Behold, how good and how pleasant it is
For brethren to dwell together in unity!
It is like the precious oil upon the head,
Running down on the beard,
The beard of Aaron,
Running down on the edge of his garments.
It is like the dew of Hermon,
Descending upon the mountains of Zion;
For there the Lord commanded the blessing—
Life forevermore. (Psalm 133)
I have always felt honored to be named personally in this quintessential passage about Christian unity, or at least my beard is named. It has also made me feel like I belong in our parish’s annual Lenten Men’s Retreat whose theme this year is brotherly unity. I am proud to say that I have made it to every single retreat minus one since their inception over a decade ago.
But my first Christian Men’s Retreat did not happen in the Orthodox Church. Long before I even knew what Lent was for, I went as a 12 year old boy to a large cabin in the woods. Miles of forest around us and a pond with a family of ducks, the men of our little church gathered to lift up our hearts to God, confess our sins, and sit at the feet of excellent Bible exposition. Our Orthodox Lenten Govenie (Gov- VYEN- ee- ye) is all that and a whole lot more.
“Good and pleasant” does not adequately describe the feeling of Christian brothers engaging one another in dialogue. From the minute each of us board the car pool, all the way to the return journey home, every minute is precious. A brother who is happily married tells the story of his arduous courtship, while another confesses his struggle to maintain gainful employment. One brother answers a difficult theological quandary by pooling resources from his own family’s long and faithful ministry in the church, while another glorifies God for his rescue from the jaws of an existential crisis. Imperfect as we are, we all wrestle with being overly opinionated and prone to presumption, but the desire to know as we ought to know keeps conversation stoked into the wee hours of the morning.
While fruitful conversation deepens our ties of unity, another kind of heavenly conversation forms the heart of our time together. The divine services of Mother Church breath into us much needed inspiration and refreshment. But it is made very clear to us that the Church is not merely some divine filling station. The incarnation of the Divine Word in human flesh leaves us the capacity to respond to our brothers’ needs in love and service. And the divine conversation of prayer in Liturgy means not only that we talk to God, but that he empowers us with his own body and blood to fulfill his commandments.
Oh, the precious beauty of Christian brothers dwelling together in unity! It is like the precious oil upon the head, drenching holy elders with the gladness of fellowship, like a cooler full of Gatorade on the coach’s head at the end of a Championship won. For no man who has experienced it ever goes away wanting.