Sun, 19 November 2023
Ephesians 2:14-22. Fr. Anthony gives his brain a much needed break by reading the homily. It's on his favorite theme - harmonious and joyful unity in Christ. Enjoy the show!
Homily – On Unity (Ephesians 2: 14-22)
The Reading from the Epistle of the Holy Apostle Paul to the Ephesians. [2:14-22]: Christ is our peace, Who has made us both one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility, * by abolishing in His Flesh the law of commandments and ordinances, that He might create in Himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, * and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the Cross, thereby bringing the hostility to an end. * And He came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; * for through Him we both have access in One Spirit to the Father. * So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, * built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone, * in Whom the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; * in Whom you also are built into it for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.
The mystery of unity.
Unity is one of the primary mysteries of the world. We yearn for it – the desire to be understood, to be recognized, to be loved, to be valued, to be needed – these are all dim reminders that we are called to a deep and enduring fellowship; a fellowship that nurtures us and allows us to nurture others so that we all grow towards God and perfection together.
This reality of unity is proclaimed throughout scripture (most powerfully in Christ’s High Priestly Prayer found in the Gospel according to St. John, chapter 17). It flows and emanates from the pre-existing foundational reality of the Trinity: three Persons united into one God. Today I want you to note how many times we refer to and pray this reality our liturgy – it permeates our prayers, empowers our Sacraments, and informs every aspect of our faith.
It is this unity that St. Paul is professing in today’s epistle reading. The specific case he is referring to is the unity of Jews and Gentiles, but this is a subset of a more generalized phenomenon. And it is this phenomenon that I want to address today.
If it (unity) really is the answer to so many of our deepest psychological and spiritual needs - to be understood, recognized, loved, needed, valued – needs that have thus far been poorly addressed and misdiagnosed, how is it to be achieved? How can we have the peace that St. Paul promises? The joy that God desires for us? Three points.
1. Must be recreated.
Listen to St. John Chrysostom as he makes this point;
Observe thou, that it is not that the Gentile is become a Jew, but that both the one and the other are entered into another condition. It was not with a view of merely making this last other than he was, but rather, in order to create the two anew. And well does he on all occasions employ the word “create,” and does not say “change,” in order to point out the power of what was done, and that even though this creation is invisible, yet it is a real creation, and this must be our starting point…. (St. John Chrysostom, Homily V on Ephesians)
The goal is not to make all Americans into Syrians or Syrians into Greeks or Europeans into Africans or Asians into Persians: the point is to make all into something new and greater; a new man, a new woman, and new mankind. To create a new body, a new mind, a new soul. There is a name for this new man, this new Adam – we call him a Christian; and there is a name for the union of such new persons – we call it the Church.
2. Must go through the Cross.
St. Paul makes it clear in today’s reading that the way to achieve reconciliation and peace is through the Cross. The Cross destroys the old man, the one that is selfish and small, the one who filters even the best concepts, such as love and charity, through the filter of his own ego. There can be no real union with someone who is only interested in what they get from the other person; who only wants to be a friend to puff themselves up; who only wants to be a lover in order to satisfy himself. This filter of egoism is deeply rooted – the science of psychology demonstrates how our pride affects (and contaminates) everything we do. The problem is that even actions that look good are counter-productive for purposes of true union if they are not done with the proper spirit. Politeness and pretty words may be enough to satisfy the needs of civility and cooperation, but not to achieve the kind of peace that we were made for – and for which we so deeply long. The only way to deal with this deep-rooted weed of pride is to pull it up and destroy it. The only way to fix this old man is to hang him on the cross. It will be painful, but the new man that is resurrected will be capable of so many beautiful things; things that the old man cannot even dream of. He will gain true meaning and lasting happiness.
At least, he will gain these things until that weed comes back and the old man rears his ugly head once again. Our first death and recreation take place at baptism – all the others take place at confession (the baptisms of tears) This dynamic of unity and crucifixion is a continual one – until the time when the fruit of the resurrection is enjoyed in its fullness.
3. All members of the union must do it
If not? Dysfunction. Lies. Despondency. We know this because we have seen dysfunctional relationships. We have seen the heartbreak it causes when both members of a marriage are not “all in”. We have seen how one spouse will enable the other spouse’s egoism in an attempt to make their union last; but unless there is change, unless both partners sacrifice themselves for their love, then this is a false union. This is why the courting process is so important – and why it really should involve both time and the advice of wise and loving friends and family. We have seen how unequal yoking can destroy people and the institution of marriage itself – this is bad enough. But [as St. Paul points out] marriage is an icon of something even greater: the Church. And the damage done when all its members – and especially its leaders – are not “all in” is even greater.
Conclusion: falling in love – and staying there
I fear that I have taken something beautiful and turned it into a bit of a bogeyman. Speaking about crosses can give the wrong idea. It’s not all about pain. It’s about connection. Not just the connection that comes from falling in love (which is fun), but the harmony that comes from staying there. There is nothing more enjoyable because it is what we were made for. Christ has destroyed the wall of division. Through Him we can harmony and holiness through fellowship.
So fall in love with Christ; give your heart to Him. Only through Him is such a blessed union possible. It is through Him that we are remade, free from the division and divisiveness of sin. He was incarnate, suffered and died, and was resurrected for this very purpose. So open your heart to him and give him all your love, all your trust; your mind, your body, and your soul – and then learn to love your neighbor as yourself. He will grant you peace in Him and with His saints.
This is the joyful unity we are called to, and it is why we are here. Unity through Christ is the purpose of this parish and the reason for our membership in it.