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The Church of Christ, according to the teachings of St. Simeon, the New Theologian.


The holy Apostle Paul, in one of his epistles, gives the most elevated and complete understanding about the Church. He wrote to the Ephesian community in the days of early Christianity, when the latter was barely 30 or 40 years old and was represented by small communities scattered around the Roman Empire. The Apostle was bearing chains, as if a crown, for his good tidings about Christ, and in this isolation was especially enlightened by divine light. He wrote that the Church is the Body of Christ, that is, one living heavenly-and-earthly organism. This understanding of the Church has been carefully maintained by the universal orthodox consciousness. This majestic view of the Church is presented as the "fullness of Him (Christ) that filleth all in all" (Eph. 1:23). It is described as a new existence, the essence of which is the "bond of love," an existence uniting "heaven and earth" with strong and constant ties. The epistle says : "The head, even Christ: from whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love" (Eph. 4:16). Toward this goal, writes the Apostle, Christ established in the earthly part of the Church "some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers" (Eph. 4:11). But what are these ties, uniting the parts of the Body "according to the effectual working in the measure of every part"? What are these "active" ties, producing the "development" of each single part of the Church, and at the same time, a growth, a perfection, and a fullness of the entire heavenly-earthly body of the Church, united under Christ as its single Head? Of course, the universal bond that unites the Church body is prayer. For what is the Church itself, if not a "world of prayer?" We can call prayer the air, the breath, the life of the Church. Like the threads in a weaverís loom, the threads of prayer go in all directions; they unite each member of the Church with the Heavenly Father, the members of the earthly Church with one another, and the earthly members with the heavenly. The same occurs in the heavens, in the regions of the angels and saints, only on a higher and more perfect level. Mortals pray about each other, and, driven by the law of love, for the deceased. The ones now in heaven pray about the mortal ones, and, equally, about the deceased, should they need help. Praise and thanks travel by these prayerful threads in both realms of the Church. Here on earth they are accompanied with penitent thoughts and feelings.

Of course, the ties within the church are expressed in certain actions and activities, but this aspect is only derivative, having prayer as its original source.

Such an understanding is maintained in full only by the Orthodox Church, corresponding to the latterís very structure and daily life. Our Church service is a direct indicator of this understanding of Church life.

Is this understanding also maintained in the teachings of the holy Church fathers? Yes, the holy fathersí thoughts are filled with it. We present an example from the works of St. Simeon, the New Theologian, who lived on the time between the first and second millenniums (he reposed around 1020 AD). We will consider his thoughts about the inner life of the Church of Christ as a heavenly and earthly body, expressed in his 24th "Word." In the thoughts presented, the saint does not even make a definite distinction between the two possible conditions of the Church members ó earthly and heavenly, ó not because he rejected them, but to make it clear that the Church is "one Body under One Head," a "fullness of the One Fulfilling all in all."

This is what St. Simeon teaches:

"All saints are truly members of Christ, Our God. As members, they are united with Him and connected to His body, so that Christ is the Head, and all the saints, from the beginning to the last day, are His members, and all of them together make up one body, and, in a way, one person. Some are like hands, toiling to this day, fulfilling His holy will, transforming the unworthy to the worthy and presenting them to Him. Others are the shoulders in the body of Christ, who carry each otherís burdens, or, taking up the lost lamb that was recovered after being lost in the hills and gorges, bring them to Christ, and thus fulfill His law. Others are like the breast, from which springs the pure water of wisdom and reason to those who hunger and thirst for Godís truth, as they teach them Godís word and give them spiritual bread, which the holy angels eat, that is, true theology, as confidants of Christ and His beloved ones. Others are like the heart, in which, through love, they encompass all humans, accepting within themselves the spirit of salvation and serving as the vessel of the unspeakable and hidden Mysteries of Christ. Others are like the internal organs, which have in them "the life-giving power of Godly thoughts of mysterious theology," and through the words of their teaching sow the seed of piety in the hearts of men. Others, finally, are as bones and feet, which show courage and patience in temptation, like Job, and are immovable in their position of goodness, and do not avoid the pressing difficulties, but gladly accept them and cheerfully carry them to the end. In this way the body of Christís Church is made up in orderly fashion of all His saints from the beginning, and exists complete and all-perfect, in order that all the sons of God would be one, reborn, written in the heavens.

I will prove that all the saints are Christís members and are in one body through the Holy Scriptures. First of all, listen to our Savior Himself, the Lord Christ, as He presents the indivisible union, which the saints have with Him, in the words to His apostles: "Believe Me that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me" (John 14:11) "At that day ye shall know that I am in My Father, and ye in Me, and I in you" (John 14:20, also 17:20-26)Ö

Inasmuch as the deity, imparted to us through association with the Lord, is indivisible, then it is necessary for us, becoming truly in communion with this Deity, to be inseparable from Christ, being one body in one spirit (Gal. 3:28; Col. 3:11, 1Cor. 12:1-14). As God gives each saint his proper place in the eternal abodes, as we said before, so in the body of the Church each person is assigned to the kind of members of Christ that fits him best. The Apostle Paul shows this in the same letter, saying: "But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased Him" (1 Cor. 12:18). Thus, there are many members, but one body. Desiring to show the differences of these members, and what these members are, he says: "Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular. And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healing, helps, governments, diversities of tongues" (1 Cor. 12:27-28).

"This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church" (Eph. 5:32). And truly this mystery is and will be great, and above everything great. Our Lord, the Creator of All, has the same unity, association and relation with the entire Church, as with one wife, and is one with her, and is always inseparable from her, as with His beloved. But this unity is befitting of God, as it is fitting for God to be one with the Church, which is incomprehensible and unutterable. Again, the Church also unites with its beloved God, and clings to Him as the body to its head. For as the body cannot live without its head, so the Church, a collection of believers, that is, the sons of God, written in the heavens, cannot be a whole and perfect body without its head ó Our God Christ, and cannot live a true and eternal life, if it is not nourished by Him daily with necessary bread, from Whom all who love Him receive true life, and grow to a perfect man, by the growing measure of His fulfillment.

Inasmuch as the Church is the body of Christ, and the bride of Christ, and a great world, and Godís temple, so the members of His body are all holy. At the same time, not all of them have yet been born anew or shown them worthy. It is clear, then, that the body of Christ is not completely whole yet, that the higher world is not yet filled, that not the entire host of people have yet entered Godís Church. But to this day there are still many unbelieving people in the world who are going to become believers in Christ, there are many sinners, whose duty is to repent, there are many insubordinate, who will submit to Christ. Many will yet be born anew and serve God, before the last trumpet sounds. And thus, all those foreseen by God must be born anew, and the Churchís firstborn must fill the heavenly Jerusalem, immeasurably higher than this world. Then the fullness of the Body of Christ will occur, and those predetermined by God will conform to the image of His Son, becoming the sons of light and day." (The Words of St. Simeon, the New Theologian, translated by Bishop Theophan, 1st printing, Moscow, 1892, pages 383-391).


Missionary Leaflet # E77d
Copyright © 2003 Holy Trinity Orthodox Mission
466 Foothill Blvd, Box 397, La Canada, Ca 91011
Editor: Bishop Alexander (Mileant)

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