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I Believe In One, Holy Church

December 21, 2013

ic-an056-icon-church-christHaving described the basic truths with respect to the three persons of the Holy Trinity, the Nicene Creed now turns to the nature of the Church, not only having been founded and established by Christ Himself, but also being an extension of His unique and holy presence in the world. The Church as the Body of Christ possesses and is marked by the characteristics of Her founder—love, humility, meekness, forgiveness, and truth—and by the very life of Her founder including His incarnation, suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension into heaven. In theological terms, we describe this mystery as theanthropic, which Saint John of Damascus defines as “God being perfect becomes perfect man, and brings to perfection the newest of all things new, the only new thing under the sun, through which the boundless might of God is manifested” (Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, book 3, chapter 1, PG 94.984bc). This theanthropic mystery first revealed in the Incarnation and forever revealing itself as the Church is at the heart of this article of faith: “I believe in the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.” In this post, I would like to focus our attention on the first two attributes enunciated in the creedal formula: oneness and holiness.

That the Church is one is a statement of faith.  As Saint Justin Popovich has written, “Just as the Person of Christ the God-man is one and unique, so is the Church founded by Him, in Him, and upon Him. The unity of the Church follows necessarily from the unity of the Person of the Lord Christ, the God-man. Being an organically integral and theanthropic organism unique in all the worlds, the Church, according to all the laws of Heaven and earth, is indivisible. Any division would signify her death. Immersed in the God-man, she is first and foremost a theanthropic organism, and only then a theanthropic organization. In her, everything is theanthropic: nature, faith, love, baptism, the Eucharist, all the holy mysteries and all the holy virtues, her teaching, her entire life, her immortality, her eternity, and her structure. Yes, yes, yes; in her, everything is theanthropically integral and indivisible Christification, sanctification, deification, Trinitarianism, salvation. In her everything is fused organically and by grace into a single theanthropic body, under a single Head—the God-man, the Lord Christ. All her members, though as persons always whole and inviolate, yet united by the same grace of the Holy Spirit through the holy mysteries and the holy virtues into an organic unity, comprise one body and confess the one faith, which unites them to each other and to the Lord Christ.” (Originally published in Orthodox Life, vol. 31, no. 1 (Jan.-Feb., 1981), pp. 28-33. Translated by Stephen Karganovic from The Orthodox Church & Ecumenism (in Serbian) by Archimandrite Justin (Popovich) (Thessalonica: Chilandar Monastery, 1974), pp. 64-74.)

This teaching on the oneness of the Church has a corollary: sin divides while grace unites us to each other and to the triune God. It is in the holy Church founded by Christ that we connect in a mystical yet real fashion to the work of salvation. This article of faith about the unity and grace of the Church is experienced in worship, experienced in the Saints, experienced in the mysteries, experienced in the reading of the scriptures, experienced in the fathers’ writings, experienced in prayer, and experienced in the application of these teachings to daily life. It means that we are called to be and in the Church we become more than isolated individuals. An isolated individual is not the Church. Someone who professes to be a Christian, yet unrepentantly acts in unChristian ways, is not united to the Church. Likewise, individuals who profess to be Christians, yet act unrepentantly in unChristian ways, in nowise constitute the Church. Knowing this allows us to make helpful distinctions that avoid the pitfalls of being scandalized and falling away from Christ. The Church is one and only by our uniting ourselves to that unity through theanthropic thoughts, theanthropic words, and theanthropic deeds can we be a part of her and thus be united to Christ. It is in the corporate communion of the Church where we experience the healing and salvific love of Christ.

It follows that just as Christ is one, so the Church is holy.  As Saint Justin Popovich notes, “By her theanthropic nature, the Church is undoubtedly a unique organization in the world. All her holiness resides in her nature. Actually, she is the theanthropic workshop of human sanctification and, through human beings, of the sanctification of the rest of creation. She is holy as the theanthropic Body of Christ, whose eternal head is the Lord Christ Himself; and Whose immortal soul is the Holy Spirit. Wherefore everything in her is holy: her teaching, her grace, her mysteries, her virtues, all her powers, and all her instruments have been deposited in her for the sanctification of men and of all created things. Having become the Church by His incarnation out of an unparalleled love for man, our God and Lord Jesus Christ sanctified the Church by His sufferings, resurrection, ascension, teaching, wonder-working, prayer, fasting, mysteries, and virtues; in a word, by His entire theanthropic life. Wherefore the divinely inspired pronouncement has been rendered: ‘…Christ also loved the Church, and gave Himself for it; that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that He might present it to Himself a glorious Church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish’ (Ephesians 5:25-27).  The flow of history confirms the reality of the Gospel: the Church is filled to overflowing with sinners. Does their presence in the Church reduce, violate, or destroy her sanctity? Not in the least! For her Head—the Lord Christ, and her Soul—the Holy Spirit, and her divine teaching, her mysteries, and her virtues, are indissolubly and immutably holy. The Church tolerates sinners, shelters them, and instructs them, that they may be awakened and roused to repentance and spiritual recovery and transfiguration; but they do not hinder the Church from being holy. Only unrepentant sinners, persistent in evil and godless malice, are cut off from the Church either by the visible action of the theanthropic authority of the Church or by the invisible action of divine judgment, so that thus also the holiness of the Church may be preserved. ‘Put away from among yourselves that wicked person’ (1 Corinthians 5:13).”

While the one, holy Church is comprised of sinners struggling toward salvation, we should be encouraged that we struggle together.  We are not isolated in our struggle.  Our faith in the Lord Christ and His one, holy church unites us in an inseparable bond which is strengthened in the mysteries of the Church, the daily prayer of the Body of Christ and its yearning for communion with Him Who desires to unite us all in His all-embracing love. Were the belief in one, holy Church to become an orienting principle in life, we would find great encouragement from the life that Christ offers us. We can become much more than we are now. Because the Church is one and holy, we can become one and holy. Because the Body of Christ and Christ are one, everything that Christ revealed and was to the world is available for each of us, and that includes holiness, being dedicated to God, living according to the will of God, and even entering into the very inner sanctum of God, which is love, goodness, and peace. Believing in one holy Church makes all of this possible today.

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From → Nicene Creed

One Comment
  1. Reblogged this on padrerichard and commented:
    An excellent article, worth your time reading!

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