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before catholicism
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Athos Monks[play]
Th. Vassilikos[play]

Where is this Church?

BUT WHERE, AN HONEST INQUIRER can legitimately ask, are we to find "the Church"? This question could have been easily answered in the first few years of the Church's life. But it wasn't long before there were those who wished to substitute their own misunderstandings for divine understanding... even in the epistles of the holy Apostle Paul we can read of such. Long before the canon of Holy Scripture was firm, it was necessary for the Church to reject the false teachings of the Gnostics (who taught that salvation was to be attained by knowledge), of Arius (who refused to acknowledge Jesus as the Son of God), and of many others. And now we have a thousand and more sects claiming to be either a part of the Church or the only true Church.

Nevertheless, there truly is and never has been but one Church. That Church has always been at one with the teachings of the holy Apostles, and always in genuine historical and spiritual continuity with them. That Church first had to define itself as "catholic" or universal, in distinction from the "particular" or partial understandings of some of the early heretics. Later, it had to define itself as "orthodox," as of the same Faith as the Apostles and the Church throughout the ages... in distinction from those who were "heterodox," accepting "another faith." From the very beginning, there has been much tolerance for sinners (even though not for their sins), but none for false teachings, for heresy: "If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed" (Gal 1:8).

Throughout, it is one and the same Church. At first, it existed only in the immediate area of Israel; soon, throughout the Roman Empire. It continued to grow and spread for nearly a thousand years, with the falling-away of various heretical groups here and there (most of which have faded from existence) before the cataclysmic schism which plunged almost the entirety of Europe into the darkness of heresy... the schism which created the Roman Catholic Church. [In the West, the continuing decay of the Roman Church produced yet heresy upon heresy... the manifold protestant sects and their offspring.] But throughout the rest of the Christian world... all of the Middle East and parts of Asia... the one true Church continued to grow and flourish: the holy Orthodox Christian Church.

Today, the true Church, the Orthodox Church, is once again present in the West. But it is our responsibility as Orthodox Christians to see to it that the Truth is not only present, but available to those who thirst for it. If we permit it to be so obscured beneath the baggage of ethnicism that it remains inaccessible to those who seek the Truth, we shall be responsible for depriving God's "little ones" of the true Gospel.

But these words are directed both to those who are already Orthodox and to those who honestly seek divine Truth. And for all of us it is equally true that if we prefer our own private notions to the all-embracing reality of God's Truth, we have made our choice... and shall have to live with the devastating consequences of that choice. If we are to attain the end which God intends for us, we must submit ourselves and our lives and our minds to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, of the Church. Only in the life of the Church is it possible for the Bible to be for us the living, life-giving Word of God. Tom away from the true Church, as a child ripped untimely from his mother's womb, the Scriptures bring not Life, but death - whether the death of rationalism, or that of private "inspiration." Only in the Church can we become one with Our Lord Jesus the Christ... He in us, and we in Him, that we all may be One in Him (cf. Jn. 17:22-23).

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