Holy Father, keep them in thy name, which thou hast given me, that they may be one, even as we are one (John 17:11).
In just a few short weeks most of the Eastern Churches (and Western Churches as well) will be reading this passage from St. John’s Gospel during Holy Week. Are we one, are we in unity, are we responding to the Fathers embrace prayed for by His Divine Son? The answer is blatantly: No! Not to respond to God’s Will is being in a state of sin: thus disunity is sinful.
Jesus prayed that we be ‘kept in the Fathers name and be one’ but we are free to reject the Father. Why? Because we are created with ‘free will’. Thus we are free to sin. But we are also free to work toward conforming our will to His Will. Brokenness in the world, the evils around us, the disunity among the communities of Christians are due to choices made by us individually and collectively by our Churches, ecclesial communities and religious establishments.
There is no doubt that Ecumenism in some Orthodox circles is anathema. But if we take serious Our Lord’s prayer to that we be one then Ecumenism is not an option it is a requirement. However ecumenism, must be based on the Orthodox teachings of Christ and not any heterodox models. It behooves us then to be Orthodox ecumenists.
As Christ gave us a path to healing by his death on the Cross and triumph over sin and death at His Resurrection, so too we are going to have to carry our ecumenical cross to enter the path of healing disunity.
In weakness and brokenness love can emerge. The brokenness in the world, often a source of despair, can be transformed into an opportunity to empty ourselves (kenosis) from our own passions of pride, greed, lust, anger, gluttony, envy, and sloth and put on Christ – an emptying that reaches fulfillment in love towards God and neighbor and in communion with one another. As Orthodox what can we do? We can: come to know one another, not only others who call themselves Christian, but all of mankind, as children of God; we can know and respect (neither condoning nor disparaging) our various ecclesial traditions, help one another and those around in need out of the common love of God, and arduously pray, proclaim and communicate our desire for unity in faith and communion in Christ. Mot of all we must fully humbly witness our commitment to Christ and the teachings (Orthodox) He gave us. As Orthodox Christians we know and follow the words of Jesus: “He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father” (Jn. 14:9) and “I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he shall be saved…no one comes to the Father, but through Me” (John 10:9a, 14:6b ). The way to the Father is Jesus, His mystical body, enlivened by the Holy Spirit: the Orthodox Church.
An excellent example of what can be done is the inter-cooperation of religious communities, politicians and scientists to protect, conserve and care for our God created earth and it’s environment. A recent conference in February 2008 sponsored by the Huffington Ecumenical Institute at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles highlighted the work of the Religion, Science and Environment Symposia (RSES), to bring about active change in the environment. Leadership was originally provided by His Holiness of Blessed Memory Pope John Paul II (and now Pope Benedict XVI) and His All Holiness, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. As noted by Fr. Deacon John Chryssavgis, (Ecumenical Patriarchate) in his Conference address, lack of caring for the environment “is a sin”, he went on: “The crisis that we are facing is not primarily ecological, it has more to do with spirituality and icons. The way we imagine the world is an inhumane way to see it … we are not seeing the world as it really is — a gift from God.” Because of these ecumenical efforts significant changes have already taken place environmentally challenged countries. As an example: an oppositional and hostile Albanian government did a 180° turn around in cleaning a extremely toxic community following world pressure after the RSES investigative report. We as Orthodox Christians can cooperate on similar and other need projects on our local community level. To make real in our lives of the Spiritual and Corporal Works of mercy is something all can do now until full unity of understanding of Christ’s teachings are reached so eventually all can partake of His Eucharist. We can pray to the Holy Spirit to break down the walls that separates us.
The warning of St. Makarios of Egypt rings clear: “Grace does not make a man incapable of sin by forcibly and compulsorily laying hold of his will but, through its presence allows him freedom of choice, so as to make it clear whether the man’s own will inclines to virtue or to evil … for the law looks not to man’s nature but to his free power of choice, which is capable of turning towards either good or evil” (Philokalia III). Let us proclaim among ourselves, our fellow Christians, and most importantly our hierarchs the sin of evil disunion and the good ‘as one’ of returning the Fathers embrace in full unity with His Son, Our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ.
Palmer, G.E.H., Sherrard, P., & Ware, K. (eds). (1986). The Philokalia: The Complete Text compiled by St. Nikodemos of the Holy Mountain and St. Makarios of Corinth (Vol. 3). Winchester, MA: Faber and Faber.