This article first appeared in the Adbook for the
1996 Midwest Region Parish Life Conference hosted by
St. Elias Orthodox Church in Sylvania, OH
What Is Unity?
by Father Christopher Holwey
The theme of our Parish Life Conference this year is: “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity” (Psalm 133:1). As we contemplate the meaning of this verse, it is obvious to us that one of the key words in this passage is unity. What, then, does it mean for us to dwell together in unity?
The dictionary defines unity as the state of being one; the state, quality, or condition of accord or agreement; singleness or constancy of purpose or action; the combination or arrangement of parts into a whole. After reading this, and keeping our focus within the life of the Orthodox Church, it seems to me that the real origin or prototype of our understanding or definition of unity, of being of one accord, purpose or action, or combination of parts into a whole, is found within the nature of the Godhead, the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
We know from Holy Scripture that “The Lord our God is one Lord” (Deut. 6:4), and that there is “one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all” (Eph. 4:6). It is the teaching of the Orthodox Church, therefore, that there is only one God of us all because there is only one Father of us all. We also know from these verses and many others that when the name of God is used in Scripture, it refers mainly to the Father Himself, which means that the Son is referred to as the Son of God, and the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of God, each coming from the Father in their own unique way. When the Jews claimed to have “one Father, even God,” Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I proceeded and came forth from God; I came not of my own accord, but he sent me” (John 8:42). Later, Jesus told of the coming of the Counselor, “…whom I shall send to you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father…” (John 15:26). The point, then, is that from the beginning, before time, the Son and the Holy Spirit are forever one with the Father, perfectly united with Him in their divine and uncreated essence and being, yet distinct in their personhood: three Persons, yet one divine Godhead.
Furthermore, throughout the Gospel according to St. John alone, we see many instances of the harmony that exists in the Godhead, where the Son and the Spirit are in perfect accord or agreement with the Father, with singleness of purpose or action according to the will of the Father: “My food is to do the will of him who sent me, and to accomplish his work” (4:34); “I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me” (6:38); “I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father” (14:31); “No longer do I call you servants,…but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from the Father I have made known to you” (15:15); “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, to be with you for ever, even the Spirit of truth” (14:15-16).
What does this mean for us? It means that we must now follow their example as well, and manifest this unity and harmony of the Godhead in our world today. Under the spiritual guidance and direction of our bishops and priests, we must all – clergy and laity alike – seek to know God personally as our Father and Lord, and strive to be one with Him. Every time we gather together as the Church, to hear the word of God, to offer our thanks, prayers, and love to God, and to receive the body and blood of Christ in holy communion, we “become partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4), and manifest our oneness and common union with God and with one another. This oneness must then translate into common action by our working together for a common purpose, according to the will of God, in order to accomplish the work that He calls us to do.
So, then, what is unity? It is beholding how truly good and pleasant it is for us all to dwell and be together in God: living and working each day here and now in His being, in His love, in agreement with His purpose and according to His will.