For What Kind of "Union of All" Do We Pray?
Concerning the Third Petition of the Great Ektenia
"For the peace of the whole
world, the good estate of the holy Churches of God, and the union
of all, let us pray to the Lord,"thus reads the third
petition of the Great Ektenia which the deacon (or priest)
proclaims at the beginning of the Liturgy, Vespers, and Matins.
Contemporary ecumenists and members of the "Eastern
Rite" maintain that the Holy Orthodox Church supposedly
prays for the union of all churches, i.e., the Orthodox, Catholic
and various Protestant churches. Such an interpretation is
mistaken. This is evident since, in Greek, the word
"church" (ekklesia) is feminine gender, but the
word "all" (panton) is genitive case, masculine
gender. Therefore, one can in no way interpret "for the
union of all" to mean "for the union of all
The expression, "for the
union of all," is taken from the Epistle of St. Paul to the
Ephesians, Until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and
of the knowledge of the Son of God (Eph. 4:13). Blessed
Theophylact the Bulgarian explains this passage thus, "We
all attain to the unity of the faith, i.e., we appear all having
one faith, not differing from one another in matters of dogma,
and not having amongst ourselves differences in manner of life.
For then there will be true unity of faith, when we will have the
correct opinion in matters of teaching and will preserve the
union of love" (Commentary on the New Testament by
Blessed Theophylact). Christ prayed for this union of the
faithful in the Church in His prayer to God the Father, Neither
pray I for these alone (the Apostles), but for them also
which shall believe on Me through their word; that they all may
be one (John 17:20-21). Thus, according to St. Simeon of
Thessalonica, in praying for the "union of all," we are
praying for the spiritual and mystical unity of all members of
the Church with each other, "for unity in correct faith,
love, and a God-pleasing life" (quoted from the Explanatory
Typicon by Skaballanovich, 2nd ea., p. 77).
We must note that in certain
ancient liturgical texts, in the corresponding petition of the
ektenia it reads, "for the union of Churches" (for
example, in the ancient Liturgy of the Apostle James, the brother
of the Lord, which was in broad circulation in ancient times).
The Liturgies of St. John Chrysostom and St. Basil the Great,
which are in use today, represent an abbreviation of the Liturgy
of St. James. Until the present time, the Liturgy of St. James is
served in Jerusalem on his feastday, October 23. The Liturgy of
St. James was first served in the Church Slavonic language in
Belgrade in 1938 (This Liturgy is a translation of Igumen Phillip
Gardner and is performed in churches of the Russian Church Abroad
on the Apostle's feastday.).
"For the peace of the whole
world and the union of all the holy Churches of God, let us pray
to the Lord" (Liturgy of St. James).
What Churches and what sort of
union is spoken of in this petition? The word "church"
(ekklesia) usually is not used in Patristic writings in
relation to heretical communities, with only a few exceptions
(see Lampe, Greek Lexicon). St. Hippolytus of Rome, for
example, does not call the community of Bishop Kallistos a
church, but rather, a school, as the heretical communities were
called (see Studies in the History of Church Dogma by
Bishop Ilarion (Troitsky), p. 325). This is in spite of the fact
that the differences between St. Hippolytus and Bishop Kallistos
were not dogmatic, but were of a disciplinary character, i.e., a
schism. Furthermore, only Orthodox Churches could be called
"holy Churches of God." Therefore the pretense of the
ecumenists to interpret the word "churches," as used in
the petition, to mean heterodox churches, has no foundation. (In
Russia, the expressions "Catholic church" and
"Lutheran church" came into use only during the time of
Peter the Great, evidently under the influence of Western word
"The Holy Churches of
God" are local Orthodox Churches. Since apostolic times it
has been the custom to call the Christian community of each city
a church. Thus St. Paul writes his epistles to the Church of
God which is at Corinth (1 Cor. 1:2), and unto the
Churches of Galatia (Gal. 1:2), and St. John the Theologian
writes to the Churches in Ephesus, Smyrna, etc. (Rev. 2:1, 8). In
our time the Church of an entire nation is usually called a
church: the Russian Church, the Georgian Church, etc. All of
these local Churches, remaining in oneness of mind and prayerful
communion with one another, comprise the one, catholic
(universal), Church. This is what the petition "for the
union of all the holy Churches of God" says concerning
oneness of mind and unity.
The word "union" (enotiz)
here has the meaning, unity, remaining in unity. That the word enotiz
can have the indicated meaning is evident from the fact that it
is used in relation to the Persons of the Holy Trinity, One in
essence (see Lampe, Greek Lexicon). Thus, the Holy Church,
in the petition "for the union of all the holy Churches of
God," prays not for something which does not exist and is
necessary to attain, but for that unity of the Church which
already exists, that it might always exist and not be destroyed
by some heresy or schism.
An external expression of the
unity of the Church is the liturgical communion of the local
Churches with each other. Misunderstandings and disagreements,
which sometimes spring up for various reasons between individual
Churches, can lead to division and severance of prayerful
communion between Churches. It is for this reason that we find in
the service books prayers for the cessation of division and for
the peace of the Church.
For example, "make the
schisms of the Churches to cease" is from the Liturgy of St.
Basil. By the word "schism" ( in Greek, schisma
literally means: a split, tear; from the word schizo: I
tear, I rend) the Church is represented as a piece of clothing
torn in pieces. This brings to mind the vision of Hieromartyr
Peter, Archbishop of Alexandria (martyred in the year 311). The
Lord Jesus Christ appeared to him in the form of a twelve year
old child in torn clothing. In answer to St. Peter's question,
"O Creator, who has torn Your tunic?" the Lord
answered, "The mindless Arius; he has separated from Me
people whom I had obtained with My blood" (Lives of the
Saints by St. Dimitry of Rostov, Nov. 25).
This vision is referred to in the
service to the Holy Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council:
"O Savior, Who hast torn Your raiment? Arius Thou hast
said" (Verse for "Lord, I have cried"). Also, in
the service to the Fathers of the Six Ecumenical Councils we find
these words: "O honorable fathers, you wisely mend the
raiment of Christ, torn and shredded by the jaws of dogs"
(Verse for "Lord, I have cried").
Here one must understand the
raiment of Christ to be the Churchthe tunic of Christ which
the pagan soldiers once decided not to tear is now being rent by
heretics. For the Holy Fathers the tunic of Christ, without seams
but woven from top to bottom, symbolizes the unity of the Church.
According to St. Cyprian of Carthage, "The tunic of Christ,
completely woven together, indicates the indivisible harmony of
all of us who have been clothed in Christ. With the mystical sign
of His clothing the Lord prefigured the unity of the Church"
(Concerning the Unity of the Church, quoted from Studies
in the History of Church Dogma by Bishop Ilarion (Troitsky),
St. Basil the Great uses a
similar comparison in describing the condition of the Church in
his time. In a letter to the priests in Tarsus he writes,
"The condition of the Church already resembles old clothing
which in every circumstance is easily torn and can no longer
return to its original strength (Works of St. Basil, St.
Petersburg, 1911, Vol. 3, p. 138). The time of St. Basil was a
troublesome period for the Church. The Arian heresy had become
widespread, being protected by Emperor Valens. Worse than the
attack of the Arians, however, was the lack of unity among the
Orthodox. Many of the bishops were not in liturgical communion,
suspecting each other of heresy. The main task of St. Basil the
Great in his episcopal work was the establishment of peace in the
Church and the unification of the Church. When establishing
communion with any Church St. Basil required that it confess the
Nicene Creed. In our times heresies and temptations likewise rend
the Church of Christ: ecumenism, the new church calendar,
modernism, Sergianism. As a result many Orthodox Churches have
broken communion. When praying for an end to the schism and the
union of the Orthodox Churches, however, we must remember that
the foundation, the cornerstone of such a union can only be the
"Thou, one Dominion and
threefold Light, one divine Ruler, threefold Sun, .. according to
Thy goodness grant union to the Churches" (Canon to the Holy
Trinity, Tone 8, Ode 9).
"O Virgin pure and
undefiled, Who hast given birth to our Life, 'bring to an end the
scandals of the Church and in Thy love grant Her peace"
(Great Saturday Matins, second stasis of the "Lauds").
"End the divisions of the
Church, O Michael the Supreme Commander, intercessor for our
souls" (Menaia, Sept. 6).
1) St. Basil the Great, Letters.
2) Skaballanovich, Explanatory
Typicon, Kiev, 1910.
3) Ilyin, All-night Vigil, Paris,
4) Dimitrievsky, An
Historical, Dogmatical and Mystical Explanation of the Divine
Liturgy, St. Petersburg, 1897.
5) Priest G. Diachenko, Discussions
Concerning the Divine Services, Moscow, 1898.
6) Lampe, A Patristic Greek
Lexicon, Oxford, 1961.
7) Blessed Theophylact the
Bulgarian, Commentary on the New Testament.
8) Bishop Ilarion (Troitsky), Studies
in the History of Church Dogma, St. Sergius Lavra, 1913.
From Orthodox Life, Vol. 42,
No. 4, July-August 1992, pp. 26-29. Translated from Pravoslavnaya Rus, #22,1991.