During the time of the Ecumenical Councils many pious Bishops were recognized as great teachers and defenders of the faith and were glorified by the Church as saints. St. Nicholas, Archbishop of Myra in Lycia, was known for his zeal, wisdom, humbleness and charity. He assisted the poor, quickly protected unjustly condemned or any one suffering from abuses of the rulers of those days. His noblest act, the conviction of Arius at the first Ecumenical Council, brought him an eternal glory and was marked by special acknowledgment of the fathers of the Council. He died December 6, 343 A. D. When Saratzins were threatening the city of Myra, his relics were removed to Italy, where they repose to the present time in the city of Bari.
St. Athanasius, the great, of Alexandria, belongs to the school of Apologetics of the Church. When a deacon on the First Ecumenical Council, St. Athanasius was superior in his defense of the true faith against Arius’ heresy and as Archbishop of Alexandria during 46 years, proved to be steadfast pillar of the Church. He was accused by the heretics then in all kinds of crimes, including treason, was exiled five times from Alexandria and only the last six years of his life he spent in the Cathedral city, arduously working for the peace and glory of the Church. He wrote many apologetics on behalf of the Church and died peacefully in 373 A. D., being 75 years old, and was given by the Church the title of “The Great.”
In the fourth century a most trying time for the Church, lived and worked the other three Ecumenical hierarch and teachers- Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, and John Chrysostom.
St. Basil the Great, Archbishop of Caesarea of Cappadocia (330-379 A D) was a native of that city. He was brought up in a very pious Christian family, his mother, grandmother, sisters and brother are among the saints of the Church. His father was a very prominent attorney and teacher of rhetoric’s. He received the best education of his time, finishing it in Athens. He was high in theology, philosophy and history, but highest in the faith and charity. As Church orator he gave to the Church the glorious “homilies on six days” of the creation where he appears to be a great scientist also. St. Basil is almost glorified for his defense of the Church against Arians. Heavy labor and religious disturbances of the time, many deprivations and ascetic life broke his health and he died in the fiftieth year of his life. He wrote Divine Liturgy that bears his name.
St. Gregory, the Theologian, (326-389 A D) is known by this name in the Church as the greatest interpreter of the Holy Scriptures, especially on the personality of God, and his five sermons on God the Word, brought him this glorious title. He received his instructions from his mother, St. Nonna, and considered her instructions as the most valuable he had for his future.
St. Gregory was a friend of St. Basil; he was in schools together with him, after in the monastery, and was consecrated as Bishop by his friend. He was elected Archbishop of Constantinople when practically all churches were taken there by the Arians, but he accepted the call and started the services in a little room and succeeded so much that the Arians were expelled from all the churches and the orthodox christians were admitted to the use of them. He took very prominent part at the second ecumenical council against the heresy of Macedonius. After accomplishing this work, St. Gregory retired to his native city of Nanzianzus, where he spent his last years in ascetic life.
St. John Chrysostom (Golden Mouth) is the most eloquent teacher of the Christian church and at the same time most ardent defender of the rights and privileges of the Church. He lost his father when a child and was brought up by his pious mother Anfusa. He was a brilliant student and when his teacher, philosopher Licineus, was asked as to whom he would like to succeed him, he answered “of course John, if the Christians will not steal him from us.” About Anfusa, St. John’s mother, Licinius said: “What dignified women there are among the Christians.” After his mother’s death, St. John spent six years in seclusion and then came to the city of Antioch where he served for twelve years as a priest. Against his wish and under some pretense he was taken from Antioch and was consecrated as the Archbishop of Constantinople. First year of the service there was of much success and benefit to the Church. Nevertheless, his zeal and endeavors to correct the evils of the life among high officials and in the palace brought upon St. John displeasure and wrath of the Empress Evdoksia, and his enemies from the clergy succeeded in depriving him of his See and he was exiled.
When he left the capital city, the earthquake of that night made the Empress to repent and to ask St. John to return, but her repentance were not sincere; in about two months St. John was exiled again for preaching to correct morals.
“The Church of Christ did not begin with me and will not end without me,” said the great teacher before going to his exile, which was a very severe one. On his way from Armenian city of Kukuza to Abkhazian city of Pitziunt on the north-eastern shores of the Black Sea, St. John stopped in a little village of Komani, being very weak and sick. Here in a dream appeared to him St. Basiliscus, whose relics were in this place reposing, and told him “Do not be discouraged, Brother John, tomorrow we will be together.” St. John in the morning took Holy Communion and peacefully died with the words as his last: “Glory be to God for everything.” St. John wrote Divine Liturgy that retains his name, and was anxious to bring to Christianity the people that lived then in Skiphia or present Southern Russia. He lived from 347 to 407 A.D. and is always looked upon as one of the famous fathers of our Orthodox Church. His writings have even now a high value to the Church and serve to prove its dogmatical and historical truth.
We should be mindful of many equally saintly fathers, who rendered most useful service to the defense and expansion of the Church like Irenaeus of Lyon, Cyprian of Carthage, Blessed Augustine of Hippo, Ambrose of Milan, Jerome, Cyril of Alexandria, Cyril of Jerusalem, Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory of Neocesaria and others, whose names even if we wished only to list would take many chapters of this brief historical account. But their lives, their work, their writings are most helpful for Christians to form their conceptions on different subjects related to the faith and teaching of the Church and we wish we could present them to our readers more fully but as it is, we desire very much that they study “the Fathers of the Church” with every possible opportunity.