UKRAINIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH IN AMERICA
Slava Isusu Khrystu! All Praise Be to Jesus Christ!
OFFICES OF THE METROPOLITAN PRIME BISHOP
FEAST OF THE NATIVITY OF OUR LORD
To Our beloved Brothers in the Episcopate,
PEACE AND APOSTOLIC BENEDICTION!
“Today, the Virgin gives birth to the One who surpasses all essences, and the earth offers a cave to God, the Inacessible One. Angels sing his glory together with the shepherds: for to us a Child is born, God in all eternity.”
- Kontakion for the Feast of the Nativity
On that greatest of days, during the Divine Liturgy we sing out that angels joined shepherds, the heavens met the earth, in celebrating the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, the Child who unified the divine with the human. Tragically, a little over a century later, the Body of Christ was threatened with divisions so intense that Iranaeus, Bishop of Antioch, had to warn the Philadelphians to take stock:
“Be careful to have but one Eucharist. For there is one
flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ, and one cup for union
with his blood, one altar, just as there is one bishop with
the presbytery, and the deacons my fellow-servants.”
(To the Philadelphians 4; compare To the Ephesians 20 and
To the Magnesians 7)
What would Iranaeus say in reaction to the fact that on the Feast of the Nativity this year, the Kyivan Church celebrated not one Eucharist, but each of the jurisdictions claiming to be the only legitimate Ukrainian Church celebrated in complete isolation from one another?
In His “Final Discourse,” the Johannine Jesus is seen as praying for His disciples that they might be and would remain one, just as He and the Father are one (Jn 17:20-23). He had already warned them that "every kingdom divided against itself is heading for ruin: and no town, no household divided against itself can stand" (Mt 12:25). This prayer of Jesus serves as a fitting conclusion to the upper room discourse of chapters 14-16, and in 17:1, John informs us that this prayer is to be understood as a kind of conclusion to the Lord’s teaching in chapters 14-16.
The Formula of the Council of Constantinople (381 AD) establishes four marks of the Church, namely, unity, sanctity, Catholicity, Apostolicity -- marks which are believed by most theologians to be the defining characteristics of the One True Church. Unity is essential to the followers of Jesus. It is not just a friendliness or a togetherness, but perfect oneness: "that they may be one even as we are one"-- we, Jesus' followers, are to have the oneness of God! In other words, Christians should give themselves completely to each other just as do the Persons of the Trinity, who are themselves complete gift of self. As the Church is the body of Christ (cf. I Cor 12:13, Eph 1:23), she should reveal the love and unity of God.
The love among the Lord’s disciples defines their discipleship and finds its model in Christ in the total outpouring of His love on the cross. Unity lies at the very heart of His mission, for Jesus died for the unity of God's children: "Jesus [would] die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad." (Jn 11:51-52).
In the Acts of the Apostles, the evangelist Luke confirms the reality of unity in the early Church when he reports that "the company of those who believed were of one heart and soul..." (Acts 4:32).
In his Epistle to the Church of Ephesus, Paul teaches the same doctrine, and exhorts them to be "careful to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace", and he reminds them that there is but "one body and one spirit-one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all" (Eph 4:3-6).
It is no accident that in all seven epistles of Ignatius [c. 35-107 AD] the church was explicitly called “holy” only once, while the unity of the church in the bishop was one of the overriding preoccupations of all the epistles, so much so that it seems accurate to conclude that ‘the most important aspect of the church for the apostolic fathers is its unity.
St. Cyprian in his treatise on the unity of the Church says: "God is one, and Christ one, and one the Church of Christ" (De eccl. unitate, xxiii); and again in his epistles he insists that there is but "One Church founded upon Peter by Christ the Lord" (Epist. 70, ad Jan.) and that there is but "one altar and one priesthood" (Epist. 40, v).
We who bear the awesome responsibility for the handing-on of the Apostolic faith must offer the faithful not an image of people divided and separated by unedifying quarrels, but the image of people who are mature in faith and capable of finding a meeting-point beyond the real tensions, thanks to a shared, sincere and disinterested search for truth. The divisions among Christians is a serious reality which impedes the very work of Christ and remains a scandle to many.
If, however, despite their divisions, Churches can abandon a “denominational” model of the Church and thereby grow ever more united in common prayer around Christ, they will grow in the awareness of how little divides them in comparison to what unites them. If they meet more often and more regularly before Christ in prayer, they will be able to gain the courage to face the painful human reality of their divisions, and they will find themselves together once more in that community of the Church which Christ constantly builds up in the Holy Spirit, despite human weaknesses and limitations.
Acknowledging the essential element of ecclesial unity, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in America recognizes one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church of which the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in America and the other Kyivan Churches are sister Churches, not separate and distinct denominations. We believe ourselves to be a single autonomous Kyivan Church and, in faith, understand ourselves to be part of the one Church of our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ.
Intercommunion requires from both the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in America and the other Kyivan Churches an unwavering observance of all doctrinal opinions, Sacramental devotion and liturgical practice and implies that each believes the other to hold all the essential elements of the faith, Apostolic tradition, Patristic doctrine, the sacred canons and a valid episcopate and priesthood. Furthermore, intercommunion consists in the reciprocal admission of the members of our sister Churches to the Sacraments and is a sign of the conscious communion of the sister Churches of the Kyivan tradition and where each jurisdiction recognizes the catholicity and independence of the others while maintaining its own and where each jurisdiction agrees to admit members of the other jurisdictions to full Sacramental participation.
Whatever our historical, cultural, political and geographical differences may have been, we experience ourselves united in the confession of the same faith in the Son of God who became man so that we might become children of God by his grace. We wish from now on to witness together to this faith in the One who is the Way, the Truth and the Life, proclaiming it in appropriate ways to our contemporaries, so that the world may believe in the Gospel of salvation. Living by this faith and these sacraments, it follows as a consequence that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in America and the other Ukrainian Churches can recognise each other as sister Churches.
St. John Chrysostom who used his own wealth to help the poor explicitly mandated that his clergy assist the poor and marginalized within his jurisdiction. Chrysostomos states:
"The Church is a triumphant company of angels, and not a shop
of a silversmith. The Church claims human souls, and only for the
sake of the souls does God accept any other gifts. The cup which
Christ offered to the disciples at the Last Supper was not made of
gold. Yet it was precious above all measure. If you want to honor
Christ, do it when you see Him naked, in the person of the poor.
No use, if you bring silk and precious metals to the temple, and
leave Christ to suffer cold and nakedness in the outside. No use,
if the temple is full of golden vessels, but Christ himself is starving.
You make golden chalices, but fail to offer cups of cold water to
the needy. Christ, as a homeless stranger, is wandering around
and begging, and instead of receiving Him you make decorations."
We can ask for no less. Relationships with the non-Sacramental, non-Apostolic Churches must also be fostered, and this can be best accomplished through mutual prayer and outreach to the homeless, poor, widows, orphans, chemically-dependent and morally confused in whom Christ is present. Through fraternal collaboration, we will bind the wounds of these persons in whom Christ is present.
Brothers and Sisters, let us pledge to do everything possible to dispel the obstacles of the past which still prevent the attainment of full communion between our Churches, so that we can better respond to the Lord’s call for the unity of His holy people, a unity which has, of course, to be expressed visibly, in this instance, based on the unity of the Ukrainian Churches.
Given at Milwaukee, WI, at the Skete of Solus Christi, this 7th day of January, in the year of our salvation 2008 in the fourth year of Our Episcopate and the third year of our election as Metropolitan Prime Bishop.
Metropolitan Prime Bishop