Submission and Community
In The Brothers Karamazov, Dostoevsky tells the story of the elder Zosima who says, “Truly each of us is guilty before everyone and for everyone, only people do not know it, and if they knew it, the world would at once become paradise.” This is the humility that rises in the master’s breast to be his servants’ servant. This is the humility that refuses to judge his brother. This is the humility that rejects the hell of isolation for the paradise of fraternity, of community. I am my brother’s keeper. We are connected inasmuch as my sin is his and his love is mine. So that I am not better than this thief or that murderer, not only because of my personal guilt as a lawbreaker (James 2:10), but also because of my brotherhood with all people. Isolation is hell; communion is paradise.
“This makes for harmony among the members, so that all the members care for each other. If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad. All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it” (1 Corinthians 12:25-27).
The discipline of submission calls us to become less, even the least—as a little child—to become as God became and becomes for us. Christ emptied himself to become “the least person in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 11:11). And so we honor others as better than ourselves (Philippians 2:3). As we share in the life of Christ, we too become the servant of all; we lay down our lives, in life, and, if necessary, in death. As we share in his life, we become the body of Christ, one community.
Now we, you and I, are sinners. And I am the worst. But thanks be to God, Christ came to save sinners (1 Timothy 1:15). I am guilty before you and all men—my sin damages and destroys friendship, community, and unity. I share the guilt of everyone—we are one people. Just as Daniel prays, “We have sinned and done wrong” (Daniel 9:5). He identifies himself with his people. He does not pray that God shows them mercy, but that he shows us mercy. We do not live in a vacuum of Jesus-and-me; rather we belong to his body and share in the divine life. When one member sins, all suffer; and when one loves, all rejoice. We are connected: When we praise God, we change the world.
The discipline of submission creates community. There is no community without it. I must think of you and your interests before myself and mine or I reject the reality of our communion. We are one body. This is the truth. And if I do not understand this truth, then I must cast myself onto my knees to pray and to wash feet until I do.
On the last page of Karamazov, Dostoevsky speaks of submission and communion. He expresses it beautifully in the following dialogue: