The times I have written on the boundaries and borders of Church are occasions for a great deal of comment. Generally the comments run in two directions: Orthodox who agree that “we are the Church,” and defend my thoughts, and others who are challenged, or offended by the suggestion that “one,” might not include them. This is all too easy – especially for my Orthodox readers. Many settle for their own comfortable form of institutional unity – “everyone permitted at the cup is part of us!” It’s both true and not true.
When Christ prayed, “That they all may be one,” there was no thought of a divided Christendom. His prayer was not a primitive effort at ecumenism: it is a prayer for a mode of existence that it His gift to the world – that is first manifested in the life of the Church. The mode of existence that He gifts to us is to be “one,” even as “He and the Father are one.” It is a communion a “community of union” (as one translation of St. Irenaeus phrases it) that heals the fragmentation of our individual lives and unites them in a common existence that is the ultimate revelation of love.
St. Paul makes reference to this:
[God has] made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself, that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth– in Him. (Eph 1:9-10 NKJ)
The phrase “gather together in one” is an attempt to translate the Greek anakephalaiomai (ἀνακεφαλαίομαι) to “recapitulate.” St. Irenaeus propounds a version of the atonement under the heading of recapitulation. It is the “gathering together again under a single head.” There is a sense that everything was once under the “headship” of Adam and is now being restored to a proper unity by being “recapitulated” (“re-headed”) in Christ. Thus, the manner of existence given to us is more than union – it is a union in the proper order – a union with “headship.” Christ and the Father are “one,” though the Father is always Father to the Son, and the Son is always Son to the Father. There is a hierarchy, a “holy order” in the Godhead. This holy order has no compulsion, nor oppression, no forced submission, no assertion of rights and no defense. It is a communion in love in which one person empties themselves towards the other.
We hear this in a number of Christ’s sayings:
I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me. (Joh 5:30 NKJ)
Therefore, whatever I speak, just as the Father has told Me, so I speak. (Joh 12:50 NKJ)
Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner. (Joh 5:19 NKJ)
“Nothing of Himself…” This is the true nature of love and a “nothing” that is itself the fullness of life. As the Son empties Himself towards the Father, so the Father gives all things to the Son:
The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into His hand. (Joh 3:35 NKJ)
This is the heart of what it means to be one.
…that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me. (Joh 17:20-23 NKJ)
This is the one life that is found in the Cup. Not one as the world understands one – but as the Son is in the Father and the Father is in the Son – self-emptied and glorified.
It is this one life that is the work of the Son in the world, the work that is the life of the Spirit in the Church. And it is this mystery which makes all discussion of the One Church and the One Cup problematic. It does not make such discussion fruitless or without merit – but it challenges us to actually recognize the character of what is being discussed. The one mystery is the gift of God, and all things are being drawn towards that one. The action that draws us (the work of the Holy Spirit) both smashes the false idol of the ego, the boundaries that are imaginary, as well as raising up and exalting our true existence as persons.
That personal existence, however, is the same as we find in Christ:
Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phi 2:4-11)
All of creation is being drawn toward union with Christ – it is God’s revealed intended purpose. I frequently think that we narrow the meaning of Church (the “assembly”) in a severe manner. The institutional manifestation of the Church can be seen as somehow exhausting the content of the word. In the Eucharist, however, the bread and wine that are offered, are but tokens of creation itself. The Divine Liturgy is not an institution’s worship of God – it is the voice of the whole of creation. That is the “priestly” role of the Church. Thus it’s inaccurate to say (as the bumper sticker proclaims) that the Orthodox Church was founded in 33 a.d. It is more accurate to place that date contemporaneous with “Let there be light.” For the assembly of the firstborn (Heb. 12:23) includes the whole of creation.
Of course, taken the wrong way, we affirm so much that we have said nothing. There remains a boundary at the Cup, but that boundary is the communion of the firstborn which we must always strive to reach.
Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble; (2Pe 1:10 NKJ)