Word Magazine March 1967 Page 8
A talk given by Father Michael Simon of St. George’s Church, Paterson, New Jersey,
during Christian Unity week, at St. Anne’s Melkite Catholic Church, Paterson, N.J.
We all share in the privilege of living in a most exciting, even exhilarating time for Christian believers; the age of mutual recriminations and proliferating schisms appears to be drawing to a close, and all who profess loyalty to the Lord Jesus Christ now feel the challenge of His will that ‘all may be one.’”
These are the words of His Eminence, the late Metropolitan Antony Bashir of thrice-blessed memory, as he spoke before an audience at St. Mary-of-the-Woods College, in Detroit, Michigan, in the spring of 1964.
Perhaps nothing is more indicative of a new movement among Christians than the frequent reference in religious publications, sermons, and discussions to the Scriptural text which reads “That they all may be one, as thou, Father, are in me and I in Thee: that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that Thou hast sent me.”
It can be said of earlier times that owing to political, social, or psychological conditions they were not conducive to Christian reunion, but there is now no doubt that with the threats posed by militant Communism on the one hand and the misapplications of nuclear energy on the other, there is no other need more pressing than that of a united commitment to Christ. A divided Christendom is hardly capable of speaking to a world divided by hate and tension, on how to achieve peace and co-existence.
Our corporate sin is that we spend too much time considering whether or not the time is ripe for reunion rather than in praying earnestly to God that reunion may come in our time. The Holy Spirit will not inspire reluctant people. Free will is a fundamental tenet of Christianity. The adage that “God helps those who help themselves” is one of a host of popular sayings that really makes sense. No reasonable Christian can expect God to snatch man out of his indifference, if indifference is what he really wants.
The prerequisite to reunion, indeed, will be prayer.
Christian disunion is the greatest tragedy of Christian history, and in a way All Christians are responsible for this tragedy. The recognition of this fact caused a new movement — “The Ecumenical movement.” As an Orthodox Catholic Priest, I am very grateful for the opportunity to pay tribute to His Holiness, the late Pope John XXIII — of thrice blessed memory — who more than any other single person in our time, revealed to all Christians his love for all mankind and his concern for unity in such a way that all felt impelled in some measure to respond. Love begets love and faith dissolves distrust.
To gain Christian unity, however. we must understand each other accurately. Orthodox Catholic Christianity is a traditional Christianity in its Eastern form. The Orthodox Church does not accept the jurisdiction of the Pope of Rome, whom she regards as the Patriarch of the West, exercising authority in his lawful sphere even as do the Eastern Patriarchs in theirs. Orthodox Churches are organized along national lines, generally corresponding to the ethnic groups which once composed the Byzantine Empire. Their unity is not one of external organization, but of interior harmony. They are linked together, not by allegiance to one Supreme Bishop, but by their adherence to the primitive doctrine of the Christian church as set forth in the Nicene Creed, to the disciplines of the traditional body of Canon law formulated largely by the first seven Ecumenical councils and by their use of the Byzantine Liturgy in their public prayer. Orthodox Churches have not been in communion with Rome for many centuries. They are separated by certain dogmas and discipline.
However, I am positive that this spiritual experience which we are going through and which has affected all Christians will result in an understanding of the nature of the unity which we seek—which is God’s gift to His Church—and that it will draw us increasingly closer together in prayer for unity, as Christ has willed for His Church.
My personal convictions about the proposed unity of all Christians were stated eloquently by Dr. Charles Malik when he wrote: “Absolute understanding, absolute humility, absolute charity, utter patience and the total overcoming of pride and self-will of man by the grace and love of Jesus Christ, without these no unity can be achieved or maintained.”
In the Gospel according to St. John (17:23) Jesus says: “That they may be perfected in unity.” Can we as Christians be perfected in Unity? Do we feel the challenge? Are we who believe in the Lord willing to meet his challenge? And are we willing to “All be as one”?
This week of prayer for Christian Unity affords us the opportunity to unite in heartfelt prayer that the wounds of Christendom may be healed. Because of gatherings like this, we may look forward to ever increasing prayer together, whatever our dogma or tradition of our separate churches; we will come to understand that unity does not mean that all Christians should become like us. It will be a unity of mutual enrichment—even more it will be a unity that comes as a gift of Christ, Himself. “Behold. I make all things new.” As we believe Him, we will pray more fervently that the Holy Spirit will so renew us all, that His way of unity and power will open out before all.
Above all, we must relate to others with love. According to Jesus Christ, we must love one another as He loves us. This involves much more than we think. It requires us to confront all persons with a disposition of Divine graciousness. “Such love,” says Jesus, “is the mark of the true believer” and must be shown even to the most godless.
Relating to others with love means that we must be unconditionally concerned and interested and involved in the lives of other people; we must be ready to sacrifice our lives and some of our most cherished notions for the welfare of others. Such love is divine, and God is present in such a relationship between men. “Beloved, let us love one another; for love is of God, and he who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God; for God is love.. . . No man has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.” (I John 4:7-8;12)