ABOUT THE HOLY FATHERS OF THE CHURCH AND THE FIRST ECUMENICAL COUNCIL
Three-hundred years before the Holy Fathers of the Fourth Century convened in the First Great Ecumenical Council, the very first Holy Fathers of the Church, the Apostles, worked faithfully and with great hardship to spread the true faith. After Pentecost, Acts 2:42-46 describes that certain elements of worship were evident in the life of the early Christians. The early Christians continued in the Apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, attended temple daily and broke bread from house to house. Through scripture we learn that there were false teachers even at the very beginning of Christianity. For example the Christians of Corinth were swayed by false apostles who gained the favor of the Corinthian Christians through disparaging and discrediting the Apostle Paul (2 Cor 11:4, 11:5; 12:11).
In the decades and centuries that followed, through Apostolic succession, the Holy Fathers that succeeded the first Apostles continued to struggle to keep the faith and teach the correct doctrine to the faithful as did their predecessors. Many hardships fell upon them as they did the Lord’s Work and some false teachers surfaced throughout the years among certain Christian groups. For the next 200-300 years after Pentecost, not only did some of the Christian groups succumb to heretical teachings, the Christians were also persecuted. There were two major persecutions of the Christians in 250 and 257-260 AD. Christians were forbidden to assemble and their properties were confiscated. But, by this time in history, Asia Minor was sixty percent Christian, Rome had 30,000-50,000 Christians, and North Africa had hundreds of small village congregations.
History records that Emperor Gallienus ended the persecution of the Christians in 260 AD and restored the Christian church properties, their buildings of worship and cemeteries, and their right of assembly. Christian worship centers arose from 200 to 260 AD even though they were not a state religion at that time. Historians speculate that the congregations incorporated as funeral associations and held property by proxy through a member of the congregation or a bishop. In general, although Christianity was not a state religion, it was nevertheless tolerated and they did not live in hiding during the latter part of the third century. They had church services, trained catechumens, baptized, buried their dead, assisted the needy and owned property either legally or without interference.
Constantine (Flavius Valerius Aurelius Constantinus Augustus) was Roman Emperor from 306-337 AD. He was the first Roman Emperor to convert to Christianity and together with co-Emperor Licinius, they issued the Edict of Milan in 313, which proclaimed religious tolerance for all religions throughout the empire. Constantine became a protector of Christianity and built churches in key cities with elaborate architecture. However, Christianity did not become the state religion of the Roman Empire until the Edict of Thessalonica in 380.
Emperor Constantine called the first of the seven Great Ecumenical Councils to unite Christendom on May 20, 325 AD. The primary task of the Fathers at this Council was to make the Trinitarian doctrine of the Church very precise to dispel heresies, primarily the Arian heresy that had arisen throughout the years. This resulted in a Creed of Faith. The date for Pascha was also discussed but not settled at this particular Council. Various other topics regarding Church discipline were also addressed. These topics included: clergy ordination, liturgical practice and the orders of the episcopacy. The decisions made at this Council resulted in the writing of 20 Canons to govern Church. These 20 Canons were the beginning of Canon Law that continues to give order and clarity in governing the canonical issues of the Orthodox Christian Church today.
This First Great Ecumenical Council was the beginning of establishing order and uniformity of belief for all Christendom; and, together with the other six Great Ecumenical Councils that would be held in later years, the Holy Fathers of the Church (the Apostles and their successors), led the people to the true Christian faith and continue to do so to the present day for the Glory of God.
References: Hussey, J. M., and Andrew Louth. The Orthodox Church in the Byzantine Empire.; L’Huillier, Peter. The Church of the Ancient Councils: The Disciplinary Work of the First Four Ecumenical Councils; Patsavos, Lewis J. A Noble Task: Entry Into the Clergy in the First Five Centuries; Patsavos, Lewis J. Spiritual Dimensions of the Holy Canons; Patsavos, Lewis J., Manual for the Course in Orthodox Canon Law, HCHC.