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Used with permission of The Most Rev. John Elya.


May They Be One: When the Two Strong Men Meet!

By Bishop John Elya
A Kipling poem provides an inspiring image for hopes of union between East and West in the Church.

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Unfortunately, for a long time it has seemed to some that East and West in the Church would never fully meet. However, with the work of John Paul II and others who long for such a meeting, we now have a unique opportunity for just such a historic and profound union. Indeed, East and West can and must meet—both in the Rudyard Kipling ballad and in the third millennium of the Church!

"Oh! East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet."

In my humble opinion, this famous passage from “The Ballad of East and West” by Kipling has been too often partially, negatively, or blindly quoted and, consequently, misquoted. Please read carefully the complete stanza:

"Oh! East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet, Till earth and sky stand presently at God's great Judgment Seat. But there is neither East nor West, border nor Breed, nor Birth, When two strong men stand face to face, tho’ they come from the ends of the earth" (Kipling, the Ballad of East and West).

There is no East nor West when two strong men meet—such as Paul VI and Athenagoras, John Paul II and Bartholomeos, Cardinal Law and Metropolitan Methodios—in their exchange of visits at the feasts of St. Peter and Paul and of St. Andreas, respectively; there is no East or West when these heroes of the Christian faith with innumerable other strong men and women stand face to face, eager and willing to work toward the bypassing of the barriers and borders and breed and birth.

If we are strong in faith and love, there is no East or West. "For through faith you are all children of God. For all of you who have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:26-28).

Part of the vision that the Holy Spirit has given to Pope John Paul II in his leadership of the Church into the third millennium is the reunion of the two "strong men" of East and West, face to face.

The Holy Father is convinced (and I believe it is the inspiration of the Holy Spirit) that the Church of the Third Millennium can, will, and must again breathe with "two lungs."

However distinct and of equal importance they are, the lungs must breathe in unison as one; otherwise the poor person would choke to death.

Could you imagine the two lungs pulling apart in order to affirm their so-called distinct identity and their specific importance?

Anytime we walk and work together, God is with us. Anytime we pull apart in disunity, we break the heart of God. Because "God is love," and He loves us all.

"God is love, and when we abide in love, we abide in God and God in us," said the beloved disciple John.

Shall we keep ourselves apart in discord and, thus, confuse God's Love? With whom of us shall He side? In whom of us shall He dwell?

How often the first line of Kipling's ballad is candidly quoted—but not the full stanza.

And how equally often have we accepted the division—or worse, exaggerated the division—without a fervent effort of unrelenting prayer and risky love.


There is a conditional quality to this prayer from the heart of Jesus—"May they be One … SO THAT THE WORLD MAY BELIEVE" (cf. John 17:20-22).

There is a clear connection between our effectiveness in continuing the mission of Jesus on earth and our unity. We have made progress, but we have much farther to go.

Let us give all we can to promote the cooperation and unity of the "two strong men," East and West, right lung and left lung, right hand and left hand, Orthodox and Catholic.

Christ is calling us to unity, "so that the world may believe."

Copyright © 2000 The Most Rev. John Adel Elya

For more information on the work of the Melkite Catholic Eparchy of Newton, please visit their Web site at

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