25 July 2017

Unitas Ecclesiae - On the Unity of the Church

Sub Tuum.

Unitas Ecclesiae
24 July A.D. 2017
On the Vigil of St. James the Apostle

Unity of the Church is often discussed, becoming a point of philosophy, but so rarely a matter of action. This is a matter of particular concern in the present period. The Christian Church is today very much like it was in certain earlier times: the early Church, when she was not yet in favour with the Roman Empire and so many of her children suffered and were cruelly martyred; in the Protestant Reformation, when Christians tore each other apart and left wounds and pointless conflict that persists to this day like a feud in which the two sides have largely forgotten the origins of the conflict, but are determined to perpetuate it nevertheless; and the Enlightenment, in which science, the very offspring of the Church, was turned against the faith, and intellect was used as an excuse to try to destroy the Holy Church of Christ. Today, Christianity is the most persecuted religion in the world. Even in nations in which Christians are not necessarily in danger of their lives for the faith, there are other forms of persecution. Those other forms of persecution may appear more civilised, but they are just as troubling. The enemies of the Church will indeed attempt to tell those experiencing non-violent discrimination that they are not really being persecuted, pointing to those who suffer death and violence for the faith around the world and claiming that they instead are the only ones facing true persecution. Yet, that is a falsehood and an attempt to weaken the faithful and discourage them from fighting for justice. Stripes come in many, many forms. There is no shortage of means that the enemies of the Church will use to try to destroy her. Indeed, we are again in a period in which it seems virtually every corner of society is conspiring to bring about the end of the Church in one way or another. And while the devil stands at the very doors of the Church, Christians bicker and fight each other instead of standing up and defending their brethren. Yes, our Lord said that the gates of hell shall not prevail against the Church, but we Christians are not meant to be passive, doing nothing as the structures Christ gave us burn down around us. Ours is a faith of action. We must protect each other. Unity amongst Christians in not, therefore, merely a matter of spiritual fruit, ut unum sint, but a practical one. We cannot focus purely on the Church Triumphant, the Church in Heaven, while forgetting and forsaking the Church Militant, the Church here on earth. 
Discussions on unity are rarely deep. Sometimes they proceed to the point that there is cause for hope, and then suddenly all collapses. Or, sometimes discussions drag on ad infinitum without any apparent end in sight. There are reasons for this. These reasons spring largely from the heresies of the past reiterating themselves in the present. So many differences persist, and we humans seem fully determined to hang for dear life by our fingernails onto our differences unto our dying breath rather than embracing our similarities. Can we not work together, despite disagreements? All that must happen is for one Christian to extend his hand in brotherly love and for another to take it. Yet we would rather hurl insults or use certain aspects of doctrine and law as a rationale for turning our backs on our brethren. Doctrine and canon law are there as tools to strengthen the vineyard of our Lord, not strangle the workers therein. Can we not collaborate without compromise where there are points on which we cannot yet agree, or must we continue this senseless warfare with our Christian brethren while our enemies unify against us?

We in the Patriarchate of St. Stephen are blessed with the fullness of the historic and traditional Catholic Faith of the Roman Church. Our Anglican patrimony gives us a strong tie that spans from our spiritual and temporal home in the Italian peninsula to Our Lady’s Dowry, the British Isles. Our temporal patrimony blesses us with a legacy that points to our future if we have the courage to embrace it. Our forebears defended the Church wherever she was threatened, always with the goal of strengthening the faith and showing forth the love of Our Lord Jesus Christ. We steadfastly defend our legacy and our rights, given to us by the grace of God and the historic Apostolic See. To deny who we are is to slap Christ in the face. To yield our rights is to lay down that which Christ has entrusted to us, abandoning the sheep like the faithless shepherd that cares for no one. Such would be to place a nail into our Lord’s feet or the piece His Holy side. We must guard our flock. Yet we close our doors to no one who sincerely comes to us. We join hands with all who extend their hand to us sincerely. We can do nothing else and still call ourselves Christian. 

Also, we must remember that it is the faith that is important, not buildings. We worship the Cross, not a building. So often buildings or other worldly concerns are used as cause for disunity and disharmony. Do we not remember that we are to give shelter to those in need? Still, so many, flush with pride in the grandeur of their buildings, forgetting that they are an house of prayer and peace, turn away those who do not agree with them. But the Saints shall be with those who keep the faith, not those who merely keep only the buildings. 

The faith is also not a matter of numerical majority. Numbers ebb and flow, just as buildings come and go, and all shall turn again to dust. Numerical superiority does not mean legitimacy or correctness any more than being a determined minority makes one right. In this present period, so like other trying times in the history of the Church, the true faithful shall be reduced to a minority. They will be called false by the majority, which shall be under the guise of truth. Under those circumstances, it is difficult to maintain one’s faith. Many will fall. Christ, the Good Shepherd, shall come as always to give aid to His flock in need. The true Bishops of the world and the true priests, the pastors of the flock of Christ here on earth, must likewise be ready to give aid, going in search of the lost sheep when needed. 

We call upon all, not only those who are under the care of the Patriarchal See, but all Christian people around the world, Bishops, priests, clergy, and laity, to come together in true brotherhood, to find reasons for collaboration and cooperation, and above all to cease the warfare against other Christians. As we fight each other, the enemies of the Holy Cross delight, for we are weakened, and they grow in strength. Let us keep an eye gazing towards heaven, but our feet firmly planted in this world, that we, as humble workers in the vineyard of our Lord, may do His will here on earth for His glory and the benefit of His people.