CHURCH UNITY

by Dr. Gregory Dalack

 

There are many ways for us to consider the call to unity. We can consider unity within the body of a given church community, unity among Orthodox jurisdictions, unity with other Christian faiths, or unity in the Father among all mankind. Contemplating such notions challenges us to embrace the essence of combination, achieving a state of singleness or concord. As an individual, I often fear that such combination requires that I compromise, or give up some part of my individuality. In this way, oneness requires a sacrifice to become part of a greater whole. I am more likely to do so if I feel that I will gain more than I will lose by this sacrifice. Closer scrutiny typically reveals that the perceived loss is of some political power, administrative control, or measure of personal or group achievement or worth.

In the church, the value of those things sacrificed are described in human terms; they are the products of our humanness and include the rituals which we bring with us from our ethnic and geographical backgrounds. The are not the fundamental truth of the Gospel, or the core beliefs and teachings which were passed down to us by the disciples beginning on the Day of Pentecost.

Despite this, the fear of sacrificing these earthly treasures is the main reason that, throughout history and even among Orthodox Christians within the body of the One True Faith, such unity has seemed impossible to achieve. One cannot help but think that our difficulty is directly related to our fundamentally corrupt human state. If we were to allow ourselves for even a moment to consider Our Lord’s charge to us:

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name
of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 28:19)

or hear the words of St. Paul to the Ephesians:

“There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.” (Chapter 4:4-6)

How could we help but dedicate ourselves to overcoming the petty differences which separate us?

In this regard, the evangelical Orthodox movement has been instructive. Here were a group of people so convinced that they have found the one true faith that they were willing to give up titles, positions of authority, connections to friends, and perhaps even family. They were not even deterred when they were not immediately welcomed into Orthodoxy with open arms.  They appreciated that God’s truth is greater than man’s distorted view of the world.

Indeed, I think that many of us still do not view ourselves as truly unified, fully combined with our brethren who came from the evangelical movement. This view is driven by what must be seen as our human, and hence ephemeral, differences. What brought our brethren to the One, Holy and Apostolic Church was their recognition of the central and enduring truth of our faith.

We Orthodox face even greater challenges. Our true charge is to seek others, welcome those searching, and invite all of them into our Father’s house. I believe that our greatest challenge will be to reach out, invite and ultimately accept brethren of color into our Father’s house. This journey to unity will challenge some of the most fundamental prejudices and distorted beliefs that are part of our human nature. Such a journey will be a manifestation of our true growth in Christ and our true acceptance of the commandment: “that you love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15:12)

This article first appeared in the Adbook for the 1996 Midwest Region Parish Life Conference hosted by St. Elias Orthodox Church in Sylvania, OH.

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