The Symbol of Faith

(Also referred to as the Nicene-Constantinopolitan—or simply Nicene—Creed)

A creed serves as a measure of correct belief. That used by the Orthodox for most of Christian history, the Symbol of Faith (which is how it was labeled in the original Greek), follows below (organized here in twelve articles—like verse numbers—to facilitate further exposition and discussion). This translation is that of Shann [1], with several textual changes as noted. For the Greek text, see [2]. As will be discussed further below, normal text is used here to represent that portion of the Creed promulgated by the First Œcumenical Council, while the italicized text represents the clarifying portions adopted by the Second Œcumenical Council.

I. I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.

II. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Only-begotten, begotten of the Father before all ages; Light from Light, vегу God of vегу God, begotten, not made, Being of one Essence with the Father, bу whom аll things were made; [3]

III. Who for us men, and for our salvation, сomе down from the heavens, and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Маrу, and was made Маn;[4]

IV. And was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered and was buried;

V. And rose again the third day according to the Scriptures;

VI. And ascended into the heavens, and sitteth at the right of the Father; [5]

VII. And shall come again with glory to judge both the living and the dead, of whose kingdom there shall be nо end. [6]

VIII. And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of life, who proceedeth from the Father, who with the Father and the Son is together worshipped and glorified, who spake bу the Prophets.[4]

IX. In оnе, holy, catholic, and apostolic Сhurch.

X. I confess оnе Baptism for the remission of sins.[7]

XI. I look for the Rеsurrection of the dead,

XII. And the life in the ages to come. Amen.

To put it simply, Articles I through VIIIa (less some clarifying points as represented by the italicized text above) were promulgated originally by the 318 holy fathers of the First Œcumenical Council (Synod) who met in Nicæa (now Iznik, Turkey) a in 325 A.D., followed by several anathemas (here as translated in [8], p. 3): "And whosoever shall say that there was a time when the Son of God was not, or that before he was begotten he was not, or that he was made of things that were not, or that he is of a different substance or essence [from the Father] or that he is a creature, or subject to change or conversion—all that so say, the Catholic and Apostolic Church anathematizes them."

Over the next five decades this Creed was used—and adapted to combat new heresies—as evidenced in The Ancoratus written by Epiphanius, Bishop of Salamis and Cyprus (here quoted from [8], p. 163): "The children of the Church have received from the holy fathers, that is from the holy Apostles, the faith to keep, and to hand down, and to teach their children. To these children you belong, and I beg you to receive it and pass it on. And whilst you teach your children these things and such as these from the holy Scriptures, cease not to confirm and strengthen them, and indeed all who hear you : tell them that this is the holy faith of the Holy Catholic Church, as the one holy Virgin of God received it from the holy Apostles of the Lord to keep : and thus every person who is in preparation for the holy laver of baptism must learn it : they must learn it themselves, and teach it expressly, as the one Mother of all, of you and of us, proclaims it, saying ... [then follows the Creed]." The 150 holy fathers of the Second Œcumenical Council—held in Constantinople (now Istanbul, Turkey) in 381 A.D.—adopted, almost word-for-word, the version of the Nicene Creed used by Bishop Epiphanius. Note this first, important use of The Creed—as the means to help teach the Faith to catechumens.

The Third Œcumenical Council—held in Ephesus (site near present-day Selçuk, Izmir Province, Turkey) in 431 A.D.—was convoked against heresies of Nestorios. Prior to examining the dogmas of Nestorios, Juvenal, the Bishop of Jerusalem, caused to "be read the Faith put forth by the 318 most holy Fathers and Bishops who assembled in the city of the Nicaeans, so that utterances regarding the faith being compared with that Forthset [i.e., the dogmas of Nestorios set forth], those which are in harmony with it may be approved, and those not in harmony with it may be cast out. And the Symbol was read..." ([9] p. 50). Later in the sessions of the Council, e.g., letters of St. Cyril (09 June), Archbishop of Alexandria, and St. Leo ("the Great"; 18 February), Archbishop of Rome, that addressed heresies of concern were read and found to be consistent with the Creed, while the writings of Nestorios were condemned as they were not. Note this second, important use of The Creed—as a Canon or Rule of Faith used to evaluate dogmatic statements made by someone or some group.

The basic importance of the Nicene Creed in combatting heresy was also expressed by the Third Œcumenical Council in its Canon VII: "These things having been read aloud, the holy Council then decreed that no one should be permitted to offer any different belief or faith, or in any case to write or compose any other, than the one defined by the Holy Fathers who convened in the city of Nicaea, with [the] Holy Spirit. As for those who dare either to compose a different belief or faith, or to present one, or to offer one to those who wish to return to recognition of the truth, whether they be Greeks or Jews, or they be members of any heresy whatever; they, if Bishops or Clergymen, shall be deprived as Bishops of their Episcopate, and as Clergymen of their Clericate; but if they are Laymen, they shall be anathematized. In an equally applicable way, if any persons be detected or caught, whether Bishops or Clergymen or Laymen, in the act of believing or teaching the things embodied in the exposition (or dissertation) presented by Charisius the Presbyter concerning the inhomination (i.e., incarnation) of the Only-begotten Son of God, or, by any chance, the unholy and perverse dogmas of Nestorius, which have even been subjoined, let them stand liable to the judgment of this holy and Ecumenical Council. As a consequence, that is to say, the Bishop shall be deprived of his Episcopate, and be left deposed from office, while the Clergyman shall likewise forfeit his Clericate. If, on the other hand, any such person be a Layman, let him too be anathematized, as aforesaid."([10] p. 229)

The 680 holy fathers of the Fourth Œcumenical Council—held in Chalcedon (now now a district of the city of Istanbul named Kadıköy, Turkey) in 451 A.D.—caused to be read at both the second and fifth sessions the "symbol" of the 318 fathers at Nicæa and the "holy creed defined by the 150 holy fathers, agreeing with the holy and great council at Nicæa" ([11] pp. 12-13, pp. 202-203). At the second session, after hearing the creed of the 318 fathers, the bishops exclaimed: "This is the faith of the orthodox. This we all believe. In this we were baptized, in this we baptize. ... This is the true faith. This is the holy faith. This is the enternal faith. ... We all believe accordingly. ..." Then the creed of the 150 fathers was read. The bishops again exclaimed: "This is the faith of all. This is the faith of the orthodox. We all believe accordingly." Similar sentiments were given in the fifth session. Note this third, important use of The Creed—as a public expression of the Faith shared among a group of believers (e.g., such as practiced for more than the last fourteen centuries in the Holy Liturgy and Great Compline [12]).

After reading the both of these Creeds back-to-back in the fifth session, the archdeacon of the most holy church of Constantinople continued (emphasis added; [11] pp. 203-204):

"This wise and saving symbol of divine grace sufficed for the perfect knowledge and confirmation of piety, for on the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit its teaching is complete, while to those who receive it faithfully it also sets forth the incarnation of the Lord. Nevertheless those who try to set at nought the preaching of the truth by heresies of their own have propagated nonsense, some daring to destroy the mystery of the dispensation of the Lord on our behalf and denying to the Virgin the name of Theotokos, and others introducing confusion and mixture, mindlessly inventing that there is one nature of flesh and Godhead, and through confusion [of the natures] fantasizing that the divine nature of the Only-begotten is passible; for which reason this holy, great and ecumenical council now present, wishing to close off for them every device against the truth and expound the firmness of the proclamation from of old, has decreed first and foremost that the creed of the 318 holy fathers is to remain inviolate. Furthermore, it confirms the teaching on the essence of the Holy Spirit that was handed down at a later date by the 150 fathers who assembled in the imperial city because of those who were making war on the Holy Spirit; this teaching they made known to all, not as though they were inserting something omitted by their predecessors, but rather making clear by written testimony their conception of the Holy Spirit against those who were trying to deny his sovereignty. And because of those who attempt to destroy the mystery of the dispensation, shamelessly blathering that he who was born of the Holy Virgin Mary is a mere human being, the council has accepted as in keeping [with these creeds] the conciliar letters of the blessed Cyril, then shepherd of the church of Alexandria, to Nestorius and to those of the Orient, for the refutation of the madness of Nestorius and for the instruction of those who with pious zeal seek the meaning of the saving creed. To these letters it has attached appropriately, for the confirmation of the true doctrines, the letter written by the president of the great and senior Rome, the most blessed and holy Archbishop Leo, to Archbishop Flavian, [now] among the saints, for the confutation of the perversity of Eutyches, since it agrees with the confession of the great Peter and is a universal pillar against those with false beliefs. For the council sets itself against those who attempt to dissolve the mystery of the dispensation into a duality of sons, and it removes from the list of priests those who dare to say that the Godhead of the Only-begotten is passible; it opposes those who imagine a mixing or confusion in the case of the two natures of Christ, it expels those who rave that the form of a servant which he took from us was heavenly or of some other substance, and it anathematizes those who invent two natures of the Lord before the union and imagine one nature after the union. Following, therefore, the holy fathers, we all in harmony teach confession of one and the same Son our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and the same perfect in manhood, truly God and the same truly man, of a rational soul and body, consubstantial with the Father in respect of the Godhead, and the same consubstantial with us in respect of the manhood, like us in all things apart from sin, begotten from the Father before the ages in respect of the Godhead, and the same in the last days for us and for our salvation from the Virgin Mary the Theotokos in respect of the manhood, one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, acknowledged in two natures without confusion, change, division, or separation (the difference of the natures being in no way destroyed by the union, but rather the distinctive character of each nature being preserved and coming together into one person and one hypostasis), not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, Only-begotten, God, Word, Lord, Jesus Christ, even as the prophets from of old and Jesus Christ himself taught us about him and the symbol of the fathers has handed down to us. Now that these matters have been formulated by us with all possible care and precision, the holy and ecumenical council has decreed that no one is allowed to produce or compose or construct another creed or to think or teach otherwise. As for those who presume either to construct another creed or to publish or teach or deliver another symbol to those wishing to convert to the knowledge of the truth from paganism or Judaism or from any heresy whatsoever, the council decrees that, if they are bishops or clerics, they are to be deposed, bishops from the episcopate and clerics from the clerical state, while, if they are monks or laymen, they are to be anathematized."

"After the reading of the definition all the most devout bishops exclaimed: ‘This is the faith of the fathers. Let the metropolitans sign at once. Let them sign at once in the presence of the officials. Let this splendid definition suffer no delay. This is the faith of the apostles. To this we all assent. We all believe accordingly.’"

It is important to note how the 680 holy fathers of the Fourth Œcumenical Council—by their acclaimations and statements—basically considered the creedal statements of the 318 fathers and of the 150 fathers to both be the same exposition of the Orthodox Faith, the second simply expounded in a way to make the statements of the first clear. Even the closing portion of their definition (italicized above) paralleled and reinforced Canon VII of the Third Œcumenical Council, forbidding any other creed, indicating the oneness of the two and the Truth embodied therein, and establishing the importance of and protecting "The Symbol of Faith" down through the centuries to the present. And it is this Faith we receive, embrace, assent, and believe!


[1] Shann, G.V., Euchology: A Manual of Prayers of the Holy Orthodox Church done into English, Kidderminster, 1891, pp. 65-66.


[2] Bright, William, The Canons of the First Four General Councils of Nicæa, Constantinople, Ephesus, and Chalcedon with notes, 2nd ed., Oxford, 1892, p. b 2.


[3] In place of Shann's use of the word Consubstantial,"Being of one Essence" is used in Article II, following after Hapgood. (Hapgood, Isabel F., Service Book of the Holy Orthodox-Catholic Apostolic (Greco-Russian) Church, Houghton, Mifflin and Company, Boston, 1906, pp. 152-153.) Consubstantial is an archaic, 15th century English word that was adapted from the Latin consubstantialis, used first in this context by 2nd century ecclesiastical writers to interpret the Greek word ὁμοούσιον ("homoousion", of the same substance). Unless the reader has knowledge of the history and special ecclesiastical meaning of this term, its use might make problematical the correct understanding of the Nature of God.


[4] "Spirit" has replaced Shann's use of the word Ghost in Articles III & VIII following the American Standard Version (1901) of the Holy Bible (as well as the English Revised Version of 1881-1885), which used Holy Spirit in preference to the King James Version's (1611) use of Holy Ghost as the name for the third person of the Holy Trinity. In Old English these two words were synonyms (ghost stemming from the German and spirit from the Latin), but the prevailing sense of ghost makes its use archaic and perhaps misleading to those not adequately catechized in the Nature of God.


[5] "Right" in Article VI has replaced right hand as used by Shann to avoid anyone drawing heretical, anthropomorphic ideas about God the Father. While right hand has long been the predominant way to interpret the Greek δεξιά into English, it is also correct to interpret it simply "right" (as in "on the right"; see, e.g., Liddell, Henry, and Robert Scott, Greek-English Lexicon, 7th ed., Harper & Brothers, New York, 1883). Giving human attributes to God the Father is a long running heresy. An early example can be found in the Audians (a heretical sect named after their founder, a man named Audius from Mesopotamia); in Theodoret's the historian's words ("Heresy of the Audians," Chapter X in the "Ecclesiastical History of Theodoret," History of the Church by Theodoret and Evagrius, Henry G. Bohn, London, 1854, p. 165. Cf. "On the Schism of the Audians. 50, but 70 of the series." in The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis, Books II and III (Sects 47-80, De Fide), Frank Williams, trans., E.J. Brill, Leiden, 1994, pp. 402-418.): "Having never rightly understood these words, 'Let us make man in our own image and in our likeness,' he took it for granted that God had a human form and a body consisting of parts. ..." (A good example of what comes from private interpretation.) That this heresy has survived down to the present is easily ascertained by considering Western Renaissance (and later) art that presumes to portray God in Three Persons; unfortunately, this heresy spread into Russia through Polish rule in Ukraine and Belarus, and through the Westernizing tendencies of the tsars beginning with Boris Godunov during "the Times of Troubles," and had to be addressed in a series of local synods held in Moscow in 1551, 1553-1554, and 1666-1667 (cf. Bigham, Steven, The Image of God the Father in Orthodox Theology and Iconography and Other Studies, Oakwood Publications, Torrance, CA, 1995). For several examples of improper "icons" from the Baroque period in Ukraine, see here; for a more complete treatment of this issue, see The Erroneous Practice of Making Icons of God the Father. To further make the point that the phrase "right hand" as found in the Symbol of Faith, or Holy Scripture, in reference to God the Father in no way is intended to suggest that He has a right hand in the sense that we people do, consider the commentary following below by the Church Fathers on this topic (emphasis added).

St. Ambrose of Milan: "...we believe Christ is our Lord and God and sits at the right hand of God, not that He Who is everywhere sits corporeally. Then He Himself is in the Father, because He is in the Substance of God, because there is one power, one majesty. Therefore, He is in the Father and the Father in Him, because the Word is in God and God is in the Word; He is in the Father, He sits at the right hand of the Father, because He is equal to the Father, second to none;" (Exposition of the Holy Gospel According to Saint Luke, Book X, Section 1, comment on Luke 20:42, Theodosia Tomkinson, trans., Center for Traditionalist Orthodox Studies, Etna, CA, 2003, p. 391.)

St. Jerome: "He demonstrates the power of God through a human image. It is not that a material throne is set up and God the Father is physically seated on it and has the Son seated above with him. Rather he communicates with this metaphor because we could not understand his role as incomparable governor and judge except in our own terms…. Being on the right or left of God is to be understood as meaning that saints are on his right but sinners on his left. … The very word sits denotes the power of kingship, through which God confers benefits on those above whom he is seated. He has reined them in and has them in his service, guiding those who had previously strayed." (Epistle to the Ephesians 1.1.21, comment on Ephesians 1:20, Patrologia cursus completus, Series Latina, Vol. 26, J.-P. Migne, ed., Paris, 1844–1864, 460B–461A [564–566], as quoted in Galatians, Ephesians, Phillippians, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament, VIII, Mark J. Edwards, ed., Inter Varsity Press, Downers Grove, Il. 1999, p. 123.)

St. John Chrysostom: “He sat” (saith he) “on the right hand of the Majesty on high.” What is this “on high”? Doth he enclose God in place? Away with such a thought! but just as, when he saith, “on the right hand,” he described Him not as having figure, but [only] shewed His equality of dignity with the Father; so, in saying “on high,” he did not enclose Him there, but expressed the being higher than all things, and having ascended up above all things. That is, He attained even unto the very throne of the Father: as therefore the Father is on high, so also is He. For the “sitting together” implies nothing but equality of dignity. But if they say, that He said, “Sit Thou,” we may ask them, What then? did He say [this] to Him standing? Moreover, he said not that He commanded, nor that He enjoined, but that “He said”: for no other reason, than to hinder thee from thinking Him without origin and without cause. For that this is why he said it, is evident from the place of His sitting. For had he intended to signify inferiority, he would not have said, “on the right hand,” but on the left hand. (Homilies on the Epistle of St. Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews,"Homily II, Hebrews i.3," T. Keble, trans., James Parker & Co., Oxford, 1877, p. 25-26.)


[6] "Living" has replaced the archaic "quick" of Shann in Article VII to avoid possible confusion on the part of modern readers, again following the language update of the ASV to the KJV (cf. Acts 10:42).


[7] "Confess" has replaced Shann's use of "acknowledge" in Article X. The original Greek word in question is Ὁμολογουμεν [2], for which the Liddell-Scott lexicon [5] (p. 1051) suggests "allow, admit, confess, concede, grant" might be among the possible interpretations. Translations of the Creed from the Greek into English (rather than the Russian used by Shann)—such as that published by Masters (A.M.D.G., The Divine Liturgy of our Father Among the Saints, John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople, Joseph Masters, London, 1866, p. 59) and that of Nicholas Bjerring (The Offices of the Oriental Church, Randolph, New York, 1884, p. 295)—seem to prefer "confess," and so the change as found here.


[8] Percival, Henry, The Seven Ecumenical Councils of the Undivided Church, Vol. XIV, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, 2nd Series, Schaff and Wace, eds., Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, 1900.


[9] Authoritative Christianity, the Six Synods of the Undivided Church, ... the Third Council of the Whole Christian World, East and West, Which was Held A.D. 431 at Ephesus in Asia, Vol. I, James Chrystal, trans., New Jersey, 1895.


[10] The Rudder (Pedalion)..., D. Cummings, trans., The Orthodox Christian Educational Society, Chicago, Illinois. 1957.


[11] The Acts of the Council of Chalcedon, Vol. Two, Price and Gaddis, trans., Liverpool University Press, Liverpool, 2005.


[12] Authoritative Christianity, p. 51 fn 139: "... the Third Council of Toledo, in 589, in its Second Canon, ordered 'that in all the Churches' throughout all the Spanish dominions of that day, 'in accordance with the form of the Oriental Churches, the Symbol of the Faith of the Council of Constantinople must be recited, that is that of the One Hundred and Fifty Bishops.' It is there specified that it be said by the people in a clear voice before the Lord's Prayer and the Eucharist, which would mean, of course, its recitation every Lord's Day, and whenever the Lord's Supper was celebrated. Since then it has been in much more common use in the whole Church, West and East, than the Creed of Nicaea. ..."