|The Church of God|
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"Christ loved the Church, and gave himself up for it." Ephesians 5:25
"The Church is one and the same with the Lord - His Body, of His flesh and His bones. The Church is the living vine, nourished by Him and growing in Him. Never think of the Church apart from the Lord Jesus Christ, from the Father and Holy Spirit." - St. John of Kronstadt
GOD AND HIS CHURCH
An Orthodox Christian is vividly conscious of belonging to community. ‘We know that when any one of us falls,’ wrote Khomiakov, ‘he falls alone; but no one is saved alone. He is saved in the Church, as a member of it and in union with all its other members (The Church is One, section 9).
Some of the differences between the Orthodox doctrine of the Church and those of western Christians will have become apparent in the first part of this book. Unlike Protestantism, Orthodoxy insists upon the hierarchical structure of the Church, upon the Apostolic Succession, the episcopate, and the priesthood; it prays to the saints and intercedes for the departed. Thus far Rome and Orthodoxy agree — but where Rome thinks in terms of the supremacy and the universal jurisdiction of the Pope, Orthodoxy thinks in terms of the college of bishops and of the Ecumenical Council; where Rome stresses Papal infallibility, Orthodox stress the infallibility of the Church as a whole. Doubtless neither side is entirely fair to the other, but to Orthodox it often seems that Rome envisages the Church too much in terms of earthly power and organization, while to Roman Catholics it often seems that the more spiritual and mystical doctrine of the Church held by Orthodoxy is vague, incoherent, and incomplete. Orthodox would answer that they do not neglect the earthly organization of the Church, but have many strict and minute rules, as anyone who reads the Canons can quickly discover.
Yet the Orthodox idea of the Church is certainly spiritual and mystical in this sense, that Orthodox theology never treats the earthly aspect of the Church in isolation, but thinks always of the Church in Christ and the Holy Spirit. All Orthodox thinking about the Church starts with the special relationship which exists between the Church and God. Three phrases can be used to describe this relation: the Church is 1) the Image of the Holy Trinity, 2) the Body of Christ, 3) a continued Pentecost. The Orthodox doctrine of the Church is Trinitarian, Christological, and ‘pneumatological.’
1. The Image of the Holy Trinity. Just as each man is made according to the image of the Trinitarian God, so the Church as a whole is an icon of God the Trinity, reproducing on earth the mystery of unity in diversity. In the Trinity the three are one God, yet each is fully personal; in the Church a multitude of human persons are united in one, yet each preserves his personal diversity unimpaired. The mutual indwelling of the persons of the Trinity is paralleled by the coinherence of the members of the Church. In the Church there is no conflict between freedom and authority; in the Church there is unity, but no totalitarianism. When Orthodox apply the word ‘Catholic’ to the Church, they have in mind (among other things) this living miracle of the unity of many persons in one.
This conception of the Church as an icon of the Trinity has many further applications. ‘Unity in diversity’ — just as each person of the Trinity is autonomous, so the Church is made up of a number of independent Autocephalous Churches; and just as in the Trinity the three persons are equal, so in the Church no one bishop can claim to wield an absolute power over all the rest.
This idea of the Church as an icon of the Trinity also helps to understand the Orthodox emphasis upon Councils. A council is an expression of the Trinitarian nature of the Church. The mystery of unity in diversity according to the image of the Trinity can be seen in action, as the many bishops assembled council freely reach a common mind under the guidance of Spirit.
The unity of the Church is linked more particularly with the person of Christ, its diversity with the person of the Holy Spirit.
2. The Body of Christ: "We, who are many, are one body in Christ" (Romans 12:5). Between Christ and the Church there is the closest possible bond: in the famous phrase of Ignatius, ‘where Christ is, there is the Catholic Church’ (To the Smyrnaeans, 8:2). The Church is the extension of the Incarnation, the place where the Incarnation perpetuates itself. The Church, the Greek theologian Chrestos Androutsos has written, is ‘the center and organ of Christ’s redeeming work; ... it is nothing else than the continuation and extension of His prophetic, priestly, and kingly power ... The Church and its Founder are inextricably bound together... The Church is Christ with us (Dogmatic Theology, Athens, 1907, pp. 262-5 (in Greek)). Christ did not leave the Church when He ascended into heaven: "Lo! I am with you always, even to the end of the world," He promised (Matt. 28:20), "for where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them" (Matthew 18:20). It is only too easy to fall into the mistake of speaking of Christ as absent:
And still the Holy Church is here
Although her Lord is gone (From a hymn by J. M. Neale).
But how can we say that Christ ‘is gone,’ when He has promised us His perpetual presence?
The unity between Christ and His Church is effected above all through the sacraments. At Baptism, the new Christian is buried and raised with Christ; at the Eucharist the members of Christ’s Body the Church receive His Body in the sacraments. The Eucharist, by uniting the members of the Church to Christ, at the same time unites them to one another: "We, who are many, are one bread, one body; for we all partake of the one bread" (1 Cor. 10:17). The Eucharist creates the unity of the Church. The Church (as Ignatius saw) is a Eucharistic society, a sacramental organism which exists — and exists in its fullness — wherever the Eucharist is celebrated. It is no coincidence that the term ‘Body of Christ’ should mean both the Church and the sacrament; and that the phrase communio sanctorum in the Apostles’ Creed should mean both ‘the communion of the holy people’ (communion of saints) and ‘the communion of the holy things’ (communion in the sacraments).