Keeping the Unity of the Spirit (Sun. Nov. 29)

The word of the Day is “unity.”  In our reading of Ephesians 4:1-6, St. Paul urges the congregation in Ephesus to live in a way that preserves the oneness of the Church.  The Apostle pleads with them to “walk worthy of [their] calling… endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (vs. 3).

Unity is a gift of Christ.  Paul states, “For He Himself [Christ] is our peace who has made both [Jew and Greek] one and has broken down the middle wall of separation. He, therefore, is the “one Lord” who reconciles us to God and one another.

Unity Is “Of the Spirit”

But unity is also “of the Spirit.”  The early community of believers manifested that oneness soon after the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Church at  Pentecost.  Thus, Luke, the writer of Acts, reports, “Now the multitude of the believers were of one heart and one soul…”  (Acts 4:32).

We cannot produce the oneness that the Holy Spirit gives.  But our reading teaches that we can “endeavor” to keep it.    But the word “endeavor” cannot express the connotation of the original Greek.  The Greek original has the sense of “haste” and “diligence” (Strong’s #4704, 232).  With this in mind, we understand that in our reading, Paul recommends the urgent pursuit of Church unity.  He knows very well the forces of division and discord that tear the Body of Christ apart.  These range from lofty philosophies (Colossians 2:8) to rivalries over leadership (1 Corinthians 1:11-12) to petty quarrels  (Philippians 4:2-3).  Paul’s teaching suggests that at the first sign of a tear in the Church’s fabric, the lovers of harmony should quickly get out needle and thread to mend it.

A Culture of Peace

But what can be done to prevent these rents in the first place?  It is perhaps useless to appeal to common interests when hearts are set against one another.  Before disharmony arises, the Apostle advises a climate of peacefulness.  He urges a Church culture that actively promotes unity “in the bond of peace”  (vs. 3).

Peace is not the cause of unity.  Rather it is a shared, unspoken attachment to quietness and absence of conflict (Strong’s # 1515, 78). The prophet Ezekiel described this bond as a covenant. Through the prophet, God promised the restoration of the kingdom of David.  Then, God promised, “I will make with them a covenant of peace and banish wild animals from the land so that they may live in the wild and sleep in the woods securely (Ezekiel 34:25).

Thus, peace is a “bond” between those who disavow conflict. The root of the Greek word for “bond” refers to the ligaments that tie the bones together.  Therefore the “bond of peace” is a shared dedication to holding the Church tightly together.  Such a mood does not allow any “wild animals” of trouble-making to disturb the flock of Christ.  But, when  peace reigns  over the faithful in the Church, they enjoy a foretaste of the end time when Christ returns as the “Son of David.”  At that time, there will be a fulfillment of the work of God to establish the “peaceful kingdom.”

The Virtues of Peacefulness

But this leads to the final question, how we cultivate this climate of peace as we pursue the “unity of the Spirit”?  Paul identifies three virtues that will help us.  The first is “lowliness.”  The Greek term refers to the modesty of the heart  (Strong’s #5012, 246.  Those who are lowly in spirit do not claim anything as their own.  But they receive all that they have as gifts of God.  Since they do not put themselves forward, these self-giving members of the Church are free to work for the interests of the whole Body of Christ.  And in focusing on the good of the whole, they promote peace among the members.

The second is “gentleness.  The original Greek terms refer to “meekness.”  It is an inner grace of the soul that accepts the will of God without complaint or resistance.  Yet, those who are meek also bear the assaults of those who are against them.  The popular idea of meekness assumes that it makes one weak and vulnerable.  But this virtue demonstrates the power of composure and restraint.  The meek are free to work selflessly for the healing of grievances and complaints within the Body of Christ. The result of this restoration is that the climate of peace in the Church is repaired.

The last virtue is patience, that is, longsuffering.  It is the quality of forbearance that outlasts and overcomes the trials that it faces.  Those who are patient have the grace to put up with the faults of others.  And they trust that the Spirit is working in every believer to cause him or her to mature in faith and love.  Those who have patient hearts can help the Body of Christ look beyond the troubles of the present.  Thus, they can prevent the Body of Christ from impatient reactions to the weaknesses of its members.  Rather they can offer the peace that comes from accepting the faults of others.

For Reflection

St. Porphyrios broadens our understanding of the unity of the Church. He writes, “Christ united the body of the Church with heaven and earth, with angels, men, and all created things, with all of God’s creation—with animals and birds, with each tiny wildflower and each microscopic insect.  The Church thus became the fullness of Him who fills all in all, that is, of Christ. Everything is in Christ and with Christ.  This is the mystery of the Church.

At the same time, the saint ‘s teaching deepens how we can experience of the Church’s unity.  He writes,  “This is our Lord’s wish for all the members of the Church as expressed in His great high-priestly prayer: that they may be one.  But that is something you can only understand through grace. We experience the joy of unity, of love, and we become one with everyone. There is nothing more magnificent” (St Porphyrios, Wounded by Love, 2005, 88).

About Fr. Basil

Now retired, the Very Rev. Archpriest Basil Ross Aden has served as a parish priest, parish pastor, diocesan mission director, writer, and college teacher of New Testament and Religious Studies. He has a Master of Theology and a Doctor of Ministry degree from the University of Chicago and has published daily devotional and stewardship materials as well as a college textbook on Religious Studies. He also has published papers and/or lectured on the Orthodox perspective on Luther and the Reformation. religious freedom, current issues of religion and society, and St. John Chrysostom. He is married to Sandra and has two sons and three grandchildren. He is still active as a priest as well as a writer of articles and materials on Orthodoxy and topics of faith and life today.

Orthodox Scripture Readings

Leave a Reply