In the Symbol of Faith or Creed, we say that we believe in an “apostolic” Church – that is, one built on the foundation of the witness and teaching of the apostles (Ephesians 2:20). These teachings were then passed on and expounded by the early bishops, especially those who met periodically to resolve issues in Church teaching and practice – the “Council Fathers.”
Any who has attended services in the Byzantine Rite over the course of a year knows that we devote several Sundays to these Fathers, but the progress of these feasts makes more sense it we order them within the calendar years (January to December) instead of the liturgical year (September to August):
- Sunday of the Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council
(Sunday between Ascension and Pentecost)
This council, held at Nicea in the year 325, settled the Church’s teaching on the relationship of God the Son to God the Father, and firmly taught the divinity of the Holy Spirit
- Sunday of the Fathers of the First Six Ecumenical Councils
(Sunday closest to July 16)
This combines older individual feasts for the first six great councils: Nicea (325), Constantinople I (381), Ephesus (431), Chalcedon (451), Constantinople II (536); Constantinople III (680). These councils clarified the Church’s teaching on the Person of Jesus Christ, and resolved issues of church order and practice.
- Sunday of the Fathers of the Seventh Ecumenical Council
(Sunday closest to October 14)
The council, held at Nicea in 787, settled the Church’s teaching on the veneration of icons, holding that “honor given to the image passes over to the one represented.”
On all three Sundays, we sing the troparion of the Council Fathers:
O Christ our God, you are above all praise. * You have established our fathers as beacons on the earth, * leading us all to the true faith through them. * O most merciful Lord, glory to you!
and the following prokeimenon (Daniel 3:26), which is also used for the “fathers” of the Old Testament:
Blessed are you and praiseworthy, O Lord, * the God of our Fathers, * and glorious forever is your name.
V. For you are just in all you have done for us.
The Vespers and Matins hymns for each Sunday recount the history and teaching of the various councils. But putting them in the above order does make them easier to remember!