“They were all of one accord…” This is how the Acts of the Apostles describes the nature of the Church during the time immediately after Pentecost. What does this mean, to be “of one accord”? The Church at that time was gathered around all the Apostles (and the Virgin Mary). They came together at the temple to pray and to hear the teaching of the Apostles. They were “of one accord” because they shared the same mind, the same interest, the same value, the same purpose. What they shared was a belief that Jesus, Who rose from the dead, was the Messiah and had come to open for them the way into the Kingdom of Heaven. The Apostles, as the chosen companions and witnesses to all that Jesus had said and done – and most importantly to His Resurrection – were the ones who were recognized not only as the leaders of the community, but also as the ones by whom the teaching, the life and the life-giving power of the Holy Spirit was imparted to the Church and to the world. There was no question, no dissention, no argument because all lived in agreement that to gain the life of Christ was more important than anything else and that this life was poured out to them through the Apostles, as the chosen shepherds of the flock of Christ.
We, who are part of the Church today, also live within this same accord. We share with those first Christians the firm belief that the God/man Jesus Christ is the way, the truth and the life and that without Him there is no life. We believe, with those early Christians, that not only did our Lord give us new life and set us on the path of salvation, but that He has shown us the way to follow that path without wandering or getting lost. Like them, we believe that this way that He has shown to us, He has given to us through the witness of the Apostles empowered by the grace of the Holy Spirit bestowed upon them by Christ after His Resurrection(John 20:21-23). In that sense, we are “of one accord” with those Christians and live in complete harmony with them and with one another. But too often we do not experience that harmony. It is disrupted by competing interests, by differences of opinion, in short by our own self-centered sins. Here is the evidence of our own weaknesses, our own imperfections, our own immaturity in the faith. Surely there is nothing lacking in the work of Christ as He ascended the cross, suffered death, descended into hell and rose again conquering sin, death and the devil. Surely there is no fault or deficit in the grace that God has bestowed upon us through the sacraments and the work of the Holy Spirit in us. The imperfections and deficits that tear us away from the place of living “in one accord” with one another, with the first Christians, with the Apostles and with Jesus Christ Himself are the result of our own sins.
For this reason, it is our task to leave them behind that they might not pull us away and rob us of the joy and peace and one-ness which we gained in the Resurrection. We are given gifts of grace by the Holy Spirit which are the tools we need to enter into and maintain this “one accord” with Christ and with the Church. St Nicholas Cabasilas points out that we are given these things because we are expected to use them, “What would be the point of strengthening and arming him who was to remain and sleep at home? … Were there no contests for virtue, what would be man’s work? Or rather what would be worse than the case of those who achieve nothing… It was therefore necessary to grant to men a place for works and a time for struggles and to give to those who had already received perfection and ability from the Mysteries an opportunity to make the effort befitting their nature.” Therefore it is up to us to turn away from those things which tempt us and try to pull us away from Christ.
What then disturbs the harmony of the Body of Christ? First of all there is the “original” sin of our first parents who were convinced by the evil one that they were wiser than God and thus could act on their own ideas and impulses. This tendency is with all of us still and overcoming it is a basic part of the struggle we face. Our Lord, by giving us new life has put the “genie” of self will “back in the bottle” – but how fiercely it struggles to get out again. This is the basic element of “self-denial” – to submit our own ideas, our own reasoning, our own thoughts to Christ and allow Him to lead us through the Apostles and the Church rather than trying to forge our own path. Do not proceed according to your own ideas, but rather follow the path that our Lord sets before you each day which is bounded and defined by the witness of the Apostles, given to us by the tradition of the Church.
Another disruption of the harmony of the Body of Christ that erupts from our fallen nature is our passion. The raging demands of our passions for fulfillment at any cost create tempest of selfish demands that constantly threaten to overwhelm us. One of the primary means by which we weaken these demands of the passions is quite simply fasting. By keeping the fasting seasons (such as Great Lent which we just finished) in obedience to the tradition of the Church, we chip away constantly at the strength of the passions by bringing one of the strongest of them (that is the belly) under the control of the will (rather than allowing it to control the will). Every time we say “no” to the demands of our desires, we weaken the passions a little bit. Thus the fasts are the forefront of our war against the tyranny of the passions – and we continue that battle by every act of self-denial, every act of setting aside the fulfillment of our desires.
Most notable among the disturbances of our unity is the insistence of having one’s own way; of having one’s own opinion prevail. This goes back to the temptation to put our will above that of God. If we can’t tell God what to do – well then maybe we can at least tell our neighbor what to do. This is linked closely to pride, to putting oneself ahead of others. Also coming from this pride is the desire for praise and recognition. How often do we act not out of love for others or for the benefit of the whole Church, but rather out of a desire for someone to notice what we have done and praise us for it. The answer lies in humility. We must cultivate humility in our hearts. I read recently a saying that expresses the practice of humility very clearly and I would like to share it with you. To be humble is not to think less of yourself – rather it is to think of yourself less. It is good to act with confidence, to exercise to their fullest the gifts that God has given to you, however, do so in a way that does not bring attention to yourself, but rather in a way that builds up your brother or sister in Christ, or even your neighbor whoever he might be. By His grace, God has given you skills and gifts and innate talents that you should use to the best of your ability. In using them, however, do not think of yourself, of your gain, of your benefit, but rather think of your neighbor, his needs and his well-being. This is humility – to always put others before yourself.
The first Christians were all together “of one accord”, living in perfect peace with one another, striving together for the same goal – to follow Christ as He led them into the Kingdom of God by the care and teaching of the Apostles. So we too should strive to live in one accord with them and with each other – working together to follow Christ and to enter, together, into the Kingdom of God.