Orthodox America

That They May Be One  

    The life of Christ the Saviour presents the reader of the Holy Gospels with numerous great moments which fill the soul with some special sense of grandeur. But perhaps the greatest moment in the life of all mankind was that occasion when, in the darkness of a southern night, under the hanging arches of trees just turning green, through which heaven itself seemed to be looking at the sinful earth with twinkling stars, the Lord Jesus Christ. in His High Priestly prayer, proclaimed:

     "Holy Father, keep in Your name them whom You have given to Me, that they may be one, as We are one .... not for these alone do I pray, but also for those who will ever come to believe in Me through their word and teaching. So that they all may be one as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be one in Us" (John 17:11,20-21).

     Special attention must be focused upon these words of Christ, for in them the essence of all Christianity is clearly defined. Christianity is not some sort of abstract teaching which is accepted by the mind and found by each person separately. To the contrary, Christianity is a life in which separate persons are so united amongst themselves that their unity can be likened to the unity of the Persons of the Holy Trinity. Christ did not pray only that His teaching be preserved so that it would spread throughout all the universe. He prayed for the unification of all those believing in Him. Christ prayed to His Heavenly Father for the establishment, more correctly, for the restoration on earth of the natural unity of all mankind, [for] mankind was created from one common origin and of one source.

    According to the words of Saint Basil the Great, "Mankind would have neither divisions nor discord, nor wars if sin had not cleaved its nature:" and, "this is the main aim of God's saving embodiment of His temple in man--to bring human nature into unity with Himself and with the Saviour. Then, having destroyed the evil part, to re-establish the original unity as the best physician, through curative treatment, again mends the body which has degenerated." The Church is formed of this unification of individuals; not of the Apostles only, but of all those who believe in Christ according to their words. No earthly thing has ever been found which could be compared to the new community of saved people. There is no form of unity on earth with which one could compare the unity that is the Church. Such unity was found only in heaven. In heaven, the incomparable love of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit unites three Persons into one Being so that there are not three Beings, but One God living a triune life. Those people about whom Christ prayed to the Heavenly Father: "that the love with which You have loved Me may be in them, and I in them," are also called to such a love which could fuse many into a state of oneness

     In the aforementioned words of Christ, the truth of the Church is placed into the tightest union with the mystery of the All Holy Trinity. People who enter the Church and love her become like the three Persons of the Holy Trinity, whose love unites them into one being. The Church is like a one essence of many persons, created by the moral beginning of love. This is precisely the theme which is perceived in the first sacred prayer of Christ the Saviour by very many of the eminent Fathers and Teachers of the Church--Saint Cyprian of Carthage, Saint Basil the Great, Saint Gregory of Nyssa, Saint Ambrose of Milan, Saint Hilary of Poitiers, Saint Cyril of Alexandria, Augustine of Hippo and Saint John Cassian.

     According to the teaching of the Apostle, all Church life is a manifestation of God's Holy Spirit; each manifestation of love, each virtue is the action of a gift of the Spirit. Everything is produced by one and the same Spirit. According to the -words of the Apostle Peter, people are but stewards of the manifold grace of God (I Peter 4:10). The Spirit of God has, by its own power, penetrated the entire body of the Church and given various spiritual gifts to each of its members, making possible a new life for mankind. It unites all into one body, unifying in such a way as to instill a kind of love in the hearts of men which, in their natural state, cannot be a principle of their lives and relationships with other people. 

The Church is the realization of Christ’s love and any separation from the Church is a violation of this love – St. Cyprian of Carthage

     Love is of God--this dictum of the Apostle John can be termed as the general theme of a whole series of apostolic discourses. Love is given the title "of God." The love of Christ controls the members of the Church (II Car. 5:14). The Lord is the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 6:22). God's love is poured out into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, which is given to us (Rom. 5:5). God saved us by means of the renewing action of the Holy Spirit which He shed freely upon us through Jesus Christ our Saviour (Tit. 3:5-6).

    Thus, the Holy Spirit Which dwells in the Church gives each member of the Church strength to become a new creature whose life is guided by love. The teaching of the Apostle Paul concerning the Church is inseparably linked with his teaching of love as the fundamental principle of Christian life. This connection is little noticed by contemporary scholarly commentators, but the holy Fathers of the Church point it out .... St. John Chrysostom, interpreting the words "a single body," says:

    "Paul demands from us a love that would bind us together, making us inseparable one from another, and of such complete unity that we seem to be members of one body. Only such a love as this produces great good." 

(Excerpted from Christianity or the Church? by New Martyr Archbishop Ilarion, Jardanville, 1971)