“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” (Matthew 4:17)
January 18-25 is the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. For the first 1,000 years, Christianity was united, although there were individual divisions in various places. However, in the 11th century, mainly due to political and cultural conflicts, Christianity was divided into the Western Church, centered in Rome, and the Eastern Church, centered in Constantinople (now Istanbul). Moreover, in the 16th century, the Protestant Church was born as a result of the Reformation, and once divided, it repeatedly split further, creating numerous Protestant churches. The second millennium was therefore a time of schism. St. John Paul II said that the third millennium, which began in the 21st century, must be an era of unity again. It makes no sense to discuss now which side was responsible for the divisions of the past. Certainly both sides must have been responsible. But the important thing is not to make the mistakes of the past the sins of each church or denomination. In today’s world situation, we must return to the original, to what Jesus originally intended, valuing the bond that unites Christians more than the point that separates them.
In this regard, the words of Paul in the second reading are a great message for this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity: “I exhort you, Brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and in the same purpose.” (1 Corinthians 10:10) Indian philosopher and former president, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, warned, “What we need is a man who lives by God as Jesus Christ, not a Christian denomination.” and Mother Teresa likewise warned, “Sometimes the Christians are the worst obstacle to those who are trying to get closer to Christ. Often they say beautiful things in words but do not do them in practice. That’s why people don’t want to believe in Christianity.”
Christianity, as well as other religions, tends to deviate from the original intentions of its founders as it becomes codified and organized by its disciples. History has proven that organized religions tend to develop an intolerant and exclusive attitude toward other religions and denominations, sometimes leading to blood feuds. Jesus said, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven (the Kingdom of God) has come near,” but we need to reflect on whether what has actually arrived is really what Jesus intended.
In the Vedas, the ancient Indian religious texts, there is a saying, “The one and only truth is spoken in many names by the saints.” Rather than making truth the exclusive property of a particular religion or cult, we must remember that other religions and cults also have sprouts of truth, and that the danger of falling into error is always latent in each of them.