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'Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit'

St Matthew 28: 19

Charity No. 282910

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Ecumenical Councils accepted by the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church

Since her recognition as an Episcopate in 330 A.D., the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church - one of the most ancient church in Christendom - has been fulfilling her apostolic duties up to the present time.


Her doctrine is based on the teaching of the Ethiopian Eunuch, St. Matthew and other apostles. In addition, she accepted the canon and the decisions of the first three Ecumenical Councils, i.e., of Nicea in 325, Constantinople, in 381 and Ephesus in 431 and still is teaching their creed and serving the Lord to this day.


1. The Ecumenical Council of Nicea 325


As is known, the Nicean Council was called to oppose the heresy of Arius.  Arius’ teaching was based on “The Lord created me at the beginnigh of His work, the first of His act of old” (Prov. 8:22).


Taking the literal interpretation of this verse, Arius taught that God, the Son is a creature.  The heresy of Arius originated from the Gnositc Lucian and Anthiochian heritics.Even if it could be said that fatherhood belongs ot God, He could not be the natural father but the adoptive father.


Among the heretical teachings of Arius was this: “There was a time when the Son, known as wisdom, was not; and there  was an hour when He did not exist.” Arius distorted verses to present God the Son as a creature and thus mislead the people".


Alexander, the Archbishop of Alexandria, made and effort to bring back Arius from his heretical teachings. But Arius kept firm.  Yet, starting from 320 A.D. he was spreading openly his heretical teaching in every town.  Archbishop Alexander called a local gathering of 100 bishops and presented Arius’ heretical teaching.  In addition he informed the assembly that he had advised Arius to desist from his heretical teaching in order no to raise a schism in the church and to resolve the problem in peace.  The Synod, after examining the heretical teaching of Arius, and realizing that he would not repent, unanimously excommunicated him.


King Constantine sent his close and trusted friend, Hosius Episcopos of Spain, to Alexandria because of the problem. Having discussed the case with Archbishops Alexander and other Bishops, Hosius returned to Spain and informed the king that the matter could not be solved peacefully.


After Archbishop Alexander had notified Constantine by letter, that the matter should be dealt with by a synod, the emperor called a meeting of the synod.  


On this basis, the meeting of the synod, which held its preparatory meeting from May 20 to June 13, was opened in Nicea in 325 with the attendance of several bishops and their assistants.  Having thus prepared its agenda, the meeting was officially opened with a speech by the Emperor Constantine in the presence of 2000 participants.


The topics discussed by the synod were:


  • The heretical teaching of Arius

  • The decision of the Alexandria Synod which was led by  Archbishop Alexander against the heresy of Arius.

The Synod, after discussing these matters, explained to Arius that all the biblical verses quoted by him and his followers against the divinity of God the Son were mistaken.

Thus, the fathers attending the Synod, made great effort to explain to Arius that Proverb 8:22 does not show that God the Son, Word of God, was not created like other creatures but begotten from the Father before the world was created.


They quoted from the Holy Bible and explained to him that God the Son, (the Logos) is God.  The verses which show that Christ is the begotton Son of the Father are: Jn. 1:1-6, Jn. 10:30, Rom. 9:5, 1Jn.5:20, etc)


Then, the 318 Holy Fathers unanimously excommunicated Arius and condemned his teachings.  In addition to this , they issued the Creed which confesses the divinity of the Son and they fixed the Canon Law of the church.  The Creed which the 318 Nicean Fathers issued in 325 is the following:


"We believe in one God, God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, that which is visible and that which is invisible. And we believe in one Lord Jesus Christ the Only-Begotten Son of God, the Father who was with Him before the creation of the world, Light from Light, True God from True God, Begotten not created, consubstantial with the Father, through whom all things were made, and without Him was not anything made, things in heaven and things on earth, who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven: He was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Holy Virgin Mary: and He became man, and He was crucified for us under Pontus Pilate: He suffered, died and was buried, and on the third day He rose again from the dead, according to the Scriptures: He ascended to heaven; He sitteth at the right hand of the Father, He will come again in His glory to Judge the living and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end."


2. The Council of Constantinople


While Theodosius the first (The Great) was the emperor of Constantinople in 379, 'Timothy the Poor' was the Patriarch of Alexandria.  And while Damasus was the Pope of Rome, Macedonius the Archbishop of Constantinople, denying the Godhead of the Holy Spirit, taught: “The Holy Spirit is not consubstantial with the Father and the Son in divinity. If the Holy Spirit proceeded from the Father and was sent by the Father and the Son, and was a messenger, He is not equal with Them.  Therefore, He is subordinate to Them.”


Since this heresy had spread throughout the Eastern Churches, 150 Bishops were assembled in Constantinople in 381.


At this great Council, the Holy Fathers quoting from the Old and New Testaments promulgated, saying “Even though the Holy Spirit proceeded from the Father, He is equal with the Father and the Son in nature, divinity and glory” (Ps. 33:6, Isa. 6:3, Acts. 28:25).  After explaining this at great length, they ascertained the divinity of the Holy Spirit and they vehemently condemned Macedonius and his heretical teaching.


In the Nicean Creed, which was decided by the 318 Holy Fathers, they added an article concerning the divinity of the Holy Spirit.  This article is:


"We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Life-giver, who proceeds from the Father; we worship and glorify Him with the Father and the Son, who spoke through the prophets; and in the one Holy Universal Apostolic Church.  We confess one baptism for the remission of sins.  We believe in the resurrection of the dead and their life in the world to come.  Amen."


This was the unanimous promulgation of the 150 Fathers. From that time on, the Creed was called Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed and was made to be recited in the daily prayer and liturgy by the whole congregations in all churches.


3. The Council of Ephesus


During the reign of Theodosius the second, St. Cyril was Patriarch of Alexandria in 412, and Celestine the first was the pope of Rome. Nestorius, the Anthiochian and disciple of Diodore of Tarsus, was entroned as Archbishop of Constantinople in 427 AD.


While Nestorius was Archbishop of Constantinople, there were several heretics who adhered to the teachings of Arius, Mancedonius and Apolinarius.  Upon the request of Nestorius, the Emperor issued a decree dismissing the heretics from the city and condemning their teachings.


In the year after the decree, Anastasius the monk who was the secretary of Nestorius in the great cathedral of Constantinople, preached saying “It is true that the Virgin Mary gave birth to Christ in virginity and purity. But it is not right to call her the Mother of God (Theotokos), for God cannot be born from a human being.  Therefore, we truly believe that she is the bearer of Christ the Man (Christotokos)”.


At that time those who heard the new teaching became disturbed and opposition rose from every direction. The congregations asked Nestorius to tell the monk that he should correct his heretical teachings.  But Nestorius refused to accept the requests for he knew that the heretical teaching was his own.


From that time on, Nestorius rejected the Only-Begotten Sonhood and divinity of Christ. And he spread his teaching in word and writing saying, "He who was born from Mary is a mere man.  In him, the divinity or the Word of God dwelt and He is called Christ.  Therefore, it is wrong to call Mary the Mother of God.  But truly she must be called the mother of Christ and not the mother of God."


This heretical teaching of Nestorius spread everywhere. St Cyril of Alexandria on hearing this heretical teaching sent  Nestorius an advisory letter for the first time in February 430.  At the same time he wrote a letter to the Pope of Rome and to the other Archbishops of the Eastern and Western Churches explaining the danger inherent in the heresy.  He also informed Emperor Theodosius about the matter.


Nestorius on his part wrote letters of opposition to those whom St Cyril had addressed. He forbade the priests and monks of his diocese from giving pastoral services and prohibited them from entering the church.  However, they appealed to the Emperor and to St Cyril.  Then St Cyril, without denouncing Nestorius, but condemning his heresy, sent Nestorius a serious letter and sent copies to the Emperor's office, to the concerned Archbishops and the Archmandirites of different monasteries.  In these circumstances, St Cyril and Nestorius exchanged hostile letters for a year.  Because Nestorius could not be stopped by any means from spreading his heresy; the Emperor, Pope Celestine the first, and Archbishops of Eastern and Western Churches, agreed to call a synod and examine his heresy.  It was decided to hold this in Ephesus in 431.  About 200 archbishops and bishops attended the Ephesus Meeting.  And Cyril was elected to be the chairman of the Synod.


The archbishop of Anthioch was invited to come with bishops who were under his diocese.  But he failed to come on time, since he was a supporter of Nestorius.  He was awaited for two weeks and he continued to give false explanations about his absence.  It was then decided to start the synod in his absence.  An invitation was again sent to Nestorius so that he could come and explain his belief.  He was invited three time and because he was unwilling to attend, the synod started its discussion in his absence.  The documents containing the heresy of Nestorius were read first, followed by St. Cyril’s against the heresy of Nestorius and the twelve anathemas.  On this basis, the heretical teachings of Nestorius were exposed at the synod as contradictory to the doctrine of the Holy Church.


On the other hand, the writings of St Cyril were unanimously accepted by the synod, since they proved to be the same with the teachings of the Holy Scriptures and the doctrine of the Church Fathers.


The synod, after condemning the heretical teaching of Nestorius against St Mary being the Mother of God. Issued the following: "That He who was born from the holy Virgin Mary is God and Mary truly is the Mother of God."


In addition to the participants of the council, the holy Archbishops and Bishops heard:


1. The content of the letters written by St Cyril to Nestorius which state "We believe that the Holy Virgin Mary is the Mother of God, the Logos"

2. The statement of the letter written by St Cyril to the Eastern Bishops which says "While Jesus Christ is God, He became man like us due to the flesh and soul that He took from the holy Virgin Mary; and He is one person and one nature in unity."

3. In the same letter it is stated "We must believe that the holy  Virgin Mary is the Mother of God (Theotokos) and it is wrong to call her the mother of the man (Anthropotokos)."

4. in his letter again, he taught "it is not proper to reject the unity of the two natures in Christ based on our subjective viewpoints; and likewise we should not say that the holy Virgin Mary did not give birth to God the Son."


The participants of the council, holy Archbishops and Bishops approved the above mentioned teachings unanimously,  and excommunicated Nestorius.  The decisions of this great council was signed by Emperor Theodosius and distributed in all places.  Moreover, the holy Fathers of the Third International Council also endorsed the Cannon Laws of the church.


All Churches accepted the decision on the doctrine and the Canon Law of these three International Councils, because the Council of Nicaea, Constantinople and Ephesus took place before the separation of the ancient Church concerning doctrine and Canon Law, and they give great honour to the councils.  Especially the Ethiopian Orthodox Church Tewahido Church and its sister Churches such as the Coptic Orthodox, the Syrian Orthodox, the Armenian Orthodox and the Indian Orthodox Churches, fully accept the decisions of the three councils; for they practise  the teaching of the Apostles and  the canon law which was agreed by the three Councils.


The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church abides by the decisions, cannons and doctrines of the 318 Fathers of Nicaea, of the 150 Fathers of Constantinople and of the 200 Fathers of Ephesus and condemns those who were excommunicated by the three Councils.  She also condemns Apollinarius who was excommunicated by the 2nd Council in Constantinople and Eutyches who was also excommunicated by the Councils of Ephesus.


The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church does not recognize and accept the councils which took place after the Council of Ephesus.  Not only the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church, but also our sister churches like the Coptic, the Syrian, the Indian and Armenian Orthodox churches, do not recognize and accept them.

Copyright © 2010 tserhasion. All Rights Reserved I [email protected] I St James Church, Clapton Pond, Hackney, London, United Kingdom, E5 0PD I  phone: 0208 807 5885


Archbishop Yesehaq. (1997). The Ethiopian Tewahedo Church. Winston-Derek Pub