Most Ukrainian Catholics know very little about the first seven Ecumenical Councils of the Catholic Church. We should learn more about them because they are amongst the most important meetings that have taken place within the Christian Church. They occurred between 325 AD and 787 AD. Catholic andOrthodoxChurchesrecognise them because they were held in a period of time before Christians were divided. They were meetings of the whole church, East and West. You can say that these seven meetings are the only ones that the present Orthodox Churches of our world agree on as having genuine teaching authority.
After 787 AD the entire Orthodox Church has never been able to call meetings and make collective decisions. Individual churches i.e. Greek or Russian have had, and continue to have, national meetings, but all the Orthodox Churches of the world have stopped gathering altogether. They desperately need and want them, but various circumstances have prevented them from doing so.
In the Catholic Church these worldwide ecumenical councils or meetings have persevered. Since 787 AD there have been 14 more meetings, making it a total of 21 councils altogether. The last one was held from 1962 to 1965 inRomeand Bishop Ivan Prasko represented our Eparchy at this Council. The Orthodox Churches do not recognise any of the last 14 Councils.
For the Catholic and other churches, when referring to the first seven meetings, the decisions they reached are binding and are considered as an Act of Faith. This is possibly the highest form of law making or teaching authority in the church. The decisions are considered as the direct Will of God and are accepted by the faithful. Vatican Council II (1962 – 1965), was attended by about 3,000 bishops, and they produced numerous documents. Even to this day not all the decisions have been properly understood or fully implemented. However, this Council did reform the church. There are some who say that we need another Council soon. For Ukrainian Catholics it is interesting to note that the establishment of a Ukrainian Patriarchate can be accomplished in two ways; one, by the proclamation of the Pope personally or secondly, by a decision of an Ecumenical Council.
Let us look at the seven first Church Councils. OnMay 20, 325 AD, a meeting was held inNicaeawith 38 bishops attending. Presumably that is all the bishops there were at the time. They condemned the heresy of Arian and decreed that the Son (Jesus) and the Father were one and the same. That is why, even to this day, we use the name Jesus when we refer to God. They gave us the Nicaean Creed which we recite each day in the Divine Liturgy. The Third Council inEphesusin 431 AD declared that Mary was the Mother of God. The Seventh Council, again held inNicaeain 787 AD, stated that icons should be venerated but not worshipped. In the hundred years before this meeting, many icons were removed from churches. However, this Council reintroduced them.
Church councils throughout the ages have instructed us in the fundamentals of our faith. They are very important in giving clear lessons in what the church believes.
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