The Nicene Creed
The Creed of Nicea (325 A.D.)
We believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of all things, visible and invisible;
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten from the Father, only-begotten, that is, from the essence of the Father, God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten not made, of one essence with the Father, through Whom all things came into being, things in heaven and things on earth, Who because of us men and because of our salvation came down and became incarnate, becoming man, suffered and rose again on the third day, ascended to the heavens, and will come again to judge the living and the dead;
And in the Holy Spirit.
The Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed (381 A.D.)
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Only-begotten, Begotten of the Father before all ages, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, Begotten, not made; of one essence with the Father, by whom all things were made:
And was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered and was buried;
And ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of the Father;
And we believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.
We look for the Resurrection of the dead,
And the Life of the age to come. Amen.
The Three Great Ecumenical Councils
During the first three centuries, the Christians were persecuted and thousands were martyred for their faith. In AD 313, the Roman Emperor Constantine accepted Christianity and ended the persecutions of all Christians and in a few years, Christianity became the state religion and the Roman Empire became a Christian country.
For the next two centuries, the Christian church faced many pagan challenges and heretical philosophies, which continued to influence the believers.
The Danger of Arianism
At the beginning of 4th century A.D., Arius a priest in the city of Alexandria, started teaching that Jesus Christ was not God in the same sense as God the father. He also taught that Christ was of the same essence and not eternal and God was the supreme divine being completely separated from mankind. Since Arius was a scholar, he was able to convince many simple-minded people and some well educated people who were still attached to paganism. This teaching was more dangerous than the worst persecution. If Christ was not God, who had become man, suffered and died for man, and had conquered death through His death, and then the Christianity would be almost like another pagan idea.
The Council of Nicaea
The Church of Alexandria felt the danger of Arius heresy and the patriarch of Coptic Church Alexandrus condemned this teaching and tried to guide Arius to Christian faith. Arius complained to the Emperor Constantine who finally decided to call a general ecumenical council meeting to resolve the crisis. Three hundred eighteen bishops and priests from the churches all over the world were assembled in Nicaea in Asia Minor in the spring of 325 A.D. Among them, there was Bishop Paul from Syria with his burned hands carrying the signs of the persecution he has suffered, St. Paphnotius and St. Potamon, both blinded in one eye and lamed from tortures inflicted on them, Patriarch Alexandrus, and his deacon, St. Athanasius the Great from Egypt. 318 bishops who participated in the council, are called ‘holy fathers of Nicea’ or just ‘holy 318’. The number 318 has a biblical significance as the bishops are seen like 318 servants of Abraham (Gen 14:14). The council studied the teachings of Arius and examined them very carefully. St. Athanasius explained the orthodox faith showing how the Son is of one essence with the Father. The council finally confirmed that Arius had distorted the Christian faith and the fathers of the council proclaimed the faith of the church in clear terms: “We believe in one true God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only- begotten Son of God, born of the father before all worlds; light of light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, of one essence with the Father”.
The council of Nicaea was one of the greatest events in the history of Christianity and saved the Church from the heresy of Arius.
The Council of Constantinople
The Christian faith was again threatened by a new heresy by the patriarch of Constantinople, Mecedonius. He taught that the Holy Spirit was created. The Emperor Theodosius the great assembled a second council in Constantinople in May 381 A.D. consisting of one hundred fifty bishops. St. Gregory of Nazianzen and St. Gregory of Nyssa defended the teachings of the Church on Holy Trinity and in particular on the Holy Spirit. After careful studies and lengthy discussions, the council refuted the heresy of Patriarch Mecedonius and completed the creed of the church. “We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father…… who spoke by the prophets…… We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.” Since it was in the second Ecumenical Council in 381 that the creed was completed, it is also known as "Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed".
The Council of Ephesus
During the year 431 A.D. Nestorius, the Patriarch of Constantinople, preached that God was not born from the Virgin Mary, but she had given birth to a human being and God dwelt in him later on. He forced his teachings on the Churches. St. Cyril the great, the Patriarch of Alexandria wrote a letter to Nestorius advising him to give up this wrong teaching. He also wrote to many bishops around the world warning them the danger of this heresy. Finally a third ecumenical council consisting of two hundred bishops from around the world assembled in Ephesus in A.D. 431 to put en end to this matter. The council refuted the teaching of Nestorius and declared the introduction of the Creed.
“We magnify thee, O Mother of the True Light; and we glorify thee, O Saint, Mother of God. For you had borne to us the savior of the entire world. He came and saved our souls. Glory be to You, Christ, our master and our King, the honor of the apostles, the crown of the martyrs, the joy of the righteous, the stability of the Churches, and the forgiveness of sins. We evangelize and preach the Holy Trinity, one God-head. Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy, Lord send your blessings … Amen”.
The Oriental Orthodox Churches recognize only the first 3 ecumenical councils (the first one held at Nicea in 325 AD, second one at Constantinople in 381 AD and the third one at Ephesus in 431 AD).
Jesus Christ: “One Essence with the Father”?
The Council of Nicea formulated this statement to reply on the heresy of Arius and showed that God became man in Jesus Christ. The Son is one with the Father, and who ever has seen the Son has also seen the Father. All that belongs to the Father belongs to the Son. (St. John 1: 1-3)
The Holy Spirit is the Giver of life.
The Council of Constantinople stated this phrase to reply on the heresy of Mecedonius who wrongly taught that the Holy Spirit is created. The Council answered that the Holy Spirit is the “Spirit of God; the life Giver.”
According to St. John 4:24, our Lord said, “God is Spirit”. Jesus Christ promised the disciples that “But when the Counselor comes’ whom I shall send to you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness to me; and you also are witnesses (John 15: 26,27). Through the Holy Spirit, the disciples were able to witness the Lord and call the world to the Christian Faith. Through living in the spirit, we also show our Christian witness and become light to the world.
The last part of the Creed puts together the Church, Baptism, Resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. We believe in one Church because it is the body of the one Christ with whom we all are united in the Holy Communion. We acknowledge one Baptism because it symbolizes the death of Jesus Christ and His burial. We are buried with Him once since He died only once, and that was quiet sufficient for the salvation of the whole world. We are then raised with Him unto eternal life.