8th Sunday after Pentecost – Orthodox Homily on Division in the Body of Christ

St. Paul laments in today’s Epistle, “For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe’s household, that there are contentions among you.”  Increasingly we see that our society is polarized, that there are many things that divide us today on moral and political grounds.  Sadly, this is true even in the Church, where other sources of our identity, be they political, ethnic, or other, divide us from one another, causing great harm to our unity in the faith  and our witness to the truth, hindering our healing in Christ, and leading many astray.  

Division is nothing new to any society or, sadly, to the Church, which has faced it countless times before, even in the first century Church.  The Seven Great Councils of the Church, and many more synods, were called through the centuries to deal with threats to the unity of the Faith, challenges to the timeless truth that Christ is as He has revealed Himself to us.  

For this reason, we hear St. Paul pleading with the brethren to be like-minded, to “speak the same thing,” that there may be “no divisions among you.”  The word that he uses here to warn them in the original Greek is “skismata,” schism.  St. John Chrysostom comments on this passage, saying, “the emphatic force of the word, ‘schism’… the name itself, was a sufficient accusation.”  In other words, it was enough to put the fear of God in them so they’d take notice.  

The ‘fear’ of being labeled ‘schismatics’ may seem strange to us today: after all, many are used to thinking that even as Christians we can believe whatever we want and still be considered a Christian, but in the early Church and throughout the Church’s history, being a schismatic, a “divider,” one who separates people from the Church and the truth of the Orthodox Faith in Christ, was on par with being a heretic, one who outright preaches or teaches doctrines or morality contrary to the Gospel. Both lead to ex-communication, separation from the koinonia, communion, with Christ and the Body, the Church—the ark of our salvation in Christ.  

You can see how this “warning” would have made them pay attention.  St. Paul was warning them that if their divisions and competing identities continued, and if they let those divisions into their communion with each other, that this was where it could lead—separateness from Christ, His Church, communion with each other.  

Our culture’s values and beliefs are constantly changing; sadly, at this time, they’re not changing in the direction of Orthodoxy, but away from God’s truth.  Those who stand in the way of so-called ‘progress’ are labeled by our culture ‘bigots,’ ‘narrow-minded,’ or worse.  

Many of the Church’s teachings today stand in stark contrast to that which our culture thinks of as acceptable, good, or even laudable: abortion, homosexuality, sex outside marriage, just to name a few of the many moral issues where dominant and vocal elements within our culture stand in opposition to the truth that God has revealed to us through Christ and His Church.  

The pluralism of this culture divides us when we allow it to infiltrate the Church and change our beliefs from what God has revealed—“the faith that was once delivered to the Saints (Jude 1:3). When we prefer the culture’s reasonings over what God has revealed through His Church, through Holy Scriptures, through His prophets, then not only is that person in disobedience, but also, that person is then supporting that which causes division in the Church.  To do so means no longer sharing in that same faith that unites us together with all other Orthodox believers around the world, as well as all our beloved ancestors in the faith with whom we also continue to share communion through the Eucharist.  When we allow the temporalbeliefs and identities of this particular time and culture to define and inform our beliefs, we separate ourselves and each other from that great communion with Christ and His Church.  

The “glue” that holds us together as Orthodox believers is precisely the opposite of what our culture teaches:  it’s not conformityto the culture, but holding ‘all things in common’ in the faith, in Christ, which unites us. Our unity of faith means we can be united with Christ and with one another in that truth.  In the Orthodox Church, we believe that the truth is a Person, Jesus Christ, God’s revelation to us of Himself and the way of salvation.  Through our profession and our striving to live the truth that Christ is, we’re united to Him as we partake of the Sacraments and the life that’s in Him alone.  He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. We as Orthodox are the inheritors and evangelists of that revelation of healing for us, for all mankind.  Only in this way, can we fulfill Christ’s high priestly prayer to the Father in which Christ pleads that we “may all be one” so that “the world may believe that You sent Me”  (John 17:21).   

Contrary to those who see the Church as a divider for not changing with the times, the Church is in reality the upholder of unity among people.  The Church calls us all into this communion of love and life with God the Holy Trinity—regardless of race, gender, political preferences, ethnicity, nationality, culture, time, geography—whatever otherwise divides secular humanity.  In Christ we’re all called into unity with each other by virtue of this new identity, our relationship with God and with one another.  

Submitting ourselves to Christ and the Church means that even while we may wrestle or struggle with aspects of the faith or the Church’s teachings, we do so while humbly submitting ourselves to it, praying for deeper understanding, because we know the testimony is true.  This is the way that leads to life, the way of healing for our souls, for salvation.  

Christ sets us free from our delusions, our divisions, our humanistic ways, which instead of leading mankind to “progress,” actually lead us further away from God, His love, His life-saving morality, and the blessed life of the Kingdom.  The Orthodox Church has seen empires, heretics, schismatics come and go, she’s weathered Arianism, Islam, Communism, and every other ‘ism’.  And she will weather secular humanism and postmodernism as well, but at a cost.  

Orthodoxy transcendsculture. Indeed, the mission of the Orthodox Church is to transform every culture, baptizing it with the truth of Christ and new life in Him.  This is how we love God, our neighbor, our people.  Politics cannot save us, our ethnicity cannot save us, the culture certainly cannot save us, but Christ God does save us!  He calls all to new life in Him, communion with Him in the unity of the Faith of His Church.  

The only way this baptism and transfiguration of our culture can happen, is, if we, the Orthodox Christians in this land, stand together, united, prayerful, humbly articulating and living to the best of our abilities and with God’s help, the timeless Truth of Christ as He’s revealed it to His holy Church.  By repenting ourselves of our sins, the preference of our own opinions or having Orthodoxy on our terms, by striving to live authentic Christian lives of integrity, by growing this and other missions, we spread the Gospel and the Orthodox Faith, we witness to the truth of our Faith, the Truth that Christ is and the life that’s only in Him.  Only in this way, can we hope to love as Christ loves, not condemning others, but bringing them to the same repentance, knowledge and love of God that is healing us, that is our hope, our life, our salvation.  This truth is indeed foolishness to the Gentiles, to those who live apart from God, to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”  May we be among those who are being saved and not those who are perishing. 

May we daily deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Christ, for as He says, ”narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (Matt. 7:13,14)

Fr. Robert Miclean
Holy Archangels Orthodox Church
11 August 2019

Epistle:            I Cor. 1:10-18
Gospel:            Matt. 14:14-22