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Nicene Creed

The Nicene Creed should be called the Nicene-Con­stan­ti­nop­o­li­tan Creed since it was for­mal­ly drawn up at the first ecu­meni­cal coun­cil in Nicea (325) and at the sec­ond ecu­meni­cal coun­cil in Con­stan­tino­ple (381).

The word creed comes from the Latin cre­do which means “I believe.” In the Ortho­dox Church the creed is usu­al­ly called The Sym­bol of Faith which means lit­er­al­ly the “bring­ing togeth­er” and the “expres­sion” or “con­fes­sion” of the faith.

In the ear­ly Church there were many dif­fer­ent forms of the Chris­t­ian con­fes­sion of faith; many dif­fer­ent “creeds.” These creeds were always used orig­i­nal­ly in rela­tion to bap­tism. Before being bap­tized a per­son had to state what he believed. The ear­li­est Chris­t­ian creed was prob­a­bly the sim­ple con­fes­sion of faith that Jesus is the Christ, i.e., the Mes­si­ah; and that the Christ is Lord. By pub­licly con­fess­ing this belief, the per­son could be bap­tized into Christ, dying and ris­ing with Him into the New Life of the King­dom of God in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

As time passed dif­fer­ent places had dif­fer­ent credal state­ments, all pro­fess­ing the iden­ti­cal faith, yet using dif­fer­ent forms and expres­sions, with dif­fer­ent degrees of detail and empha­sis. These credal forms usu­al­ly became more detailed and elab­o­rate in those areas where ques­tions about the faith had arisen and here­sies had developed.

In the fourth cen­tu­ry a great con­tro­ver­sy devel­oped in Chris­ten­dom about the nature of the Son of God (also called in the Scrip­ture the Word or Logos). Some said that the Son of God is a crea­ture like every­thing else made by God. Oth­ers con­tend­ed that the Son of God is eter­nal, divine, and uncre­at­ed. Many coun­cils met and made many state­ments of faith about the nature of the Son of God. The con­tro­ver­sy raged through­out the entire Chris­t­ian world.

It was the def­i­n­i­tion of the coun­cil which the Emper­or Con­stan­tine called in the city of Nicea in the year 325 which was ulti­mate­ly accept­ed by the Ortho­dox Church as the prop­er Sym­bol of Faith. This coun­cil is now called the first ecu­meni­cal coun­cil, and this is what it said:

We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Mak­er of heav­en and earth, and of all things vis­i­ble and invis­i­ble. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only-begot­ten, begot­ten of the Father before all ages. Light of Light; true God of true God; begot­ten, not made; of one essence with the Father, by whom all things were made; who for us men and for our sal­va­tion came down from heav­en, and was incar­nate of the Holy Spir­it and the Vir­gin Mary, and became man. And He was cru­ci­fied for us under Pon­tius Pilate, and suf­fered, and was buried. And the third day He rose again, accord­ing to the Scrip­tures; and ascend­ed into heav­en, and sits at the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again with glo­ry to judge the liv­ing and the dead; whose King­dom shall have no end.

Fol­low­ing the con­tro­ver­sy about the Son of God, the Divine Word, and essen­tial­ly con­nect­ed with it, was the dis­pute about the Holy Spir­it. The fol­low­ing def­i­n­i­tion of the Coun­cil in Con­stan­tino­ple in 381, which has come to be known as the sec­ond ecu­meni­cal coun­cil was added to the Nicene statement:

And [we believe] in the Holy Spir­it, the Lord, the Giv­er of Life, who pro­ceeds from the Father; who with the Father and the Son togeth­er is wor­shipped and glo­ri­fied; who spoke by the prophets. In one Holy, Catholic, and Apos­tolic Church. I acknowl­edge one bap­tism for the remis­sion of sins. I look for the res­ur­rec­tion of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

This whole Sym­bol of Faith was ulti­mate­ly adopt­ed through­out the entire Church. It was put into the first per­son form “I believe” and used for the for­mal and offi­cial con­fes­sion of faith made by a per­son (or his spon­sor-god­par­ent) at his bap­tism. It is also used as the for­mal state­ment of faith by a non-Ortho­dox Chris­t­ian enter­ing the com­mu­nion of the Ortho­dox Church. In the same way the creed became part of the life of Ortho­dox Chris­tians and an essen­tial ele­ment of the Divine Litur­gy of the Ortho­dox Church at which each per­son for­mal­ly and offi­cial­ly accepts and renews his bap­tism and mem­ber­ship in the Church. Thus, the Sym­bol of Faith is the only part of the litur­gy (repeat­ed in anoth­er form just before Holy Com­mu­nion) which is in the first per­son. All oth­er songs and prayers of the litur­gy are plur­al, begin­ning with “we”. Only the credal state­ment begins with “I.” This, as we shall see, is because faith is first per­son­al, and only then cor­po­rate and communal.

To be an Ortho­dox Chris­t­ian is to affirm the Ortho­dox Chris­t­ian faith—not mere­ly the words, but the essen­tial mean­ing of the Nicene-Con­stan­ti­nop­o­li­tan sym­bol of faith. It means as well to affirm all that this state­ment implies, and all that has been express­ly devel­oped from it and built upon it in the his­to­ry of the Ortho­dox Church over the cen­turies down to the present day.