Many truths that form the foundation of the Christian faith
are incomprehensible for the human consciousness. When the human mind, proud
but limited, attempts to handle them in the plane of its own notions, then it
distorts these God-revealed truths, and heresy appears. This is how the truth
about the Holy Trinity was distorted in the early centuries of Christianity,
and the doctrine of the nature of the Savior from the third through the seventh
century. The doctrine of the Church is being distorted even in this time.
"Just believe and you are saved!" — this
is the motto of Protestantism-based Christian denominations. But our Lord Jesus
Christ and His disciples, the holy Apostles taught that salvation is a process
of spiritual revival, where faith is the first step only. The Holy Scripture
treats the teaching about salvation in a close, organic connection with
the teaching about the Church, God's Kingdom amongst people, and it is
impossible to separate one from another. That is why modern misconceptions of
the Church are in their essence misunderstanding of the Christian doctrine of
salvation of man.
Modern misconceptions of the Church can be divided
into two groups. The first group will include those Christians who believe that
Church is not needed for salvation, that man is saved by the faith alone, with
absolutely no regard to the Church. Out of this understanding arises the
doctrine of the "invisible church," popular among sectarians. It says
that all believers, irrespective of their confessions, are members of one invisible
church. Of course, if church is invisible, and thus insensible and inactive, it
cannot be a means of salvation, and then it is merely a result of the existence
of the faithful. The second group will include those Christians who would agree
that Church might be useful, but, failing to understand Her nature, they
believe that church can be created through human efforts, collusion and
compromise. This group covers the champions of so-called ecumenical movement.
Both groups share the denial of one true visible Church, in spite of the
Savior's clear words, "I will build my church; and the gates of hell
shall not prevail against it" (Matthew 16:18).
Because wrong opinions about the Church are so
widespread, we the Orthodox Christians must establish in our minds the correct
understanding of the Church, Her significance and necessity for the salvation
of our souls.
Evil, as well as sin, is a disintegrating,
destructive power, although in this world it can struggle God in serried
ranks. As opposed to evil, the Church is a miraculous realization of
multi-unity, where things Divine, Spiritual and Heavenly join together with
things human, material and worldly.
the principal feature of the Church. She is organically united per se, although
She comprises many local churches and includes worldly and heavenly aspects.
She is also united from outside, and there is no match for Her among heterodox
confessions. Imaginatively speaking, She is one vineyard, one field, one tree,
one vine, one mountain, one building, one flock, one family, one body. Jesus
Christ gave the Church one teaching, one baptism, one Communion. The Church
lives and becomes sanctified by one Spirit of God, She has one head, Christ.
Unity of the Church was the subject of the High-Priest prayer of our Savior:
"That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee,
that they also may be one in us" (John 17:21).
This unity of the Church is a reproduction of the
tri-unity of the Persons in the Holy Trinity, and forms Her mysterious nature.
That is why, when speaking about the Church, the Lord Jesus Christ often told
parables, gave descriptive examples, in order to gradually reveal the diverse
aspects of Her and the properties of this miraculous unity of numerous planes.
We will use these images of the Gospel for the discussion of the nature of the
The Church of Christ, although it exists in the
world that lies in evil, has nothing in common with it. She has Her fence, or
boundaries, that separate the sheep of Christ from the bad-tempered sheep and
from the wolves. This is told in the parable of the Good Shepherd.
"Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that
entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way,
the same is a thief and a robber. But he that entereth in by the door is the
shepherd of the sheep. To him the porter openeth; and the sheep hear his voice:
and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out. And when he putteth
forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they
know his voice. And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him:
for they know not the voice of strangers... I am the door: by me if any man
enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture... As
the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for
the sheep. And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must
bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one
shepherd" (John 10:1-5; 9, 15, 16). Clarity of Apostolic teaching,
legislation, lineage of the apostolic succession, and the entire order of
Church life comprise the obvious fence separating the Church from various
The door of the parable is the Sacrament of
Baptism, by the means of which the faithful become members of the Church. But
there is also a door for the shepherds, which is the legitimate election and
ordination. Usurpers of the shepherd's functions, who "climb up some
other way" as it is put down in the parable, are thieves and robbers.
The parable of the Good Shepherd stresses the idea of obedience for the
sheep and self-sacrifice for the shepherds. Obedience is expressed
through acceptance of the teaching of the Church, without critique and private
opinion, and living Christian lives under the guidance of good shepherds.
The sin of sectarians is, first of all, in their
disobedience to the Church, their insubordination and riot. Protestantism is a
very characteristic generic term for sectarians.
The parable of the vine discloses the mysterious
communion of the faithful with the Lord Jesus Christ, the Source of gifts of
grace and spiritual revival.
"I am the true vine, and my Father is the
husbandman... Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of
itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I
am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same
bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing" (John
Whosoever arrogantly alienates oneself from the
Church, becomes similar to a cut branch: not only it remains fruitless, but
also it will undoubtedly dry up. The consciousness of unity with Christ in the
Sacrament of communion should fill us with sense of utter gratitude. We draw
our better intentions and powers from Him. He is the source of our spiritual
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