Growing up as a young man in the 1970s meant I heard some of the best music in the world! One song I remember that got the whole car singing along was the anthem “United we Stand” by the Brotherhood of Man. The chorus was “For united we stand, divided we fall. And if our backs should ever be against the wall, we’ll be together, together you and I.”
Unity is a concept that is as old as humanity. It permeates the stories of history, the attaining of unity, the betrayal of unity, and the loss of unity. American money has this motto printed on each bill “E Pluribus Unum” – Out of the Many One.
Unity means strength. Division means destruction or loss or even such marginalization as to lose standing and freedoms. It seems ingrained in our psyche: “Desire unity!”
Where do you think that comes from? Secular science may suggest it is merely a survival technique learned over centuries of the “survival of the fittest.” Sociologists may suggest it flows from our fear of being alone. But there seems to be another answer if we posit humans were created in God’s image.
You see God knows Himself as Persons in Communion. He is Trinity in Unity. His self-knowledge before there was time or even existence is Persons in Unity. So, it makes sense that He creates us in His image to struggle for that same way of existence that He enjoys before the world began. Our Lord Jesus revealed as much when He prays before His crucifixion “that they may be one as We are.” John 17:11. This is why at the heart of our Orthodox worship is the Holy Eucharist, the Communion, the miracle that makes unity, that symbolizes our unity, that creates our unity, that infuses us with the life that displays our unity. We who are many, drink from One Cup! We are One.
No wonder Jesus took as the greatest insult the slander of the leaders of His day when they accused Him of casting out demons by the prince of demons. Look at our Gospel Lesson in Mark 3:20-27:
At that time, Jesus came to a home, and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for people were saying, “He is beside himself.” And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Beelzebul, and by the prince of demons he casts out the demons.” And he called them to him, and said to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but is coming to an end. But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man; then indeed he may plunder his house.”
The gift of unity gives strength to a home, a community, a nation, and a people, and the curse of division is always a symptom of impending destruction. Always.
This is why the enemy of our souls always encouraged, fosters, and tempts us with division, starting with our own hearts. To be at war with yourself is the root of all divisions in society, and the healing of this divided heart is the purpose of the spiritual disciplines and spiritual labors we are constantly called to embrace and constantly tempted to ignore! No wonder St. Paul commanded us to “note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them.” Romans 16:17
Today, where are the cracks of insidious division in your own heart and mind? Where are you at war with yourself? Discover these places in your own soul and you will discover the roots of divisions and quarreling in your relationships and even in your parish. Embracing the remedies of the Eucharistic life heals divisions and makes unity possible. But it must first come to your own heart and then it will be seen in all your actions and motivations. When you approach the Chalice next, pray for the unity of the Church beginning with your own heart. It’s what makes us Orthodox on Purpose!
P.S. Dear Lord, I have to start with myself! But I confess I really try to avoid that. And I know why: It’s not pleasant to see the cracks and the weaknesses of my own life. When I dwell on them, I tumble into despair! But that’s another sign I still don’t trust and love You like I should. You already know every crack, mistake, selfish desire, and broken place in my life and You love me even knowing all my faults! You still love me and You still want me with You. You are not ashamed of me, so when I hide from myself, You come looking for me! Please help me not to fear honest reflection about my own life and give me the grace to repent knowing full well You always forgive. Amen.