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June 16, 2024

Homily for the Sunday of the Holy Fathers - The Prayer of Christ for Unity (Metr. Hierotheos of Nafpaktos)

Homily for the Sunday of the Holy Fathers

The Prayer of Christ for Unity

7th Sunday After Pascha

June 5, 2022

By Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou

"Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are" (John 17:11).

Beloved brethren,

In the High Priestly Prayer of Christ before His Passion, there is talk of the unity of the Disciples/Christians. Christ entreats His Father to keep the Disciples in His name "that they may be one" (Jn. 17:11). This passage is often used by people who seek the so-called union of "Churches", but we can say that it is most often, if not always, misinterpreted. Here Christ is not entreating His Father for the future unity of the so-called "Churches", but for the unity "in the glory of Christ", which is given to the saints and is a present reality within the Church.

In order to be able to properly interpret this passage, one must see it in the context of the entire High Priestly Prayer, which is found in the seventeenth chapter of the Gospel according to John. There we see that wherever there is the phrase "that they may be one", it is immediately connected with "as we", with "in us", with the glory of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. This connection gives us the true interpretation of the passage we are studying.

The unity of people is true, when it is connected with "as we", when it is Trinitarian. Christ said it clearly: "That they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You" (Jn. 17:21). In the Holy Trinity there is a mutual separation of Persons. The Father lives in the Son and the Holy Spirit, the Son in the Father and the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit within the Father and the Son. In the Holy Trinity there is unity of essence and particularity of hypostasis.

In the same way, the unity between people must not be external, it is not an external connection of bodies, but internal, there must be a joining of hearts. Indeed unity is true when it exists in Christ. "That they also may be one in Us" (John 17:21). Communion with the Holy Triune God ensures the authenticity of human unity. Also, genuine unity exists with the vision of God: "And the glory which You gave Me I have given them... I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me" (Jn. 17:22, 24).

All this shows that when people share in the glory of the Holy Trinity in the human nature of Christ, when they are connected to Christ, then they are also united among themselves.

Therefore, in the High Priestly Prayer there is no talk of an external unity, which is the result of external efforts and characteristics and which is an expectation of the future, but of the unity of people in the Body of Christ, which was given on the day of Pentecost and it is a present reality in deified people who share in the glory of the Triune God, such as the Three Disciples on Tabor.

The Holy Fathers of the Church, after they were cleansed from the corrupting energies of the passions, after they rejected with the Grace of Christ the darkening of the nous, arrived at the vision of God and of course united among themselves. The glory of the Holy Trinity encompassed them, changed them, transformed them, so they acted as activities of the All-Holy Spirit.

Thus, the Holy Fathers have a common teaching, since by the Grace of the Triune God they acquired a common life. They are bearers of the Tradition. And we know well that Tradition is not a "historical knowledge" and "historical memory", but the uninterrupted energy of the Holy Spirit in the Church. That is why the Holy Fathers did not simply externally and intellectually receive the teaching of the Church from the earlier Fathers, nor did they learn Orthodoxy from the writings of the Saints, but they have communion with their predecessors, because they participate in the uncreated glory of the Holy Trinity in the human nature of Christ. Their teaching is not a philosophical reflection, but a revelation of the Holy Spirit.

When one carefully examines the life, conduct and teaching of all the saints and Fathers of the Church, one will find that they have a common teaching, but above all a common life and experience. The Fathers rely on the revelation of the Pre-Incarnate Word to the Prophets and Righteous of the Old Testament, and on the revelation of the Incarnate Word to the Apostles in the New Testament, but also on their experience.

This experience is not vague, but it is an experience of sacred hesychasm. When we talk about hesychasm, we mean what Christ said: "Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation" (Matt. 26:41). This means that they struggled to have clear thoughts and to pray incessantly with the nous in the heart. In this way, man experiences purification and illumination, and when God wills, he also reaches the vision of God.

The common life of all the Holy Fathers is their path from purification, to illumination and deification, that is, they share in the purifying, illuminating and deifying energy of God.

We see this in all the saints whose names were included in the hagiologion of our Church, such as Saint Nektarios Bishop of Pentapolis, Saint Kallinikos Bishop of Edessa, Saint Paisios the Athonite, Saint Porphyrios of Kavsokalyva, Saint Ephraim of Katounakia, Saint Joseph the Hesychast, Saint Iakovos of Evia and others.

This is the main difference between the heretics and the Holy Fathers. The heretics, because they had no vision of God, philosophized, while the Fathers, because they saw Christ in His glory, theologized, spoke authentically, as the bearers of Tradition. We can say that the experience of the Church is formulated in every period of time by the saints, without changing and without differentiating from all the teaching of the previous Fathers. When we have differentiation, then we have deviation and, therefore, we end up in heresy.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

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