My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ! ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.
+In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Glory to Thee, O our God, glory to Thee.
O Eternal God, the Uncreated Light, infinite and without beginning, the Creator of all creation, the inexhaustible source of mercy, the deep ocean of Goodness, and the unsearchable abyss of Loving-kindness for mankind, let the Light of Your countenance, O Lord, shine upon us. Illuminate our hearts, O Spiritual Sun of Righteousness, and fill our souls with Your gladness. Teach us always to meditate and to speak of Your judgments, and to constantly confess to You, our Master and Benefactor. Direct the work of our hands to conform with Your Will, and support us in doing what You love and what pleases You. Thus, even through our unworthiness, Your All-Holy Name will be glorified, the Name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit, to Whom befits all glory, honor and worship, Unto the ages. Amen.
By Saint Symeon the New Theologian
"The holy Fathers left every other spiritual work in order to struggle for and achieve this one work-the guarding of the heart-being convinced from their own experience that, together with this one achievement, they would be able also to readily achieve every other virtue. Without the guarding of the heart, it is impossible to acquire and sustain any virtue at all."
[We continue on the topic of the Church of Christ]
THE ATTRIBUTES OF THE CHURCH
By Father Michael Pomazansky [Source: Orthodox Dogmatic Theology]
The ninth Article of the Symbol of Faith [the Creed that we all recite at every Divine Liturgy] indicates the Four Basic Signs of the Church: "We believe One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church…" These attributes are called essential, that is, those without which the Church would not be the Church.
THE UNITY OF THE CHURCH
In the Greek text the word "in One," is expressed as a numeral (eis mian). Thus the Symbol of Faith confesses that the Church is one: a) it is one as viewed from within itself, not divided; b) it is one as viewed from without, that is, not having any other beside itself. Its unity consists not in the joining together of what is different in nature, but in inward agreement and unanimity. "There is one body and one spirit, even as you are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, Who is above all, and through all, and in you all" (Ephesians 4:4-6).
Depicting the Church in parables, the Savior speaks of one flock, of one sheepfold, of one grapevine, of one foundation-stone of the Church. He gave a single teaching, a single baptism, and a single communion. The unity of the faithful in Christ comprised the subject of His High-Priestly Prayer before His suffering on the Cross; the Lord prayed "that they all may be one" (St. John 17:21).
The Church is one not only inwardly, but also outwardly. Outwardly its unity is manifested in the harmonious confession of faith, in the oneness of Divine services and Mysteries (Sacraments), in the oneness of the grace-giving hierarchy, which comes in succession from the Holy Apostles, in the oneness of canonical order.
The Church on earth has a visible side and an invisible side. The invisible side is: That its Head is Christ; that is animated by the Holy Spirit; that in it is performed the inward Mystical life in sanctity of the more perfect of its members. However, the Church, by the nature of its members, is visible, since it is composed of men in the body; it has a visible hierarchy; it performs prayers and sacred actions visibly; it confesses openly, by means of words, the faith in Christ.
The Church does not lose its unity because side by side with the Church there exists Christian societies which do not belong to it. These societies are not in the Church, they are outside of it.
The Unity of the Church is not violated because of temporary divisions of a nondogmatic nature...Finally, the bond between Churches can sometimes be violated for a long time by political conditions, as has often happened in history. In such cases, the divisions touch only outward relations, but does not touch or violate inward spiritual unity.
The truth of the One Church is defined by the Orthodoxy of its members, and not by their quantity at one or another moment. Saint Gregory the Theologian wrote concerning the Orthodox Church of Constantinople before the Second Ecumenical Council as follows:
"This field was once small and poor...This was not even a field at all. Perhaps it was not worth granaries or barns or scythes. Upon it there were no stacks or sheaves, but perhaps only small and unripe grass which grows 'on the housetops,' with which 'the reaper filleth not his hand,' which do not call upon themselves the blessing of those who pass by (Psalm 128:6-8). Such was our field, our harvest! Although it is great, fat, and abundant before Him Who sees what is hidden...still, it is not known among the people, it is not united in one place, but is gathered little by little 'as the summer fruits, as the grape gleanings of the vintage; there is no cluster to eat' (Micah 7:1)."
THE SANCTITY OF THE CHURCH
The Lord Jesus Christ performed the work of His earthly ministry and death on the Cross; Christ "loved the Church...that He might present it to Himself a glorious Church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish" (Ephesians 5:25-27). The Church is holy through its head, the Lord Jesus Christ. It is holy, further, through the presence in it of the Holy Spirit and his grace-given gifts, communicated in the Mysteries (Sacraments) and other sacred rites of the Church. It is also holy through its "tie with the heavenly Church (the Church Triumphant).
The very "body of the Church is holy": "if the first-fruit be holy, the lump is also holy; and if the root be holy, so are the branches" (Romans 11:16). Those who believe in Christ are "temples of God," temples of the Holy Spirit" (I Corinthians 3:16; 6:19). In the True Church there have always been and there always are people of the highest spiritual purity and with special gifts of grace--martyrs, virgins, ascetics, holy monks and nuns, hierarchs, righteous ones, blessed ones. The Church has an uncounted choir of departed ones of all times and peoples. It has manifestations of the extraordinary gifts of the Holy Spirit, both visible and hidden from the eyes of the world.
The Church is holy by its calling, or its purpose. It is holy also by its fruits: "You have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life" (Romans 6:22), as the Apostle Paul instructs us.
The Church is holy likewise through its pure, infallible "teaching of faith." "The Church of the living God" is, according to the word of God, "the pillar and ground of the truth" (I Timothy 3:15). The Patriarchs of the Eastern Orthodox Churches, concerning the infallibility of the Church in its teaching, express themselves thus: "In saying that the teaching of the Church is infallible, we do not affirm anything else than this, that is unchanging, that it is the same as was given to it in the beginning as the teaching of God" (Encyclical of the Eastern Patriarchs, 1848, par. 12).
The sanctity of the Church is not darkened by the intrusion of the world into the Church, or by the sinfulness of men. Everything sinful and worldly which intrudes into the Church's sphere remains foreign to it and is destined to be sifted out and destroyed, like weed seeds at sowing time. The opinion that the Church consists only of righteous and holy people without sin does not agree with the direct teaching of Christ and His Apostles. The Savior compares His Church with a field on which the wheat grows together with the tares, and again, with a net which draws out of the water both good fish and bad. In the Church there are both good servants and bad ones (St. Matthew 25:1-13). "We believe," states the Encyclical of the Eastern Patriarchs, "that the members of the Catholic (Universal) Church are all the faithful, and not only the faithful, that is, those who undoubtedly confess the pure faith in the Savior Christ (the faith which we have received from Christ Himself, from the Apostles, and from the Holy Ecumenical Councils), even though certain of them might have submitted to various sins...The Church judges them, calls them to repentance, and leads them on the path of the saving commandments. And therefore despite the fact that they are subject to sins, they remain and are acknowledged as members of the Catholic (Universal) Church as long as they do not become apostates and as long as they hold to the Catholic (Universal) and Orthodox Faith."
But there is a boundary, which if sinners go past it, they, like dead members, are cut off from the body of the Church, either by a visible act of the Church authority of by the invisible act of God's judgment. Thus, those do not belong to the Church who are atheists or apostates from the Christian faith, those who are sinners characterized by a conscious stubbornness and lack of repentance for their sins. Also among those who do not belong to the Church are heretics who have corrupted the fundamental dogmas of the faith; schismatics who out of self-will have separated themselves from the Church (33rd Canon of the Council of Laodicea). Saint Basil the Great explains: "The ancients distinguished between heresy, schism, and an arbitrary assembly. They called heretics those who have completely cut themselves off and have become foreigners in the faith itself; they called schismatics those who have separated themselves in their opinions about certain ecclesiastical subjects and in questions which allow of treatment and healing; and they called arbitrary assemblies those gatherings composed of disobedient priests or bishops and uninstructed people.
The sanctity of the Church is irreconcilable with false teachings and heresies. Therefore the Church strictly guards the purity of the Truth and herself excludes heretics from her midst.
(To be continued)
MY BLESSING TO ALL OF YOU
The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God