A Church Without Schism VII- A Modern Push for Unity

Our Lord Jesus Christ, speaking to his apostle Peter: And I will give the keys of the kingdom of Heaven to you. And And whatever you may bind on earth shall occur, having been bound in Heaven, and whatever you may loose on earth shall occur, having been loosed in Heaven. Mat 16:19

Our Lord, speaking to all his apostles: Truly I say to you, Whatever you shall bind on earth shall occur, having been bound in Heaven; and whatever you shall loose on earth shall occur, having been loosed in Heaven. Mat 18:18

The apostle John, from his vision of the New Jerusalem: And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and in them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. Rev 21:14

In 1995, a remarkable profession of faith was put forward by a group of mainstream hierarchs. It proclaims:

The Church of Joachim and Ann, Yabroud, Syria

The Church of Joachim and Ann, Yabroud, Syria

“I believe in everything which Eastern Orthodoxy teaches; I am in communion with the Bishop of Rome, in the limits recognized to the first among the bishops by the holy fathers of the East during the first millennium, before the separation.”

This profession originated with an archbishop of an apostolic church of the East, in fact, from the largest Christian community in the Holy Land and Middle East. It was signed by all but two of the bishop members of their Holy Synod. It became the genesis of a movement by that synod to concretely rebuild a church of the First Thousand Years.

Who were these hierarchs and where were they from? The Church of Antioch, where Christians first received that name (Acts 11:26); today they are known as Melkite Greek-Catholics. The profession of faith originated with Greek-Melkite Catholic Archbishop Elias Zoghby.

Here were churchmen who realized that the schism of 1054 A.D. is only shadow, not form.

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A Church Without Schism VI- Where Harmony Is Not Secured

The Apostle Paul, writing to the Church in Corinth:

“For as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body; so also is Christ. For also by one Spirit we are all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether bond or free, even all were made to drink into one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body?  If all the body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If all hearing, where would be the smelling? But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body as it has pleased Him. And if they were all one member, where would be the body? But now indeed many are the members, yet only one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, I have no need of you; nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you. But much rather the members of the body seeming to be weaker are necessary. And those members of the body which we think to be less honorable, on these we put more abundant honor around them. And our unpresentable members have more abundant propriety. For our presentable members have no need, but God tempered the body together, giving more abundant honor to the member having need; that there not be division in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is glorified, all the members rejoice with it. And you are the body of Christ, and members in part.        – 1 Co 12:12-27 (MKJV)

St. Basil the Great (4th century), from On the Judgment of God :

“With those among whom harmony is not secured, however, the bond of peace is not preserved, mildness of spirit is not maintained, but there is dissension, strife, and rivalry. It would be a great piece of audacity to call such persons “members of Christ” or to say that they are ruled by him. The Final JudgementIt would be the expression of an honest mind to say openly that the wisdom of the flesh is master there.”

The prayer of a servant:

My Lord God, I love the beauty of Your house. I confess the real presence of the body and blood of Your Son in the Eucharist. I insist on the oneness of Your saving message. I work to reveal Your Kingdom on earth as it is in Heaven. And yet I fall far short of the perfection my Jesus says I can attain.

Lord, grant me your grace and help me maintain the strength and discipline to cooperate with it. Help me root out of my flesh anything dark and not pleasing to you. Graft me to Your root, so that when I stand before the awesome judgment seat of Christ in the New Jerusalem, You will recognize me as belonging to You. May you find me worthy of Your mercy and welcome among the saints.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner. Amen.

A Church Without Schism IV- We Rend and Divide Christ’s Garment

The Apostle Peter, writing to the Church Militant:

Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear, not only to those good and forbearing, but also to the perverse ones. For this is a grace, if for conscience toward God anyone endures grief, suffering wrongfully. For what glory is it if you patiently endure while sinning and being buffeted? But if you suffer while doing good, and patiently endure, this is a grace from God. For you were not called to this? For Christ also suffered on our behalf, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps, He who did no sin, nor was guile found in His mouth, who when He was reviled did not revile in return. When He suffered, He did not threaten, but gave Himself up to Him who judges righteously. He Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that dying to sins, we might live to righteousness; by whose stripes you were healed. For you were as sheep going astray, but now you are turned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.  – 1 Pe 2:18-25 (MKJV)

The Hieriomartyr Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage (3rd century A.D.), from Treatise I, On the Unity of the Church:

St. Cyprian of CarthageThis sacrament of unity, this bond of a concord inseparably cohering, is set forth where in the Gospel the coat of the Lord Jesus Christ is not at all divided nor cut, but is received as an entire garment, and is possessed as an uninjured and undivided robe by those who cast lots concerning Christ’s garment, who should rather put on Christ. Holy Scripture speaks, saying, “But of the coat, because it was not sewed, but woven from the top throughout, they said one to another, Let us not rend it, but cast lots whose it shall be.” (John xix. 23, 24.) That coat bore with it an unity that came down from the top, that is, that came from heaven and the Father, which was not to be at all rent by the receiver and the possessor, but without separation we obtain a whole and substantial entireness. He cannot possess the garment of Christ who parts and divides the Church of Christ…But because Christ’s people cannot be rent, His robe, woven and united throughout, is not divided by those who possess it; undivided, united, connected, it shows the coherent concord of our people who put on Christ. By the sacrament and sign of His garment, He has declared the unity of the Church.

“8. Who, then, is so wicked and faithless, who is so insane with the madness of discord, that either he should believe that the unity of God can be divided, or should dare to rend it—the garment of the Lord—the Church of Christ? He Himself in His Gospel warns us, and teaches, saying, “And there shall be one flock and one shepherd. (“John x. 16.)  And does anyone believe that in one place there can be either many shepherds or many flocks? The Apostle Paul, moreover, urging upon us this same unity, beseeches and exhorts, saying, “I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no schisms among you; but that ye be joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.”  (1 Cor. i. 10.) And again, he says, “Forbearing one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Eph. iv. 3.) Do you think that you can stand and live if you withdraw from the Church, building for yourself other homes and a different dwelling, when it is said to Rahab, in whom was prefigured the Church, “Thy father, and thy mother, and thy brethren, and all the house of thy father, thou shalt gather unto thee into thine house; and it shall come to pass, whosoever shall go abroad beyond the door of thine house, his blood shall be upon his own head?”  (Josh. ii. 19.) Also, the sacrament of the Passover contains nothing else in the law of the Exodus than that the lamb which is slain in the figure of Christ should be eaten in one house. God speaks, saying, “In one house shall ye eat it; ye shall not send its flesh abroad from the house.” (Ex. xii. 46.) The flesh of Christ, and the holy of the Lord, cannot be sent abroad, nor is there any other home to believers but the one Church. This home, this household of unanimity, the Holy Spirit designates and points out in the Psalms, saying, “God, who maketh men to dwell with one mind in a house.” (Ps. lxviii. 6.)  In the house of God, in the Church of Christ, men dwell with one mind, and continue in concord and simplicity.

“26. But in us unanimity is diminished in proportion as liberality of working is decayed. Then they used to give for sale houses and estates; and that they might lay up for themselves treasures in heaven, presented to the apostles the price of them, to be distributed for the use of the poor. But now we do not even give the tenths from our patrimony; and while our Lord bids us sell, we rather buy and increase our store. Thus has the vigor of faith dwindled away among us; thus has the strength of believers grown weak. And therefore the Lord, looking to our days, says in His Gospel, “When the Son of man cometh, think you that He shall find faith on the earth?” (Luke xviii. 8.) We see that what He foretold has come to pass. There is no faith in the fear of God, in the law of righteousness, in love, in labor; none considers the fear of futurity, and none takes to heart the day of the Lord, and the wrath of God, and the punishments to come upon unbelievers, and the eternal torments decreed for the faithless. That which our conscience would fear if it believed, it fears not because it does not at all believe.  But if it believed, it would also take heed; and if it took heed, it would escape.”

The prayer of a servant:

Lord, At my Baptism, the Church called me to become a “reason-endowed sheep.” Instead, I confess that I have become a pride-filled goat. I often fall, believing I can chart the course of my own salvation without direction. I do not follow the example of Christ and his Apostles. My vanity does not want me to bend my stiff neck and see myself as a servant, while my timidity keeps from speaking up as is my right as a member of the Royal Priesthood. My weakness tempts me to flee from conflict and responsibility, while I complain and gossip from the sidelines. I do not work at mending the frays in Christ’s garment; rather I twiddle and pull at loose threads and make a small tear larger.

My Jesus, my Lord and my God, you promise me Christian peace and joy if I follow you, but peace and joy in the midst of suffering and strife and labor. Give me the grace and strength to live with You and stay faithful to Your Church, realizing all Your promises in my own life. May there be less of me, and more of Thee. Son of David, have mercy on me, the sinner.

St. Cyprian, pray for me; pray for the unity of the faith, so dear to you, and for the reconciliation of the Churches. Amen.

A Church Without Schism III- But we Orthodox: are we worthy?

What kind of life within the Church would we live if we inwardly accepted that the divisions that separate our Churches are shadow, not form, and that that the walls that segregate us do not reach to Heaven? Division and tribalism are a product of our worst natures, not the holy nature that Christ calls us to.

Paul, writing to the Church in Corinth:

And I, brothers, could not speak to you as to spiritual ones, but as to fleshly, as to babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk and not with solid food, for you were not yet able to bear it; nor are you able even now. For you are yet carnal. For in that there is among you envyings and strife and divisions, are you not carnal, and do you not walk according to men? For while one says, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are you not carnal? Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom you believed, even as the Lord gave to each? I have planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither is he who plants anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase. So he planting, and he watering, are one, and each one shall receive his own reward according to his own labor. For of God we are fellow-workers, a field of God, and you are a building of God.          –   1Cor 3:1-9 (MKLV)

St. John Chrysostom (ca. 354-407 A.D.), from his Homilies on the Epistles of Paul to the Corinthians:

“It was the factionalism of the Corinthians that produced jealousy, and that in turn made them carnal. Once they were carnal, they were no longer free to hear truths of a more spiritual kind  . . .  The building does not belong to the workman, but to the master. If you are a building, you must not be split in two, since then the building will collapse. If you are a farm, you must not be divided but rather surrounded with a single fence, the fence of unanimity.”

From the writings of Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras I (1886-1972):

But we Orthodox: are we worthy of Orthodoxy?  Up till the efforts we have made in recent years, what kind of example have our Churches given? We are united in faith and united in the chalice, but we have become strangers to one another, sometimes rivals.  And our great tradition, the Fathers, Palamas, the Philokalia: is it living and creative in us?  If we are satisfied to repeat our formulas, hardening them against our fellow Christians, then our inheritance will become something dead. It is sharing, humility, reconciliation which makes us truly Orthodox, holding the faith not for ourselves – if we did that we should simply be affirming yet one more historic confession of faith – but for the union of all, as the selfless witnesses of the undivided Church.”

Pray for the unity of our faith and the reconciliation of our Churches. Please pray with your heart, but also with your hands.

A Church Without Schism II- The Oneness of the Saving Message

What would the life of a hierarch who embraced the New Testament call to maintain the One Body of the Church look like? One could do no better than to emulate the example of Athenagoras I. He represented the communion of the Eastern Orthodox Churches as Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople from 1948 until his death in 1972 (memory eternal!). It was he who joined with Pope Paul VI in 1965 to lift the mutual anathemas that had been wrongfully issued in 1054 A.D. 1964 marked the end of the formal break between the particular institutions of the Vatican and the Phanar. Though the anathemas were lifted, the consequences that rend the entire body of Christ of course live on. But they live on in spite of the efforts of Athenagoras I:

“He was meek, ascetic, tolerant of others, patient, physically as strong as iron, persevering, never yielding to outside influences, prophetic in his visions, a man of prayer, intelligent, and able as a pastor to confront extremely delicate storms and violent oppositions…

“The dangerous tendency to overemphasize differences and to compare traditions and approaches, concluding that the differences are insuperable, is ever present. But Athenagoras was against making such comparisons. He was convinced that, on the whole, Orthodox and non-Orthodox hold the same views on basic issues of Christian faith and live the same Christian experience. East and West are not as divergent as some would believe. Traces of eastern thought can be found in the western mind, and western influence discovered in the East. There is an interpenetration which causes all believers in Christ to face the same spiritual realities. Athenagoras was not just patriarch of a limited See: he belonged to the whole oikoumene. In fact, it was his vision that the whole of Christendom should see the oneness of the saving message of the Gospel through the same eyes. The legacy left to us is to follow his example of seeing with the eyes of Christ in order to ensure that the obstacles to unity do not prove stronger than the will to unite.”

– From a review of the book, A MAN SENT BY GOD: THE LIFE OF PATRIARCH ATHENAGORAS OF CONSTANTINOPLE, by DEMETRIOS TSAKONAS. Brookline, Mass.: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 1977

A Church Without Schism I- 1054 A.D. is No More

In early summer months of 1054 A.D., papal legates who represented a dead Pope (Leo IX, who expired not long after dispatching them) and a pharisaical Patriarch of Constantinople (Michael Cerularius) issued mutual anathemas and excommunications after weeks of petty bickering and blustering, much of it of a personal nature. The issues behind the catfight might have been weighty, but the triumph of egotism and invective over Christian charity and reasoned dissention was a moment of great triumph for the forces of darkness.

Patriarch Athenagoras and Pope Paul VI

Patriarch Athenagoras and Pope Paul VI

Because it was a moment in history that crystallized the tensions between the apostolic Churches, our “Discovery Channel/Reader’s Digest” (pick your generation) approach to history asserts that the separation of the undivided Church of the First Thousand Years can be marked at that point.

Not really. Few churchmen of that era saw it as such. Serious efforts at reunification did not end with that event. In fact, the Great Schism of 1054 itself was laid to rest in December 1965. Pope Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras I met and rescinded the specific excommunications issued by their dubious representatives in the 11th century.

Surprised? Does much of anything look different on the ground between the apostolic churches since the removal of the anathemas?  Why do so many of the consequences of the schism remain unresolved over forty years later?

The New Testament call for unity could not be clearer; it was the focus of the last lessons of Christ as written in John’s Gospel.

Our own hardness of heart maintains our continued division. How would we act if we really believed that the barriers that divide the apostolic churches don’t reach all the way to Heaven?