July 29 (O.S., July 16) 2018: Ninth Sunday after Pentecost; Commemoration of the Holy Fathers of the First Six Councils. Hieromartyr Athenogenes, bishop of Heracleopolis, and his ten disciples (311). Martyrs Paul and two sisters, Chionia and Alevtina, (308). Martyr Antiochus, physician (4th c.). Virgin-martyr Julia (440).
Ss Cyril & Methodius Mission, Madison WI
Glory to Jesus Christ!
Because we are co-workers with Christ, we are also co-workers in Christ with each other.
Just as the gifts (charismata) we receive in Holy Baptism are the concrete ways in which we are connected to God and come to share in His life, so too with our working together. Our communion with Christ is embodied and lived out on our willingness to share a common life and work.
Or, as an ancient Christian maxim has it: unus Christianus, nullus Christianus. One Christian is no Christian.
The importance of our co-laboring with each other in Christian is why for the fathers of the Church, schism–division in the Church–is as bad and even worse than heresy. While heretics “violate the faith by thinking falsely about God,” St Augustine says, that “schismatics break away from fraternal love by their wicked separations although they believe as we do.” (De fide et symbolo, 21).
To refuse to work together with the whole Church is to pursue my own salvation while neglecting your salvation.
Co-working with Christ means, as we’ve already discussed, that I commit myself willingly to helping you pursue faithfully and generously your own vocation. This isn’t my obligation because I am a priest but because I am a Christian. Ordination–like all vocations–builds on and confirms the dignity we receive in Baptism.
Does this mean that the clergy have no unique or particular obligations? God forbid we should think this!
Today we celebrate the fathers of the first six ecumenical councils. Briefly, these councils were called to heal divisions in the Church. The councils, in other words, we called to defend not just the common faith of the Church but also the bonds of charity of our co-working in Christ with each other.
From this, we get a sense of the obligation of the clergy in the Church. The clergy’s task is to defend and strengthen the bonds of charity that unite us to Christ and each other. There is nothing sentimental about the love that binds us to each other. Christian charity is concrete. It is the practical and tangible manifestation of divine grace in our life together.
This means that my job as the priest is to help you discern and live your personal vocations. This must be done in harmony with the Tradition of the Church. But a purely formal adherence to the moral or dogmatic Tradition of the Church is not sufficient for salvation any more than not committing adultery makes for a happy marriage.
Helping you live your vocation means helping you help others live their own. The clergy, in other words, are set aside in the life of the Church to help us learn to work together, to be co-workers with Christ and each other.
There shouldn’t be anything that resembles coercion in our co-working. What we do together we must do freely, that is personally. This means that we must shun any hint of emotional or social–much less, physical–violence in our life together.
As a practical matter, this means that there will be times when not much will get done because we lack agreement among ourselves. But these disagreements are different or at least should be different, then what we see in the world.
Our disagreements are not a matter of who is “right” and who is “wrong,” who is the “good” Christian and who the “bad” Christian. Statements like this are more often than not, subtle (or not so subtle) ways of refusing to work together.
No for us, our disagreements are the opening moment of discerning God’s will for us. The question is not who is right and who is wrong, who is moral and who immoral, but what does God want from us here and now in the concrete circumstances of our life together?
My brothers and sisters in Christ! We are called by Jesus not only to be co-workers with Him but with each other. This is why we can gather together this morning to celebrate the Divine Liturgy and receive the Precious Body and Blood of Christ.
And it is our working together with each other in Christ, that is at the heart of what it means to be saved.