In the Epistle to the Ephesians, chapter 4, Saint Paul says, “I beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4.1-3). These few verses are a portrayal of the Christian, and of all within the Church community. It is also the image God desires from us: to be one (John 17.11). As Saint Paul says a little later, “there is one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Ephesians 4.5), “there is one body and one Spirit” (Ephesians 4.4), the same Spirit that gives life to the Body of Christ. The body of Christ is the Church, and the Holy Spirit gives life to this body. We need to live with this understanding.
In order to be alive, and to live in the next life, we must have love in our hearts before leaving this life. If I relate to my neighbor as though he is one of my members: bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh, as Adam said about Eve before the fall (cf. Genesis 2.23), and not see him as a stranger, but as someone familiar to me, then I will live, I will be alive. This is what the Apostle is telling us. This is the greatest ascetic struggle and the very goal of fasting. Fasting is not just abstinence from food or whatever other bodily asceticism. Ascetic efforts merely help me to restrain myself, to restrain my egotism, because egotism is the biggest enemy of love. The point of any ascetic struggle in the Church is exactly this: the bond of peace in love, in the same Holy Spirit. May we preserve the unity of the Spirit “with lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering”, especially with longsuffering. We need lots of patience if we want to bear our own weaknesses and especially those of our neighbor. This is the true asceticism. As Father Arsenie Papacioc said, “our prostrations, Psalter, and prayer rule are all good, but they are nothing compared to the struggle to cast out an enemy from your heart”, meaning, the struggle to get rid of the hostility you feel for someone else in your heart, and, more than that, to love them. This is the true asceticism. Traditional forms of asceticism are still necessary, since they help us to humble ourselves, for example, by seeing our own sins and not as much those of our neighbor.
But the goal is this: to be one. This is how God wants us, according to the image of the Holy Trinity. The Holy Trinity – one Essence, three Persons. Humanity – one essence, human nature; many people who are called to be one through love, as it is in the bosom of the Holy Trinity. Love makes the Holy Trinity to be One. We need to replicate that. This is our job, our homework. This is what we must do. May God help us!