as our
Christian faith teaches us.
In the end, an Ecumenical Council
assembled. Arius had only a few bishops on his side. The overwhelming
majority of bishops (and more than 300 assembled for the Council) stood
firmly for the Orthodox faith, condemned the heresy of Arius, and
excommunicated him himself from the Church, as a persistent and
This heretic died a horrible death, but his
heresy agitated the Church for a long time. Only gradually did it begin
to subside. It had to be fought by Basil the Great, Gregory the
Theologian, and John Chrysostom, who lived after Arius. But, in the end,
truth triumphed, but there was a moment when in the East, of all
Orthodox bishops, only St Athanasius the Great remained, and in the West
only St Hilary of Poitiers; all the other episcopal cathedras, hundreds
of cathedras, were taken by bishops who were themselves Arian heretics.
Church, however, was not lost. It was difficult for St Athanasius to
fight with the heretics in the East. Many times he was exiled, but he
remained unmoved. When he learned in his solitude that at last he had an
ally, a successor, in St Basil the Great, did this great defender of
Orthodoxy breathed a sigh of relief. Thus did the Church experience this
heresy, that is how it was disturbed by it.
After Arius there
were other heretics. They were also condemned by Ecumenical Councils.
But today we remember the First Ecumenical Council, which condemned
Arius and his heresy. Amen.