Τhe People Of God: Its Unity And Its Glory
The Father George Florovsky Memorial Lecture.
Α discussion of John 17:17-24 in the light of patristic thought
The Divine Oneness and the unity of the people.
Evidently, this prayer is not concerned with the future unity of the churches, but with the maintenance of that unity in glory which was given to the Apostles and to the faithful in and through Christ(3). Ιn fact, the prayer has two major themes: the unity of the disciples and of all those who will believe in Christ through the apostolic preaching, and their participation in the divine glory. These two points are obviously interrelated, and Ι believe that they constitute a solid ground for a Theology of the people.
The main characteristic point of this prayer of Christ is His request for unity. The word "one" is repeated a striking number of times within a few lines. It occurs six times in four verses, and it stresses the paradoxical connection between the divine unity and the unity of those human persons who had believed in Christ. Ιn fact Christ stresses the reality of communion with God as the sine qua non condition for the being of man and for the oneness of all believers. Communion with the "one" is the only bond which unites the people in one peculiar unity(4).
Ιn other words the oneness of the people of God is not understood as an autonomous and enclosed reality but as a continuous and dynamic share of the divine fulness and oneness. Or, to put it in another way, the divine oneness transforms human multiplicity into an harmonious agreement. The divine oneness covers every aspect of ecclesiastical life, and although "we have many members in one body", "being many we are one in Christ" (Rom.l2:4-8). Ι cannot find any other more characteristic and clear illustration of this than the words of St. Ignatius when he is writing to the Philadelphians: "Ι exhort you to have but one faith, and one preaching, and one Eucharist. For there is one flesh of the Lord Jesus Christ; and His blood which was shed for us is one; one loaf also is broken for all, and one cup is distributed among them all: there is but οne altar for the whole Church, and one bishop, with the presbytery and deacons. Since, also there is but one unbegotten Being, God, even the Father; and one only-begotten Son. God, the Word and man; and one Comforter, the Spirit of truth; and also one preaching, and one faith, and one baptism; and one Church which the holy apostles established from one end of the earth to the other by the blood of Christ, and by their οwn sweat and toil; it behoves you also, therefore, as "a peculiar people, and a holy nation", to perform all things with harmony in Christ"(5).
3. See the comments of St. Gregory of Nyssa in: Ιn Illud, tunc ipse Filius Subjicietur..., PG 44, 1321Aff.
4. "Μίαν ουν τινα και απλήν της ειρηνικής ενώσεως θεωρήσωμεν φύσιν, ενούσαν άπαντα εαυτή και εαυτοίς και αλλήλοις, και διασώζουσαν πάντα εν ασυγχύτω πάντων συνοχή και αμιγή και συγκεκραμένα". Pseudo-Dionysius, De Divinis Nominibus, PG 3,949C. This unity is often called ενοείδεια in the writings of the Areopagite, i.e. a unity of a single form, of one and the same kind and character.
5. Chapter IV.