Saturday, October 1, 2016

Oneness, Ένωσις

‘What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder’ (Mark 10:9). Yes, yes, I know. Christ is here speaking about the indissolubility of marriage. Of course, He is, and I accept it. I agree with Christ, and with the prophets, who declare, ‘I hate divorce’ (Malachi 2:16). But there are more meanings to the word ‘divorce’ just as there are more meanings to ‘adultery.’ Just as adultery is taken to mean, unfaithfulness to the Lord, in addition to marital infidelity, so divorce can surely refer to the rending of the seamless robe of Christ, that is, the Church, dividing it. It can also mean driving a wedge between Christ and His Bride.

Christ prays to His Father, ‘I ask not only on behalf of these men, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their message, so that they may all be one. Just as you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be one in us, so that the world may believe that you sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, so that they may be one, just as we are one. I am in them, and you are in me. May they be completely one, so that the world may know that you sent me and that you have loved them as you loved me’ (John 17:20-23).

It has always baffled me, how we Christians can read these words in the Holy Gospel, and continue going our separate, even competitive, ways. Here we have the Son of God, whom we say we believe in, whom we claim to know personally, who we claim has saved us, who we testify lives in our hearts and in our midst, here we have Him speaking in our hearing—through the mercy of God disclosed to His beloved disciple John—a prayer that cannot go unanswered, a request that cannot be refused, the prayer of not just any son to any father, but of the Son of God to His Heavenly Father.

Do we just ignore this prayer? Do we pretend that it has nothing to do with us? Do we think Christ is praying for some other people to be one? He can’t certainly mean us, I mean, we are the Orthodox, ‘we have seen the true Light, we have received the heavenly Spirit, we have found the true faith, worshiping the undivided Trinity who has saved us.’ We are already one, just as He prayed. It’s not our fault if those others who say they’re Christians don’t join us. If they really believed in Christ, they would be standing here with us. We’re not working against His prayer; they are.

Doro doro doro doro doro…

I am a Greek Orthodox Christian, as many of you know, and I am a member of an Antiochian (Arabic) Orthodox parish. I write as a follower of Jesus, hopefully even as a disciple. Sometimes I write to my fellow Orthodox, but usually I write to all the brethren, to all who love and believe in Jesus. Of course I can’t help sharing the faith treasury of the ancient Church, because that’s what surrounds me. Triple immersion for me is not just the Orthodox triple dunk in the waters of baptism. It’s also immersion in the Holy and Divine Scriptures, in the Undivided Tradition, and in the Sacred Mysteries.

I am unashamed to call anyone ‘brother’ who offers worship to the God-man Jesus the Christ, even if they do not know the truths that I know. I am certain that Christ is, as Paul writes, ‘the Savior of the whole human race, but particularly of all believers’ (1 Timothy 4:10), but I am also not a Universal Salvationist, if only on the grounds that such trifling with the will of God approaches blasphemy. I keep the saying of my Orthodox mentors, ‘Let God be God.’ That includes letting Him be Savior as well as Judge. Yet, here we are making it hard for each other, instead of making peace.

Since the earliest times, doctrinal controversies have continued to prune away believers from the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. Of course, I know this phrase, used by Churches that claim the faith of at least the Council of Nicæa, did not exist at the very beginning. I know that those who have been pruned away all through history rejected the idea that they were pruned, and made the ‘big Church’ the culprit. So does it now boil down to who has the most members? Have we looked at that tree lately that we’ve been pruning for centuries? Could we have pruned off some of the more fruitful branches?

What bewilders me is, we have let doctrine divide us when Christ is here to unite us. How do we think we have been saved? Was it by doctrine? It’s true that Paul says, ‘The gospel will save you only if you keep believing what was preached to you. Believing anything else will not lead to anything’ (1 Corinthians 15:2), but just what is the gospel? Paul tells us, if we will believe him, ‘Remember the gospel that I carry: Jesus Christ risen from the dead, sprung from the race of David’ (2 Timothy 2:8), and, ‘I am not ashamed of the gospel: it is the power of God saving all who have faith’ (Romans 1:16). Can it really be that simple?

Yes, the Church has recognized a body of doctrine, starting with the simple, direct truth of the gospel that holy apostle Paul writes about. This should’ve been enough for us, but in combating heresies—yes, there are such things, though they would ‘not lead to anything’ (1 Corinthians 15:2) and if left alone would eventually self-destruct, as the psalmist declares, ‘He dug a pit, hollowed it out, only to fall into his own trap!’ (Psalm 7)—in combating heresies, we have unwittingly condemned generations of believers who came afterwards, because they merely differ from us, often on non-essentials.

Yes, I have said, continue to say, and keep believing, ‘The Church is not divided, never has been, and never can be.’ This is not my own saying, but I heard it once almost thirty years ago at a retreat given by an Orthodox priest. It seems to agree with scripture. It seems to affirm and believe in the priestly prayer of the Lord Jesus Christ. Whatever the Church looks like, however we have jurisdictionalized it, regardless of what we say the Bible means, despite our doctrines and dogmas however true, the reality of Oneness, Ένωσις (énosis), prevails in the Church. Christ is no polygamist. He has only One Bride.

So we refuse to agree on what Christ means when He says, ‘Take and eat; this is my body,’ what He intends when He says, ‘Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins’ (Matthew 26:26-28). We refuse to agree on what Christ reveals when He says, ‘No one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again’ (John 3:3), even when He clarifies, ‘No one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit’ (John 3:5). But can any of us disagree on this? ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?’ (John 11:25-26).

There are many places in the Holy Bible where we are offered life and salvation, both personally and corporately, many examples in both Old and New Testaments of how God works when we let Him work with us. Our history, and our divisions, are sad testimonials of our failure to follow the Lord. We compare ourselves favorably to Christians of other communities, from whom we have divorced ourselves, even when no legal writ of divorce can be found. We excuse ourselves when we divorce ourselves from non-Christians, and believe we are justified, ‘Come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you’ (2 Corinthians 6:17).

Still we stand under threat of the greater excommunication by the Lord, who walks, concealed in our neighbors—all of them, including Muslims, Jews, atheists, homosexuals, homeless people, and everyone else we think detestable for whatever reason. ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life’ (Matthew 25:41-46).

I was thinking about Oneness, Ένωσις (énosis), and somehow I find I have drifted into thinking about its true and, finally, its only opposite, eternal punishment. Faced with these two alternatives, I tremble for myself, for the Church, and for humanity. For the Only-Lover of Mankind, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ says that He ‘came to seek and to save the lost’ (Luke 19:10), and, ‘There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; the very words I have spoken will condemn them at the last day’ (John 5:45). What clearer word could He ever have left with us?

… everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall…
Matthew 7:26-27

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