God’s desire for unity

John 17 is often sited for the cause of the ecumenical movements desire for reconciliation of “Christians”. It is true that Christ said these things but when the Scriptures are considered closely then it appears that the ecumenical movement has taken the words out of context.The unity that Christ desired in firstly grounded in Faith (John 17: 8-9) and in Himself, which also unites one into the Trinity (John 17:21-26). It is not a desire for all people to be united as an end in itself but all to be united in Himself. Those in Him are one because He is one. Thus unity is found not in humans agreeing with each other but in agreeing with Christ.

This agreement with Christ is through faith. This does not mean only the act of believing itself but also what one believes. One may be sincere and faithful in one’s belief but if one does not believe in Christ then such a belief is of no avail. Thus, union with Christ requires a union of faith, being of one mind and believing the same thing, the faith of Christ.

The Fathers of the Church summarised this Faith in the Creed, or the “Faith”. The Nicene-Constantinoplian Faith (as the Greek word for Creed is literally translated.) Thus, to accept the Faith of Christ and to be united to Him requires one to accept this Faith as it is without adding to it or subtracting from it. Unfortunately, the western Churches, added to this Faith and began to confess something different from the Faith of the Church. Eventually, when they showed themselves entrenched in the proclamation of this different Faith they became separated from Christ.

Being separated from Christ means separation from the Church and from the Holy Spirit. Even though those in many of these groups are referred to as “Christians” and their gathering/organisations are called “churches”, they are not properly so unless they are united to Christ, sharing one Faith with Him and with those whom also share this Faith. Because the Church on earth is the Incarnate presence of Christ, then it is seen in its physical presence that is linked through the laying on of hands, baptism and the Eucharist. Without the participation in these there is no participation in the Church. Those who have broken the physical connection with the Church must, along with accepting the Faith of the Church, also be physically reunited with the Church before being reunited with her. So, groups outside the Church cannot reunite with the Church by a mere confession of the Faith but they must each personally be physically brought back in the Church and established in the Church with a properly ordained Priest under a recognised Bishop.

On these grounds, the talk of reunion with those groups outside the Church, such as the various Protestant Churches, the Anglican Church and the Roman Catholic Church, is a mistaken, if it is based on a premise that these bodies are real Churches in Christ between whom there has somehow been a rift rather than a cutting off. Rather, it must be understood that a “reunion” of those other churches, also called “Christian churches”, can only come about not through an agreed declaration of faith that is acceptable to all within their present “traditions”, as if these are all different expressions of the one Tradition, but through repentance and the agreement with the Faith of the Church, abandoning their own “traditions” and accepting those of the Church. Each person so “reuniting” (“uniting” is a better term because almost all such persons have never been united personally to Christ, the Church) with the Church must be physically established in the Church through baptism, or perhaps at least the physical anointing of chrismation as an act of economy once they declare the Faith of the Church and renounce errors. There can be no corporate “reunion” because outside of Christ there is no true unity in a church but rather a collection of individuals. Only in Christ is the Church truly united and one body.

So, God does desire union, but in Himself, in Christ and in His faith, in accepting His words. Christ prays for those accepting His words and not for the world. Those bodies separated from the Church are not churches in the true sense of the word and Christ does not desire the union of such groups as an end in itself but rather repentance and coming to Him to be united to the Church. There is a requirement for the Church to accept those who desire to repent but none to unite with other groups who claim to be Christian and even hold many of the same beliefs. Rather it is to speak the truth clearly in love to keep open the way for repentance, while rejecting those who refuse to repent of error as sons of perdition because in this state they are indeed bound for eternal perdition being apart from Christ; it isn’t “nice” but it is the reality. Christ’s love requires that the errors need to be identified in discussions and the truth made clear to allow repentance. Identifying common areas of faith helps to ground teaching of understanding towards the truth but it is the errors that have caused the division and these need to be constantly noted and shown for what they are. One must accept what the Church, Christ, accepts and reject what the Church, Christ, rejects. Again, it is of no avail to accept what the Church accepts but fail to reject what she rejects, that is leaving those groups persisting in error and joining the Church, the pillar of the Truth.

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10 Responses to God’s desire for unity

  1. Sophocles says:

    Father Patrick,

    I really appreciated this post.

    I wrote about it(and you) at:

    http://molonlabe70.blogspot.com/2007/12/father-patrick-monk-and-his-blog-sacred.html

  2. Joseph says:

    I can understand this in its broadness, but not in its particular. To what are you specifically referring? Are you saying that someone needs to lay hands on the priests of the Catholic Church or the Pope of Rome himself? I’m not sure I follow.

  3. Joseph,

    From the Orthodox perspective, the churches in communion with Old Rome, have been separated from the Church for centuries. They have lost the physical connection with the Church and so each member regardless of rank, is required to be physically united with the Church, this includes the Pope of Rome. Also, there is no priesthood outside the Church, so there is no priesthood, in Christ, in those bodies separated from the Church.

    Also, although commonly used as a reference to the Roman Catholic Church, especially in relation to Protestant groups, from the Orthodox perspective “Catholic Church” properly refers to the Orthodox Church; it is one and the same Catholic Church as referred to by the pre-Schism Fathers. So, as this term is claimed by both parties as properly belonging to itself, it is best, on this blog at least, to add Roman to help distinguish which body is being discussed.

  4. Joseph says:

    Ah, I understand your position now.

  5. Fr. Michael says:

    God be praised for this cogent and clear articulation. I would dearly love to use the above post attributed, unabridged and unedited as a limited distribution pamphlet for students at our university, and I would like to link it from several of our sites.

  6. monkpatrick says:

    Fr Michael,

    Please feel free to use the post and to link to it, if you wish.

  7. Monk Patrick,

    Although I certainly follow the reasoning of the above post, I feel that I must respectfully dissent for theological and existential reasons.

    After my first visit to an Orthodox church (an OCA parish in Indiana), I had an email exchange with a hardline ROCOR-L monk who basically said that 98% of the Orthodox parishes in the US have graceless sacraments because of either the overly ecumenical gestures by their hierarchs or because they were in communion with somebody who was in communion with somebody who was in communion with somebody who was a heretic for whatever reason OR simply by virtue of being on the New Calendar. I know ex-Protestant converts to Catholicism who have had similar experiences with the Diamond brothers of Most Holy Family Monastery who are convinced that everyone in the “Vatican II Church” is going to hell. I will ignore the obvious emotional implications of these views and stick with the substance of the argument. Ultimately, I believe that the strictest possible application of the principles outlined above to ecclesiastical history would logically imply the non-existence of the Church, period, with respect to both the Western and Eastern Churches.

    Minimally, from an Orthodox perspective the RCC is an ecclesial body subject to serious and spiritually dangerous theological errors with whom the Orthodox have rightfully severed communion. Maximally, Roman Catholics are no better off than Mormons and Arians all apparent signs of santification and truth within her should be viewed with the most extreme skepticism. Presently, I am a kind of miminalist, but I can understand why Eastern bishops in the past approached maximalism after the hardening megalomaniacal stance of the medieval Popes and sacking of Constantinople. I can affirm that Rome is in error without having to explain why every post-Schism Catholic saint ever was in reality demon-possessed. I’d rather claim that the Orthodox are right, at some point the Roman Church fell into error and that God works in mysterious ways than claim epistemic access to principles that definitionally reason Christianity out of existence.

  8. Neochalcedonian,

    I understand that the strict application of the reasoning of the post can lead to the position of the ROCOR-L monk. However, this does not mean that the reasoning is wrong.

    God is long-suffering and Churches can remain united for decades, or even centuries, even if they do not agree on every point of Faith. However, there is a time that sin and heresy leads to separation, which is usually mutual such as with Rome. This is because positions are hardened and those in error have closed themselves to ready repentance in knowledge. Thus, even though Rome started to depart from the Church fairly early, it wasn’t until it became ingrained in its own path that separation eventually happened around the time of the Schism and continued to be reinforced with attempts at reconciliation and of course the events of 1204.

    I believe that there are problems in the Church today but not in an unrepentant manner. There are many Bishops, clergy and laity that hold fast to the traditions of the Church in Faith and practice even though remaining in communion with those doing otherwise. Mercy triumphs over judgement. The canonical structure and Mysteries help the Church through times of heretical and sinful Bishops, otherwise we end up with the fractured mess of the Old Calendarists, who nevertheless stand as a reminder to those in the Church of the need for repentance and purity.

  9. Hieromonk Ambrose says:

    The recent interview with Metropolitan Kallistos Ware after Lambeth provides some intriguing counterpoints tp ypuirn writing, in particular his statement that the Orthodox and the Anglicans form an invisible union in the Body of Christ.

    Presumably these daringly innovative ecclessiological statements reflect those of the Ecumenical Patriarch and the Synod of Bishops.

    http://www.prayerbookatlambeth.org/interviews/2008/7/28/an-interview-with-the-most-revd-kallistos-ware-archbishop-of.html

    He also seems to offer the “hope” that the Orthodox may one day come round to an acceptance of women bishops and gay bishops. It is not possible at the moment, he says, but the Church may examine the matter and come to different conclusions in the future.

    I think that I much prefer the speech which Cardinal Kasper delivered at
    Lambeth. While speaking just as politely as the Oxford Greek Metropolitan,
    he left the Anglicans in no doubt that female clergy and same-sex marriages would never be acceptable.

    At Lambeth, Cardinal Kasper, the Pope’s representative at the conference of
    Anglican bishops, asked them to return to the model of the apostolic Church.
    No to women bishops, and to gay bishops.
    The complete text of the address
    http://chiesa.espresso.repubblica.it/articolo/206069?eng=y

    By contrast our Metropolitan seems to have betrayed the apostolic faith and
    offered the Anglicans hope that one day the Orthodox will come round to
    accepting these aberrations in church life and morality. I am sure that the
    Anglican cup of joy is overflowing at hearing this from Metropolitan
    Kallistos.

  10. Mark Downham says:

    Hieromonk Ambrose,

    Exactly where in the interview does Metropolitan Kallistos Ware apear to express his approbation for Gay Bishops? Given Evangelicals are the majority in Church of England and a Living Expression of the Glorious Visible and Invisible Communion of 700 Million Evangelicals Worldwide, we will NEVER accept Gay Bishops and we will reform the Church with Fire and nothing is going to stop us – it is a Divine Commission – ALL Evangelical are bound by this Commission and anyone who decides to endorse Gay Bishops will be excluded from the Kingdom – the Book of Revelation is clear on this one matter.

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