Christ is in our midst!  He is and ever shall be!

In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Remember those who have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the Word of God.  Follow their faith, considering the outcome of their manner of living.  Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  Be not carried about with divers and strange doctrines.

Today the Church commemorates those blessed and holy Fathers who met in sacred council in the city of Nicaea in the year 787.  This would be the second time they had convened in this glorious city.  The first time was in the year 325 when those blessed and holy Fathers convened to address the heresy of one of their own, a presbyter by the name of Arius who had taught that the Son of God was a creature and not pre-eternal divinity.  His message was captured by a simple little ditty: “There was a time when the Son of God was not.”  Because Arius refused to heed the counsel of the First Ecumenical Council, he was anathematized and ex-communicated and has long been known to us as an arch-heretic and enemy of the Church.  His misguided teachings continue yet today in such notable sects like the Jehovah’s Witnesses. 

This second council held in Nicaea came about in order to address the issue of iconoclasm, that is, the defacing and destruction of icons that was running rampant due to the misappropriation of the Second Commandment prohibiting the worship of false gods and idols and the making of graven images.  Like those Fathers before them, these men assembled in the Seventh Ecumenical Council were also battle-tested veterans of the fight of the good faith (2 Tm. 4:7).  Together, they affirmed and ratified each of the six Councils before them, thus establishing the apostolic, catholic, and Orthodox Faith.  And, based upon that foundation, they concluded under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, that images indeed could be venerated – not worshipped, as some falsely accused the Church of advocating – all because of the Incarnation of our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ.  Because God, Who is spirit, assumed flesh in the historical Person of His Son having identifiable physicality, it is quite possible to depict God in the flesh and to likewise depict Biblical scenes along with the saints and to venerate their images so that our veneration – our love and devotion and reverence for their holiness – passes through the icon to the proto-type without fear of adoration, that is, without worshipping those icons.  On the most basic level, it is no different than a child who draws a picture of mommy and daddy, kisses it, and says, “I love you.”  None of us would ever recoil in horror accusing them of idol worship!

The Church believes these men who were spiritual rulers over us, who gathered together, were inspired by the Holy Spirit and that their wisdom enshrined in the Council remains unaltered nearly 13 centuries later.  Some of these men, as well as their supporters and advocates, paid a dear price for the Word of God and for the Faith of the Church.  It is these faithful and obedient servants of the Word that we are exhorted today by St. Paul to commemorate with our love and to honor with our obedience precisely because of their faith and “the outcome of their manner of living.”  Follow their faith, we are instructed. 

Interestingly, a Lutheran Biblical scholar warns, “a church which does not remember, which has no sense of history, can easily forget God’s grace in the past, and so lose courage for the future” (Pfitzner, Hebrews, p. 230).  I said it was interesting because typically Protestants are not interested in remembering the past, as though it has value for us in the here and now.  One of the casualties of the Reformation’s “tossing the baby out with the bath water” was precisely the past and its theological value for us today, its Biblical expositions and teachings preserved intact by and in the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Orthodox Church existing still today, not unscathed but certainly undaunted, because “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” 

The unchanging Jesus Christ is the foundation of the Church.  The unchanging Jesus Christ is the Faith of the Church.  The unchanging Jesus Christ is the past, the present, and the future of the Church!  And, it’s because of the saints.  The Irish have a little quip or ejaculatory prayer oftentimes thrown out in moments of crisis, “Saints preserve us!”  There is more truth in that than we may care to realize.  The faith – and the prayers – of the saints of every time and every place preserves us here, today.  That’s why we “remember” them and pay them due honor and recognition.  Although they are very much dead by most standards, yet we know them to be very much alive in Jesus Christ (Mt. 22:32; Mk. 12:27; Lk. 20:38).  The Roman Catholic literary genius and apologist, G.K. Chesterton, once observed something to the effect that only in the Church of the Great Tradition do the dead retain their voting rights.  The Church is a democracy of her dead.  If you prefer his quote more exactly, he said,

Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors.  It is the democracy of the dead.  Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about.

 Remember those who have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the Word of God.  Follow their faith, considering the outcome of their manner of living.  Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  Be not carried about with [various] and strange doctrines.

Those souls who have preceded us in the Faith, who have demonstrated by their faithful obedience to the Word of God, even unto the dismemberment and disfiguring of their bodies, even death itself – these have merited the Church’s reverence and veneration.  They have paid the price.  They have paved the way.  They have fought the good fight, they have finished the race, they have kept the Faith (2 Tm. 4:7).  We, on the other hand by comparison, “have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin” and, might I add, against “various and strange doctrines” that lead away from Jesus Christ Who is the anchor of the soul, “the Author and Finisher of our faith” (Hb. 6:19-20; 12:2, 3, 4).  As one of the prayers of St. John Chrysostom prayed prior to Scriptural reading and studying puts it:

On Thee do I set my hope, O my God, that Thou shalt enlighten my mind and understanding with the light of Thy knowledge, not only to cherish those things which are written, but to do them; that in reading the lives and sayings of the saints that I may not sin, but that such may serve for my restoration, enlightenment and sanctification, for the salvation of my soul, and the inheritance of Life Everlasting.

Note well, beloved, the inestimable value of the saints who have gone before us in showing us the way by their lives and words, worthy of our reading and heeding, that have the salvific power of God to restore my soul, enlighten and sanctify, and to inherit Life Everlasting.  They will help us to no longer be children in our faith, immature and foolish, “tossed to and fro and carried about by every wind of doctrine” (Ep. 4:14), sitting ducks for hawkers of strange and various teachings that promise one thing but only offer a cheap Jesus knock-off, a plastic imitation of the true Son of God, made, not in China, but in the church of innovation and novelty and emotionalism, a church that promises quick fixes and easy answers but has had no long-term skin in the game or tried and tested staying power under the assaults that buffet us.   

Holy brethren, beloved of the Lord, “Wisdom!  Let us attend!”  Let us take heed to the apostolic Word heard here this day, a Word full of Jesus Christ – unchanging and immovable.  In these days of the buffeting tempest of relativism wherein it is claimed that there is no absolute truth, be assured, be convicted, that He Who is and has been “’the Way, the Truth, and the Life’” will always be “’the Way, the Truth, and the Life’” (Jn. 14:6).  Jesus Christ, unlike anything else or anyone else, “is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”  Brethren, we know that a rope, woven together as one with many strands, is far stronger than a strand all by itself.  This, beloved, is the Church and her Great and Sacred Tradition embodied in her saints who embodied her teachings received from the Lord’s own Apostles: from St. John the Theologian to St. Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, a disciple of the Theologian, who, in turn, delivers it to St. Irenaeus of Lyons, a disciple of Polycarp, and on and on and on.  This is the Apostolic Succession of the Truth that is absolute, the Truth worthy of our staking our lives on.  Listen to the counsel of St. Paul to St. Timothy. He reminds the Bishop that his faith is the faith of his grandmother, Lois, and that of his mother, Eunice, and it now dwells in him, the Faith he is to pass along, deliver, tradition, hand over, if you will, as a faithful and obedient priest of the Gospel of Jesus Christ (2 Tm. 1:5).  In times of upheaval which surely will come and, indeed, are now here, Timothy “must continue in the things which [he] has learned and been assured of,” Paul says, “knowing from whom [he] has learned them, . . . .” (2 Tm. 3:13, 14).  Whom.  Ultimately, it is “the Church of the living God [that is] the pillar and ground of the Truth” (1 Tm. 3:15). 

Remember those who have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the Word of God.  Follow their faith, considering the outcome of their manner of living.  Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  Be not carried about with divers and strange doctrines.

Through the prayers of our holy Fathers, especially those of the 7th Ecumenical Council, O Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us.  Amen.

Glory to Jesus Christ!  Glory forever!

VIGIL PROPERS:                               PROPERS:

Gn. 14:14-20                                                   Hb. 13:7-16                

Dt. 1:8-11, 15-17                                            Jn. 17:1-13     

Dt. 10:14-21