Fr. Gleb McFatter, who pastors St. Demetrius Orthodox Church in Naples, Florida offered the following homily at the Sunday of Orthodoxy Vespers.
Orthodox unity will only be achieved when the laity, parish priests and monastics lovingly unify themselves and exhibit that unity to the hierarchs. One thing those of us in the Orthodox Church in America (OCA) have learned from our recent “times of trouble” is that only when the discontent among the laity, parish priests and monastics rose to a fever pitch — only then were the hierachs moved to action. Imagine what could be accomplished if that same level of energy was focused on achieving unity among those at the parish and monastic level!
Sermon delivered on the Sunday of Orthodoxy, Naples, Fl. in March, 2009.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
This invocation of the Holy Trinity which I have just recited is familiar to us all. It is repeated often in every Orthodox service and it is included in every Orthodox prayer. Yet I wonder how many of us have ever contemplated the concept that underlies this invocation, and how that concept is the very core belief which brings us together this evening for the Triumph of Orthodoxy.
In the divine liturgy, we affirm the Holy Trinity as one in essence and undivided. In fact, the Church goes even further and confirms that the Holy Trinity is not only one in essence and undivided, but that it is also comprised of three different and distinct persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
The Trinity, in its entirety is the God-head, or in short, God. We, as Orthodox Christians and benefactors of the true faith are called, even commanded, to become “god-like”. Our whole purpose and focus in this life is to strive to that end. What exactly does this mean? Simply put, it means that although we the Orthodox are many in persons, we are to be one in essence and undivided, in concert with the Holy Trinity — the God-head, or God.
Consider for a moment, what the situation would be if God the Father decided not to interact with Christ, the Son, because Christ the Son was not Russian. What if Christ, the Son, would not interact with the Holy Spirit because the Holy Spirit was not Greek? What if the Holy Spirit would not interact with either of the other members of the Holy Trinity because they were not Syrian? The Holy Trinity would be completely dysfunctional. Preposterous, isn’t it? Yet this is precisely the condition that many of the Orthodox in this country find themselves.
While theologically we are of one essence and undivided, we are physically and emotionally divided. It is important to understand that although the Holy Trinity is made up of three separate persons, those three persons are of one mind. The scriptures confirm this and we affirm this in the divine liturgy when we say “let us love one another that with one mind we may confess, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, one in essence and undivided”. The Holy Trinity is of one mind because all three persons are in perfect unity with each other. The Holy Trinity is our example. It is our “gold-standard.” We Orthodox fail to be of one mind and perfectly united because of our human frailties. We constantly strive to attain the unity of the God-head, but as humans we often fail.
So, how do we improve our situation? How do we practically achieve the unity that so many of us talk about but cannot seem to realize? The answer, for better or for worse, lies within us, both individually and collectively.
It has been said that extraordinary leadership is extraordinarily rare. If we expect our Orthodox hierarchs to initiate unity from above and pass it down to us, we will be waiting for our life-time, our children’s lifetime and our grandchildren’s lifetime. Orthodox unity will only be achieved when the laity, parish priests and monastics lovingly unify themselves and exhibit that untiy to the hierarchs. One thing those of us in the Orthodox Church in America (OCA) have learned from our recent “times of trouble” is that only when the discontent among the laity, parish priests and monastics rose to a fever pitch – only then were the hierachs moved to action. Imagine what could be accomplished if that same level of energy was focused on achieving unity among those at the parish and monastic level!
We begin building unity with small steps, growing and expanding as our unity strengthens. This service tonight is a small step, but we cannot simply have a vesper service once a year and expect to achieve unity. We need a series of small steps, community wide. We need to establish Orthodox women’s groups, men’s and teen’s groups, which can come toghether to accomplish tangible goals within the community at large — as a unified Orthodox group.
Tangible goals could include food banks and other charitable endeavors. The list of targets is endless. Eventually we may consider opening clinics, hospitals, nursing homes, universities, etc. All of these would be identified as “Orthodox”, but not specifically Russian, Greek, or Syrian.
It begins with us. There are at least two thousand Orthodox in Southwest Florida — enough to make things happen if we want them to. However, the desire must be there. If we think that it will not work, or that it is too much trouble or too expensive, then it will go nowhere. Every good neighborhood, every unified neighborhood, requires those neighbors to sacrifice. Sacrifice of time, energy and resources but this is what god commands us to do — go out into all the world and preach the gospel, raising the cross of Christ for all mankind to see.
When Christ was on earth, he focused on two things — healing mankind spiritually and physically. That also is precisely what our goal as Orthodox Christians should be. Yet we cannot do it if we are divided, disorganized and dysfunctional. The Orthodox priests and other clergy here tonight want to help and support you, the laity, in any way that we can. We need to work together to meet that “gold-standard” of the Holy Trinity, many in persons, of one mind, of one essence and undivided. This will affirm the true “triumph of Orthodoxy”.
Now may he who is the author of all unity help us, save us, have mercy on us, and keep us by his grace, now and ever and unto ages of ages, Amen.
Fr. Gleb McFatter pastors St. Demetrios Orthodox Church in Naples, Florida.