"The Unity of the Spirit in the Bond of Peace" (Ephesians 4:3)
St. Peter and St. Paul
Key Facts and Ideas
Unity within the Orthodox Church
It is a miracle of the Spirit that the Church, (the body of Christ, the fellowship of the Spirit, the Father's House), should contain within her embrace so many different kinds of people who normally wouldn't have much in common. This is the full text of the subheading to this session.
"I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all."
The unity of which we speak is given in the baptism by the Spirit from the Father but it must be maintained by us through lowliness ... gentleness ... longsuffering ... bearing with one another in love.
St. Peter and St. Paul were not naturally compatible partners in missionary work. It was in Antioch that one of the first conflicts within the Church developed between them. This conflict regarded the necessity of circumcision for male Gentile converts to Christianity. It was the resolution of this conflict at the Council of Jerusalem under Saint James the Apostle that determined the direction of the Antiochian mission to the Gentiles, and the dynamic nature of that Christian community in its missionary outreach. St. Peter was reconciled with St. Paul who had some rather severe things to say about him on this matter ... hence the embrace of reconciliation in the icon.
What does this story tell us about Church unity?
honesty about disputed issues is necessary
Church unity cannot be achieved without occasional conflict resolution. Conflict is inevitable. Breakdown is not.
reconciliation and a common mind can only be achieved by the Church meeting and praying together
Orthodoxy has different attitudes towards ecumenism; this has to be admitted. For some, since the Orthodox Church is the authentic New Testament Church continuous and unfolding to the present day, the unity of the Church is already achieved and never lost. Other churches need to grow into the orbit of this unity. Opinions may differ about what will change on all sides as this convergence proceeds but essentially this is a one way traffic ... into Orthodoxy.
The other approach would see ecumenical partners, including the Orthodox Church, having no preconceived ideas about how the search for wider unity will proceed. This approach values bilateral and multilateral dialogue searching for a new consensus as a basis for Church unity. Nevertheless, even this angle is built upon the universal Orthodox sense of being the authentic Church. Naturally this belief is never thrown in the face of our ecumenical partners. To do this would be to violate the very principles on which conflicts can be resolved and unity widened.
Links in the Resources section referencing articles by Fr. Gregory explain why Orthodoxy has this self understanding of being THE Church. Please also consult the unit on Church History.
Church unity is given by God but it must be maintained and widened and deepened by us.
What is it about the
gospel that gives potential to the search for human unity?
1. The Church is One by Alexander Khomiakov
2. Orthodoxy and Ecumenism (In Communion Web Site)
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