Being one.

Homily 460 – 7th Pascha
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
June 13, 2021
Epistle: (44) – Acts 20:16-18, 28-36
Gospel: (56) – John 17:1-13

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, One God.

Maybe we don’t often think of the First Ecumenical Council this way, but it was truly a rescue mission.

Last night at vespers we heard from the book of Genesis about Abram’s rescue of Lot. In order to rescue his nephew, Abram put together a rescue team – 318 in total. And, essentially, critically – these weren’t just any 318 people.

They were all family. The Old Testament account is that Abram numbered his own home-born servants three hundred and eighteen, and pursued the enemy.

Now, in New Testament days, the Church was also being held and needed rescuing. There was a division. Arius, the priest from Alexandria in Egypt, said there was a time when the Son, that is, Christ, was not.

There was a time when Christ did not exist. The other, more traditional view, was espoused by Athanasius, a deacon also from Alexandria. That view was that Christ, the second person of the Trinity, was uncreated and existed with God and the Holy Spirit from eternity.

Two things here: One, eternity extends “back” if I can use that word, as well as “future.” Eternity means without end, but also without beginning. That’s a mind-bending thought, but essential to the proper understanding of God.

And two, the keyword here is “created” and its opposite, “uncreated.” Created means God established a beginning. Uncreated implies eternal. The other implication is that created means “not divine” and uncreated means “divine”.

Back to the main point – there was disunity in the Church over this issue. The bishops, 318 in total, gathered to seek the truth. And when they gathered, they found the truth. Christ, the Son of God, is co-eternal with the Father and the Holy Spirit.

There were other aspects of this decision as well. These can also be seen in the Old Testament readings from Vespers. The second reading from Deuteronomy tells us that Moses, in God’s direction, set up judges to rule over the people of Israel.

In a similar manner, we have bishops ruling over the Church. And in the third reading, also from Deuteronomy, we find that the bishops must be like God, and not have partiality, unswayed by worldly wealth and power, defending the orphan, the widow, and all those who cannot defend themselves.

Further, we see in the Acts of the Apostles that St. Paul himself describes that behavior for himself, indicating that others were witnesses to this behavior and could testify on his behalf.

So if we see any one individual proclaiming that they are the only persons that can speak for God, the only one to have the Holy Spirit, we can know that the individual is simply wrong. There is no truth there.

Without consensus, established at the council of Jerusalem in Acts 15 and carried forward throughout the Ecumenical Councils, we have zero assurance of the presence of the Holy Spirit. None.

We cannot say “thus says the Lord” without consensus.

So it is fitting, at the close of the Paschal season, to honor those who established such a firm foundation on which the Church can be and is built.

Ultimately, the desire of God and the goal of the servants of God is to achieve what our Lord prays for. That prayer isn’t for God – it is for us.

God’s desire is that we are unified, as Christ and the Father are unified. That we are One in exactly the same way that they are One, and we are One with them.

Being one with them means, by definition, being one with all the others who are one with them. Our brothers and sisters.

Even the ones we might not like, or get along with. Or even ones who – heaven forbid it – sin. Yes, we have to be one with sinners – because we are all sinners and it is God who receives us through His Grace, and not based on our piety.

What do we do with this sin? This behavior? What are we to do with Arius and those who follow his error?

It is emphatically not to tell them to change their behavior. That does no good. How many of us listen when someone takes something we see as part of our being and tells us to change?

The only – only – change we propose is the same for the sinner and the pious and the clergy and the laity. We repent – we refocus our attention, our focus, on Christ.

We pursue Him with our whole being, and when we notice ourselves drifting away, or we are prompted by the Holy Spirit to re-evaluate the direction and focus of our lives, we return.

Nowhere in the Creed does it say “Arius was wrong.” The statements of the councils said, “anyone who believes the way Arius does, let them be anathema.”

Anathema has the connotation in Greek of being cast away, or put outside. But in the Greek etymology of the word, there is an interesting twist.

It means “an offering to God.” So, another way of handling disunity is not to correct or exclude them – but rather to leave them to God to deal with. This is what St. Paul discusses in Galatians 1 and indeed implied by our Lord Himself in Matthew 18.

This is how we rescue the Church. This is how we rescue each other. Not in a spirit of “thou shalt not” or “thou shall.” But in a spirit of love and encouragement.

We rescue each other in the same way the first Ecumenical Council rescued us. By proclaiming for us, all who pursue Christ, that here is the Truth. This is what we know to be true.

The Truth that is Christ our Lord.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, One God.