Saturday, October 18, 2008

Unity, Witness and Ecumenicism: the Unity of the Church-Part II

In His All Holiness understanding of the matter: "for St. Paul, Church unity is not merely an internal matter of the Church. If he insists so strongly on maintaining unity, it is because Church unity is inextricably linked with the unity of all humanity. The Church does not exist for itself but for all humankind and, still more broadly, for the whole of creation." (¶ 7)

He continues by tracing out the Christological foundations of the Church's anthropological and soteriological vocation:

St. Paul describes Christ as the "second" or "final" Adam, namely as humanity in its entirety (cf. 1 Cor. 15.14 and Rom. 5.14). And "just as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ." (1 Cor. 15.22; cf. Rom. 5.19) Just as the human race is united in Adam, so also "all things are gathered up in [Christ], both things in heaven and things on earth." (Eph. 1.10) As St. John Chrysostom remarks, this "gathering up" (or recapitulation, anakephalaiosis) signifies that "one head had been established for all, namely the incarnate Christ, for both humans and angels, the human and divine Word. And he gathered them under one head so that there may be complete union and contiguity." (PG 62.16)
Nevertheless, this "recapitulation" of the entire world in Christ is not conceived by St. Paul outside the Church. As he explains in his letter to the Colossians (1.16-18), in Christ "all things in heaven and on earth were created and ... in him all things hold together" precisely because "he is the head of the body, the Church." "[God] has made him the head over all things for the Church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all." (Eph. 1.22-3) For St. Paul, then, Christ is the head of all -- of all people and all creation -- because He is at the same time head of the Church. The Church as the body of Christ is not fulfilled unless it assumes in itself the whole world. (¶ 7)

With the Christological, anthropological and soteriological foundation of Church unity secure, the Ecumenical Patriarch returns to his earlier observation that unity is foundational to the Church's evangelical mission. Surprisingly, to me at least, His All Holiness reminds his listeners that the Church's evangelistic work encompasses not only "those who do not believe in Christ," but also "God's people," that is, those already baptized and so members of the Church.

Thinking of the exchange of essays on the American Orthodox Institute blog, it is noteworthy that in the view of his All Holiness this evangelical mission is "the supreme obligation of the Church" must be fulfilled "with love, humility and respect for the cultural particularity of each person. Further, "the message and overall word of Orthodoxy cannot be aggressive, as it often unfortunately is; for this is of no benefit at all. Rather, it must be dialectical, dialogical and reconciliatory. We must first understand other people and discern their deeper concerns; for, even behind disbelief, there lies concealed the search for the true God." (¶ 7)

Called as we are to be "the role peacemaker within a world torn by conflicts," the Church (again guided by the bishops as the guardians and sustainers of the bonds of charity in the Church)

cannot –indeed, it must not—in any way nurture religious fanaticism, whether consciously or subconsciously. When zeal becomes fanaticism, it deviates from the nature of the Church, particularly the Orthodox Church. By contrast, we must develop initiatives of reconciliation wherever conflicts among people either loom or erupt. Inter-Christian and inter-religious dialogue is the very least of our obligations; and it is one that we must surely fulfill. (¶ 7)

Without reference to any of those who commented either here or at the AOI blog, it seems to me that in the American context, and whether we were baptized as infants or became Orthodox Christians latter in life, too often our internal and external relationships are characterized by aggression and a noticeable lack of the dialectical, dialogical and reconciliatory qualities that His All Holiness calls for.

In my next post, I want to look with you at the broader implications of the dialectical, dialogical and reconciliatory character of the Church's evangelistic mission.

As always, your thoughts, comments and questions are not only welcome, but actively sought.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory