David Henderson: Overcoming division
At least once a week I have a conversation that goes something like this: “So, are you a priest?” (My black cassock is a giveaway.) I reply, “Yes, I’m an Orthodox priest.” With a somewhat puzzled expression, the inquirer asks if I’m Jewish, and I explain that I am a priest in the Orthodox Christian Church. I then go on to describe Eastern Orthodox Christianity, about which most Americans have very little knowledge. I explain that I am the priest in charge at St. John’s Greek Orthodox Church in Craig, which invariably results in a comment like, “You don’t look Greek.” (I often jokingly respond by saying I’m from “northern” Greece – hence my lighter hair and blue eyes!)
Sometimes I hear people refer to our parish, St. John’s, as “the Greek Church,” which seems to imply that one needs to be Greek to attend or become a member. Speaking as a priest who also happens to be mostly Scottish and English, I can assure you nothing could be further from the truth. While we cherish and celebrate the ethnic heritage that gave rise to our existence as a parish here in Craig, Colorado, we also understand ourselves first and foremost as Orthodox Christians – the Ancient Church in the modern world.
More and more these days we hear about how divided we are. We are divided by politics, by race, by religion – by any number of “identities” that separate us and result in fear, distrust, and outright hostility. We so easily hunker down into the comfort of our own little groups of those who are like us, and isolate ourselves from those who aren’t.
Nothing could be further from God’s intention for us as His children. In the Gospel of John, on the night before He was crucified, Jesus prayed that we might be one, as He and the Father were one. His final prayer, his deepest desire, was for unity – not a unity brought about by reaching some lowest common denominator, some watering down of differences, but a unity that can only come through faith in One Lord.
St. Paul tells us “in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ.” (Galatians 3:28) As God in Christ has broken down the wall that separates us from Him, so He desires that In Him, the walls that separate us from one another likewise should be broken down. Christians haven’t always down so well with this.
The Orthodox Church believes and teaches that, even with all its imperfections, it has remained faithful to Christ and the Apostles’ teaching for over 2,000 years. We cherish and guard the unity of the Faith as we have received it. As the Church has done for 2,000 years, we gather together each Sunday to worship – to pray, to hear the Holy Scriptures, to receive Holy Communion, and to grow in our relationship with Christ as He unites us in Himself.
Our unity as Christians with one another begins with our own unity with Christ. “For He Himself is our peace, who has made us one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility.” (Ephesians 2:14) As God has made it possible through Christ for us to be one with Him, may we also grow in fulfillment of Christ’s prayer – “that we all may be one.”
This is our greatest witness to a broken world torn apart by division and strife. This is our call and our challenge.
Fr. David Henderson is priest in charge of St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox.