TRUE UNITY WILL BE AN INSPIRATION TO THE WORLD
Fr. Matta el-Meskeen (Father Matthew the Poor) 1988
I. No Violation of Doctrine
Doctrine with regard to a church means the very existence of that church. For example since a Coptic Orthodox doctrine exists, the Coptic Orthodox Church also thus exists. Moreover, since this doctrine still exists unchanged, the Coptic Church exists unchanged as well. Doctrine is not simply lists of clauses, pronouncements, or church canons; rather it is above all spiritual worship and living faith, both of which are endowed with clear, distinctive features and characteristics. These distinctive features and characteristics are what give a doctrine its character. To the extent that the church adheres to this character, it will live and endure, otherwise its features will change, even its name may change, and perhaps it will pass out of existence.
The survival of these distinctive features through the ages has not been by means of rote memorization, faithful record keeping, apologetics, or even legal defence, so much as by means of love and ardor, living practice, exposition, clarification, contemplation, extensive description and definitions, as well as a profound exploration of the truth hidden within the doctrine itself. All of this together becomes a precious living heritage as it is handed down from generation to generation, first as an oral tradition and then recorded. Thus has the Church survived, and with it her doctrine. Throughout the generations doctrine has been compiled comprehensively in such a way that the most precise explanations, definitions, and codifications are included in its contents so that the history of any church has become the history of its doctrine; also the history of a church’s leaders and prominent teachers has in fact become the history of the extent of their adhering to or their forsaking of its doctrine. Thus, doctrine in the church has assumed a canonical framework which it cannot possibly neglect or budge from because such a framework constitutes the church’s very being, as mentioned above, and expresses its existence, history, love and spirit.
And thus has Christianity, or rather Christ, settled among all peoples, assuming their appearances and distinctive features, and giving in return his life. For in Africa Christ appears as if he were black, in northern nations as if he were fair, in India he is brownskinned, and among the Eskimo he is very short—but among all of them Christ is one and the same: Christ of Calvary, the grave, the resurrection, Christ of the whole world.
For this reason it is futile for churches, in their intense desire for Christian unity, to try and alter the expression of the doctrine of any church either by omission or addition, lest we be like one who wants to flay the African or dye the skin of the European, or like him who wants to obliterate the identity1 of man in order to come up with a Christ without humanity.
But does this mean that we should abandon Christian unity? God forbid! For Christian unity is the greatest demand of faith; a demand which pours forth into our being and convulses our hearts and feelings. In tears we ask for unity, because we are asking for Christ. We want to live unity in spirit and truth because we want to taste Christ, to live his love, and to enjoy the mystery of his oneness with the Father—this oneness which is the essence of divine love. Christ himself urges us to ask for this oneness and instructs us: “I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their words, that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they may also be in us… I in them, and thou in me, that they may become perfectly one… that the love with which thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them” (Jn. 17:20,21,23,26).
With understanding we must direct our attention to the profundity of this supplication. For Christ is not asking for unity to the letter, but unity of the spirit; not unity of thought and opinion, but unity of love. The supplication does not limit itself to our unity in comprehending Christ alone, but concludes directly with the deep longing for unity of all believers in him. And this will not come about through our meeting in the form of a council of intellectual reconciliation in his presence. Neither will it be brought about except “that the love.,, may be in them, and I in them”
But does this mean that we should give up on prayer conferences and study sessions, discussion and review of thought, and efforts to arrive at closer points of view? By no means!
However, the serious question we are bringing up is, “Where do we begin?” With the letter, or with the Spirit? With law or with life? With the contents of faith and doctrine, or with their essence? Let us be well aware that if we begin with the letter, we shall kill the Spirit, our sessions resulting in nothing more than formulas and words. And if we begin with law, then in its light it will seem to us that we, without a doubt, are always in the right, while the others, without a doubt, are always in the wrong. Round and round we go until time—and with it life—slip away from us. And if we start with the contents of doctrine we will never manage to arrive at the essence. As for the Spirit, it is the one who establishes the letter; it is the Spirit alone that can perfect it and give it life. Life in Christ is that which has been poured into the matrix of thought, thus allowing it to become a creed of faith. It is life in Christ alone which sunders the rigidity of law so that it is able to embrace life, diversity, and universality to the utmost. As to the essence of doctrine, it is Christ himself, and he will by no means be limited by the contents.
II. Emergence from the Deadlock of Division
It is therefore necessary to begin doctrinal dialogue with the Spirit and not with the letter, by receiving the one Christ first, before unifying the various diverse points of canon law and thought; it is also necessary that we live together in the one essence of doctrine before agreeing on its contents. Essence of doctrine, that is to say Christ himself, is based on love, sacrifice, redemption, and total relinquishment of self to the extent of assuming the role of a servant. In this way this heart-felt dialogue with the conscience arrives at a result which assuredly will be astounding to the intellect, but which speaks by the voice of Christ himself. It consists of three steps:
By Christ’s presence we are united in the Spirit, in the Love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, and thus we are compelled by the One Christ, or rather inspired by Christ, to be of one mind, one voice, and one word without any church being deprived of its special characteristics or the distinctive features of its theology. It is in these very special characteristics that the One Christ lives. Or, in keeping with the example we presented earlier, there will be a single fellowship in the Spirit in the One Faith without requiring the black man to be flayed, or without forcing the white man to dye his face—for Christ being in the world, and having settled in the South and in the North, has taken oh the features of all: “My beloved is radiant and ruddy,” and “I am dark but comely” (Song of Sol. 5:10, 1:5).
III. The Church Confronts the World
When the Church confronts the world, it does not stop at any border; for the whole world is a field open for her spiritual work where she faces all its ideologies, both positive and negative, its conditions, its policies and its governments at odds with one another: “Go into all the world” (Mk. 16:15) “to all nations” (Mk. 13:10; Mt. 28:19) in other words, to each and every man.
Man in and of himself, regardless of his thought and behavior, is the concern of the Church in the world; and the work of the Church in the world is her life in Christ, her joy in him, and her experience with him, as manifested in the first place through a holy way of life as a model rule of conduct, and then in offering through a word of inspiration, friendship, and sincerity; and also an action of good will and consolation so that the hearts of sons will be restored to their fathers, and the hearts of fathers to their sons in order to mould the mind and heart of man to the better life in Christ. Christ neither came to a particular church in its limited situation within a particular building, nor did he come under a particular name, nor in a particular environment, nor to a special people with a special thought and heritage as though he had been confined to the tent of meeting of old or to the temple—rather the Father sent Christ to the world which he loved, to all of creation which has become his temple without boundaries “for God’s temple is holy, and that temple you are” (1 Cor. 3:17). It has never happened that the world, in its alienation from God, is as starved for truth, justice, peace, and love as it is today—so much so that it has become enslaved to every form of thought and every trend. Within the Church is the Bread of Life for the world, she is the Bethlehem for all nations. To her, Christ has entrusted the basket of the seven loaves from which has not disappeared the mystery of satisfying five-, or seven-thousand-million. The hunger is not for bread, but for the word of truth, love, and life. If only it were a sincere hunger for God that people felt as they did in olden times or as they did even fifty or a hundred years ago. But it is a rebelious hunger, and the soul is in the direst need for God; and yet it has been repulsed from him for many reasons. The most important reason was and still is the Church’s negligence, the sparseness of the pasture, and the ignorance of the shepherds. And thus in our day has been fulfilled Christ’s parable of the sheep fleeing from the hireling so that the wolf may seize custody of them. The bread of life, if it is not kneaded with the sweat of piety and baked with the fire of tribulations and perfect experience, is loathed by souls.
In the temple there was in ancient times a lampstand (the Menorah) which signified God’s presence in the midst of the people to enlighten their thought in the midst of the ignorance of the pagan world at that time. The Church in our time is that very light which is able to dispel the darkness of human ignorance throughout the world—the light which God has put in the world to light the way to life and immortality in front of every man. No darkness—regardless of its tyranny over an individual, a group, a people, or a state—can resist the light except to the extent that the Church grows weak or turns from her light to dwell in the shadows.
Darkness is now wrestling with the Light, and the Light is falling back defeated; the lamp of God is on the verge of going out in the hands of the preachers and the teachers. Now the light of the Church no longer draws its oil from the reservoir of piety and grace which pours out over the heart of a witness in words —words ringing out as from the mouth of God: “As commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak”(2 Cor. 12:19). Such a word disperses the notions of hearts corrupted and preoccupied by the surfeit of the intellectual and technical world which mars the simplicity of spiritual life in Christ. A skillful word alone can no longer move the hearts of men; they have become in urgent need of spiritual evidence and power; and so must the preacher be able to present the person of the living Christ to the people —Christ crucified and redeeming—so that it is possible to fill the emptiness of the heart, mind and soul with all the joys of the spirit, so that all souls may taste and be satisfied by a relationship with the Father in the fullness of the Holy Spirit and the holiness of Christ.
But according to the Book of Revelation, it is not for every man to say to another, “Come,” but rather, “Let him who hears say, ‘Come’ 77 (Rev. 22:17); and neither should it be his own self that the preacher presents to the people, or else the word will die in his mouth. “For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord with ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake” (2Cor. 4:5). When will the Church place herself as a slave in relation to the people? A slave, not a servant. For a servant has rights and wages, but a slave is under obligation to his master, but has no rights. He serves faithfully without expecting to receive wages for his service or his faithfulness. It is enough that he remains happy in his master’s house, ever prepared to lay down his life for his master and his master’s children. So it is that the Church has stood, and now stands on the threshold of readiness for martyrdom, and not on limits of words: “For thy sake we are being killed all the day long” (Rom. 8:36).
In the Gospel and in the mind of Christ, the Church is a bride. Now if a bride disdains her purity and does not sanctify her self—she being represented in everyone who bears her name or wears her garments—then who could be expected to love purity or strive for holiness, or come to the bridegroom? Who could blame those who entered and then left in regret?
In the Book of Revelation, the Church, like her Teacher, is a spring of living water on account of the Spirit in her: “The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come. ’ And let him who is thirsty, let him who desires take the water of life without price” (Rev. 22:17). If in the Church the spring of the spirit and love and piety runs dry, then what shall she proclaim? And if the Church does proclaim, who will hear? Who will come? Who will drink? And those who thirst after righteousness, where will they go? If they go astray and ask for comfort and happiness from the springs of the devil, who can then blame them? Who is to be blamed but the Church? The world is full of knowledge and science, as well as innumerable ideologies, but to the Church, God has entrusted a single spring, which wells up to eternal life. In the timeless parables of Christ regarding the Kingdom, the Church is the priceless pearl that the clever merchant found and bought by selling all he had.
For him it became the source of riches which remains beyond the end of time, for in the Book of Revelation, the pearl is the door that leads to the heavenly Jerusalem (Rev. 21:21). In Christ’s teaching it is clear that he is none other than this door leading to eternal life. But if, as Eve was beguiled by the serpent’s craftiness, the Church’s mind has strayed from its simplicity which is in Christ; if the Church has inclined toward the glory of this age; if it has inclined toward relying on the wealth, power and multifarious dealings of this age; if the heart of the Church has inclined toward the corrupting lust for power—will the pearl endure? Will there remain the ability to know the way to the Door, or the ability to know the password for crossing the threshold? And if this failure is discovered, and everyone goes his own way while visions and opinions multiply and deceptions increase, then who can apportion blame or be blamed? Who can correct the ideas that have arisen? For one idea is not corrected by another, but only by an upright life led in upright thought. The Gospel, verses of Scripture, and sermons are expressions of piety, but without the mystery of the presence of Christ they become a trading in self-interest, and not in the interest of Christ.
Christ entrusted to the Church the mystery of his body. Thus the Church is either the Body of Christ “the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Eph. 1:23), or else she is empty with nothing to fill her. The greatest distinguishing feature of the Body of Christ is that every day it is still liable to death and resurrection in the Church: “For thy sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered” (Rom. 8:36). “But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him” (Rom. 6:8). Generation after generation live in death and resurrection. But the Church that, for its own self or for the world, shrinks and flees from the death on the cross, that church is deprived of the gift and the power of the resurrection; that is to say victory over the world. In the end such a church conforms to the power of the world in spite of herself, and so loses her moral authority over it.
The greatest power concealed in the body of Christ, in the Church, and in us who are “flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone,” is the power of mysterious attraction supplied in him at all levels. “And I, when I am lifted up from earth, will draw all men to myself ”(Jn. 12:32). If the Church desires to be on this level, she must serve the divine mystery of attraction stored up in the body of Christ that has been entrusted to her. That is to say she must gather all in Christ and for the sake of Christ she must converge in all at the level of the Gospel, the sacraments, traditions, and history so that she may serve all levels and conditions of mankind in the Church, and that she may serve all living souls existing in her embrace. Whenever the Church rises above the dust of the earth in spirit, mind, and aim, then the divine power of attraction is enlivened in her and in all mankind she rises up in the mystery of the cross to fulfill the mystery of the risen body according to the intention of Christ. Indeed Christ has actually risen above the earth through death, the death on the cross. Is it then possible that the Church can rise and exercise this attractive power without this very same death? Is it possible for her to do this by free, conscious and determined will? Or is it possible without the will, but through weakness in total surrender to him in whose hands are death and life? “For he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God” (2 Cor. 13:4). St. Paul indeed discovered the mystery of attraction in this weakness and in this death itself; “For me to live is Christ, to die is gain” (Phil. 1:23) “I will all the more boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Cor, 12:9); for in his weakness Christ founded the Church, not in his strength.
If it is the mysteries of divine attraction latent in the body of Christ that form the basis of the Church’s existence and life, then for the sake of completing the body of Christ, there is no way to go other than that of accepting weakness and accepting death as well; and in our minds, Christ’s body must be without limits and without names. How can any church be accepting of, content with, or consenting to the fact that it exists separated from another church that bears the same body of Christ? Is Christ not one? Christ who bore all the wounds, suffering, and hardship, Christ who died on the cross in order that he might be raised up to draw all men to himself, this Christ borne by all the churches, is he not one and the same? Who are all men I wonder? The Chalcedonians or the Non-Chalcedonians? Easterners or Westerners? The people of the North or of the South? The white or the black?
IV. A Friendly Look at the Schism between the Chalcedonians and the Non-Chalcedonians
Political analysts in the Christian world follow international events—events at the level of ideological development or events at the level of their inevitable consequences: bloody conflicts between countries and peoples, or even between citizens of the same land—yet many of these analysts fail to realize that the major part of these responsibilities falls upon the Church for failing to play her basic role of reconciling the world to God. The Church has grown weak and feeble with regards to spirituality and pure piety. In the past these were enough, in and of themselves, to invest the saints of the Church with enough authority to subdue the pride of men—even the kings among them—and make them obey the mind of God according to the Gospel in order for nations to live together in the fear of God, and together grow according to God’s intentions for the good of man: “We take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5). However, the Church’s weakness has extended into the depths of theological thought. Veneration for the Bible has been shaken in modern theological schools; it has come to the point that the fear is no longer of God, but rather for God himself, lest he lose his honor or his very existence in the curriculae of these schools and in the hearts of many of these theologians. Thus the Church has lost the awesomeness with which she once imposed her word upon the earth—the awesomeness which she used to draw from the power of truth in the Holy Spirit, the strengthener of unity in thought, word, and deed. Thus have been shaken the Church’s very foundations which were in the eyes of the world “the pillar and bulwark of truth” (1 Tim. 3:15).
This collapse and division of ideas within the churches did not come about except as a result of a series of events traversing the history of the great schism from the 5th century onward which we have unjustly inherited from the dissensions, divisions, and disputes of Chalcedon.
The, tragic question for which there will never be an answer is this: Why did the great heroes, beloved in the Lord, fall into dispute? How were they driven to enmity? And even more so, on whom, then, did God set his hope of reconciling the world to himself?
Then comes another question even more tragic and painful: How did they all enter the Council of Chalcedon full of hope that they would arrive at unity in faith, thought and word—hope that each would rid his mind of any idea not pleasing to God’s righteousness—how did they enter thus, and then leave excommunicated, humiliated, with beaten faces and broken teeth to begin the history of the greatest schism to take place in the whole of the Christian world? A schism which has weakened and undermined her strength. The East was left paralyzed—an easy prey for any marauder. The West was left to suffer its pain deprived of power to give aid or communion.
What makes the tragedy even more painful and senseless is what has come to light in our own time. Some of the finest and most brilliant Orthodox theologians have met together in conferences whose aims were reconciliation between the Chalcedonian and Non-Chalcedonian Churches (Aarhaus, Denmark 1964; Bristol, England 1968; Geneva, Switzerland 1970; and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia 1968). In these conferences, theologians have come to the conclusion and stated in recommendations for the proposed union, that this dreadful schism that has lasted 1,500 years, and which has left a legacy of weakness, helplessness, and disgrace on the whole Christian world—this schism had absolutely no justification whatsoever! But in any case these conferences have been the first steps to be taken by the churches since the time of the remote schism to move away from the despair of division and the tragedy of isolation toward a semblance of the idea of reconciliation. And so a streak of hope has begun to appear in the eastern sky announcing that Christian unity is regaining its spiritual power. Thus it will be possible to erase the wounds of history from the face of the Church and to soothe the hearts of the saints who departed this earth in hope of this day; it will also encourage and soothe the hearts of the present generations that have been weakened by the division and solitude, and that have been beleaguered by the pain of isolation—in the end the heart of God will rejoice.
V. What are the Significances and Potentialities that will Result from Unity?
VI. The Greatest Obstacle to Unity
In the unofficial consultations that have taken place up to now between the Chalcedonian and Non-Chalcedonian churches, it has become apparent to the participants that the dispute over Christ and the definition of his divine essence may be settled by the use of doctrinal formulae acceptable to both sides. They feel that this will suffice to begin the procedures that will tend toward unity. However, I believe that such an understanding is unlikely. The Gospel itself tells of a similar example of wrong thinking. One day, shortly before the Crucifixion, Christ asked his disciples: “Who do you say that I am?” The disciples agreed on the formula expressed by Peter. The contents were truly fine and in agreement with the right faith, and even directly inspired by God, according to Christ’s own words: “Simon replied, you are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, saying, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven” (Mt. 16:15-17).
Unfortunately this precise orthodox formula, truly inspired from heaven, did not help unite the disciples in anything, neither in thought nor in the practical expression of their faith in Christ. Even Peter, the one who had uttered the words, denied Christ saying he did not know him. Some of them even returned to their original occupations before the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. We even read that they quarrelled over which of them was the greatest (cf. Lk. 22:24). It is clear then, that a precise statement of faith in Christ, openly and unanimously confessed, even if it is inspired by the heavenly Father, is insufficient to unite disciples, or churches in the unity of communal sharing in Christ and in the work of love, sacrifice and death with him.
It is truly amazing that in the very chapter that contains Peter’s correct confession of faith in Christ, we read that his behavior led Christ to say to him, “Get behind me, Satan. You are a hindrance to me; for you are not on the side of God, but of men” (Mt. 16:23). Is it not obvious that herein is concealed the reason that a correct faith failed completely to result in correct behavior? First we read, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And then, “You are not on the side of God but of men.”
Christ perceived this split between faith and behavior, and so he gave his commandment of reconciliation: “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself” (Mt. 16:24). But in spite of this, the disciples still came back and asked, “Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?” (Mt. 18:1). And this caused Christ to restate the wording of reconciliation in different and more positive terms: “Unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven” (Mt. 18:3).
It is therefore clear that a standardized statement of faith, unanimously agreed upon, will not be sufficient to constitute a means of true union among the churches even though it be a basic necessity. The schisms have acquired far reaching consequences with regards the Church’s spiritual life, sense of identity, heritage, temporal existence, and even to the extent of her political orientation.
Christ is not like this, nor have we ever known him to be so. The state of our behavior with regards Christ is at odds with the true Christ. This is the poisonous root of division which will continue to nourish separation and schism no matter how many times we agree upon a beautiful and correct statement of faith like that of St. Peter’s.
Indeed the position of the Church is more difficult now than that of the disciples before the descent of the Holy Spirit. The disciples were merely in doubt as to “who is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?” The churches today, on the other hand, are sure that they have the answer to the question. Each church sees itself as being indisputably the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven, for it has the most correct and most precisely defined faith. As for the self-denial that should accompany faith, and the return to the mentality and consciousness of childhood in the power of simple faith in Christ, to our great shame we must say that these things are neither found in today’s churches nor are any church delegates allowed to act upon these commandments.
Therefore we do not have a church that can act as Christ did—denying itself, bearing its cross and dying to the sin of division—and thus gaining life for itself and for others. The most dangerous of all the things lacking in the divided churches of today is Christ himself, and him crucified. Or in the language of dialogue, one may say that what is lacking among the divided churches is a church that is able to bear responsibility for errors of the past in order to free itself and others from the sin of the present—that is to say schism and disintegration. If such a church could be found, then unity and reconciliation could take place and love would be victorious.
But talk about self-willed death and acceptance of the humiliation of the cross are hard words indeed. Is there anyone who can understand them? This is the same problem the disciples faced when Christ spoke to them of the necessity of accepting his humiliation, his death and his cross: “’We are going to Jerusalem, and everything that is written of the Son of Man will be accomplished. For he will be delivered to the Gentiles, and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon; they will scourge him and kill him, and on the third day he will rise.’ But they understood none of these things; this saying was hid from them, and they did not grasp what was said” (Lk. 18:31-34). The words of St. Paul the Apostle will therefore be of great help to us in our dialogue on unity: “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). This is the sense of coming forward in the Spirit of the Lord Jesus wherein each church would simultaneously and reciprocally take the faults of the other upon itself. We could say, “each church will bear the sins of the other”—no more and no less.
With all due respect to their efforts and recommendations, the unofficial conferences and dialogue that has been going on for decades, they have not provided, nor can they provide the motivation that will cause every church to take up a Christ-like stance, bearing the faults of the other churches. This is a matter far beyond intellectual dialogue, long meetings and academic solutions. Since the churches are still facing age-old excommunications, any and all meetings are held in the official absence of the Holy spirit; such meetings can do no more than open up old wounds and increase the pain.
VII. The role of the Holy Spirit in Unofficial Meetings
The Churches meet and announce officially that the meetings are “unofficial.” But why this insistence that they be unofficial? Is it so that the “official” churches need not be bound by the results? Or so that no delegation can change even minutely the canons or traditions of its church? Or is it so that there will be no advantage to any delegations giving way on any position, or admitting any fault committed by its own church in the pastor in the present, or accepting the correctness of any position taken by the other side, or even excusing the mistakes of the others? Finally and most importantly, could it be so that no delegation will have the authority to lift the existing anathemas and grant absolution to the other churches?
Or put in another way, the churches insist that their delegations meet unofficially, so that the Holy Spirit will be officially absent, and the situation will remain unchanged! We are reminded of the disciples, afraid and distracted, meeting together behind locked doors in the upper room. The Holy Spirit was absent and Christ was dead in the tomb, for the resurrection had not yet been proclaimed. The disciples were afraid of the Jews and everything else, for their Master had left them.
Who are the churches afraid of now? Why do they still lock the doors of their minds? Christ has destroyed all the enmity that existed between the most arrogant of inherited systems, laws and traditions in the world—that is to say between the Jews and the Gentiles. The two of them he has made one in mind, heart, spirit, and worship. He has also destroyed the veil which had from eternity separated God from man, and reconciled that which is of heaven with that which is of earth. He has destroyed the gates of hell and set free the spirits imprisoned there under the devil’s authority. After all that, can the churches still erect barriers and shut up themselves and others behind locked doors?
Even after the resurrection was made known and Christ appeared in the flesh with the wounds in his hands and in his side, saying, “Peace be with you,” even then the disciples turned back to their former ways, to their fear and hesitation. Some of them doubted and some even abandoned the group and returned to their old occupations as fishermen.
In the unofficial meetings we see delegations preoccupied with formulating a precise statement of reconciliation in preparation for unity. But in light of what has happened in the past, we believe that even if Christ himself appeared to them and stood among them, allowing them to feel him and touch him it is still highly possible that doubt would remain; it is still highly possible that some would leave the fellowship, for the unity that is granted by the Holy Spirit is still absent. It is the Holy Spirit alone, who has been commissioned from the beginning to destroy all that is old and decaying in the heart and mind of man, to destroy all that conflicts with the love of Christ and that delays the progress of the Church along the path to eternal life. The Holy Spirit alone can loose the bonds and fetters that have delayed the unity of the church and have so grievously obstructed her work in the world, thus providing the devil with every opportunity throughout the ages to plunder north, south, east, and west. One could just about say that the world stands in need of a completely new beginning and a new birth.
Submission to the Holy Spirit has therefore become a vital necessity if we are to arrive at better opportunities, not only for peace and reconciliation, but also for a new leaven to begin working in the world, a new leaven that will lead to a new life.
Division and fragmentation have penetrated to the depths of human thought and emotional life, as well as the human spirit and establishments. Thus the submission of the churches to the authority of the Holy Spirit today constitutes the most difficult and most consequential step that the churches have faced since their foundation. This step will be the decisive battle with the powers of the devil who is bent on the ultimate and irreversible disintegration and destruction of everything in the world. “Every Kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand’* (Mt. 12:25).
From the very start the responsibility for kindling the Holy Spirit in the world has lain with the Church: “You are the light of the world” (Mt. 5:14). Those things which constitute the light are the spiritual values of oneness and immortality, as well as the spirit of works of love. If these spiritual values are absent and the unity of the Spirit is divided, and the power of love is dissipated through the schisms between the churches, who is to stand against the spirit of evil and deception? How will the voice of the world’s groaning reach the ears of God?
By nature the world is ignorant of God; it cannot know him except through the works of the Church—it is the Church who presents God to the world, not through convincing words, but by the demonstration of the Spirit and power, by powerful and heroic acts of redemption, by manifestation of love, piety, and chastity which will inspire and overcome the world.
Love is the Church’s hidden power which will never be exhausted, but still it cannot pour forth into the world without unity of the Spirit and oneness of heart.
The Church cannot offer these powers, potentialities and immortal values to the world through outstanding theologians only, but she must also offer them through the saintly among them, as well as through simple, saintly individuals, the exemplaries of the churches. For the Holy Spirit loves the saints wherever they are—it is from them that he forms the Church of Christ: “and the Spirit of Truth… he will be my witness, and you will be my witnesses” (Jn. 15:26).
Hence, regardless of how much we may try to lay the responsibility of unity and change upon the shoulders of the church, in the long run the burden will fall upon the saints of the church. If truly we demand that the process of unity begin immediately, then we must fix our eyes on the elect and the gifted who exist in every church, despite their efforts to escape being seen by men. When our confidence is placed with the poor, the meek, the humble, the pure in heart, and the lovers of the peace that only Christ can give, then and only then will we ever have hope of achieving the true Christian unity that will inspire the world.
SOURCE: Fr Matthew the Poor, “True Unity will be an Inspiration to the World.” 2nd Edition 2002. (Egypt: THE MONASTERY OF ST. MACARIUS, 1988).