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361Homily for 8/2/09 - P8 - unity of the Church

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  • Fr David Moser
    Aug 2 11:29 AM
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      1 Cor 1:10-18

      Last week in his epistle to the Romans (15:1-7), the Apostle Paul gave
      us the prayer that we might, with one mouth and one heart, glorify God.
      This theme of the unity of the Church, that we are all one, is now
      repeated by the Apostle in the beginning of his letter to the
      Corinthians. St Paul addresses a conflict within the community in
      Corinth by reminding them that they are to be of one mind and one heart
      and thus they should drop their arguing and return to that unity. The
      community itself had begun to divide into different “parties” each
      emphasizing their own unique qualities. In this case the division arose
      along the lines of who was baptized by which apostle. But St Paul points
      out the foolishness of their division and points them back to our Lord
      Jesus Christ Who is our only unity.

      In the Church today, there remains the temptation to divide ourselves
      along the same lines. There are those who look at the different national
      Orthodox Churches and see not the beauty of our diverse expression of
      the One True Faith, but rather begin to argue about who is better.
      Sometimes we therefore hear that the Greek Church is better for it is
      more ancient, or that the Russian Church is better for it has preserved
      the traditions with more purity, or that the Patriarchates of Antioch or
      Jerusalem have the edge by being located in the area where our Lord
      lived and the Church first thrived. Another argument that is commonly
      heard today is that of the calendar – that the Churches that keep the
      old Calendar are better than those that keep the new (or vice versa). Or
      perhaps we experience the arguments about other “hot button” issues like
      ecumenism, traditionalism, ethnocentrism, language, and so on. All of
      these issues are dangerous for they can easily be the excuse to set up
      divisions within the Church so that we no longer speak with one another
      and no longer even commune with one another. This is wrong and whenever
      we see these divisions arising, it is necessary to remember the
      Apostolic injunction that we be perfectly joined together in the same
      mind and heart and with the same judgment.

      However these large issues, while possibly the most visible, are not
      really the most dangerous ones to us here in the local parish. These
      “big” issues are things that must be dealt with by our hierarchs for
      they involve the relations between the different Church administrations.
      In these issues we need only to follow their lead and instruction. The
      things that are truly dangerous for us and which are truly insidious and
      harmful to the life of the Church and to our own spiritual well being
      are those “personal” issues that arise between the members of the
      parish. We divide along personal lines, allowing hard feelings, pride,
      imagined (or real) insults, and the like to get between us and cause us
      to separate ourselves from our brother or sister who stands right next
      to us. This is where the greatest and most difficult work of preserving
      our own spiritual well being and oneness in Christ happens.

      The root of all these divisions can be found in pride – that vice that
      nests deepest within our own heart. We are all, in some manner, proud
      and that pride pushes us to see ourselves as better than others and then
      to judge others when they do not meet our own standards of imagined
      worth. We talk negatively about others, we gossip and spread rumors and
      stories that make others appear as worse than ourselves and so we
      justify ourselves. We complain about people and criticize them because
      they don’t do things the way we think they should. Soon we begin to
      complain and gossip not only about those who we dislike, but about our
      friends and even family. The end result is that we are cut off from one
      another by the barriers that we ourselves have erected. Such ego
      inflation is encouraged by the society and culture in which we live. We
      are told constantly that we must have “good self esteem” that we must
      create for ourselves a sense of “self worth” and that we should not
      tolerate any attack on our sense of self. While this encouragement
      toward a sense of self esteem and self worth is good on the surface, it
      is distorted at the outset by the emphasis on self. In the Gospel, we
      hear that all have sinned and come short of the glory of God and that
      there is nothing good that we have in ourselves, but only that which God
      gives to us. If we, therefore, set ourselves up as the standard of
      goodness and worth, then we have chosen a flawed standard. It is more
      necessary that we nurture within ourselves a sense of “God esteem” and “
      God worth”. That is we must first see that we, in and of ourselves have
      nothing of value to offer God but that even so He loves us and He gave
      Himself for us – even while we were yet sinners. This is our true worth
      – that God loves us and that God has given us worth so great that it is
      beyond calculation. Rather than self esteem, we center our sense of
      identity around the esteem that God gives us as His children. In order
      to overcome our pride, we must cultivate and nurture humility – seeing
      ourselves not as full of goodness, but rather as empty vessels which God
      fills with His grace which in turn unites us with Himself as we become
      like Him.

      In our pride, we also tend to take offense quickly – at even the
      slightest and most innocent remarks – and we refuse to forgive even when
      implored by the one whom we believe has wronged us. In our pride when
      some kind of offense has occurred, we sit in our place and wait for the
      other person to come to us and apologize and “make it better”. There is
      a hurt and a division between us but we do nothing to heal it, in our
      mind thinking that we have no fault and therefore no responsibility. How
      foolish this is! When one hand is hurt, does not the other hand rush to
      bring whatever remedy, even though it was not the one that caused the
      hurt? When I touch a hot stove with the right hand, does not the left
      immediately seek out cooling water or ice to alleviate the pain and
      apply the salve and bandages to encourage the healing? If our own body
      acts in this way, how can we think that the Body of Christ should be any
      different. Whenever we see some division, some hurt, some fracture in
      the unity of our parish community, we should do all that we can to
      minister to those who are hurt and offended and to bring healing – even
      if we are not at fault for that hurt affects not only the one hand, but
      the whole body. When you are offended, do not wait for the one who
      offended you to come with an apology, but go to him and offer
      forgiveness even before he apologizes to you. Rush to be the first to
      restore the unity of the Body of Christ. When you realize that you have
      given offense to someone else, do not hesitate, but immediately seek to
      heal that offense offering your own apology and seeking forgiveness. Do
      not allow a small crack to become a large rift simply by neglect.

      We are members of the Body of Christ and as such we live in unity with
      one another, acting with one mind and one heart and one judgment. In
      this unity we become an icon of the Holy Trinity – giving expression in
      ourselves of the one God in Three persons by becoming one entity (the
      Body of Christ) in many persons. This is our true calling, to be united
      to Christ and therefore to one another. It is therefore necessary to set
      aside our own pride and our own self centeredness and to cultivate
      humility in our hearts, seeing ourselves as nothing and worthless before
      God who then fills us with His love and esteem so that we see ourselves
      in His eyes as worthy beyond definition. Whenever we see a rift in the
      unity of the Body of Christ, we must rush to be the first to heal the
      wound, offering forgiveness, apology, help and encouragement so that the
      wound is closed immediately and does not become a rift that grows deeper
      and wider with increased neglect. Let us live in that unity which is
      given to us by God and set aside anything that separates us and which
      compromises our common life with one mind and one heart glorifying God.

      --
      Archpriest David Moser
      St Seraphim of Sarov Orthodox Church (ROCOR)
      Homilies: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/propoved/
      Website: http://stseraphimboise.org