The Epistle Reading for today gave me much to reflect on as I prepared my homily. And after I was done, I thought it was not my best effort to be sure. But the theme of the reading was so strong, it merits more comment. The Epistle (1 Cor. 1:10-18) begins:
Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.
There is so much in this simple verse. It was written to the Corinthians, a church founded by Paul, and where he resided well over a year teaching them and leading many to Christ. But as he continued his missionary travels, the church in Corinth fell into discord and disarray. The First Epistle to the Corinthians is a sharp correction, and Paul begins it by calling them to unity. Notably, as we see in later parts of the reading, the divisions in Corinth were primarily about leadership ( Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. 13 Is Christ divided?), not about the faith. The faith is part of his command though: that ye all speak the same thing. But just a common faith is not enough, they cannot permit themselves to be divided by leadership. Thus he enjoins them to be perfectly joined together in mind and judgment. Not only must they hold the same faith, they must discern the rightfully appointed leaders. And if they don’t? Well, St. John Chrysostom warns that these division have terrible consequences, imperiling the Church itself:
For it was not that they had become many parts, each entire within itself, but rather the One [Body which originally existed] had perished. For had they been entire Churches, there might be many of them; but if they were divisions, then that first One was gone. For that which is entire within itself not only does not become many by division into many parts, but even the original One is lost. Such is the nature of divisions.
John Chrysostom. (1889). Homilies of St. John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople, on the First Epistle of St. Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians. In P. Schaff (Ed.), H. K. Cornish, J. Medley, & T. B. Chambers (Trans.), Saint Chrysostom: Homilies on the Epistles of Paul to the Corinthians (Vol. 12, p. 10). New York: Christian Literature Company.
Thus he urges them to unity, as he did others. Recall Paul’s words to the Ephesians: There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. (Ephesians 4:4-6). As there is one Faith, there is one Church. That Church necessarily must hold the faith. If it does not, it is either not of the Church or a division. Those not of the Church must be brought in for their salvation, but those attempting to divide the Church must repent, return to the Truth Faith, and be united. This unity is what the bishops are called to, as set forth in the Apostolic Constitutions:
Be ye of one mind, O ye bishops, one with another, and be at peace with one another; sympathize with one another, love the brethren, and feed the people with care; with one consent teach those that are under you to be of the same sentiments and to be of the same opinions about the same matters, “that there may be no schisms among you; that ye may be one body and one spirit, perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment
Roberts, A., Donaldson, J., & Coxe, A. C. (Eds.). (1886). Constitutions of the Holy Apostles. In J. Donaldson (Trans.), Fathers of the Third and Fourth Centuries: Lactantius, Venantius, Asterius, Victorinus, Dionysius, Apostolic Teaching and Constitutions, Homily, and Liturgies (Vol. 7, p. 416). Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company.
St. Cyprian of Carthage suggests that this unity of faith is expressed in the Eucharist asking, “Do you think that you will be able to stand fast and to live, whilst you withdraw from the Church, setting up the foundations of other Chairs, and different places of abode.” Cyprian of Carthage. (2006). On the Church: Select Treatises. (J. Behr, Ed., A. Brent, Trans.) (p. 160). Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press. In this shared cup, we define our unity, knowing that those who confess as we do may partake, while those who have created their own theology must be barred. There is no unity in diversity. It is an oxymoron and a mockery of the chalice. Are we to give the True Body of our Lord to one who perceives it as mere symbol? It is in fact, St. Paul’s call to unity of mind and judgment that mandates a closed communion.
Applications for Modern Christianity
It is in our present cultural understanding of Christianity where we have strayed the furthest from Paul’s commands to the Corinthians. With nearly 50,000 protestant sects, the idea of the “personal Jesus”, and the rise of Least Common Denominator Christianity/Cafeteria Christianity, there is not even the slightest desire to move toward unity and being of the same mind and same heart. Rather, it’s an “I’m OK, You’re OK” remnant of the hippy culture overlaid on a religious canvas before each artist makes his own strokes.
Perhaps no maxim demonstrates this “choose your own adventure” approach to theology than the infamous statement:
In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, liberty. In all things, charity.
You see this quote on major denominational materials. “Beyond the essentials of vital religion, United Methodists respect the diversity of opinions held by conscientious persons of faith. Wesley followed a time-tested approach: “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; and in all things, charity.” (http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/section-2-our-doctrinal-history). Indeed, it is the subhead of the banner on the Moravian Church’s website. (http://www.moravian.org/uncategorized/in-essentials-unity-understanding-the-essential-things/). Some protestants will even try to attribute this quote to St. Augustine, urging that it reflects an ancient approach to Christian liberty. Poppycock. This flawed and unbiblical saying is the work of undistinguished Lutheran theologian Rupertus Meldenius. Like most everything in Protestantism, it is not ancient, but of modern origin less than 500 years ago. There is simply no way to square this saying with Paul’s directives to the Corinthians. How can we be of one mind, one heart, and one judgment, if we all believe differently about those things we deem non-essential? And should we have liberty and charity when we disagree over what is essential? Did Paul say to be of the same mind about essentials only? This approach is simply not reconcilable with scripture.
I’m not going to give you a carefully worded, gradualist approach to correcting this increasingly out of control mindset in protestantism. Rather, I am simply going to give you the Orthodox answer: abandon your modern sects, humbly return to the Church in repentance, and work out your salvation with fear and trembling along all your brothers and sisters who eagerly wait to welcome you home. We are called to be of one mind – the mind which reflects the faith once delivered to the saints. Knowing that faith should be the most important quest you can undertake if you wish to put Paul’s commands into action and act biblically to be part of the One Body. That faith is preserved in the Orthodox Church. Come drink deeply of it!
Application to the World Orthodox
This passage is often used by the World Orthodox to attack the Old Calendar jurisdictions, accusing them of schism and separation over matters of judgment. Of course, this presumes there has been no corruption of the faith. But time and again, we see the practice of ecumenism, communing of the non-Orthodox, uncorrected advocacy for modernism and reform of the faith, and other matters which go to the heart of our faith, and not just to discernment. Even so, charges of schism must beg the question of who schismed from whom. And number of adherents is not the measuring stick that answers that question. Rather, we find ourselves in much the same place as we do with the heterodox, when we must ask who is preserving the ancient faith and who has deviated. As Photis Kontoglou, a new calendar writer and iconographer opined, “I saw what struggles you are going through, and with justification, over Church matters. But do not fear. There is faith among our people. The Old Calendarists truly are the most genuine Orthodox. However, I think that there is no schism; simply a division. May the Lord make ‘the rough ways smooth.’” These charitable words offer hope of dialogue, as opposed to the scurrilous charges so easily laid by many, particularly abroad. There seems to be an almost tacit admission of the errors of ecumenism and new calendarism among the world orthodox, but it is sadly tied to a sense of resignation. We choose not to resign but to stand in resistance. Join us!
Application to the TOC/GOC Today
My dear brothers who hold to the patristic calendar and stand against ecumenism, we are at risk of being the very Corinthians who, while holding a common faith – the faith of the Church, have allowed ourselves to be divided over leaders and men. In doing so, we must carefully heed the words of St. John Chrysostom. If we are no longer the whole, but parts, then the whole is lost and the parts are not the whole. Our division threatens the very survival of Christ’s Church. The slow and careful process toward reconciliation must continue with patience, humility, repentance and love for one another. Past affronts are the errors of men. Our duty is to God and His Church. There are some who would deride this as “old calendar ecumenism” (a dubious concept in its own right as often applied), but note that I stated the prerequisite of holding a common faith. I am not suggesting that the faith be compromised one bit. After nearly 100 years of persecution by the state and state church, they have succeeded in dividing us administratively, even as we cling to the ancient faith with all our might. This division is the intended result of the persecution. When we allow it to continue on account of our personal grievances, we strengthen the state and those who demand the church cave to modernity. We need Paul’s sharp rebuke. Shall we heed it?
We must heed the warning of St. John Chrysostom. If we divide the whole, neither the whole nor the parts retain the character of the whole. We have this sacred trust to preserve the faith in Christ’s Church. We maintain the whole by guarding that faith. When others depart the faith, they have not divided the Church; they have left it. It is only when within the same faith we divide ourselves over political or administrative concerns, that we risk tearing the sacred garment. Let us in good faith encounter those who share the True Faith with us, praying that all divisions be healed and that God will restore the whole of His Church to his glory and our salvation!