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  • Fr. Athanasius Oweis

How Do We Get on the Path of Eternal Life? - Sunday of Fathers of 1st Council, June 5th, 2022

JOHN 17:1-13

At that time, Jesus lifted up his eyes to heaven and said, "Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him power over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work which you gave me to do; and now, Father, you glorify me in your own presence with the glory which I had with you before the world was made. I have manifested your name to the men whom you gave me out of the world; yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you; for I have given them the words which you gave me, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you did send me. I am praying for them; I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are mine; all mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. And now I am no more in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me; I have guarded them, and none of them is lost but the son of perdition, that the scripture might be fulfilled. But now I am coming to you; and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves.

Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit,

both now and ever and unto ages of ages, Amen.

The Purpose

Today we're going to talk about three things:

1) what are we celebrating today, 2) why are we celebrating it and 3) why is it important to celebrate it right before Holy Pentecost

What are we celebrating today?

Today we are celebrating the triumph of the Church over the false teachings of Arius in the first Ecumenical Council in Nicaea in 325.

Who is Arius

A heretic, born about A.D. 250; died 336. He is said to have been a Libyan by descent. In 306, Peter, Bishop of Alexandria, ordained him a deacon, but theological disputes led the Bishop to excommunicate him. However, he gained the friendship of Peter's successor Achillas, who ordained him a presbyter in 313, and had the charge of a well-known district in Alexandria called Baucalis. This entitled Arius to expound the Scriptures officially, and he exercised much influence when, in 318, his quarrel with Bishop Alexander broke out over the fundamental truth of Our Lord's divine Sonship and substance. While many Syrian clerics followed the innovator, he was condemned at Alexandria in 321 by his diocesan in a synod of nearly one hundred Egyptian and Libyan bishops. Deprived and excommunicated, the heretic fled to Palestine. He addressed a thoroughly unsound statement of principles to Eusebius of Nicomedia, who yet became his lifelong champion. In his house he composed in verse and wrote a defense of his position which he termed "Thalia". He is also said to have published songs for sailors, millers, and travelers, in which his creed was illustrated. “There was a time when the son did not exist”. He was excommunicated in the first ecumenical council in 325 in Nicaea.

What did he teach?

Let us answer this question by the words of St. Athanasius

Now those who became apostates (and he mentions them by name beginning by Arius) have invented and put forth contrary to the Scriptures are these following: God was not always a Father, but there was a time when God was not a Father. The Word of God was not always, but originated from things that were not; for God that is, has made him that was not, of that which was not; wherefore there was a time when He was not; for the Son is a creature and a work. Neither is He like in essence to the Father; neither is He the true and natural Word of the Father; neither is He His true Wisdom; but He is one of the things made and created, and is called the Word and Wisdom by an abuse of terms, since He Himself originated by the proper Word of God, and by the Wisdom that is in God, by which God has made not only all other things but Him also. Wherefore He is by nature subject to change and variation as are all rational creatures… Accordingly, when someone asked them, whether the Word of God can possibly change as the devil changed, they were not afraid to say that He can; for being something made and created, His nature is subject to change.

How does St. Athanasius Refute this teaching

St. Athanasius the great wrote volumes against these false teachings and refuted them very powerfully, one of them is called “Deposition of Arius” of which I will read you a small excerpt:

3. Now when Arius and his fellows made these assertions, and shamelessly avowed them, we being assembled with the Bishops of Egypt and Libya, nearly a hundred in number, anathematized both them and their followers. But Eusebius and his fellows admitted them to communion, being desirous to mingle falsehood with the truth, and impiety with piety. But they will not be able to do so, for the truth must prevail; neither is there any communion of light with darkness, nor any concord of Christ with Belial. For whoever heard such assertions before? Or who that hears them now is not astonished and does not stop his ears lest they should be defiled with such language? Who that has heard the words of John, In the beginning was the Word [ John 1:1], will not denounce the saying of these men, that there was a time when He was not? Or who that has heard in the Gospel, the Only-begotten Son, and by Him were all things made, will not detest their declaration that He is one of the things that were made. For how can He be one of those things which were made by Himself? Or how can He be the Only-begotten, when, according to them, He is counted as one among the rest, since He is Himself a creature and a work? And how can He be made of things that were not, when the Father says, My heart has uttered a good Word, and Out of the womb I have begotten You before the morning star? Or again, how is He unlike in substance to the Father, seeing He is the perfect image and brightness [ Hebrews 1:3] of the Father, and that He says, He that has seen Me has seen the Father? And if the Son is the Word and Wisdom of God, how was there a time when He was not? It is the same as if they should say that God was once without Word and without Wisdom. And how is He subject to change and variation, Who says, by Himself, I am in the Father, and the Father in Me, and I and the Father are One; and by the Prophet, Behold Me, for I am, and I change not? For although one may refer this expression to the Father, yet it may now be more aptly spoken of the Word, viz., that though He has been made man, He has not changed; but as the Apostle has said, Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. And who can have persuaded them to say, that He was made for us, whereas Paul writes, for Whom are all things, and by Whom are all things?

Didn’t the Church solve that already centuries ago? Why are we remembering this today?

We are remembering this today for three reasons:

First, the Church wants to tell us that any thought, no matter how popular, that is not approved by the Church reaches a dead end. Arianism was extremely popular, half of the early Church were deceived by Arius, but when the 318 Bishops gather together, through the Holy Spirit, were united as one man, and showed the truth. Arianism reached a dead end, even though exists still, like any other heresy, in few groups that call themselves “Christian” like the Jehovah Witnesses. But they are not with the Orthodox Catholic Church. There are so many fads that appeared throughout the life of the Church, that were very popular. But because they were not approved by the Church, they reached a dead end. Think today of Transgenderism, we are in what they call now “Pride Month”, they are prideful of their sin. No matter how popular in the media it might appear, the Church, who call them and us to repentance will stay, and their insistence and pride of their sinful act will have the same end as did Arius and Judas, a very terrible ending.

The second reason that the Church celebrates this today, is that whether we realize it or not, some of us Christians have still prevailing Arian thought in our lives, How?

It all boils down into: What is the place of Christ in our lives? How do we treat him?

In reality, many of us treat created things like money, property, career, food and other things as having a more important value than Christ.

How much time do you spend daily with Christ? Sit with yourself, and contemplate on your daily schedule, and see how much time you give to Christ daily. How much time you read the Bible, how much time you read the lives of saints, how much time you spend on the Jesus prayer even while you work, how much time you spend serving others or being there for others for the Glory of Christ. See if He is the Alpha and the Omega of your day, if He is the center, the purpose, the aim, the goal, to Him is all your work and emotions and plans are dedicated and you glorify Him by them.

Because if this is not the case, if Christ for you is not the Son of God, where all our life should be directed, but someone whom we need to say a little prayer at the end of the day just to appease Him, or to feel better about ourselves, or in other words, say a little prayer to glorify ourselves and “diminish His divinity”, then how different are we from the Arians, who make Christ undivine.

The Church is warning all of us from such path filled with danger.

The Danger according Saint Gregory of Nyssa

For he (Eunomius) wishes to show that the Son is something different from eternal life, while, unless eternal life is found in the Son, our faith will be proved to be idle, and our preaching to be vain, baptism a superfluity, the agonies of the martyrs all for nought, the toils of the Apostles useless and unprofitable for the life of men. For why did they preach Christ, in Whom, according to Eunomius (or to the unfaithful), there does not reside the power of eternal life? Why do they make mention of those who had believed in Christ, unless it was through Him that they were to be partakers of eternal life?

The consequence?

Saint Gregory of Nyssa warns us not to live a life of irrational beings:

“But that which is not eternal is of course limited in duration. And such a kind of life is common to the irrational animals as well as to men. Where then is the majesty of the very life, if even the irrational creation share it?”

The third reason that we are celebrating this today is clearly stated in today’s Gospel by the mouth of Christ Himself, telling us what is eternal life. He says: And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work which you gave me to do;

The Church is also telling us: if you do everything for Christ, if you accomplish the work that God has given you to do. If Christ for you is the Alpha and the Omega of every single day. If He is the goal, the beloved, your bridegroom, and your whole life has its worth because of Him and Him only. Then you are already started living the eternal life. You are in communion with Him. You are united with Him through the Holy Eucharist. He has risen, and ascended, and you will rise and ascend with him. Don’t let any worldly matter take that away from you. You are created not to be a slave for the material, but to be united with the Divine. You are in the image of the Creator, not a matter that parishes. The Church is telling you today: Beware to diminish your divine image.

Today everything in the world is trying to take eternal life from you. Every thought in the world puts Christ away, at the very bottom of our list of priorities. Today the world does not want the real Christ, they want an Antichrist that fulfills their desires in a temporal life for an imminent passing moment of vain pleasure, not a Christ that heals their brokenness and makes them whole and joyful forever. In the Orthodox Church today we declare, we are all broken, and we need Christ, and only Christ, as He truly is our healer and our joy.

So, How do we get on the path of eternal life?

St. Athanasius in his 11th letter answers

And whereas, not only in action, but also in the thoughts of the mind, men are moved to deeds of virtue, he afterwards adds, saying, 'My eyes prevent the dawn, that I might meditate on Your words. ' For it is meet that the spiritual meditations of those who are whole should precede their bodily actions. And does not our Saviour, when intending to teach this very thing begin with the thoughts of the mind? Saying, 'Whosoever looks on a woman to lust after her, has already committed adultery:' and, 'Whosoever shall be angry with his brother, is guilty of murder. ' For where there is no wrath, murder is prevented; and where lust is first removed, there can be no accusation of adultery. Hence meditation on the law is necessary, my beloved, and uninterrupted converse with virtue, 'that the saint may lack nothing, but be perfect to every good work [ 2 Timothy 3:17 ].'

For by these things is the promise of eternal life, as Paul wrote to Timothy, calling constant meditation exercise, and saying, 'Exercise yourself unto godliness; for bodily exercise profits little; but godliness is profitable for all things, since it has the promise of the present life, and of that which is eternal [1 Timothy 4:7-8].

So why does the Church emphasize this right before Pentecost?

The Church is telling you: The Holy Spirit will fire up your heart if it was filled with the right faith for Christ. If Christ is for you the Divine Son who is of one essence with the Father, if Christ is Who you worship, not mentally, but Who you love from all your heart and all your mind and all your soul and all your power, Only then, the Holy Spirit when He descends next week, will able to move that love into acting love, into eating fire of love that changes you and fires up everyone around you with Christ’s Joy.

May God give us the right faith, and live with Him in our entirety as the first Church did, through the intercessions of the Theotokos and of all the saints, amen.

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