There is absolutely no way to understand that 43,000 denominations EACH teaching a different ‘truth’ about God, can be considered as the same unity that exists in the Holy Trinity. The Holy Trinity is united in essence and doctrine, in will and love. Jesus said, ‘He who has seen Me, has seen the Father’ (John 14.9). Forty-three thousand denominations do not share essence, doctrine, will, and often hatred and judgment rather than love for each other; each Church professing they ‘have’ the truth and others are the Church in name only.
As Orthodox Christians we take seriously Jesus Christ’s prayer for unity in essence and doctrine, will and love. This is why we do not share Communion with those outside the Church or who are divided from the Church. The Eucharist is the expression of our unity in Orthodoxy, but it is not a vehicle to achieve that unity. As Orthodox Christians, with communities on every continent on the face of the Earth, we are already united with people of all races in the Holy and Sacred Chalice during Divine Liturgy. The Orthodox Church has already conquered racism globally. We just have a bit more work to do locally in our individual willingness to embrace others in our Churches.
So my invitation to the city of Florence… Come to Church, be Orthodox, and we will enjoy the unity that Christ calls each of us in our heart.
— Fr Athanasios Haros
This is going to be short, (but not short enough), because I have a lot of chores to do today. I noticed an article by Fr Haros from which I excerpted the last part. He talks about the unity of the Church and points out that there are forty-three thousand denominations, each teaching their own version of Christianity, so they cannot be the Church.
I have great respect for Fr Haros and for all clergy within the Greek Orthodox Church, but I disagree with them when they imply that those who do not belong to the Orthodox Church are ‘outside the Church.’ He says the reason we deny Communion to those ‘outside the Church’ is because we take seriously Christ’s prayer to the Father for unity in essence and doctrine.
Christ’s prayer to the Father in John’s gospel is for unity of essence, yes, but nowhere does Christ Himself even speak of doctrine. He never says, ‘Indoctrinate one another, as I have indoctrinated you,’ but only ‘Love one another, as I have loved you.’ I am not denying the place of doctrine, only pointing out that it is not Christ’s priority, nor does He deny anyone access to Him who wants it.
When it comes to doctrine, I would say that the doctrines of Christology take priority, who Christ is and what He does for us, over every other. I would also say that a vast majority of Christians believe what is symbolized so concisely in the Nicene Creed. Those who claim to be Christians and deny the historicity of the Church in its various forms and the historic doctrinal faith, I agree, need to be enlightened.
But even they, for their mistaken ideologies and practices, cannot be denied to be members of Christ and the Church. It seems to me, the disunity in the Church derives not from what the majority of Christians believe about Christ’s identity and plan of salvation, but from disagreements that by and large stem from churchly matters, who do we listen to? who are we under? how do we do this or that?
The Orthodox Church holds the Church hostage by its over-protection of the Communion Cup. Christ does not need to be protected from the people either, which is the impression we often get from the manner in which sacramental theology is imparted to the laity. ‘No communion unless one is baptised and chrismated Orthodox and prepared under the guidance of their spiritual father.’ A nice formula, this.
The challenge for the Church of today is to discard the label ‘Orthodox’ if it means turning away Christians of other Nicene confessions: Catholics, Episcopalians, Lutherans, and Methodists at the very least, and probably Presbyterians, Brethren, and even some Baptists. The challenge is to not insist on uniformity in tradition and practice, laying burdens on others which we hardly satisfy ourselves.
The Church is the Church is the Church. It is the Communion of Love. Those who claim Christ are saved by Him because He saves even us in spite of our moral failings and, yes, even our doctrinal error, blindness and hypocrisy. The challenge for the Church is to be what it is, all human beings on earth, called to the life of salvation, in the process of being integrated with each other into a Body whose Head is Jesus.
Anything the Church does to excuse itself from this most extreme of all inclusivenesses gives the lie to that very Christ whom we say we take seriously when He asks His Father that we ‘all may be one’ as He and the Father are One. The challenge for the Church is not to ask other Christians to ‘come to Church, be Orthodox,’ but to demonstrate how Christ is among us, all of us, who believe in Jesus Christ.
Whatever ‘Church’ is willing to take the first step will be first to cross the Finish Line. The ‘God-protected City’ needs no walls, since Christ and the Theotokos are its salvation. ‘Let us, who mystically represent the cherubim and sing the thrice-holy hymn to the life-giving trinity, lay aside all worldly cares,’ for if we take this seriously, ‘we will receive the King of all, visibly escorted by the angelic hosts. Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.’