People often speak of being “in relationship” to others, but I prefer the word “communion” to relationship. We are made in the image and likeness of God, and that God is a Trinity of persons in absolute identity of being and of life in perfect communion. Therefore, communion is the given. Anything that breaks that communion destroys the very roots of our existence. That’s why forgiveness is essential if there is going to be human life in the image of God. We are all sinners, living with other sinners, and so seventy times seven times a day we must re-establish communion – and want to do so. The desire is the main thing, and the feeling that it is of value.
The obsession with relationship – the individual in search of relationships – in the modern world shows there is an ontological crack in our being. There is no such thing as an individual. He was created, probably, in a Western European university. We don’t recognize our essential communion. I don’t look at you and say, “You are my life.”
Modern interpretations of the commandments in the Torah reflect this individualistic attitude. The first commandment is that you love God with all your mind, all your soul, and all your strength, and the second is that you love your neighbor as yourself. The only way you can prove you love God is by loving your neighbor, and the only way you can love your neighbor in this world is by endless forgiveness. So, “love your neighbor as yourself.” However, in certain modern editions of the Bible, I have seen this translated as, “You shall love your neighbor as you love yourself.” But that’s not what it says. The best English translation of that passage from Leviticus is, “You shall love your neighbor as being your own self.” Your neighbor is your true self. You have no self in yourself.
An “individual” is a person who refuses to love. When a person refuses to identify in being and value with “the least,” even with “the enemy,” then the person becomes an individual, a self-enclosed being trying to have proper relationships — usually on his or her own terms. But again, we would say that the person only comes into existence by going out of oneself into communion with the other. So my task is not to decide whether or not I will be in relationship with you but to realize that I am in communion with you: my life is yours, and your life is mine.
— Fr. Thomas Hopko
note: It was from this text that our journal took its name.
❖ IN COMMUNION / issue 61 / July 2011