Unity is a concept that is as old as humanity. It permeates the stories of history, the attaining of unity, the betrayal of unity, and the loss of unity. American money has this motto printed on each bill “E Pluribus Unum” – Out of the Many One. Sadly, our motto seems to be a faraway wish in light of our divisive society today.
Unity means strength. Division means destruction or loss or even such marginalization as to lose standing and freedoms. It seems ingrained in our psyche: “Desire unity!”
Where do you think that comes from? Secular science may suggest it is merely a survival technique learned over centuries of the “survival of the fittest.” Sociologists may suggest it flows from our fear of being alone. But there seems to be another answer if we posit humans were created in God’s image.
You see God knows Himself as Persons in Communion. He is Trinity in Unity. His self-knowledge before there was time or even existence is Persons in Unity. So, it makes sense that He creates us in His image to struggle for that same way of existence that He enjoyed before the world began. Our Lord Jesus revealed as much when He prayed before His crucifixion “That they may be one as We are.” John 17:11. This is why at the heart of our Orthodox worship is the Holy Eucharist, the Communion, the miracle that makes unity, that symbolizes our unity, that creates our unity, that infuses us with the life that displays our unity. We who are many, drink from One Cup! We are One.
No wonder Jesus took as the greatest insult the slander of the leaders of His day when they accused Him of casting out demons by the prince of demons.
Look at our Gospel Lesson today in Mark 3:20-27:
At that time, Jesus came to a home, and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for people were saying, “He is beside himself.” And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Beelzebul, and by the prince of demons he casts out the demons.” And he called them to him, and said to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but is coming to an end. But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man; then indeed he may plunder his house.”
The gift of unity gives strength to a home, a community, a nation, and a people, and the curse of division is always a symptom of impending destruction. Always. Division is fed by those whom it will benefit. Those seeking power use division to sow fear so that they will be the ones to solve the “problem” if only they had the power. Division is used to steal, kill, and destroy. And it always works IF we let Division win.
This is why the enemy of our souls always encourages, fosters, and tempts us with division, starting with our own hearts. To be at war with yourself is the root of all divisions in society, and the healing of this divided heart is the purpose of the spiritual disciplines and spiritual labors we are constantly called to embrace and constantly tempted to ignore! No wonder St. Paul commanded us to “note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them.” Romans 16:17
In the early centuries of the Church, the Arian heresy threatened to bring division to the Church, the Body of Christ. But there were heroic leaders at the time who insisted this old heresy was not just mistaken but threatened to divide the Church and weaken it by such division. The dele=gate representing the Patriarch of Constantinople to the First Ecumenical Council was a man named Alexander. He was sent to the Council by Patriarch Saint Metrophanes of Constantinople to defend the Orthodox Faith against the heretic Arius. But Arius had some powerful friends who threatened Alexander if he didn’t go along with admitting the heretic into communion with the Church. St. Alexander asked God to help him stay strong in defending the unity of the Faith, and, that night, the heretic Arius died in a most ignoble fashion while relieving himself. The Church still struggled with the Arian heresy for over a century as supporters of Arius still persisted in their evil. But the First Ecumenical Council condemned this spiritual disease and, to this day, we stand strong against this heresy meant to divide the Church of Jesus Christ.
Today, where are the cracks of insidious division in your own heart and mind? Where are you at war with yourself? Discover these places in your own soul and you will discover the roots of divisions and quarreling in your relationships and even in your parish. Embracing the remedies of the Eucharistic life heals divisions and makes unity possible. But it must first come to your own heart and then it will be seen in all your actions and motivations. When you approach the Chalice next, pray for the unity of the Church beginning with your own heart. It’s what makes us Orthodox on Purpose!
P.S. Aflame with love for Christ, you took His yoke upon yourselves; and since you emulated well His life upon the earth, you were also made partakers of His great glory. Now, O Fathers Alexander the divinely-wise, wondrous John, and glorious Paul, you stand before His throne; wherefore, fervently intercede with Him to save our souls.
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