The Seventh Sunday of Pascha: The Afterfeast of the Ascension, and The Commemoration of the Holy Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council, Held at Nicea
Services This Week:
Wednesday, June 12th, 5:30 p.m.: Vesperal Liturgy of the Ascension
Saturday, Great Vespers, 5:00 p.m.;
Sunday, Third Hour, 9:45 a.m., followed by The Divine Liturgy at 10:00 a.m.
The first ecumenical, or world-wide, council of the Church was held in the city of Nicea, close by the capital of the East Roman Empire at Constantinople, in the year 325 A.D. The council was called by the Roman Emperor Saint Constantine, who was the first of the Roman Emperors to grant Christianity official toleration and, eventually, certain favors. (He was not baptized, however, until near his death, as the duties of ruling often meant undertaking things which the early Church saw as not compatible with living the New Life in Christ – including bearing arms, waging war, and putting condemned criminals to death). Many modern commentators have viewed Saint Constantine in a rather poor light, seeing both his embracing of Christianity and his calling of the First Council of Nicea as an attempt to gain a political unity within his vast Empire. Perhaps sometimes this results from overlooking what this drastic change from centuries of (sporadic, but at time very bloody) persecution by the Roman state meant to the Christian Church, and how one may guess it was viewed by Christians of that time. The Gospel of Christ, like the overall message of the entirety of the Old Testament scriptures, was that God was guiding the destiny of mankind, in his people of Israel and Judah, in the Forefathers before these nations, and even after the catastrophes of conquest by Assyria, Babylon, Greece, and Rome. The repeated message of the Prophets and the Wisdom literature of the Old Testament was that no city, nation, people, or temple had a right to claim a monopoly on divine favor just by “who they were” – rather, those who sought God and lived in accord with His will were His people. All mankind (the “whole world,” or, in Greek, the “oikoumenē gē,” “the inhabited earth” ) was called to answer this call and to participate in this life with God. Saint Constantine is called “Equal-to-the-Apostles” or “The Thirteenth Apostle” because, although what would become a Christianized Roman Empire was also finite, human, and had failings and shortcomings individually and collectively, the creation of a world in which the Gospel could be freely spread led more people into The Church than at any other time since the age of the First Apostles of Jesus. The gathering at Nicea shows that persecution and martyrdom had not destroyed the Church or left it utterly scattered and divided, but, rather, that by the strength of the Holy Spirit the Body of Christ had passed through the upheavals of the world, and would continue to do so, “the gates of Hades not prevailing against it” in each era of the world’s history.
During the “regular Sundays” of the Church year, we each Sunday move through a repeating cycle of eight Tones, with different music and hymns for each tone, which celebrate the resurrection of Christ. This Sunday falls on Tone 6. Here is the Sunday troparion (hymn) of the Resurrection for this Sunday:
Thou, O Christ, art our God of exceeding praise
Who didst establish our holy Fathers
as luminous stars upon earth, and through them didst
guide us unto the true Faith,
O most merciful One, glory to Thee.
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When Thou didst fulfill Thy dispensation for our sakes,
uniting the terrestrials with the celestials,
Thou didst ascend in glory, O Christ our God,
inseparable in space, but constant without separation,
and crying unto Thy beloved:
I am with you, and no one shall be against you.
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Blessed art Thou, O Lord, the God of our Fathers. For Thou art just in all Thou hast done.
The Reading from the Acts of the Holy Apostles. (20:16-18, 28-36)
St. John 17:1-13
When Jesus had spoken these words, he 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 authority 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 that you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed. “I have manifested your name to the people 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 that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. And I am no longer 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 not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, 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.“