Written by Vladimir Moss



     There is no Christian dogma so fiercely under attack today, or subject to such many and varied interpretations, as the dogma of the Church. If the critical question dividing men is still the same that Christ asked the Apostles: "Whom do men say that I am?" (Matthew 16.13), then that question must now be understood to refer, not only to the single Person of Christ, but also to His many-personed Bride, the Church. For many are those who, while looking up to Christ as the Son of God and God, look down on His Church as "having no form or comeliness" (Isaiah 53.2), as a merely human and fallen institution with no part in His Divinity.


     And yet the main image of the Church that we find in the Holy Scriptures ? the Church as the Bride of Christ (Ephesians 5.32) ? presupposes that Christ and the Church are united in the way that a bridegroom and a bride are united, consubstantial in the way that a Bridegroom and Bride are consubstantial, sharing not only in Christ?s Humanity but also in His Divinity, since Christians are "partakers in the Divine nature", in the Apostle Peter's words (II Peter 1.4) Therefore the attempt to place an unbridgeable gulf in dignity between Christ and the Church that is characteristic of Protestantism and Ecumenism, is contrary to the sacred symbolism of the Holy Scriptures.


     Let us look at this symbolism a little more closely.


     The essential idea of marriage is the creation of unity out of multiplicity; for the husband and wife "are no more two, but one flesh" (Matthew 19.6). In the Church this unity proceeds in both a vertical and a horizontal direction, as it were, both between Christ and the individual believer, and between the believers. And the foundation and model of both kinds of union is the union between the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity. Thus the Lord prayed for the unity of the Church during the Mystical Supper - "that they all may be one, even as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be one in us. And the glory which Thou gavest Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one (John 17.21-22).


     St. Cyril of Alexandria comments on this passage in an illuminating manner: "Christ, having taken as an example and image of that indivisible love, accord and unity which is conceivable only in unanimity, the unity of essence which the Father has with Him and which He, in turn, has with the Father, desires that we too should unite with each other; evidently in the same way as the Consubstantial, Holy Trinity is united so that the whole body of the Church is conceived as one, ascending in Christ through the fusion and union of two people into the composition of the new perfect whole. the image of Divine unity and the consubstantial nature of the Holy Trinity as a most perfect interpenetration must be reflected in the unity of the believers who are of one heart and mind" - and body, he adds, for this "natural unity" is "perhaps not without bodily unity".[1]


     It is striking that St. Cyril here refers to the union in one flesh of a Christian marriage not simply as an image of the union of all believers in the Church, but as the base, the lowest cell, as it were, of that union. It is not simply that the Christian family is a "house church", in St. Paul's phrase (Romans 16.4), or a "little church", in St. John Chrysostom's.[2] The Church is both made up of small families, or little churches, and is one big family or Great Church - "the whole family in heaven and on earth" that is named after Christ (Ephesians 3.15). And while, of course, not all Christians are united in the bond of marriage, they are all united, first through the bond of the marriage of Adam and Eve, which created our original, fallen human nature, and then through the bond of the marriage of the new Adam and the new Eve, Christ and His Church, which created the new, redeemed nature of mankind. Thus every Christian is born into the little church through the union in the flesh of his parents, and is reborn into the Great Church through the union in the flesh of his spiritual parents, Christ and the Church.


     Indeed, if the union of Adam and Eve was the first "little church", the first unit in, and icon of, the Great Church of all redeemed humanity, we can take that union as defining the nature of the union between Christ and the Church, so that just as Eve was formed from the flesh of Adam, so the new Eve, the Church, was formed from the blood and water that flowed from the side of the new Adam, Christ. As the eighth-century English Orthodox Father, St. Bede the Venerable, writes: "The woman was made out of the side of Adam to show how strong that union must have been. But that it was done in his sleep, and flesh filled up the place whence the bone had been taken, was for a higher mystery. For it signified that the sacraments of salvation would come out of the side of Christ as He slept in death on the cross - that is, the blood and water from which the Church was created as His Bride... It was to typify this same mystery that Scripture says, not 'made' or 'formed' or 'created', as in all the previous works, but 'the Lord God built the rib which He had taken from Adam into a woman', not as if it were a human body, but rather a house, which house we are if we keep our faithfulness and glory of hope right up to a strong end."[3]


     Again, the words "It is not good that man should be alone" (Genesis 2.18) indicate, not only that it is not good for fallen man to remain unmarried, but also that it is not good for man to be out of communion with the Church, the new Paradise. And the words "This is now bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh" (Genesis 2.23) signify, not only the consubstantiality of a man and his wife, but the consubstantiality of all Christians through participation in the new tree of life, "the true Vine" (John 15.1) - the Body and Blood of Christ. Finally, the words "Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it" (Gen. 1.28) signify, not only that marriage is meant to produce children and thereby populate the whole earth, but also that the union between Christ and His Church is meant to bring forth many new Christians and subdue the whole earth to the teachings and commandments of the Christian faith.


     "But now I want to show," continues St. Cyril, "that there is what we might call a unity of nature by which we are bound to one another and are all bound to God... The Only-Begotten, through the wisdom which is His and through the counsel of the Father, found and wrought a means by which we might come into unity with God and with one another - even we ourselves, although by our differences we are separate individuals in soul and body. For by one body, and that His own, He blesses those who believe in Him by a mystical communion and makes them of one body with Himself and one another... For if we all partake of the one loaf, we are all made one body; for it is not possible that Christ be divided. Therefore the Church is called 'the Body of Christ' of which we are individually members, according to Paul's understanding. For we are all united to the one Christ through His holy body, inasmuch as we receive Him Who is one and undivided in our own bodies... Now if we are all of one body with one another in Christ, and not only with one another but with Him Who assuredly is within us through His own flesh, clearly we are all one, both in one another and in Christ. For Christ, Who is both God and man in one person, is the body of unity."[4]


     As a contemporary Father, St. John Maximovich, puts it: "For the full sanctification of man, the body of the servant of the Lord must be united with the Body of Christ, and this is accomplished in the mystery of Holy Communion. The true Body and Blood of Christ which we receive, becomes a part of the great Body of Christ... We partake of the Body and Blood of Christ, in the holy Mysteries, so that we ourselves may be members of Christ's Body: the Church."[5]


     "Of course," continues St. John, "for union with Christ, the mere conjoining of our body with the Body of Christ does not suffice. The consumption of the Body of Christ becomes beneficial when in spirit we strive toward Him and unite ourselves with Him. Reception of the Body of Christ, with aversion to Him in spirit, is like the approach to Christ of those who struck Him and mocked and crucified Him. Their approaching Him served not for their salvation and healing, but for their condemnation. But those who partake with piety, love and readiness to bring themselves to serve Him, closely unite themselves with Him and become instruments of His divine will."[6]


     "With regard to union in the Spirit," writes St. Cyril, "we shall say again that we have all received one and the same spirit, namely the Holy Spirit, and are, so to speak, mingled with one another and with God. For Christ makes the Spirit of the Father Who is also His own Spirit to dwell in each of us individually, many as we are, yet the Spirit is one and undivided; and in that individuality which is His by nature He holds together in unity those spirits which are separated from unity one with another, showing them all to be as one in Himself. For as the power of the holy flesh makes those in whom it may come to dwell to be of one body, in the same way, I hold, the one indivisible Spirit dwells in them all and binds them all into a spiritual unity."[7]


    Thus we become one in the Body of Christ by partaking in His Body and Blood in the sacrament of the Eucharist, and we become one in the Spirit of Christ by partaking in His Spirit through being sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit at the sacrament of Holy Chrismation.


     This essentially sacramental, mystical concept of the Church is opposed both to the Catholic and Sergianist concept, which places organisational unity above sacramental unity, and to the Protestant (and Ecumenist) concept, which effectively eliminates any notion of sacramental unity and replaces it by a vague notion of faith alone.


     Now unity of faith is, of course, fundamental to the Orthodox concept of the Church, and is the first criterion for distinguishing between the One True Church and the many false ones. For, St. Maximus the Confessor declared, ?Christ the Lord called that Church the Catholic Church which maintains the true and saving confession of the faith.?[8] But faith alone, without participation in the sacraments of Baptism, Chrismation and the Eucharist, that is, without union to Christ in spirit, soul and body, is not enough to make one a member of His Church.


     Thus we read in the life of the fourth-century French Saint, Martin of Tours, that one of his catechumens died while he was away on a journey. On returning, St. Martin raised him from the dead and baptised him. Then the catechumen related that ?when he left the body he was taken to the court of the Judge and that he heard the grim sentence that he was to be condemned to the dark places [i.e., to hell] and to the hordes of common people. Then two angels pointed out to the Judge that this was the man for whom Martin was praying and so the order was given for him to be taken back the two angels, handed over to Martin and restored to his former life.?[9]


     Thus true faith, with repentance, makes one eligible for entrance into the Church, enrolling one in the ranks of the catechumens; but it is participation in the sacraments that actually effects that entrance; for the sacraments are the Church - the Body (of Christ in the Eucharist) is the Body (of Christ as the Church).


     Thus in order to be united with the Head, which is Christ, it is not enough to believe in Him; one must be united to His Body. As St. Augustine writes: "Our Lord Jesus Christ is as one whole perfect man, both head and body. We acknowledge the Head in that Man who was born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was buried, rose from the dead, ascended into heaven, sitteth at the right hand of the Father, from thence we look for Him to come to judge the living and the dead. This is the Head of the Church (Ephesians 5.23). The body of this Head is the Church, not the church of this country only, but of the whole world; not that of this age only, but from Abel himself down to those who shall to the end be born and shall believe in Christ, the whole assembly of Saints belonging to one City, which City is Christ's body, of which Christ is the head."[10]


     As Nicetas of Remesiana wrote in the fourth century: "After confessing the blessed Trinity, you go on to profess that you believe in the Holy Catholic Church. What else is the Church than the congregation of all the saints? From the beginning of the world, all righteous men who have been, are or shall be, whether they be patriarchs, - Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, - prophets, apostles, martyrs or any other righteous man, are one Church because they are sanctified by one faith and life, sealed by one Spirit, made into one Body; of which Body the Head is Christ, as it is written (Ephesians 1.22; 5.23; Colossians 1.18)."[11]


     Union with Christ has several degrees, teaches the fourth-century Western Father, St. Hilary of Poitiers. It begins with unity in the one faith, continues with unity in the one baptism, whereby we become "one by regeneration into the same nature", and is consummated by unity in the one Eucharist, which is "the sacrament of perfect unity". "Now how it is that we are in Him through the sacrament of the flesh and blood bestowed upon us, He Himself testifies, saying, '... because I live ye shall live also; because I am in My Father, and ye in Me, and I in you'. If He wished to indicate a mere unity of will, why did He set forth a kind of gradation and sequence in the completion of the unity, unless it were that, since He was in the Father through the nature of the Deity, and we on the contrary in Him through His birth in the body, He would have us believe that He is in us through the mystery of the sacraments?... I have dwelt upon these facts because the heretics [Arians] falsely maintain that the union between the Father and Son is one of will only, and make use of the example of our own union with God, as though we were united to the Son and through the Son to the Father by mere obedience and a devout will, and none of the natural verity of communion were vouchsafed us through the sacrament of the Body and Blood; although the glory of the Son bestowed upon us through the Son abiding in us after the flesh, while we are united in Him corporeally and inseparably, bids us preach the mystery of the true and natural unity."[12]


     In the light of the above discussion, let us now turn to the particular marks of the Church as listed in the Symbol of Faith: One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic.




     1. The Oneness of the Church. The Church is one both in the sense that there is only one Church, and in the sense that her members are united both with Christ and with each other. This unity is of the closest possible kind, both spiritual and bodily, and analogous to the unity of a man and his wife, being a participation, through the sacraments, in the union effected by Christ with human nature at the Annunciation. Christ is the Head and Bridegroom of the Church, and all the individual members of the Church are united with Him as with their Head and Bridegroom; for as the friend of the Bridegroom said, "I have betrothed you to Christ to present you as a pure bride to her one Husband" (II Corinthians 11.2; cf. John 3.29).


     Now the oneness and unifying power of the Church can be derived from the meaning of the "Church", ekklesia, in Greek. For this literally signifies the "calling out" (ek-klesia) of those who before were separated from unity into unity with each other. As St. Cyril of Jerusalem says, "it is rightly called 'Church' [ekklesia] because it calls forth and assembles together all men."[13]


     Bishop Gregory (Grabbe) has developed this idea as follows: "It is very important to understand correctly the derivation and meaning of the word 'Church'. E. Bogdashevsky gives a fine, brief philological explanation of the word: 'By simple philological derivation the Church (in Greek, ecclesia) is an assembly; this word corresponds to the Hebrew qahal. But not every assembly is the Church. An assembly of the most prominent people of the state, officials, consuls, etc., is not the Church (ecclesia), but is termed a synklesia (a convocation). The Athenians distinguished two types of assemblies, the ecclesia and the agorai. The former signified a legally empowered assembly of the citizens (i.e. those persons who had to right to participate in the discussion of state affairs) summoned by the authorities through a herald in a lawful manner; the latter were mixed assemblies without any order when a crowd of all sorts of people simply collected together. This philological information leads to the following conclusion:.. The members of the ecclesia are members of the same city, ruled by the same laws, having the same religion; the Church is not a spiritual aristocracy, but neither is it a motley crowd; it contains those who have been called or summoned by the grace and power of God' [On the Church, Kiev, 1904, p. 4].


     "..[Archbishop Ilarion] Troitsky.. adds a profound observation. 'The Hebrew word which signifies ecclesia - Church - is qahal. Qahal is a solemn designation of a religious assembly, of society in its relationship to God. Therefore this name was applied to the Hebrew nation as a whole. The word ecclesia is encountered twice altogether in the Gospel and both times in the Gospel of St. Matthew which was written for the Jews and so clearly reflects the Old Testament world-view. The Gospel says only that Christ will found His Church, and not just a Church. The fact that from the very beginning the term which was chosen to designate the Christian Church was this very word ecclesia, which has a close connection with Old Testament terminology, speaks of the consciousness of unity which imbued the early Church. In the Old Testament there was a single qahal, the people of the Lord or the commonwealth of the Lord (Num. 16.3; 20.2-4,9). Equally in the New Testament there also is a single Church of God' [New Testament Teaching on the Church, St. Petersburg, 1904, p. 15].


     "To this one can add Bolotov's observation: 'The circumstance that Christ called the society He founded an ecclesia has a special polemical significance against Protestantism. The Protestant conception is obsessed with an invisible Church. But the concept of the ecclesia includes a strong element of visibility. Therefore the expression 'invisible Church' contains a contradictio in adjecto (internal contradiction). There cannot be any sort of invisible Church. One can participate only spiritually in the invisible, but in the ecclesia not otherwise than with the body.' [Lectures on the History of the Early Church, part I, Introduction, St. Petersburg, 1907, p. 13]."[14]


     But if the Church is one, how are we to understand the divisions in the Church?


     These are of two major kinds: the more easily comprehensible divisions that have taken place from the unity of the Church (the heresies, schisms, unlawful assemblies, etc.), when a group has been officially cut off from the unity of the Church by an act of the Church herself; and the more puzzling kind of divisions that have taken place within the unity of the Church, when communion in the sacraments has been broken, but the conscience of the Church recognises that both sides still remain within the Body of Christ. The latter kind of division is puzzling because if the Church is one, and her unity is an organic and visible unity created by unity of faith and participation in the sacraments, it is difficult to see how there could be such a thing as a division within, as opposed to from, the Church. Is Christ divided? Can there be more than one body rightly calling itself the Body of Christ? 


     In considering this problem, it is useful to examine a distinction made by the Russian New Martyr (perhaps Martyr-Bishop) Mark (Novoselov) between the Church as organism and the Church as organisation: "It is necessary to distinguish between the Church-organism and the Church-organisation. As the apostle taught: 'You are the Body of Christ and individually members of it' (I Corinthians 12.27). The Church-organism is a living person, and just as the cells of our body, besides having their own life, have the life that is common to our body and links between themselves, so a man in the Body of Christ begins to live in Church, while Christ begins to live in him. That is why the apostle said: 'It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me' (Galatians 2.20).


     "The basis for the affirmation of the Church-organism is love for Christ. The Lord Himself saw the basis of His Church precisely in love for Him. He asked Peter: did he love Him? And He added: 'Feed My sheep'. The Church of Christ is the union of mutual love of the believers ('United by the bond of love and offering themselves to Christ the Lord, the apostles were washed clean', Canon of Holy Thursday). Only in the Church organism can true democratism, equality and brotherhood come into being; we are equal and brothers only if we are parts of one and the same living body. In the organisation there is not and cannot be organisational equality and brotherhood."[15]


     In other words, the unity of the Church is organic rather than organisational. Divisions from the Church constitute divisions from both the organism and the organisation of the Church. Divisions within the Church, on the other hand, are divisions within the organisation only; the organism remains undivided.


     Now this distinction might seem to recall the Protestant definition of the Church as "the invisible community of all believers". However, if the Church-organism is defined in terms of participation in the sacraments, it is no less visible than the Church-organisation; for participation in the sacraments is a visible act. Moreover, there can be no participation in the sacraments, and therefore no Church-organism, where there is no priesthood, i.e. no Church-organisation. Therefore, as Hieromartyr Mark goes on to say, the Church as organisation and the Church as organism are in the end inseparable.


     Nevertheless, discerning whether a man is communing of the True Body and Blood of Christ is not a discerning of the fleshly eyes, but of the mind enlightened by grace. Therefore, like everything else in the spiritual life, we must conclude that the unity of the Church is both visible and invisible. Or rather, just as many of those who saw Christ walking in the flesh upon earth "seeing [Him] did not see" and "hearing [Him] did not hear", so it is with the Church, which is the continuation of His Body in space and time: many see it and yet do not see it, for they do not see the Body and Blood in the bread and the wine, or the fire of the Divinity in the flesh of the Humanity. We, however, as Christians "henceforth know no man after the flesh: yea, though we have know Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we Him [and His Body, the Church] no more [in this manner]" (II Corinthians 5.16).


     Whether a man is a member of the Church-organism depends, ultimately, on whether he continues to commune of the true Body and Blood of Christ. Such communion does not exist outside the single, undivided Church-organism, and does not exist in heretical bodies which have been expelled from the Church organism by a lawful act of the Church hierarchy. But it can continue to exist outside a particular Church-organisation, as has been shown many times in history when saints have appeared in different Church organisations having no communion with each other.


     Bishop Ignatius (Brianchaninov) compared the organisational divisions within the Church of the last times to the different parts of a shipwreck: "God desires and seeks the salvation of all. And He is always saving all who wish to be saved from drowning in the sea of life and sin. But He does not always save in a boat or in a convenient, well-equipped harbour. He promised to save the holy Apostle Paul and all his fellow-travellers, and He did save them. But the Apostle and his fellow-passengers were not saved in the ship, which was wrecked; they were saved with great difficulty, some by swimming and others on boards and various bits of the ship's wreckage."[16]


     Elder Anatolius (Potapov) of Optina used the same analogy to describe the divisions within the True Church of Russia after 1917: "There will be a storm. And the Russian ship will be destroyed. Yes, it will happen, but, you know, people can be saved on splinters and wreckage. Not all, not all will perish..." But he also prophesied that canonical unity would be restored: "A great miracle of God will be revealed. And all the splinters and wreckage will, by the will of God and His might, be gathered together and united, and the ship will be recreated in its beauty and will go along the path foreordained for it by God. That's how it will be, a miracle manifest to all..."[17]


      2. The Holiness of the Church. The Church of Christ is One because the Body of Christ is One, and all Christians partake in this unity through the sacraments. In the same way the Church of Christ is Holy because the Body of Christ is Holy, and all Christians partake in this holiness through the sacraments.


     The distinction between the Church as organism and the Church as organisation is useful again here. Thus Hieromartyr Mark writes: "Only to the Church-organism can we apply such titles as we meet in the Word of God, for example: 'glorious, holy, spotless' (Ephesians 1.4); 'the Bride of the Lamb' (Revelation 19.7; 21.9); 'the Body of Christ' (Ephesians 1.23; Colossians 1.24); 'the pillar and ground of the truth' (I Timothy 3.15). These concepts are inapplicable to the Church-organisation (or applicable only with great qualifications); they lead people into perplexity and are rejected by them. The Church-organism is the pure 'Bride' of Christ (Revelation 21.2), but the Church-organisation has all the faults of human society and always bears the marks of human infirmities... The Church-organisation often persecutes the saints of God, but the Church-organism receives them into her bosom... The Church-organisation rejects them from its midst, deprives them of episcopal sees, while they remain the most glorious members of the Church-organism. It is possible to belong externally to the visible Church (organisation), while one belongs only inwardly to the Body of Christ (organism), and the measure of one's belongingness is determined by the degree of one's sanctity."[18]


     Thus the Church as organism is one and holy, while the Church as organisation is often divided and impure. As an image of this distinction let us consider the two Marys, Mary the Mother of God and Mary Magdalene, who went together to the tomb to meet the Risen Lord (Matthew 28.1). The one Mary, the Mother of God, is already "holy and without blemish", "not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing" (Ephesians 5.27); while the other, Mary Magdalene, is "black, but comely" (Song of Songs 1.5), being not yet completely purified through repentance. The one represents the Church Triumphant, already "full of grace" (Luke 1.28) and crowned with the Bridegroom at the right hand of the Father; while the other is the Church Militant, still having to struggle with sin both within and outside her.


     Mary Magdalene mistakes Christ for the gardener - we remember that the first Adam was a gardener. But like Eve after the Fall Mary is not yet allowed to touch the Tree of Life: "Touch Me not, for I have not yet ascended to My Father" (John 20.17). The other myrrhbearers, however, "took hold of His feet and worshipped Him" (Matthew 28.9). Again we have a distinction between two kinds of believers: those who through purity and repentance have been initiated into the mysteries and can enter into full union with the Bridegroom, and those whose thoughts have not yet ascended far enough above earthly things to grasp the Divinity of Christ, seated at the right hand of the Father. For now, in the light of the Resurrection, it is no longer permitted to love the Lord as a man only. As St. Ephraim the Syrian writes: "As long as He was a servant, all men had power over His Body, since publicans and sinners came to touch Him. But once He was established as Lord, the fear which He inspired was the fear of God."[19]


     Just as, in a marriage between a believer and an unbeliever, the unbelieving partner is sanctified through the union with the believer, and their children, too, are sanctified (I Corinthians 7.14), so in the marriage between God and man that takes place in the Church, man is sanctified through his union with God. St. John Chrysostom puts it as follows: "God desired a harlot... and has intercourse with human nature, [whereby] the harlot herself? is transformed into a maiden."[20] Again, Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich writes: "It is a great mystery when a man leaves his father and mother and cleaves to his wife. The Apostle himself, who has been raised to the third heaven and beheld many heavenly mysteries, calls the marriage of natural man on earth a great mystery. It is the mystery of love and life, and the only mystery that exceeds it is the mystery of Christ's bond with His Church. Christ calls Himself the Bridegroom and the Church His Bride. Christ so loves the Church that He left His heavenly Father for her - though remaining equal with Him in unity of essence and divinity - and came down to earth and clave to his Church. He suffered for her sake that He might, by His Blood, cleanse her from sin and from all impurity and make her worthy to be called His Bride. He warms the Church with His love, feeds her with His Blood, and enlivens, enlightens and adorns her with His Holy Spirit."[21]


    The Church remains holy as long as she remains faithful to her Bridegroom. The holiness of the Church which is communicated through the sacraments is not tarnished by the personal sinfulness of the priest who administers them as long as he remains within the Body. But immediately he steps outside the Body and commits spiritual adultery with a heretical body, he ceases to be a channel of holiness, and the so-called "sacraments" he administers are not a source of holiness, but of defilement.


     Thus, as the Martyr-Bishop Cyprian of Carthage wrote in the third century: "Whoever breaks with the Church and enters on an adulterous union cuts himself off from the promises made to the Church; and he who turns his back on the Church of Christ will not come to the rewards of Christ: he is an alien, a worldling, an enemy. You cannot have God for your Father if you no longer have the Church for your mother. If there was any escape for one who was outside the ark of Noah, there will be as much for one who is found to be outside the Church. The Lord warns us when He says: 'He that is not with Me is against Me, and he that gathereth not with Me, scattereth'. whoever breaks the peace and harmony of the Church acts against Christ; whoever gathers elsewhere than in the Church, scatters the Church of Christ."[22]


     The individual Christian participates in the holiness of the Church as long as he remains faithful to her and does not enter into communion with heretics. Thus St. John the Almsgiver writes: "If, having legally married a wife in this world of the flesh, we are forbidden by God and by the laws to desert her and be united to another woman, even thought we have to spend a long time separated from her in a distant country, and shall incur punishment if we violate our vows, how then shall we, who have been joined to God through the Orthodox Faith and the Catholic Church - as the Apostle says: 'I have espoused you to one husband that I might present you as a pure virgin to Christ' (II Corinthians 11.2) - how shall we escape from sharing in that punishment which in the world to come awaits heretics, if we defile the Orthodox and Holy Faith by adulterous communion with heretics?"[23] For the heretical communions ?have ceased to be holy Churches,? writes Nicetas of Remesiana, ?inasmuch as they have been deceived by doctrines of demons, and both believe and do otherwise than is required by the commands of Christ the Lord and the traditions of the Apostles.?[24]


     This teaching is confirmed by all the Fathers of the Church. Thus St. John of Damascus writes: "With all our strength let us beware lest we receive Communion from or give it to heretics. 'Give not what is holy to the dogs', says the Lord. 'Neither cast ye your pearls before swine', lest we become partakers in their dishonour and condemnation."[25] St. Theodore the Studite writes: "Chrysostom calls enemies of God not only the heretics, but also those who communicate with such people."[26] And again: "Some have suffered complete shipwreck in the faith. But others, even if they have not drowned in their thoughts, nevertheless perish through communion with heresy."[27] As we chant in the Divine Liturgy: "Holy things to the holy!"


     2. The Catholicity of the Church. The word "Catholic" comes from the Greek kath' olon, meaning "according to the whole". It expresses a quality of wholeness whereby each part of the Church contains the whole within itself, and the whole is expressed in every part. LIke the Holy Trinity, of which she is in this respect the image, the nature of the Catholic Church is contained undivided in each of the persons that compose her, in spite of their many differences, so that in her "there is neither Greek nor Jew, nor circumcision nor uncircumcision, nor Barbarian nor Scythian, nor bond nor free, but Christ is all in all" (Colossians 3.11). As St. Maximus the Confessor defines it: " "Men, women and children, profoundly divided as to race, nation, language, manner of life, work, knowledge, honour, fortune... are all recreated by the Church in the Spirit. To all equally she communicates a divine aspect. All receive from her a unique nature which cannot be broken asunder, a nature which no longer permits one henceforth to take into consideration the many and profound differences which are their lot. In that way all are raised up and united in a truly catholic manner."[28]


     This understanding of Catholicity was developed especially by Russian Slavophile theologians, especially Alexis Khomiakov. They saw in Cyril and Methodius' translation of the Greek word kaqolikh by the Slavonic word sobornaia a divine inspiration illuminating the meaning of the Greek original. For sobornaia is derived from sobor, meaning "council" or a large church with two or three altars; and the Slavophiles saw in the Church's "catholicity" or sobornost - her conciliarity, the vital quality that distinguishes her from Roman pseudo-Catholicism and Protestantism.


     Now, as Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky points out, "in Greek there is no philological or linguistic connection between the concepts "catholic" and "council" (ecumenical). A council of the Church is called in Greek SunodoV, and an ecumenical council, oikoumenikhSunodoV".[29] Nevertheless, the lack of a philological connection does not mean that there is no deeper semantic and theological connection, a connection which Saints Cyril and Methodius saw when they chose this translation.


     Khomiakov's argument was as follows: "'Sobor' expresses the idea of a gathering not only in the sense of an actual, visible union of many in a given place, but also in the more general sense of the continual possibility of such a union. In other words: it expresses the idea of unity in multiplicity. Therefore, it is obvious that the word kaqolikoV, as understood by the two great servants of the Word of God sent by Greece to the Slavs, was derived not from kata and ola, but from kata and olon; for kata often has the same meaning as our preposition 'according to', for instance: katMathaion, katMarkon, 'according to Matthew', 'according to Mark'. The Catholic Church is the Church according to all, or according to the unity of all the believers, kath' olon ton pistevonton, the Church according to complete unanimity, the Church in which all peoples have disappeared and in which there are no Greeks, no barbarians, no difference of status, no slaveowners, and no slaves; that Church about which the Old Testament prophesied and which was realised in the New Testament - in one word, the Church as it was defined by St. Paul."[30]


     The essential difference between Orthodoxy and the West, according to Khomiakov, consists in Orthodoxy's possession of Catholicity, whereas the Papists have substituted for it Romanism, mechanical obedience to the Pope, and the Protestants - the papism of each individual: "The Apostolic Church of the ninth century (the time of Saints Cyril and Methodius) is neither the Church kaq' ekaston (according to the understanding of each) as the Protestants have it, nor the Church katatonepiskoponthVRwmhV (according to the understanding of the bishop of Rome) as is the case with the Latins; it is the Church kaq' olon (according to the understanding of all in their unity), the Church as it existed prior to the Western split and as it still remains among those whom God preserved from the split: for, I repeat, this split is a heresy against the dogma of the unity of the Church."[31]


     Among the Papists, the Church is expressed by the fiat of one man, which guarantees external unity, but no inner consensus. Among the Protestants, however, every man believes as he thinks fit, which guarantees neither unity nor consensus. Only among the Orthodox is there true Catholicity, which is expressed in Councils that express the Consensus of the Church, not only in the present, but in all generations. For, as Fr. Michael Pomazansky writes, "Catholicity refers to the fact that the Church is not limited to space, by earthly boundaries, nor is it limited in time, that is, by the passing of generations into the life beyond the grave. In its catholic fullness, in its catholicity, the Church embraces both the Church of the called and the Church of the chosen, the Church on earth and the Church in Heaven."[32]


     According to another Slavophile, Khomiakov's friend Ivan Kireyevsky, just as, in a marriage, separation or divorce takes place when one partner asserts his or her self against the other, so in the Church schisms and heresies take place when one party asserts itself over against catholic unity. Thus the Roman patriarchate tore itself away from the unity and catholicity of the Church by an unbalanced, self-willed development of its own particular strength, the logical development of concepts. It introduced the Filioque into the Symbol of the Faith against the theological consciousness of the Church as a whole, and was then compelled to justify it by other false dogmas, such as the infallibility of the Pope, thereby destroying her catholicity ? but not the catholicity of the Eastern Patriarchates that remained faithful to the Truth. As Khomiakov put it: "having appropriated the right of independently deciding a dogmatic question within the area of the Ecumenical Church, private opinion carried within itself the seed of the growth and legitimation of Protestantism, that is, of free investigation torn from the living tradition of unity based on mutual love."[33] Or, as Kireyevsky put it: "In the ninth century the western Church showed within itself the inevitable seed of the Reformation, which placed this same Church before the judgement seat of the same logical reason which the Roman Church had itself exalted... A thinking man could already see Luther behind Pope Nicolas I just as? a thinking man of the 16th century could foresee behind Luther the coming of 19th century liberal Protestantism..."[34]


     4. The Apostolicity of the Church. The Unity of the Church is in the image of God's absolute Unity, her Holiness - in the image of His Holiness, her Catholicity - in the image of His Unity-in-Trinity. However, it is possible for a community to be one, holy and catholic in this way only if it also apostolic. For it is through the Apostles and the Apostolic Teaching that individual believers and communities are betrothed to Christ; as the Apostle Paul says: "I feel a divine jealousy for you, for I betrothed you to Christ to present you as a pure bride to her one Husband" (II Corinthians 11.2).


     Now apostolicity is not acquired, as the Protestants think, by a quasi-archaeological restoration of the faith and worship of the Early Church, but rather through a literal grafting-in to the True Vine (John 15), the Natural Olive Tree (Romans 11) of the Orthodox Church. This Church does not need to be "resurrected" or "recreated" because she has always existed in unbroken succession from the time of the Apostles and will continue to exist to the end of time (Matthew 16.18, 28.20). The grafting-in to the Church is accomplished, not through faith alone, but through the participation in the sacraments, the "oil and wine" which "the Good Samaritan", Christ Himself, gives to the faithful through the Apostles and their lawfully ordained successors, which are maintained by strict adherence to the Holy Scriptures and Tradition of the Church, the "two pence" which Christ entrusted to the "innkeeper", the priesthood (Luke 10.29-37), and which will not fail even in the times of the Apocalypse (Revelation 6.6).


     Those who assert that it is possible to be joined to the Apostolic Church - even "resurrect" the Apostolic Church - without being organically joined to that Church which has existed since the time of the Apostles, are like those who say that it is possible to be married to someone without having participated in the sacrament of marriage. Their claim to be already united to Christ will be seen by Him, the True Bridegroom, as spiritual fornication; for they have united themselves, not with Christ, but with a figment of their imagination, or with a demon posing as Christ. For, as St. Basil the Great says, "fornication is not marriage, nor even the beginning of marriage".[35]


     It is impossible for a believer to be united in spiritual marriage with Christ if he has not been joined to him by the Apostles or their lawful successors, having first studied and fully accepted the teaching of the Apostles and Fathers of the Church. The West's superficial and flippant attitude towards apostolicity, and therefore to all those schisms and heresies which violate apostolicity, is a consequence of its essentially amoral attitude to sexual relations in general. For now that fornication is hardly considered to be a sin, and even homosexuality is deemed acceptable, it is hardly surprising that spiritual fornication and the wholesale spiritual promiscuity and perversity of such organisations as the World Council of Churches are also condoned. For spiritual chastity is required in order to perceive the spiritual beauty of Christ's marriage to His Church. And only when chastity has been regained through repentance, the recognition that the years of wandering outside the Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Unity of the Church have been barren and fruitless, will the individual soul or community be able to say: "I will go and return to my first husband; for then it was better for me than now" (Hosea 2.6).


     Therefore just as a bridegroom has only one bride, with whom he lives in an unbroken spiritual and physical union through the grace given them in the sacrament of marriage and their determination to remain faithful to each other, so the Apostolic Church is that one Church which has lived in an unbroken spiritual and physical union with Christ through the grace of the Spirit that was bestowed upon her at Pentecost and the determination to remain faithful to the teaching of the Apostles to the end of the age. This One Apostolic Church is the Orthodox Church. For, as Bishop Theophanes the Recluse writes: "There is no truth outside the Orthodox Church. She is the single faithful keeper of all that was commanded by the Lord through the holy Apostles, and she is for that reason the only really Apostolic Church. The others have lost the Apostolic Church, and since according to their Christian conscience they have the conviction that only the Apostolic Church can faithfully keep and point to the truth, they have thought of constructing such a church themselves, and they have constructed it, and given this name to it. They have given the name, but the essence they have not been able to communicate. For the Apostolic Church was created in accordance with the good will of the Father by the Lord Saviour with the grace of the Holy Spirit through the Apostles. It is not form men to create such a thing. Those who think to create such a thing are like children playing with dolls. If there is no true Apostolic Church on earth, then there is no point in wasting effort on creating her. But thanks to the Lord, He has not allowed the gates of hell to prevail over the Holy Apostolic Church. She exists and will continue to exist, in accordance with His promise, to the end of the age. And this is our Orthodox Church. Glory to God!"[36]


June 19 / July 2, 1999.

Holy Apostle Jude.

St. John Maximovich.


[1] St. Cyril of Alexandria, On John 17.21; quoted in Archbishop Ilarion Troitsky, Christianity or the Church? Holy Trinity Monastery, Jordanville, 1971, p. 9. Italics mine.

[2] St. Chrysostom, Homily XX on Ephesians, 3.

[3] St. Bede, On Genesis, 2.20-22.

[4] St. Cyril, On John 17.21; translated in Eric Jay, The Church: Its Changing Image through Twenty Centuries, London: SPCK, 1977, p. 79.

[5] St. John Maximovich, "The Church as the Body of Christ", Orthodox Life, vol. 31, no. 5, September-October, 1981, pp. 16-17.

[6] St. John Maximovich, op. cit.

[7] St. Cyril, op. cit.

[8] Fr. Christopher Birchall, The Life of our Holy Father Maximus the Confessor, Boston: Holy Transfiguration Monastery, 1982, p. 14.

[9] Sulpicius Severus, The Life of St. Martin of Tours, 7. Translated in Caroline White (ed.), Early Christian Lives, London: Penguin Books, 1998, p. 142.

[10] St. Augustine, On Psalm 90, ii, 1; translated by Erich Przywara, An Augustine Synthesis, London: Sheed & Ward, 1977, p. 217.

[11] Nicetas, De Symbolo, 10. Translated by J. Stevenson, Creeds, Councils and Controversies, London: SPCK, 1966, pp. 119-20.

[12] St. Hilary, On the Trinity, VIII, 15, 17; translated in Jay, op. cit., p. 80.

[13] St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures, XVIII.

[14] Protopresbyter Gregory Grabbe, The Dogma of the Church in the Modern World, Holy Trinity Monastery, Jordanville, 1976, pp. 5-6.

[15] Novoselov, "Primety Vremeni", Pravoslavnaia Zhizn', N 5 (545), May, 1995, pp.23-24, letter 5 (in Russian).

[16] Bishop Ignatius, The Arena, chapter 10, Madras, 1970, pp. 24-25.

[17] Elder Anatolius, cited in Russkij Palomnik, N 7, 1993, p. 38 (in Russian).

[18] Novoselov, op. cit., letter 18.

[19] St. Ephraim, Commentary on the Diatessaron, XXI, 26.

[20] St. Chrysostom, On Eutropius, II, 2.

[21] Bishop Nikolai, The Prologue of Ochrid, Birmingham: St. Lazar?s Press, 1986, May 29.

[22] St. Cyprian, On the Unity of the Catholic Church, 6. Cf. St. Ambrose of Milan, On Repentance, II, 24; St. Augustine of Hippo, Homily 21 on the New Testament; St. Basil the Great, First Canonical Epistle; St. John Chrysostom, Homily 11 on Ephesians.

[23] Life of St. John the Almsgiver, translated by E. Dawes & N.N. Baynes (eds.), Three Byzantine Saints, London: Mowbrays, 1977.

[24] Nicetas, De Symbolo, 10; op. cit., p. 120.

[25] St. Damascene, Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, IV, 13.

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