Father Alexander Schmemann continues the seventh chapter of The Eucharist Sacrament of the Kingdom: Sacrament of the Kingdom,by focusing on the shifts that occurred in the shift in understand of the concept of unity. While the creed was introduced into the eucharistic liturgy at a relatively late stage (the beginning of the sixth century), its purpose was to set the limits of the eucharistic community in order to guard the faith from heresy.
…the inclusion of the symbol of faith in the order of the liturgy, which became universal relatively quickly, was nothing more than the confirmation of the originally obvious, organic and inalienable link between the unity of faith and the Church and her self-fulfilment in the eucharist. And this link constituted the heartbeat of the experience and life of the early Church. (141)
Father Schmemann argues that this link between the unity of faith and the Church, which is what precludes communion with those outside the Church, while still assented to, has become more a formality than something that lives in the consciousness of believers, for scholastic theology has separated this discipline from its living roots which is the primordial experience of the Eucharist as the sacrament of unity. In contemporary understanding the Eucharist has become an individualised “means of personal sanctification” to meet the “spiritual needs” of the believer, and this is sanctioned by and reflects the theological fragmentation that – influenced by the West – has isolated
each element of faith and church tradition into a self-sufficient object, if not into a separate “discipline,” as though the degree of comprehension of each of them depends precisely on one’s ability not to coordinate it with the others but, on the contrary, to apportion and “isolate” it. Thus, each of the three realities of which we are speaking here – i.e., faith, the Church, the eucharist – proves to be a subject of special study in a separate “division,” removed from any ties with the other two. This, in turn, actually leads to a paradoxical result. What falls out of the theological field of vision is precisely the thing that unifies these three realities: unity, which in the experience of the Church constitutes the genuine content of the new life that we receive through faith, live in the Church, and are granted as “communion of the one Spirit” in the eucharist. (142-143)
Allied to this is the dissolution of faith into what Father Schmemann describes as “religious feeling.” Whereas faith involves a meeting with the Other, and a conversion to the Other who takes over and changes one’s life, “religious feeling” is subjective and individual, and subordinated to personal tastes and emotional experiences. While faith involves inner struggle, religious feeling “satisfies.” Moreover,
True faith aspires to be the integral illumination of the entire human composite by subordinating to itself the reason, the will, the whole of life. Religious feeling, on the contrary, easily accepts a rupture between religion and life and gets along happily with ideas, convictions, sometimes entire worldviews that are not only alien to Christianity but frequently openly contradictory to it. (144)
While religious feeling may be mistaken for conservatism in contemporary Orthodox piety, this is a conservatism in name only, seeking to conserve a form that has become severed from its contents. However, the newness of Christianity does not lie in the form, but
lies only in faith, only in the truth, which is ascertained through faith and transformed into salvation and life. (145)
Religious feeling is ultimately not interested in truth. It lives
not by faith, as knowledge and possession of the truth, as the life of life, but by itself, by its own self-delight and self-sufficiency. The best witness to this is the startling indifference to the content of faith, the complete lack of interest in what faith believes, on the part of the overwhelming majority of people who call themselves believers and who are mostly sincerely devoted to the Church. The radical revelation of the triune God, of the trinitarian divine life, of the mystery of Christ’s God-manhood, of the union in him – “without confusion, without change, without division, without separation” – of God and man, the descent of the Holy Spirit into the world, and in the Spirit “the beginning of another life, new and eternal” – everything by which the early Church literally lived, in which she rejoiced as the “victory that overcomes the world,” and which therefore became the subject of strained attempts at comprehension and passionate disputes – all this holds no interest for the contemporary “religious man.” And this is not the result of sinful laziness or weakness. The content of faith, the truth to which it is directed, holds no interest for him because it is not necessary for his “religiosity,” for that religious feeling that gradually substituted itself for faith and dissolved faith in itself. (146)
In this context, unity of faith becomes unity from below instead of unity from above.
Actually, there is much talk today – in all likelihood immeasurably more than in times past – about Christian unity, about the unity of the Church. But here the whole fact of the matter, l am not afraid to say, lies in the heretical temptation of our day, that this unity is something other than the unity that constituted the heartbeat and chief joy, the very content of Christian faith and Christian life from the first day of the Church’s existence. Almost imperceptibly to religious consciousness, a substitution has occurred, and in our day this substitution manifests itself all the more obviously as a betrayal. (147)
Tragically, the contemporary preoccupation with “unity” is blind to the way it has substituted an alien cult based on the unity of flesh and blood for the unity given in Christ.
They are blind to it because they neither have nor know any experience of unity and, consequently, they do not want it, for the heart can only want that which, though only partly – “in a mirror dimly” – it has sensed, gotten to know, come to love and already cannot forget. But here, not knowing, not remembering, they want and seek unity from below. To it they transfer man’s unquenchable thirst for unity. And they fail to understand that, outside the unity from above given to us by Christ, any unity from below not only becomes inwardly senseless and useless, but inevitably becomes an idol and, strange as it may seem, draws religion itself, Christianity itself, backward – into idolatry. (148)