One of the themes that resounds throughout St. Paul’s epistles is the exhortation that his spiritual children be of one mind, that they be likeminded. In Romans and 1 Corinthians, St. Paul explicitly both prays for and commands that the believers be of one mind. However, it is in the book of Philippians that St. Paul makes his most emotional plea—truly of all of the Churches St. Paul wrote to, it is with the Philippians that he seems to have had the most emotionally intimate relationship. And here too in the book of Philippians St. Paul most explicitly spells out what it means to be of one mind in the Church.
Until recently I had assumed that St. Paul’s exhortations to be of one mind meant having one opinion, seeing things only one way. And of course, that one way of seeing things, I assumed, was the way that my priest or bishop saw things. In other words, I thought, for example, that if my priest or bishop said only right way to venerate an icon was to make two metanias before and one after, then I had to think that too. Or if my bishop thought (and here I’m walking on thin ice, so please read the whole essay before you judge what I am saying) if my bishop thought that certain Protestants should be received into the Holy Orthodox Church by Chrismation and others by baptism, then I thought that, to be of one mind to be of one mind with my bishop, I had not only to obey, but also to hold the same opinion too. However, I don’t think opinion is at all what St. Paul is talking about.
Even among the apostolic band, among the holy apostles themselves, there were differences of opinion. One famous example is the argument between St. Paul and St. Barnabas over whether or not John-Mark should go with them on the second missionary journey (Acts 15). The argument became so intense that Sts. Barnabas and Paul part ways. But, interestingly and providentially, this works out in the end. St. Barnabas, whose name means ‘son of encouragement,’ is able to nurture Mark and help him grow out of whatever youthful weaknesses that made St. Paul reject him as a apostolic partner so that at the end of St. Paul’s life he writes to St. Timothy asking him to “Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for ministry” (2 Tim. 4:11). Two more famous apostolic differences of opinion are the one between Sts. Paul and Peter about eating Kosher (recorded in the book of Galatians chapter two), and the implied disagreements between St. Paul and the unnamed ‘super apostles’ recorded throughout the letters to the Corinthians.
And then if we look at Church history we have many, many examples of saints who disagreed with each other. For example, Sts. John Chrysostom and Cyril of Alexandria vehemently disagreed with each other to the point of excommunicating each other and prophesying each other’s death—and both prophecies coming to pass. And in our own times, St. Prophyrios of Kavsokalyvia in a letter rebuked St. Paisios of Athos for his prophetic utterances (this letter can be found easily online by googling “The Epistle of Elder Porphyrios to Elder Paisios”). No, from the examples in the Scripture and Church history, clearly when we are exhorted to be of one mind, it must mean something more than just being of the same opinion because the saints were of one mind even though they were not always of the same opinion.
Part of the reason why holy people who are of one mind do not always hold the same opinion has to do with the reality that each of us, even saints, even very holy people, only see spiritual reality as in a dark, mirrored reflection. The Spirit blows where it will and God’s providence is such that even saints do not see the whole picture. So, for example in the case of Sts. Paul and Barnabas, St. Paul saw clearly the importance of his missionary work and the liability Mark’s immaturity could prove to be. St. Barnabas, on the other hand, saw clearly the calling and gifts of Grace that were within Mark, gifts that with a little nurturing could be fully realized. What each saint saw was true and real and very important, but neither saw the whole picture. Why was that? It was because St. Paul was not St. Barnabas: they had different personalities, gifts and callings. And as it turned out, in the providence of God, what outwardly seemed to be an argument dividing two saintly apostolic partners was in actuality part of God’s plan to save John-Mark so that he could eventually encourage St. Paul toward the end of St. Paul’s life and to continue St. Paul’s apostolic ministry. And so, if saints do not see the whole picture, do not fully see how the providence of God is at work, if saints only “know in part and prophesy in part,” as St Paul puts it in 1 Cor. 13:9, how much more we who are so far from holiness? How much more do we who are not holy see only the tiniest sliver of what God is doing in His Church and in the world at large, and even in our own lives? No wonder we often have different opinions.
Nevertheless, despite differences of opinion, we can be of one mind.
If being of one mind does not necessarily mean having the same opinion about everything, what does it mean? In Philippians chapter two, St. Paul explains quite clearly what he means by being of one mind. He says:
“Fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.”
So for St. Paul, being of the same mind, or being like minded, has to do with humility and love. Opinion is not the issue. When I esteem someone as better than myself, it does not matter if I agree with him or not. Humility and love trump opinion. In fact, I can hold exactly the same opinion as someone else, but not at all be of one mind—at least not the one mind St. Paul is speaking of. Even if I hold the ‘correct’ opinion, even the opinion of a saint or of all of the saints, even the clear opinion of the Holy Orthodox Catholic and Apostolic Church, if I hold such a correct opinion and I harbour in my heart conceit or selfish ambition or I look out mostly for my own interests rather than for the interests of others, then I am not of the same mind with any saint or with the Church—no matter how correct my opinion is or isn’t.
What is this one mind, this one mind that we are supposed to have? It is the mind of Christ. What does this mind of Christ look like? It looks like kenosis. It looks like laying aside what I have a right to hold on to. It looks like humility and service. It looks like voluntary death for the sake of love. Here’s how St. Paul puts it. Immediately after he explains what one mind is in Philippians chapter two, he further explains by saying that Christ’s voluntary humility is the ‘one mind’ that he is talking about:
“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 made Himself of no reputation, 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.”
When we are humble, we don’t necessarily have to agree. When we are humble, don’t necessarily have to hold the same opinion in order to get along. When we don’t insist on holding on to what is rightfully ours, we can get along just fine. We can be of the same mind, even if we don’t agree. If I love the Church, if I love others more than myself, then I can cheerfully submit to my priest or bishop even if I don’t always see things exactly the way he does. And even if I think on some matter that my priest or bishop or husband or teacher or president or whomever I need to get along with is wrong and I am right, still I can submit, I can humble myself—if I have the mind of Christ, the same mind of Christ who humbled himself even to the Cross.
Furthermore, if for whatever reasons I cannot submit, if I cannot go along with what my conscience tells me is wrong, if I must part ways, then with the mind of Christ, I do so in humility. I first speak clearly my conscience. This too is love. And then I humble myself and let God judge—realizing that I only see in part, esteeming the one I disagree with as better than myself, even if I can no longer walk side by side with him or her. Let me say clearly here that such parting of the ways should be rare, very rare. Humility usually finds a way. Nevertheless, when disagreement means that I must part ways with the one I disagree with, still we can one or the other or both of us do so in humility, with the mind of Christ.
As Christians we are all called to be of one mind, but that one mind is not your mind or my mind or somebody else’s—no matter how holy or important that person is or how much authority he or she has. The one mind we are called to have is Christ’s. And being of one mind in Christ does not necessarily mean that we will all be of one opinion. But being of one mind in Christ does mean that no matter what my or your opinion is, we will consider each other better than ourselves, we will do nothing out of ambition or conceit. Being of one mind means that I will humble myself, even if the others, even if no one else seems to be making any attempt at humility. Being of one mind means that even if my conscience forces me to part ways with someone, I do so in tears, considering the other as better than myself, realizing that I only see part of the story, and doing my best to be as concerned for the interests of the other as I am for my own. In sum, being of one mind means humbling myself just as Christ our God humbled Himself.