My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we hear our Lord pray in the Gospel today for the Father to “keep through Your own name those whom You have given me, that they may be one, as we are” (John 17:11).
Our Lord prays these words because He knows the attacks that the Church will undergo after His death, resurrection and ascension into heaven. He further confirms these struggles in the Gospel of Saint Matthew when he says, “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves” (Matthew 7:15).
The Church commemorates the fathers of the First Ecumenical Council, today, that were victorious over one of these wolves that attacked the unity of the Church. This attack came from a priest of the Church of Alexandria by the name of Arius.
What Arius had taught was that our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ was a creature created by God, from nonexistence, when God created all of creation. In other words, Arius denied that the divinity of Christ was the same as His Father’s. There are many that still believe this today and many other false teachings about Christ and God.
These false teachings are stated the decisions of the Seven Ecumenical Councils. As a result of these false teachings, these councils affirmed the teachings of the Church regarding Christ and the All-Holy Trinity.
To affirm the Church’s teachings about Christ, the Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council formulated the first part of the Creed.
The Creed starts by confirming the person of God as Father. The Son of God taught us to pray to God with the following words: “Our Father, who art in heaven …” (Matthew 6:9). This name of God and character of God was previously unknown to the world of the Old Testament. God was known in the Old Testament as God, Creator, Lord, King and Judge. It is through His Son that we are given this intimate relationship with God.
As it says in today’s Gospel, this intimate relationship is confirmed by the words, “Yours they were, and You gave them me” (John 17:6). This confirms that Christ takes men, who were creatures and servants of God that knew God only as their Creator and Judge, making them His own. Through making men His own, Christ makes all men sons of God by adoption. As it says in the Epistle to the Galatians: “To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons” (Galatians 4:5). The second section of the Creed that was developed by the Holy Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council confirmed the person of the Son of God. In this portion of the Creed, the Son of God is shown to have both divine and human natures. It also confirmed that the divine nature of Christ was the same as the Father’s.
Jesus referrers to His divine nature in His prayer from today’s Gospel when He says: “And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was” (John 17:5). Through this phrase, we can clearly see that Jesus is no ordinary man or creature of God. Our Lord tell us that He was with the Father before the worlds creation, as it says in the beginning of the Gospel of Saint John: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God (John 1:1). And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father), full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).
Through these words, we should be able to see the errors of Arius’ teachings that are still proclaimed to this day.
Saint Nikolaj Velimirovic reminds us that this prayer KEEP THEM is “not only for the apostles … This prayer … was also for the Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council … And the Father kept them from the errors of Arius, and inspired, illumined and strengthened them … to defend and confirm the Orthodox faith. This prayer is for all of us who are baptized in the Apostolic Church who have … come to know the saving name of Christ the Savior,” Jesus.
So, my dear brothers and sisters in Christ, my prayer for you is the same as our Lord’s, that you may be kept in the Orthodox Catholic faith so that you may be illumined and strengthened like the Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council, against all errors that surround you, and that you may worship the one True God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit—the Trinity consubstantial and undivided.
by Fr. Milan Medakovic