Getting to “We Believe”

It was the great religious “confab” of the 4th century: a gathering of Christian bishops from throughout the world, convened by no less an authority than the Roman Emperor Constantine I. In A.D. 325, a town in the Black-Sea province of Bithynia played host to 318 scholars of the church who met to deliberate on the burning theological questions of the day. We remember it today as the Council of Nicaea: the first attempt to forge a truly “ecumenical” Christianity—that is, a Christianity that encompassed all the world’s human habitations—by coming to a consensus on church doctrine.

The most significant result of the council was the Nicene Creed: the first uniform expression of Christian doctrine. The Creed would be elaborated upon in subsequent councils, but its essential form, conceived during that historic gathering in Nicaea, remains the fundamental statement of orthodox faith, embraced by churches throughout the world—and repeated during every Armenian badarak as the Havadamk (“We believe”).

The Armenian Church participated in the council, with St. Aristakes, the younger son of St. Gregory the Illuminator, representing his then-ailing father. This Saturday, our church will remember the 318 Fathers of the Holy Council of Nicaea, and the project they began 1,696 years ago.

—Christopher H. Zakian

Above: “The First Ecumenical Council,” from a fresco at the St. Sophia Church, Kyev, Russia (1700)

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