Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS AND IS AND EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ. ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.
OUR HOLY ORTHODOX CHRISTIAN CHURCH ADHERING TO THE TENETS, DOGMA AND HOLY TRADITION OF THE ONE, HOLY, CATHOLIC AND APOSTOLIC CHURCH
[Adopted by the Jubilee Bishops' Council of the Russian Orthodox Church - August 14, 2000]
The Holy Orthodox Church is the true Church of Christ established by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ Himself, the Church confirmed and sustained by the Holy Spirit, the Church about which the Savior Himself has said: "I will build my Church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" (St. Matthew 16:18). She is the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, the keeper and provider of the Holy Mysteria (Sacraments) throughout the world, "the pillar and ground of the truth" (1 Timothy 3:15). She bears full responsibility for the proclamation of the truth of Christ's Gospel, as well as full power to witness to "the faith which was once delivered unto the Saints" (St. Jude 3).
The Church of Christ is one and unique (Saint Cyprian of Carthage, On the Unity of the Church). The Unity of the Church, the Body of Christ, is based on the fact that she has one head, the Lord Jesus Christ (Ephesians 5:23), and that working in her is one Holy Spirit who gives life to the Body of the Church and unites all her members with Christ as her Head.
The Church is the Unity of a "new humanity in Christ". By His Holy Incarnation the Son of God "commenced afresh the long line of human beings" (Saint Irenaeus of Lyons, creating a new grace-bearing people, the spiritual posterity of the Second Adam.) The Unity of the Church is above every human and earthly union, for it has been given from above as a perfect and Divine gift. The members of the Church are united in Christ like vines, rooted in Him and gathered in one eternal and spiritual life.
The unity of the Church overcomes all barriers and frontiers, including racial, linguistic, and social differences. The message of salvation is to be proclaimed to all nations in order to bring them into one fold, to united them by the power of the Grace of the Holy spirit. (St. Matthew 28:19-20; St. Mark 16:15; Acts 1:8).
In the Church, enmity and alienation are overcome, and humanity divided by sin, is united in love in the image of the Consubstantial Trinity.
The Church is the Unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:3), the fullness of uninterrupted grace-filled life and spiritual experience. "Where the Church is, there is the Spirit of God; and where the Spirit of God is, there is the Church, and every kind of grace" (St. Irenaeus of Lyons). This Unity of grace-filled life is the foundation of the Unity and changelessness of the Church's faith. Always and without change "the Holy Spirit teaches through the holy Fathers and Teachers. "The catholic Church cannot transgress or even err or utter falsehood instead of truth; for the Holy Spirit, Who always acts through the faithfully serving Fathers and teachers of the Church, guards her against every mistake."
The Church is Universal, but she exists in the world in the form of various Local Churches. This does not diminish the Unity of the Church in any way. "The Church, illumined with the Light of the Lord, sheds forth her rays over the whole world, yet it is one light which is everywhere…She spreads her branches, laden with fruit, over the whole world. Her freely flowing streams extend to the farthest regions, and yet throughout all this her head is one, her source one, and she is one mother, rich in the abundance of her fruitfulness" (Saint Cyprian of Carthage, On the Unity of the Church).
Church unity is bound up inseparably with the Mysterion (Sacrament) of the Holy Eucharist, in which the faithful, partaking of the Body of Christ, are really and truly joined in the one and Catholic Body in the mystery of Christ's Love, in the transforming power of the Spirit. "Indeed, if we are all partakers of that one Bread", then we all comprise the Body of Christ, while we are 'members in particular', according to the understanding of the Apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 10:17), for Christ cannot be divided. That is why the Church is called the Body of Christ, while we are 'members in particular', according to the understanding of the Apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 12:27) (Saint Cyril of Alexandria).
The one, Holy, Catholic Church is the Apostolic Church. Through the Divinely instituted priesthood the gifts of the Holy Spirit are communicated to the faithful. The Apostolic succession of the hierarchy, beginning from the Holy Apostles, is the basis of the communion and unity of grace-filled life. Any deviation from the lawful Church authority is a deviation from the Holy Spirit, from Christ Himself. "See that you all follow the Bishop, even as Jesus Christ does the Father, and the presbytery as you would the Apostles; and reverence the deacons, as being the institution of God. Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the Bishop. Wherever the Bishop shall appear, there let the multitude of the people also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church" (Saint Ignatius of Antioch).
It is only through relationship with a particular community that each members of the Church realizes his communion with the whole Church. By breaking canonical relations with his local church, a Christian damages his grace-filled unity with the whole Church Body, tearing himself away from it. Any sin distances a person from the Church to a greater or lesser degree, but it does not cut him off from her altogether. In the understanding of the early Church, excommunication was exclusion from the Eucharistic assembly. Faith in the indelible nature of baptism is confessed in the Nicean-Constantinoplitan Creed: "I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sin".
The Orthodox Church, through the mouths of the Holy Fathers, affirms that salvation can be attained only in the Church of Christ.
Please note: I am bringing the above information to your attention to stress how important it is for us to understand our Christian faith. Everyone who considers himself an Orthodox Christian must learn the Faith. Not just from parents and grandparents, but from the Holy Fathers of the Church, from the Holy Tradition of the Church, from the Holy Scriptures, the hymns of the Orthodox liturgical life, the Holy Canons and decisions of the Ecumenical Councils, and through all these things, ultimately from Christ Himself. This can only happen, though, when we make a sincere effort to study the faith, on our own and with the guidance of the Church.
Too many Orthodox Christians take the Church for granted. We should not approach the Church only when we need something from her i.e., baptisms, weddings, funerals etc. We, instead, must be committed to the Church and her divine mission throughout our earthly life. Don't allow years and decades to pass before you attend the Divine Liturgy, receive Holy Communion, participate in her ministries.
As a senior priest of our Holy Archdiocese I am perplexed by the attitude of some of our brothers and sisters in Christ that have been deliberately absent from the Church and Church life for many years and appear out-of-nowhere and boldly make demands as though they have never left it.
There is discipline and order in the Church that everyone is obliged to adhere to. There is of course the proper way of re-entering the life of the church and that is through the Sacrament of Holy Confession. The fact is that the Church is not the one who rejected you but you rejected the Church. The Church is willing always out of love to forgive everyone who returns with an attitude of repentance, contrition, humility, sincerity and love. It is important that the Christian member treats the Church and the sacraments with respect. As with every relationship it takes trust, love, honesty, and commitment for the relationship to work.
There is so much more that the average Orthodox Christian must learn over the course of his life time. It is, however, up to the individual Christian to make sure that that happens. The more one knows about our Holy Orthodox faith the happier he/she will be and will be willing to share it with family and non-family members. The more one knows the closer he/she will feel to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. "For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones" (Ephesians 5:30). Thank God always for being an Orthodox Christian.
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God