The Healthy and Sick Members of the Church

Hieromartyr Dorotheus the Bishop of Tyre

Beloved brothers and sisters,


O Lord and Master of my life, Give not a spirit of laziness, of aimless curiosity, A spirit of lust for power over others and of vain talk.

Rather, grace me, Your servant, With the Spirit of purity, humility, patience and love.

Yes, O Lord King, Grant me discernment to see my own faults, And not to judge and condemn my fellow human beings.

For You are Blessed unto the ages of ages. Amen.


by Metropolitan of Nafpaktos, Hierotheos [source: Entering the Orthodox Church]

Within the Church, there are healthy and sick members. I would mainly like to look at the spiritual sickness of members of the Church.

Through the Mysterion (Sacrament) of Baptism and Chrism, we become members of the Church, members of the Body of Christ. Baptism is preceded by a period of asceticism, which is the period of Catechism, and it is followed by an ascetic life, which is the keeping of Christ's Commandments. In reality, Baptism is the start of the new life in Christ, it is not the end. Christ said to His Disciples, "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you" (St. Matthew 28:19-20). The Disciples had to do two things. First to baptize people, and then to teach them to keep Christ's Commandments. Therefore, Baptism alone is not enough; the keeping of Christ's commandments is also needed.

In order for someone to obtain his salvation, he must be both baptized and sure in his faith, as Saint Symeon the New Theologian notes. This means that he must be baptized, because "he who believes and is baptized will be saved" (St. Mark 16:16). Following this, he must live according to the mission of an Orthodox Christian. We also see this in every human association or organization. One does not simply join a club, but one also sticks to the obligations that apply to members of that organization.

Of course, the grace of Holy Baptism is never lost; it remains in the depth of man's heart. However, as the Holy Fathers teach, when man commits sin, this grace is covered by the passions. Thus, in this condition, he is a potential member of the Church, but not an active one. That is to say, he has the potential of attaining theosis (deification), however, through his own free choice, he himself does not activate this potential. He is like a machine that has the capacity to do work, but is not connected to the energy supply. He is like a switched off television, which has all the potential to make images appear.

It is in this sense that, in the Holy Scriptures and the texts of the Holy Fathers, there is talk of sick and dead members of the Church. The Church is life, since it is the Body of Christ, which is the Light and Life of men. Whoever does not really and truly within the Church, also does not have life, and is, therefore, dead. Of course, this person has biological life, but lacks God's grace within.

A true member of the Church and of a real Christian is the person who has the following attributes:
First, he remains within the Church, without leaving it through atheism or heresy. He is not cut off from this living organism and does not participate in heretical sects. This means that he accepts the faith confessed in the Symbol of Faith absolutely, that he participates in the Mysteria (Sacraments) of the Church, is sanctified by them and practices ascesis in his personal life so that he will keep God's Commandments. He feels that he remains within the Church in order to be saved rather than to save, because the Church does not need saviors.

Second, he feels that he is a son of God, that is, he has a father and is not an orphan. His great Father is God. Yet, the clergy are also fathers, because they are the type and place of Christ's presence. Hence, a real member of the Church is obedient to the Bishops, the clergy and has a spiritual father, who guides him in his spiritual life. Of course, he also accepts the teachings of the Holy Fathers of the Church and tries to imitate their life, that is to say, their ascetic practice and witness.

Third, he feels that he belongs to a family, and, therefore, has spiritual brothers and sisters. He is not alone within the Church. This chiefly means that he loves his brothers and sisters. He does not judge them, regardless of the mistakes they may have made and he does not condemn them. He is tolerant and shows forbearance towards their chance weaknesses. In addition, he shows his love in a variety of ways. He participates in their pain and in their joy. The happiness of other people is his own happiness, their sorrow is his own sorrow, their love is a fellowship of love and their faith a unity of faith. He should feel that everything is in common. He should feel that the Church is a family, just as the first Christians felt her to be, according to the description in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 2:41-47). If he tries to keep God's Law, but does not have love, he is not a real Christian; he is a sick member of the Church.

Fourth, in the instance of sin, he follows a therapeutic course of treatment. Man is changeable. This means that he alters and is wounded throughout his life. In consequence, he sins. The Holy Scripture says, "Who can become clean from filth? But no-one, even if his life on the earth is only for a day" (Job 14:4-5 Septuagint). Saint John the Evangelist writes, "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us" (1 John 1:8).

Sins are not guilty acts or simple rejections of the law; they are first and foremost wounds or sicknesses. The sinner is spiritually sick. Consequently, sin should be encountered within a therapeutic and healing framework. The priest is a healer or doctor, who practices this function in the name of the Great Physician, Christ. He cleans and dresses the wounds, intervenes surgically, if necessary, and in general, heals the wounds. Within this framework, we should look at repentance, confession and the orders of the spiritual father i.e., what is known as penance. We must repent. We must really feel our fault and our illness, we should want to be cured, and resort to the therapist, disclose our illness and reveal all the hidden and concealed points of the sickness. We will then follow the therapeutic advice of the spiritual doctor with zeal and resolve. The Church has the Sacrament of Repentance and of Confession.

In the ancient Church when someone committed a grave sin, i.e., when he fell seriously ill, he was demoted into the order of Catechumens once again. This is why in the Catechumens, the demon possessed and the penitents are all included the category of those being purified. All these people follow an appropriate course of treatment. The sinful and repentant Christians, who have already been baptized, are, of course, not baptized again. However, they had to go through the stage of repentance and feel that the grace of God was working within their hearts again.

When the baptized Christian leaves the Church and falls into heresy, he must then go through certain procedure before he is re-included within the Church. Repentance was required, as well as the signing of a written declaration by which he denounced the heresy that he had fallen into, followed by Chrism.

From all this we realize that baptism alone is not enough; one must also live in accordance with God's Commandments in order to become a true member of the Church. If a Christian happens to fall ill, there is a special method through which he will gain his health again.

With sincere agape in Our Risen Lord Jesus Christ,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George