St. Cyril of Alexandria – Our True Unity Flows from Divine Diversity

Our Lord Jesus Christ did not pray only for his twelve apostles, who became the solid foundation of the Christian church. He also prayed, as we read in John 17:20-24, for all who would believe in him in every age since the apostles. He prayed for all of those who would yield to him and obey the words that call them to be holy by believing on him as the Christ, the son of the living God. We see his will in this matter revealed most plainly in these astounding words:

20 “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us,[a] so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. 24 Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world (NRSV).

imagesSt. Cyril of Alexandria (d. 444), a doctor of the church, is one of the most important theologians in the era of the early church. He insisted that there was an inseparable unity between the divine and human natures of the one Christ, and through the mystery of this oneness we actually become the children of God. Here, in my adaptation of his ideas, is the way Cyril understood this great mystery.

God calls us to be holy by believing in Christ and through him he calls us into an eternal participation in the Holy Spirit as members of his one body. He prays in John 17: “may they all be one – as you, Father, are in me and I am in you.” The only son, unique and unlike all other beings, shines out of his own person the very substance of the Father and possesses the Father completely and fully in his own nature. This is what we mean when we refer to Jesus as the “God-man.” He became man, something that he was previously not, by blendling himself with our human nature in an inexplicable union that was divinely joined with an earthly (fully human) body. The great mystery of the incarnation is this – in himself Jesus united totally disparate natures (human & divine) to make us sharers in his divine nature. This is what the apostle Peter meant when he wrote: “Thus he has given us, through these great mysteries, his precious and very great promises, in order that through them you may escape from the corruption that is in the  world because of lust, and may become participants of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4, NRSV).

The Spirit, who operated unhindered and perfectly in Jesus, is now abiding in us. This communion, and his abdiing presence, was first experienced in Jesus of Nazareth. It has now been passed on to us because of Pentecost. This presence and communion was seen first in him, as a fully anointed and sanctified human person. Yet by nature he was still fully God, for he had proceeded from the Father. It was with his own Spirit that he sanctifiered the temple of his own body and thus he poured the divine nature into the creation itself. Through this mystery of Christ’s incarnation we share in the Holy Spirit and thus we share in union with God. This has become possible for us because we are being sanctified in him.

By divine wisdom, and the counsel of the Father, he devised a way of bringing us all together and blending us into a unity with God and each other, even though the differences between us in both body and soul remain. These differences are a unique part of our personal identity. The mystery of Holy Communion is this – in the one Christ we become one body with him. For this reason we cannot be divided.

The church is the body of Christ and we are all members of it. Since we are all united with Christ through his one body we have all received this one indivisible body into our own body, thus we are members of him, and members of each other, and not our own. We belong to another and thus to each other.

So the question that arises is quite simple, yet deeply profound. How can we who “share one loaf” be the one body of Christ and yet remain divided? Christ cannot be divided! This is the point it seems to me the apostle Paul makes in Ephesians 4. This is why he uses seven “ones” in his reminder to the church in Ephesus about who they really are in Christ.

There are many human barriers to our oneness. These are real. Some of these are doctrinal. Some are about our methods. Some are cultural and ethnic. Some are denominational and personal. But none adequately answers this question: “Why do we settle for dividedness when God created us for oneness?”

Do you pray that God will reconcile all people to himself and to one another? If you are fully enveloped in the great wonder of the incarnation then there is no other way to truly pray for what Jesus so clearly desired. Such a prayer does not deny our diversity but it can never settle for our myriad of excuses about our divided state. I have come to believe that our excuses are just that–our excuses! God help us to see this and act against it.

This is the true reason why I am deeply committed to ecumenism; i.e. to pursuing the unity of the one global Christian church. I do not think I have a choice in this matter. I am obeying God, not man.

 

 

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