Pray for the people of Ukraine and for an end to war!
Holy Fathers
Orthodox Elders
Athonite Hermits
Icons & Frescoes
Holy Land
Monasteries, Churches
Pascha Holy Light
Monastic Obedience
Various Photos
What's Orthodoxy?
Who started it?
Is it 2000 year old,
before catholicism
and protestantism?

Athos Monks[play]
Th. Vassilikos[play]

The Church as the Restoration of the Authentic Man.

We profess the One and Catholic Church. Strictly saying, one should not say about the Church division, it can only be said about the falling off from It, such as various heresies and schisms.

The inner divisions of the Church for the local ones are not separation, for example: Russian, Greek, Serbian, Bulgarian, Romanian… All these local churches comprise to one Orthodox Church. They are not even the parts of the Church, for the Church cannot be divided in parts, but only local, stipulated by the national or state character, separate displays of one and the same Church. The distinguishing features of each local Church can be many, but the unity remains indivisible, if the purity of faith and blessedness of the apostolic succession are preserved.

Striving for Catholicity

With the question of the Church unity is connected the question of its catholicity. We can be asked concretely: why don’t we, being the members of the Church, feel neither one-essential catholicity, nor the full unity within It? It happens because in our soul there can be many self-orientated, not belonging to the Church sides. Sometimes we keep to our opinions, which do not coincide with the Christian teaching. But for the authentic conversion one needs not only the absolute unity with the Church in thoughts, but putting these ecclesiastic thoughts into practice, into the very depth of the soul.

The holy righteous, who had cleansed their souls and made them completely ecclesiastic, i.e. a part of God, distinctly felt that unity and catholicity of the Church.

Though, we, the ordinary children of the Church, can understand and feel Its unity and catholic unanimity: when one reads the life of saints or works of the holy fathers, he in reality can feel his unity with them, the proximity of his interests, experience and longings. The Church tries to develop in us that council-like feeling, for example, giving in Its Divine services the opportunity to experience those feelings, which were known to the participants of the feast events, and through that catholically unite us with these of Its children, now belonging to the triumphing heavenly Church.

In communicating with one another each one of us, the Orthodox, experienced the unanimous feeling within encounters with some, very often unknown, but also the orthodox, believing people. At the same moment we see them, they turn out to be dear and close, dearer and closer, than any of our relatives, who are less like-minded to us, and with whom we are connected only through the physical relationship.

In the first ages of the Christianity, with the great strain of the church life, when the Christians fully lived in the Church, and had no interests out of It, this catholicity was perceived as very important. In different parts of the Christian world, in Spain and Mesopotamia, in Mauritania and Gallia, the Christians, with no arrangements, lead so very unanimous life, that a Christian from Damascus, who found himself in Massilia, felt himself as in the motherland, in the Church community of a foreign country. This inner unity of the scattered in many countries Christian communities was, no doubt, the declaration of will of the Holy Spirit, abiding in the Church.

Further on, when there appeared the possibility for that, the same spirit of catholicity, the organ of the Holy Spirit, began to reveal itself in the gathering of bishops, who obtained the triumphant name of the Ecumenical Council, zealously, with the complete realization of their right for that, declaring: "This is what the Holy Spirit and we demand."

Catholicity is not the common subordination to any authority, is not obedience to the directions how to believe and think, is not a scrupulous investigation on the question, about how they taught of this or that in antiquity. An Orthodox Christian believes and professes it not in the way, what this or that church authority directs him to do, not in the way, how one or another ancient holy father prescribes, but how his conscience and consciousness, brought up in the Church, prompt him to do. But he checks his conscience and consciousness with the help of the voice of the Church — that of the Ecumenical Councils, holy fathers and of his contemporaries, whom he knows to be living in the Church. And if he finds in his consciousness divergence of his and their opinion, he does not assert it as the contrary to the church understanding, but realizes that if his consciousness came into a conflict with that of the Church, then some capital error must have crawled in his way of thinking, which must be corrected through repentance and prayer.

Keeping to the catholicity is not easy, for it demands steadfastness and resignation. But about it, as of the entire Christian life, Christ says: "The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force"

The Church is not only united, it is unique, and for it has the only Leader— Christ. Everything that has communication with Him, is united with It.

Besides, the kept by the Church truth is one. There can be no several truths. If they express different opinions about the important and precise things, there can be only one of them, which is right, and the rest are incorrect.

So, the Church is absolutely new, special and unique being on earth, which cannot be precisely defined by notions, taken out of the mundane life.

The fact that they call the Church a "society" is inexact, for the mundane society consists of the reserved personalities of our sinful and imperfect world. The lay society is subjected to juridical laws, protecting and consolidating the reticence of individuals. We cannot imagine any commercial society, built not on the codex of rights and duties, but on the mutual compassion and sympathy.

The Church has an absolute council character. That is why the substitution of the council relations of its members by juridical ones within it is the distortion of its nature. One might compare the Church with a family, a society, built not upon juridical but natural quasi-council basis. But a family is too much specific and limited. Though, the Holy Scripture, in order to explain the nature of the Church, sometimes uses the comparison with a family, in which God is our Heavenly Father, and connection of a Christian with Christ is compared with the marriage of the soul with its Heavenly Bridegroom. The best analogy is given in the comparison, made by Apostle Paul with a body, but the thought of the Apostle, pointing at the aim of the body of the Church "unto the edifying of itself in love," already destroys the image of the body, knowing no love, and by that again points at the fact, that the nature of the Church cannot be explained through life examples.

In its essence, the Church is the similarity of the Trinity existence, in which many personalities become one creature. Why is such existence, as well as the existence of the very Trinity, so inexpressible for us and impossible to understand? It happens because in our understanding a personality is a reserved being, radically isolated from any other personality, to the extent that the notion of opposition of "I" and "Not Me" became a corner-stone of the European philosophy (Decart).

On the contrary, a personality, which develops itself in the Church, possesses the fullness of catholicity: self-denial and love for the others, as for oneself, with the high degree of the individual development of self-awareness. The most typical representatives of such a combination are the types of saints of the Church. Let us remember them: martyrs, ascetics, saints… In all these three types, dissimilar because of the daily conditions of life, we find the equal harmony of the two elements, which seem incompatible with the natural intellect.

All these three types are the giants of will with the extremely intense understanding of their personal responsibility, and at the same time absolutely alien not only to egoism, but to slightly felt haughtiness, or any pretensions to their rights.

So, the Christian truth of the Church, as of the council being, similar to the Trinity not only within the idea, but in life, frees the man of the natural clash between the self-awareness of the personality and self-denying love, as a principle of life. That is why the dogma of the Trinity is the main dogma of the Christianity, and the feature of catholicity — the main feature of the Church.

The establishment of the Church, the Divine-human organism, was the greatest act of the Divine love, the victory of Christ over the devil.

The attempts of the prince of darkness turned out to be destroyed by the act of the greatest Divine leniency, which the devil could not foresee because of his pride. He, the proud and powerful spirit, the firstling of creation and the head of angels, despised people, physical infirm creatures. He could in no way suppose that the Son of God — the Creator and God, sharing the throne with the Father and the Spirit, would become one of them.

The sphere of darkness was defeated by the Divine lenience, the hell was destroyed. The Gates of the Heavenly Kingdom opened wide, and the saved people as a broad stream flew into its light dwellings, "prepared for you from the foundation of the world" (Math. 25:34).

But the enemy of God and the people in his insane pride did not want to accept that he was defeated and to give up. Seeing that people were saved in the Church, he focused all his hatred on It. First, he tried to destroy the Church physically through the bloody persecutions of heathen leaders. Having succeeded in the persecutions, he simultaneously began to try to divide the Church into different hostile parts, through the establishment of heresies and church schisms.

But the first heresies were not very successful. With the high tension of the church life, the firm idea of catholicity and constant communication of the ancient churches, those false teachings were rapidly noticed by the Christians, as the phenomenon, that was strange and alien to its nature, and the propagators of those heresies, various false teachers, were rapidly excommunicated out of the Church. This way and rejected the ancient heresies of Gnostics, evionites, saulians, dockets were exposed.

But with the growth of the Church in breadth, with the penetration into it the new human masses, the moral level of the Christian society began to drop, and as a result the spiritual perceptiveness and sensitivity began to fade. And so we see that in the 4th century first the Aryan, and then Nestorian and monophysite heresies began to enthrall many millions of the Christians.

Nevertheless, the success of these heresies was not durable. After the first success, those heresies began to fade, not only outwardly, but first of all inwardly, with the impoverishment of righteousness and loss of the idea of catholicity. Little by little the followers of those heresies began to play the role of a local separate phenomenon.

In spite of the troubles among the people, the deficiencies of the church life, caused by the flow of the former heathens, who came into the Church, in spite of the certain cooling of religious fire, in comparison with the apostolic age, the Christian world in the period, preceding the event of the separation of the Western and Eastern Church, in the 5,6 and 7th centuries, represented an amazing, bright and enlightened spiritual scene.

The Lives of Saints, the Spiritual meadow, Lavsaik and the similar books of antiquity tell us of the time, when all over the territory, which could only fit in the horizon of a European, the holy Christian Church grew in breadth and took roots. Millions of people freed themselves from the power of paganism and became the convinced Christians. In spite of the difference between the belonging to the Church nations, the church life was the same from Spain to Mesopotamia, and all this territory was inhabited by the millions of the righteous, so that in every corner of the Christian world each man, who wished to serve to Christ, could find a good example for himself.

The Roman Catholicism Falling Off from the Church

In the 9th century for the first time appeared the sinister crack between the Christian East and the West, that crack which further on caused the sad division, which till now is painful for the entire Christian world.

What was the reason for that crack’s appearance?

The dark demonic force always builds temptations on the base of these or those human infirmities. This happens both in the respect of a single person and of one or another society, nation and the entire mankind. Let us explain it with the help of an example: the man can be hungry, what is quite natural and normal, but through the feeling of hunger, the devil forces the man to serve to his womb, overeat, what becomes a sin.

The separation between the Western and Eastern Churches is often explained by the difference of psychology of the East and West. This is true, but only partly. In this very difference there is no sin and necessity of separation in the questions of faith. Such a difference existed from the beginning, but nevertheless the Church of Christ was living with unanimous life. The blessed unity of the Church to cover all the varieties of national mentality and way of life, as a full-flowing river covers all the shoals and reefs, which are at its bottom. The variety of psychology of different ethnical groups, comprising to the Church, does not separate, but provides for the wealth and multi-sidedness of the church culture.

Though, in the number of reasons, causing the psychological difference between the East and the West was the one, which by the moment of separation became if not to say a sin, then at any rate, the drawback of the West in comparison with the East.

The East and the West obtained different cultural legacy from the heathen antiquity. The East got the Hellenistic philosophy, the West — the Roman juridical empire understanding of the law.

But the East, having accepted the Hellenistic philosophy, transformed it into the Christian philosophy. The attempts to plant out the fruit of heathen philosophy in the Christian consciousness, which undertook Gnostics, Saulians, Arians and other heretics, were categorically rejected by the Church, and philosophy took its place in the ecclesiastical consciousness of the East only when it totally went through the ecclesiastic prism.

We see the other thing in the West. There the juridical and empire understandings of heathen Rome were not transformed by the Christianity. We see neither the struggle for creating the Christian world contemplation, nor the work on the transformation of the Roman heathen psychology in the West. Although, while the unity with the East was still preserved, there was nothing destructive in that inner inactivity of the West, for the Orthodox West derived the true world contemplation from the East. For the East, the period of the vigorous fight with heresies, the calm and stable in the Orthodoxy West was the precious basis.

Nevertheless, the very imperturbability of the West concealed danger in itself. "For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you" — writes Ap. Paul (1 Cor. 11:19).

The East realized that the true Orthodox faith was seized by various false doctrines, against which it had to fight; that for the purity of faith were responsible all the Christians, starting with archpriests and ending with lay people. The West was getting used to the thought that the true faith was given to it once and forever, and that it was glorified only because it is the West.

Beside the difference in mentality, they think the reason of separation to be the rise of the significance of Roman popes. Though, this phenomenon by itself does not yet conceal anything sinful within it.

We know that in the ancient Church the significance of these or those bishop departments rose, and especially of those so called apostolic departments, i.e. the departments, directly founded by the Apostles, which they led, being in the role of bishops for the more or less durable time. There were several similar departments in the East, and in the West only the Roman one, which apostles Peter and Paul visited themselves. With time there started to appear archbishops, metropolitans, patriarchs, as the hierarchs with more wide administrative powers. Such centralization of the Church started because of the need of the better organization of the Church life. Theoretically one can imagine that finally the Church could become administratively united and led by one chief patriarch. But that did not happen. The highest authority of the Church was given to the Ecumenical Councils.

The separations did not yet take place even when there appeared the erroneous opinion in the West that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Son as well, against which first arouse the Roman Popes Leo III and Adrian I. The separation happened only when the West took root in this misconception and considered itself to have the right officially, as the indisputable truth, to announce of its private opinion, despite the protests of the Eastern Church, and when the West added its new doctrine into the Creed, despite the categorical prohibition of the 3d and 4th Ecumenical Councils to change anything in the Creed.

First of all, by this heretical novelty was violated catholicity, council character, the understanding that the fullness of truth the Lord gives not to the single personalities, not to the separate parts of the Church, but only to the entire Church, in all its fullness, to its council unity.

The break happened when the West wanted to impose its self-willed change of the Creed upon the East. This tragic separation became more profound later when the Christians of the West came into the Eastern Church not like brothers, whishing to protect but like enemies and in the so-called forth crusade destroyed the eastern empire worse that the enemies of the Christian faith did further on. Here, strictly speaking, comes the main and final border, dividing the Christian West and the Christian East.

After the happened separation, all the basic typical features of the Christian life of the West, the traits of variety, enriching the church culture, became additional factors for the separation.

The Papacy, used to the thought about the rightness of its opinion, having seen its spiritual flock growing in number, and its rising significance in the Church (which boundaries in its understanding were limited only by the West), finally appropriated all the basic qualities of the Church, proclaiming on July 10, 1870 that the Roman bishop "has the same infallibility (i.e. accuracy in the questions of faith), which the Church possesses …" and that "the definitions of the Roman bishop cannot be abolished."

The Roman juridical consciousness made the West forget the authentic relations of the man and God, replacing them by the juridical formal relations, built on the theory of agreement and purchasing salvation.

Left after the heathen times memories of the "pontificus maximus" as of the ruler of the universe, led to the mingling of the spiritual and mundane authorities, to the pretensions to the world majesty of the Roman popes.

The Protestantism and Sectarianism

In several centuries after the separation of the Western Church, the gap between the churches became greater, because of the appearance of the Protestantism. If the local Roman church allowed itself to proclaim the new teaching independently and to enter it into the Creed willfully, violating the principle of catholicity, then why cannot be such a right given to any single man?

So, the Catholic monk Luther appropriates the right to publish the Schwabach articles, which end with such significant words: "The Church is nothing else but the sum of the believers in Christ, possessing the up above mentioned articles, believing in them and learning them."

But this means that anyone has a right to compose similar new articles and proclaim them to be the teaching of the Church.

The Anglican Church, for example, finds possible that in one and the same Church can be present the people, both believing in the basic ecclesiastical truths, and the people, who do not believe in the incarnation of Jesus Christ, caused by the Holy Spirit and the forthcoming resurrection of the dead, as it is proclaimed in "the doctrinal report" of the years 1922-38.

There is nothing left to say about the countless sects.

It is very interesting to define the typical feature of the world view of these new sects in comparison with the ancient ones. The ancient sects, which were based on the false suppositions, in defiance of the catholic thought of the Church, strove for the catholicity by the fact that they naively thought that their doctrine was in accordance with the teaching of the Scripture, or at least did not contradict it. That was why the ancient sects caused the more profound study of the religious questions and consequently, to some extent, contributed to the development of theology.

The new sects, on the contrary, totally ignore the principle of catholicity, do not even wish to hear about it. Haughtily and disdainfully they wave the historical experience and catholic reason of the Church aside, and therefore cause not the development but the decline of theology, and through the material flat reasoning about faith lead to the cooling in its respect, decrease of the interest to the truth and making the religious thought mundane; in the final run the new sects lead to atheism.

So, with the époque of the separation from the East, with the moment of break of the catholic unity and proud self-accretion, the West of the Christian world forgot the authentic understanding of the Church, and they began to perceive it as the mundane, built on the juridical grounds, society with the juridical relations among its members and formal, contractual relations with God.

The Two Understandings of the Church

The understanding of Christ as the Head of the Church started to transform from the organic and substantial into the metaphoric one. Christ started to be accepted as the head of the Church only like the head of the state, the president or king, ruling its outward ways, but not giving life to the given institution. Consequently, the attitude of believers towards Christ changed, and the new, distorted understanding of the Christianity appeared.

With such an understanding, with the forgetting of the organic unity of the Church with Christ, the Christian West, which separated from the body of the Church, naturally started to need the terrestrial leader, for Christ cannot rule the Church visibly and evidently for everybody. Together with that such a belittled understanding of the Church and purely terrestrial reconstruction of its administration turned out to be convenient for semi-Christians.

The Orthodox organic belonging to the Church requires constant exploit. Really, in the Orthodox understanding of the Church as the Body of Christ living one life with Him, in which there must be nothing sinful, we can belong to the Church to such an extent, to which we constantly cleanse ourselves from any sin and sincerely strive for righteousness. Any sin holds us away from the unity with Christ; our communication with Him weakens and can be finally destroyed.

With the understanding of the Church, as the terrestrial society, guided by a terrestrial leader, there can be no kind of such falling off and the return of the man to the Church is not necessary. Any sinner, even if he does not at all wish to be saved, is the member of the Church because of his formal belonging to the Roman Catholicity, or to a certain Protestant denomination. If sinfulness is foreseen and beforehand protected by certain rules, it forms the norm of life of this church organization and does not excommunicate from it.

Meanwhile, in the Orthodox world the grave sin of a Christian is a tragedy and catastrophe, breaking his connection with the Church, which is painfully felt by the entire Church, on the words of Ap. Paul: "And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it." That is why now, in the period of the moral decay in the Christian world, the drop of spirituality and sinfulness, especially among the clergy, so painfully affects the Orthodox world. The moral downfall or infidelity to the purity of the teaching of the Church from the side of a bishop or a priest is always a catastrophe, causing pain.

In order to understand it, let us imagine first the norm of the church pastoral life, what it should be like. A bishop or a priest is totally living the church life, all his aspirations are in God, when he sets "affection on things above, not on things on the earth" (Col. 3:2). This does not mean that he does not take care of his parish or eparchy, but means that he searches for the Reign of God and its truth for him and for his spiritual children, and for all the rest as a supplement, on the word of Christ. Together with that, the Reign of God and Its truth are being searched by him not according to his own ideas, not willfully, but catholically in the unity with the Church, i.e. together with the equally believing faithful.

How much, how full can be the unity of the members of the Church in such cases, we know from the church history, from the examples of the whole line of important church events, for example, the establishment of the eparchial, and then parish structure of the Church, working out the church laws and activities, which with the appearance of the similar needs, on the whole space of the ancient Christian world from Spain up to Mesopotamia were introduced by the catholically thinking bishops and their co-workers, without any specially made arrangement.

Each question in no matter what field: personal, state, national, social was answered by all the representatives of the Church in the same way, for they did not have any personal opinions or personal interests, but only the common church ones. And that happened in spite of the fact that they, as personalities, in no way were deficient. We imagine them: for example, St. Ignatius God Bearer, Policarpus of Smyrna, Irineus of Lion and others, as the giants of the spirit, highly developed individualities, which they seem to be to a reader of their lives’ descriptions, or their works. Did such a unity need any outer guidance or juridical registration, if it was directly supported by the common life together with Christ?

Such, ideally, must be the arrangement of the Church of Christ. Its unity is provided by the unity of Its members with Christ, and any breaking of this unity, coming out of sinfulness, self-being, self-assertion, immediately influences the headed by them church unit (a parish or eparchy). It cannot be the other way round, for a sin is a catching spiritual disease.

It can happen that some member of the Church starts sinning and not repenting in his sin, but keeps to it. The sin deprives him from the unity with Christ, the unity with the Church. Until the Church decisively cuts off this separating from It member, or he repents ("metanoia" — his absolute conversion), until that time his separation will harm the well-being of the Church. He either would start to teach incorrectly, trying to justify his sinfulness with a lie, or would behave himself temptingly, or sow dissension in the Church.

Certainly, as we said, nowadays, with the extremely low general church standard, this is the way how we react mostly at the betrayal of the Church by Its archpriest and pastors. But we often do not pay attention to the betrayal of Its ordinary members, for we got used to it during the latest centuries. But in reality, with at least some higher church level, the attitude to the betrayal of any member of the Church should be the same.

We, the Orthodox, now suffer of all the types of the church destruction, as a result of the most profound disparity: the Church in its essence remained the same, what it always used to be, — the body of Christ, the bride of Christ, which has neither any spot, nor any vice, and the people, who are called to be its members, representatives, and in their number archpriests and priests, have many spots and vices and do not want to be cleansed by repentance, but take root in them and try not to cleanse themselves, but to liken the Church to themselves. Nevertheless, the Church remains the same, what it always used to be, is and will be, and they fall out from It, loose their unity with It, for "What is the chaff to the wheat?" says the Prophet Jeremiah (23:28).

Seeing this process of the slow falling off from the Church, an Orthodox Christian cannot stay indifferent. For the healing of himself and of the whole body of the church, he longs for the interference of Christ the Savior, prays for the correction of the church life.

The Legalization of Sin

This process is quite different in the Latin world. In it there is the completed strictly centralized church organization, which is headed by the terrestrial leader, to whom belongs the fullness of power. All the members of this church organization — for unanimity of thinking — do not need catholicity, which requires the spiritual purity. For to have an agreement, it only suffices to appeal for a reference into the corresponding leading organ of the highest church authority. Sins do not appear to be tragedies. They are either punished, if they cause indignation, or are proclaimed a norm, like the violation of fasts.

Through that is achieved the outer uninterrupted character of the church life, but it is bought with the high price: the sin is not exterminated, but penetrates inside of the church, becomes no longer a personal downfall of this or that member of the Church, but the sin of the whole Church, causing in it all those abnormalities of the church life, which are so evidently seen in the Latinism. The Catholicity with its papist infallibility and indulgencies, with intricate calculations of the number of good deeds and over-due services, with the juridical relations between God and the man and formal attitude to the sacraments — all these are the fruits of the separation of the Latin West from the unity of the Church.

Salvation is understood as the outward reward for the certain number of good deeds, or by the Protestants — for the belief in Jesus Christ. They have forgotten that salvation is reached through the moral cleansing and becoming similar to Christ.

The Catholicity has its own ascetics, but they fulfill the disciplinary requirements through their duty, for what they are promised eternal life to come. And the fact that this life already exists and that the blissful communication with God can be already achieved here, on the earth, and the after-death lot is the continuation of the process, which started already in this life, and is not a separate reward for it, — all this was forgotten by the West.

The Conclusion

So, as far as we can, let us take care of, make more profound and perfect our catholic existence with God in the Church, in order to reach the fullness of it in the Kingdom of the Heavenly Truth and love, which is prepared for the faithful since the creation of the world.

Return to the first page

[ Orthodox Resources / Multimedia / Screen Savers ]
[ Bookmark / Homepage ]

Recommended books for: orthodox & non-orthodox people

Copyright © 2003 - 2022 All rights reserved.