This article first appeared in the Adbook for the
1996 Midwest Region Parish Life Conference hosted by
St. Elias Orthodox Church in Sylvania, OH
The Icon of Unity
by Nicholas P. Papas
The icon of Christ as the true vine is a wonderful image of church unity. In it, the Church gives yet another teaching image when combined with the words of Jesus transcribed by the evangelist John (John 15). We read of the relationship between the Father, Christ and man. In the icon, the Apostles represent mankind, the husbandman Father is implicated in the depiction of a healthy vine, and Christ is present as the powerful source and center of the branches. The Apostles draw their strength and life from Christ. As an image of unity, the most important aspect is that Jesus Christ is the source and center. Without Christ there is nothing to unify, nourish and give life. Indeed, without this nourishment it is not possible to bear fruit and the barren branches will be taken away by the husbandman. Yet when the branches abide in Christ, He abides in them. Abiding in Christ brings about the fulfillment of His loving promise that we thereby find that our joy may be full.
What a marvelous image of Christian unity for everyday life, too. We see that eclectic group, the Apostles; from Our Lord’s beloved John; to Matthias, chosen late by the drawing of straws; to the denying Peter; to Thomas the doubter. It’s a dissimilar, rag-tag group of men. But they are united more powerfully than any group in history. This is a mystery. For without losing individual character they remain one in their faith. God abides in their hearts. This is what mystically unites them. The reality of this has meaning to today’s Christians. Just like that eclectic band, the Apostles, the diverse group which are the individuals of today’s church are united when they abide in the nourishing vine, Christ. For if the fruit-bearing Apostles, made one by common faith, are the icon of Christian unity, then we see that unity is possible only with Christ as the source and center. For as Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches.”