Orthodox America

  A More perfect Unity

    What Christian does not desire the unity of all who profess Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. And yet, within the Christian community we encounter divisiveness at all levels: denominational, jurisdictional, parish, family... Even as individuals we suffer from a lack of harmony within ourselves.

      Division among Christians is nothing new, nor is it a peripheral consideration. Our Lord warned: A house divided against itself shall not stand (Matt. 12:25), and in his High Priestly prayer, shortly before His Passion, He willed that His followers all may be one: as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee (John 17:21). He prayed not only for those who already believed on Him, but for them also which shall believe on Me through their word. In his epistles, St. Paul repeatedly speaks out against allowing divisiveness to enter the Church: Now I beseech you, brethren...that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined, together in the same mind and the same judgment  ( 1 Cor. 1:10). The same Apostle enjoins the faithful to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph. 4:3). At each Divine Liturgy, we petition the Lord "for the good estate of the holy churches of God, and the union of all," and "that He may confirm in us oneness of mind, brotherly love and piety."

      In the Holy Trinity, that "highest mystery of theology," we are given an example of the most perfect unity: "threefold Sun in Persons, but single in Essence," "in division undivided," "possessing an identity of will," "their only difference being in the specific nature of each one of them." Similarly, the Body of Christ is comprised of different members performing different functions but all joined together.

      During the first millennium of its existence, the Christian community was attacked by various heresies which threatened to divide it, but its unity was preserved through the God-inspired work of the Ecumenical Councils. After the Schism of 1054, however, many Christians found themselves outside the Church as it was historically established on the day of Pentecost. Over the years these Christians further separated into countless fragments, which today's ecumenical movement seeks to reunite. Unfortunately, the noble aim of these gatherings is spoiled by an inclusive philosophy; they seem to be aiming at a lowest common denominator rather than charting a return to the undivided and indivisible Body of Christ. Nevertheless, we should take the opportunity to work with these Christians on issues of common concern: abortion, pornography, offensive television programming...

      If division among Christians is grievous, strife within the Body of Christ is even less tolerable. True, we cannot dismiss jurisdictional differences, but neither should they be magnified. In our personal relationships with fellow ' Orthodox believers, we would do better to emphasize the Faith which unites us rather than dwelling on points of difference. We should try to open channels of communication, contact and cooperation. As members of the Body of Christ--the one, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church--we Orthodox Christians have a responsibility to manifest a unity that others may see and believe and come to a knowledge of the truth.

      In the Acts of the Apostles we read that the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul. We should strive for a like oneness, especially in our parishes. Each of us has his ideas of "how things should be done," but if we could refrain from insistently voicing our opinion on every trifle and offer instead our cooperation--to the priest, the sisterhood, the warden--our parishes could function more smoothly and gain a potential for greater spiritual vitality. Negative criticism can likewise be very detrimental to parish life, especially when it is directed toward the priest or in some way undermines his authority. We should make every effort to avoid anything which causes contention or divisiveness within the parish family

       Unity is particularly important at the parish level since our primary purpose in coming together is for common prayer. Our Lord said: If two of yet, shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them... (Matt. 18:19). What agreement can we have if we are filled with contention? What togetherness can there be if our minds are constantly leaving the church? Too often we relate to the Church as isolated individuals rather than members who together comprise, the Body of Christ. As St. John of Kronstadt writes, common prayer helps to promote an awareness of this mystical relationship:


      What docs the holy Church instill in us by putting into our mouths during prayer, both at home and in church, prayers addressed not by a single Person, but by all together? She instills in us constant mutual love in order that we should always love one another as our own selves--in order that, imitating God in three Persons, constituting the highest Unity, we should ourselves be one formed of many.


      The same observations hold true for the house church--the family. Today's families are increasingly fragmented: many are wounded by divorce; in families where both parents work, tight or conflicting schedules limit the time spent together; television has eroded personal interaction; children are becoming socially independent at an earlier age. The radical secularization of society makes it all the more imperative for the Orthodox family to resist these tendencies. While preserving a reasonable flexibility, schedules should be arranged so that the family is together for evening meals; a similar effort should be made to say morning and evening prayers together; children should accompany parents to church as a matter of course---not choice. Those raised within a unified family structure are more likely to be responsible and productive members of the Body of Christ.

      Finally, as individuals we should strive towards a personal wholeness, a harmonious integration of mind, soul and body. When we sense an inner conflict, a "warring in our members," we should agree with our "adversary', our conscience. Integrity is achieved only when our words and actions match our convictions. The struggle to lead an Orthodox life is not easy; it is tempting to reserve our Orthodoxy for "Sunday best," and wear something more "comfortable" at work, at home or among friends. Instead, our Faith should be a consistent focus, a framework for our everyday behavior, our actions, our thoughts.

      By striving towards greater oneness, we shall not only strengthen our Orthodox witness to the world; we shall experience for ourselves the words of the Psalmist: Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for the brethren to dwell together in unity.