The Orthodox Faith
For St Paul Orthodox Youth Society - Brisbane
By Fr. John Abdel-Karim
23 - CHURCH
The Church is the mystical body of Christ. In other words, Christ is the head and the members of the body are those who have been baptized in accordance with the Orthodox faith in the name of the Holy Trinity; or those who, having been already baptised in another Christian confession and who live the Orthodox faith, have been accepted into the Orthodox faith through the sacrament of Chrismation. A hierarchy exists in the Church: Christ; the Bishop, who is the representative of Christ on earth; the Priest; the Deacon, and the people. All together they comprise the Church, the mystical body of Christ. "Christ is the head of the Church, His body, and is Himself its savior" (Ephesians, 5:23), says St. Paul. He also says that "you are the body of Christ, and individually members of it,
(I Corinthians, 12:27) and that "we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another" (Romans, 12:5).
However, let no one believe that the Church is comprised solely of Christ and those who live on earth. No. The Church includes those who now live on earth and who have been baptized in an orthodox way, and is called the militant church; but the Church also includes all of those who lived in an orthodox way and who are now in Heaven, known as the triumphant church.
This Church is the treasury of truth and divine grace. It is the ark of the salvation of man. It is the kingdom of God on earth. Christ Himself told us this: "Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand" (Matthew, 4:17), meaning the Church. Did you ever think that by our Baptism in the Orthodox faith we enter the kingdom of God and become members of the mystical body of Christ? The Church Fathers say that outside the Church there is no salvation, and rightly so, since whoever is not a member of the mystical body of Christ cannot have a spiritual life. Christ said this: "I am the vine; you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit. . . ." (John, 15:5). When the branch of the vine is cut off at the trunk it withers. So it is when someone leaves the Church,
cut off from the mystical body of Christ--he dries up spiritually.
Christ Himself established the Church. When? With His Incarnation and the calling of His disciples. To be sure, Pentecost is considered to be the founding day of the Church, because on that day the Holy Spirit descended as tongues of fire and taught the disciples all of the Truth, as Christ had promised. "The Comforter, Whom I shall send to you from the Father, even the Spirit of Truth, Who proceeds from the Father. . ." (John, 15:26). "He will guide you into all the truth" (John, 16:13). The Church has Christ as its foundation. St. Paul says that it is "built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone" (Ephesians, 2:20). It is illumined and guided by the Holy Spirit, Who "grants all things . . . causes prophecies to abound, perfects the priests, sustains the whole institution of the Church. "This Church" the powers of death shall not prevail against" (Matthew, 16:18); It will be always invincible.
As we confess in the Creed, the Church has its characteristic marks. It is "One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic." The Church is One because one is her head--Christ. There are not many heads. Just one. Consequently, the true Church is only one. Everyone must become a member of this Church to be saved. Everyone, without exception. Whites, blacks, yellow-skinned and red-skinned, all are equal children of God and all have to be members of the One Church--the mystical body of Christ. Everyone must have the true faith. Whoever does not follow the true faith is a heretic and is cut off from the Church.
The Church is Holy because Christ, the head, is holy and without sin. Christ Himself sanctifies her. Here is what St. Paul says: "Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her, that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present the Church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish" (Ephesians, 5:25-27). Although those who become members of the Church are sinners, within the Church, through divine grace, they are purified and sanctified--that is the purpose of the Church.
The Church is Catholic. This means two things: First, that it accepts all people (as many, of course, as want to become members) from all over the world without discrimination. The commandment of God to His Disciples was: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you. . . ." (Matthew 28:19-20). Second, "catholic" means that the Church has the "Catholic" faith, that is, the fullness of faith in Christ and in the Triune God, the true faith, the Orthodox faith.
The Church is Apostolic because the first representatives of Christ on earth were the Apostles. Their successors, that is, the Bishops, must have apostolic succession, but also apostolic faith and teachings, and they must govern the Church as did the Apostles. In the true Orthodox Church there exists canonical and uninterrupted apostolic succession. It is only by means of apostolic succession, which is given through the sacrament of ordination,
that the Church is One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic, the true body of Christ, the treasury of divine grace and truth, the ark of man's salvation.
LET US PRAY
Christ, You Who are the founder of the Church, the head of the body, and the vine of truth, we thank You because You accept us as members of Your mystical body. We glorify You because with Your great love You are willing to justify and glorify us as well. We ask that You make us, who were baptised as Orthodox Christians and who have become members of Your mystical body, never to go away from You; that our sin never become a cause of our separation from You. We also ask that You enlighten the heretics to return to Your Orthodox Church, the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. Lord, help everyone--all the people of the world-hear Your Gospel and to become members of Your Church, Your mystical body.
Lord, we thank You.