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February 14, 2021

17th Sunday of Matthew: The Unity of Human Nature (Metr. Hierotheos of Nafpaktos)

By Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou

“Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is severely demon possessed” (Matt. 15:22).

The pain of the Canaanite woman for her demon possessed daughter, as well as her great faith in Christ, made her cry out: "Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is severely demon possessed." Her request is personal, even if it was more about her daughter, because her child's pain is also her own pain. She asks for God's mercy, because this is an inexhaustible source and has inexpressible power. And Christ offers healing to her daughter, because her mother asked with great faith. "'O woman, great is your faith! Let it be to you as you desire.' And her daughter was healed from that very hour."

This event gives us today an opportunity to formulate some truths, but in simple words, about the unity of human nature. This unity is seen on the one hand in the family and on the other hand in society.

Unity in the Family

Every mother is in great pain when her child is unhappy, because she deeply feels union with them. She communicates with them, since their flesh is also hers. But this happens to all members of the family. The family, as we know, is not an impersonal group, but a "unity of love of other persons" and therefore all its members are interconnected, like the members of the human body. Thus one member (when it is real) cannot find rest from the suffering of the other, and considers the redemption of the other from their miserable condition as a personal event.

We have many examples that prove this truth. A mother prefers death in order to give life to her child. Parents are sacrificed for children and children for parents. The mental pain of the mother is great, one would say inexpressible, due to the disorder and suffering of her child.

Unity in Society

Everything that the Canaanite woman lived through and what happens in every real family is observed on a global scale.

The Holy and God-bearing Fathers teach that there is unity of all human nature and it has a unity with the physical world. All people (not just those who live now, but also those who have fallen asleep or are about to be born) as God's creations "in His image" and "according to His likeness" belong to His great universal family.

To be precise we would say that immediately after the creation of man there was unity of man with God, with himself, among themselves, and with all creation. But by committing sin this unity was broken and man was immediately found in a state of division. Thus man was divided from God, people were divided among themselves, man was divided internally, all nature was divided from God and also the connection of man with nature. Sin is a division and alienation of man. Since then the feeling and realization of unity, due to sin, is a painful and unfulfilled effort.

But this unity, which for sinners is a utopia, for the saints and angels has taken place within the Church. The Church is the unity of the whole world. Through Christ the unity of saints and people, earthly and heavenly, living and reposed, takes place. Those who are members of the Church deeply feel this unity, which is not a whole of an impersonal society, but a unity of persons. After the fall man lost the "loving society" and fell into "autonomous individuality", i.e. from a person he became an individual. Now in the Church he returns to his original state, and rises even higher. From an individual he becomes a person who is distinguished for love, through which he unites with everyone and feels the unity of human nature.

But the true unity of human nature, which is not represented by a political or social or economic movement, but by communion in Christ, is felt ONLY by the saints of God.

They were cleansed of the destructive forces of the passions and restored the value of the person. Therefore only they live the drama of humanity with two martyric consequences.

First they feel that their every personal sin, because of society, burdens the lives of all humanity. They do not feel anything individually. By committing a sin they do not hurt because they simply violated God's Law, but because they lost divine Grace and the necrosis from Its absence falls upon the world, just as Adam's sin had worldly consequences. That is why the saints experience Adamic lamentation.

Secondly, they experience as their own personal work everything that happens to humanity. All the sins of the people of the earth fall on them and this creates this unbearable pain. Then, like the Canaanite woman, they pray for them day and night. They pray with tears and pain for the living and the dead. In this way they become the greatest missionaries, since, according to the exampe of the Lord, for the sake of their brothers they enter the Garden of Gethsemane, ascend to the Cross, and go down to Hades and Hell.

Indeed it is a martyric mission. A saint used to say that praying for others is like shedding blood. And yet we are unaware of the existence of these people, who lift the great cross and experience this crucifixion form of service to the people. We ignore them because we have never felt the true unity of human nature. We are locked in the shackles of individualism.

Imitating the Canaanite woman and being taught the example of the saints let us pray for others as well. Let their pain become our personal pain, because then their salvation will also contribute to our salvation.

Source: From the book Όσοι Πιστοί. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.