Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch

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We are all invited to be one heart and one spirit in the house of God

The Patriarchal Journal
Vol. 32 – March/April 1994 – No. 133/134. Page 137-141

The house of God is the Holy Church, the Kingdom of God on earth, which the Lord Jesus established on earth when he began his economy of salvation in the flesh calling people saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news” (Mark 1:15). On this matter the Apostle Paul says: “urging and encouraging you and pleading that you lead a life worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory” (I Thessalonians 2:12).

So, all of us are invited to be living members in the sacramental body of Christ which is the church: obedient to the Lord Jesus who is the head of the body, in harmony with each other like the members of one whole body to be of one heart and spirit. Yes, the Lord Jesus had established his church on the basis of faith in him, that he is the Son of the living God. God announced this subject on the tongue of the chief of the apostles, Saint Peter, who said to the Lord Jesus, “You are Messiah the Son of the living God.” So, he blessed him saying, “For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:17,18).

So that the church would remain steadfast and unshakable in the Lord, the Lord promised to send them the Holy Spirit to be a guide and teacher for them and to remind them of everything the Lord said to them. As a fulfillment of the promise of the Lord the Holy Spirit came down on the followers of the Lord Christ and their number was about 120 persons both men and women. They were gathering in the Upper Room in one heart and one mind in intense and continuous prayer and fasting. The atmosphere flared up to the heat of their faith. The Holy Spirit descended as tongues of flame then settled on each one of them and they started talking in different languages.

After pride had confused the tongues of the people of Babylon in the past, humility unified the tongues of the Lord’s followers in the Upper Room. The mission of the Holy Spirit, the Counselor, is also to protect the disciples from idle talk and errors, to speak through them and to remind them of everything the Lord Jesus said to them. The Holy Spirit also gave them courage, wisdom, understanding and comprehension to be able to bear witness to the resurrection of Christ — above all witnessing with superior courage seen when the Apostle Peter in one sermon drew to the faith 3,000 persons. This was how the church was born. The Holy Spirit lead it on the way of life and guided its shepherds to the truth. He is the one who chooses them as it says in the Acts of the Apostles where Luke the Evangelist said: “While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.” (Acts 13:2-3). And by the guidance of the Holy Spirit the apostles established churches of new believers and appointed priests and bishops for them and the believers devoted themselves to hearing the teaching of the Apostles, sharing and breaking of bread and prayers (Acts 2:42): “Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and not one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common” (Acts 4:32).

Those churches preserved intact the faith that they received from the apostles. They maintained excellent conduct and behavior befitting the gospel of Christ and spreading the good news, and chose for themselves servants put in place by the apostles. We read in the epistles of Paul about the command of the apostle Paul to his two disciples Timothy and Titus to establish priests in every place.

The first church was characterized by steadfastness before the challenge of circumstances, presented martyrs on the altar of the love of Christ and waited for the second coming with hope and faith.

Satan, the enemy of good, opposed the Holy Church and tried to storm its steadfast castle and penetrate the rows of its bold soldiers by planting enticements and thoughts of pride and contention for power. But, the Lord protected his church and promised saying: “the gates of Hades will not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). So the Lord appointed pure apostles as protectors for the church. When riots broke out in Corinth, for example, the apostle Paul wrote to them saying, “Now I appeal to you brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose” (I Corinthians 1:10). This oneness of mind and opinion is the magnanimous doctrine and principle of good Christian behavior and the church continues to establishing a message of repentance all over the world.

Yes, strange opinions had emerged in the church on Christian thought. Schisms increased dangerously at the dawn of Christianity and were about to afflict the church at its beginning, but Christ protected it and “the gates of Hell did not prevail against it” because “God is in its midst of it, it won’t be shaken” (Psalm 46:5). By the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and by the power that was given to them from the Lord, the apostles decided on the canonical holy scriptures. In the council of Jerusalem in the year 51 A.D. they solved the problem of the entry of the gentiles into the Christian faith. They did not need to be circumcised or become Jews first. During that council the apostles proved that they could be unified by the Holy Spirit, the One leading to the truth. They dared to write to the believers from the nations saying: “we have decided unanimously to choose representatives and send them to you, along with our beloved Barnabas and Paul. For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to impose on you no further burden than these essentials” (Acts 15:25,28).

Therefore, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and by impartiality and self denial, the apostles were able to solve the problems by the divine power they took from the Lord Jesus. They removed evil from among them (I Corinthians 5:13) cutting off the way of all who would be seduced by the base self that entices to evil, who would tear the sacred body of Christ and who would distort the true teachings of Christ. The Apostle Paul wrote on that matter to the believers in Corinth saying, “Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters. What I mean is that each of you says, ‘I belong to Paul,’ or ‘I belong to Apollos,’ or ‘I belong to Cephas,’ or ‘I belong to Christ.’ Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” (I Corinthians 1:10-13)

This is enough for us to take a lesson and admonitions from the apostles who protected the faith and preserved correct conduct and directed the believers to be for Christ alone. All the apostles and fathers were servants of Christ and his ambassadors on earth telling people his heavenly message and directing them to look to him to receive salvation.

Alas, the church, the house of God, has been divided against itself and without the mercy of God what the Lord said would have been fulfilled: that every kingdom divided against itself would be destroyed. (Luke 11:17) But God protected his inheritance and inspired its fathers across the age to endeavor for its recovery. Though most of those attempts met quick failure because the church was not in one heart and one spirit. But the spirit of the world entered it — the spirit of pride and contentions for power — and the conditions of true love were not fulfilled. Wasn’t it in the name of Christ the savior of the world who promised his disciples saying, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” (Matthew 18:20) But if we got tired the whole night as Peter and his friends did catching fish, our efforts would come to nothing unless we obey the orders of the Lord and do them.

We thank God who inspired some of the pious at the beginning of this century who facilitated the holding of meetings between representatives of different Christian groups and several denominations. The World Council of Churches was established in the middle of this century. Then the Second Vatican Council was held. Informal theological discussions that began between theologians from several churches were changed into an official dialogue and there was an announcement on the unity of faith in the doctrine of incarnation and redemption. Common declarations were signed between the heads of the churches. The dialogue is continuing on several subjects to solve the problems that the schisms left behind across the ages and generations. The leaders of the churches are exchanging visits and meetings in a spirit of love and tolerance.

Leaders of unity, the great heros of the faith, are offering their constructive undertakings by placing road signs along the way to unity and persisting in prayer for the sake of reaching it. They encourage the blessed people to share with them the prayers and persistently endeavor to spread love among members of the churches who are members of the one church that the Lord Jesus established and is head of. What we need now is patience and expectation as the nations expected the coming of the savior, the hope of the nations, and He came! As we await his second coming, not knowing when he will come, he has commanded us to wait and to watch because we don’t know in what hour our Lord will come. (Matthew 24:42) Also, we don’t know when the will of God will be fulfilled as we reach the pursued aim when the unity of the Christian churches is fulfilled.

The schisms have lasted for several centuries, more than fifteen centuries, so we should not be anxious if the time for Christian unity is delayed. As we are walking on the straight path that leads to it, God willing, the way of love, tolerance and meekness and humility and continuous ardent prayer until that day, let us take as a motto the golden rule in which the Lord Jesus summarized his law saying: “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets” (Matthew 7:12). Let us pray that the Lord grant us to be witnesses of that day, the day of Christian unity, the day that the Lord has made, to rejoice, and be glad in it (Psalm 118:24) Amen.

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