(John 17: 1-13)
Today, on this Sunday before Pentecost, we honor the memory of the 318 Holy Fathers of the First Ecumenical Synod, who met in Nicaea, which is in Bithynia in 325 AD. This Holy Synod condemned the heresy of Arius (who did not accept Jesus Christ as true God) and instituted the Symbol of Faith, which is also known as the “Symbol of Nicaea.” It was established in that every Divine Liturgy, as well as in other Holy Services, we recite this summarization of the main beliefs of the Orthodox Faith. Next Sunday, on Pentecost, we celebrate the foundation of the Church. But “the head of the Church is Christ” (Ephesians 5:23), the Son of God and True God. Without this faith, there can be no Church. And because the First Ecumenical Synod affirmed this dogmatic truth, we honor them on the Sunday before Pentecost.
Along with the Orthodox faith, the Holy Fathers also preserved the unity of the Church and believers. Because each heresy breaks the body of Christ, which is the Church, and disturbs the relationship Christians have with one another. A precondition of Church unity is “the unity of the faith and the communion of the Holy Spirit,” which we ask God to give to us at every Divine Liturgy.
Continuing on this important matter, Jesus Christ, on the night before being arrested (as we heard in today’s Gospel), pleaded with God the Father to keep his disciples united, and by extension all who believed or would believe in Him in the future. This prayer went beyond His disciples, but was also for those who would believe in Him by their preaching: “Holy Father, keep through Your Name those whom you have given Me, that they may be one as We are” (verse 11). He continues: “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You” (John 17:20-21).
When we hear Jesus with such fervor beg God the Father that we may be unified amongst ourselves and with God, on this last night before His Passion, how can we not be moved by it? Even though there is a strong tendency for division, competition, and self-centeredness in our society, we Christians must be agents of unity. This means being members of the same body, the body of Christ, which is the body of the Church. The Apostle Paul with pain addresses the Christians of Corinth and asks them not to have conflicts with one another, but to bring peace and unity: “I plead with you brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1 Corinthians: 1:10). To the Galatians, the Great Apostle writes with firmness on the subject of unity between them: “If you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another” (Galatians 5:15). Even from his prison in Rome, the Apostle Paul is interested in the unity of the Christians: “I beseech you to walk…with all lowliness and gentleness, with long suffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:2-3).
It is our duty, therefore, to constantly strive to maintain peace and unity among us as members of the Church. And to make this feasible, let us be more and more aware of the truths of our faith, study the word of God, and pray to God to strengthen us with the light, sanctifying, and unifying power of the Holy Spirit.