At every service we pray for the “union of all” in the Church of the Living God. What sort of unity are we praying for, and why we are praying? We pray because unity destroyed by men can be restored only by God: its standards are too high, its pattern is no human but divine. It is a mystery in its nature, a miracle in its being. Christian unity cannot be defined as friendship, as fellowship. It is not “togetherness”, but “oneness”: That “they all may be one even as we are one”, said our Lord in his last prayer to the Father (John XVII.22). This call and this pattern are glorious but also full of awe, because they involve a commandment for the whole human race: to reach to the likeness of the Holy Trinity, to be its image and its revelation. It means a promise, but a responsibility too. And we easily forget both things. The experience of this glorious and awe-inspiring unity is the very being of the Church, its very nature: the Church is this unity it self; the Church is one and undivided, though our Christendom is broken to pieces by our sins. “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem, the city which is united in itself.”
Too often, the Church is thought of as at best hallowed congregation of men, united and knit together by their common faith and hope in the same God, by their love towards the same and only Lord: the unity of God Himself, whom divided and opposed Christians call upon, appears to many as the sole, but sufficient anchor of their unity. This standard is too low; and too mean is the underlying experience of the Church’s nature and life. The Church is not a mere human congregation. It is not a congregation but an organism, a living unit, and its members are not “parts” of a collective whole, but real, living “members” of a complex but unique body (I Cor XII.27): there is no such thing as a solitary Christian. And this body is — at the same time and quality — human and divine. Human, because we are its members, and not only we, but all the faithful departed, for “God is not God of the dead but of the living”(Matt.XXII.32), and all are alive for Him. But the Church is also divine: the Lord Himself, true man and very God is its Head, the first born of those who sleep, one of its members; the Holy Ghost, took His abode in it on Whit Sunday and dwells in each of its confirmed members; and our life is “hid with Christ in God” the Father; we are sons by adoption.
The Church is the place and the mode in which God unites Himself to His creatures. It is the “new creation”; the Kingdom already come with power, the re-created unity with and in God — in love and in freedom. The saying which seems so hard: “There is no salvation outside the Church” is utterly true, because the Church is salvation itself: the meeting place of God and man, but also the very mystery of their union. In the Church, God imparts His divine life to His creature, gives Himself in love and freedom, makes man “partaker of the divine nature” (II Peter I.4)and man accepts and receives God in love and freedom, shares in the life divine, becomes God by participation, his human nature being penetrated by, permeated with grace — divine and uncreated, as iron may become glowing with heat. God, loved and received, is no longer alien to His own creation, and man is no longer a stranger in the Kingdom of God. And this new relationship develops in the true prayer of unity, which is worshipping love and devoted stewardship.
The Church is not seeking for unity and fullness. It is itself fullness and unity already given and received. And this unity is the image of the Holy Trinity, the likeness of the divine life, a glorious, dread and life-giving experience for the Church itself, — and also a revelation of God to all creation: “that they all may be one, as Thou, Father, art in me, and I in Thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that Thou hast sent me” (John XVII.21), and have life eternal for: “This is life eternal that they might know Thee the only true God and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent” (John XVII,3).
To know God is the Church’s intimate, unspeakable experience, manifest only to itself (Eph.V.32). To reveal Him is its task and responsibility. It is its witness to its God; for the godless world sees God only in His Church and through it, judges Christ by His Church; is introduced to the mystery of the Trinity and of the divine life, to the knowledge of the true calling of mankind by the image and the manifestation of this new life — which is the Church, in its unity of knowledge, of worship and of love. And this manifestation must reveal the mystery of life not in words only but in a glorious life of unity with and in God. And we believe that there is still, in spite of and in the midst of all our divisions, one undivided Church — because otherwise, there is no Church at all, no new creation, no Kingdom come with power, and our Lord and God failed in His undertaking to make all things new and one.
We cannot overlook the Christian divisions; we must be aware that every schism, every split is the start of a disguised apostasy — the denial of God’s will, the destruction of His work. If we really realise what unity means and what it is, we can no longer accept our divisions, our unperceived apostasy in deeds and life. We must make this despised will of God our concern, and whole-heartedly put our hand to the plough. Two wills govern history: the will of God, all-powerful, who can create everything from nought and renew things that have grown old: the will of man weak, unable to create and renew — but given the dreadful power of opposing the will of God. It can destroy but not rebuild. Man can merely break himself and pray. And this we shall do: pray that God will restore our universal unity. But as St Ephraim of Syria says: “Don’t shut up your prayer in words, but make a prayer out of all your life”.
Let us pray for unity in the secret places of our hearts, in the intimacy of our homes, in the fellowship of our congregations — but let us join together in prayer, taking part in one another’s longing for unity. Let us taste the bitterness of our disunion — painfully, without trying to escape this bitterness, bearing our cross of shame. Let us realise our need and our responsibility — and open our hearts to love and humility, coming to our separated brethren not as a master but as a servant, as a slave indeed. We must open wide our minds, increase our knowledge, make deep our understanding — learn to discriminate between the sinner and his sin, the deluded person and his error, becoming aware of the existence of a genuine spiritual life in the different bodies of Christians (John IV,2). We must meet, study and pray together. But let us also do something more: unity means union with God — and before, all the work for unity starts in the inmost heart: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” The way leading to the unity of all is our personal holiness; and this way is utterly simple: “My son, the Lord says, give Me thy heart and I will achieve everything” (Eccl.), a wholehearted and active consecration, enabling us to call on the God of Heaven as our Father. And He shall hear our cry as He heard the prayer of His only-begotten Son, and grant us that unity agreeable to His will for it is said: “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God.”