The Church as the Bride of Christ (Part III)

My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,


By Vladimir Moss

The Oneness of the Church

The Church is one both in the sense that there is only Church, and in the sense that her members are united both with Christ and with each other. This unity is for the closest possible kind, both spiritually and bodily, and analogous to the unity of a man and his wife, being a participation, through the Sacraments, in the union effected by Christ with human nature at the annunciation. Christ is the Head and Bridegroom of the Church, and all the individual members of the Church are united with Him as with her Head and Bridegroom; for as the friend of the Bridegroom said, "I have betrothed you to Christ to present you as a pure bride to her one Husband (2 Corinthians 11:2; cf John 3:29).

Now the oneness and unifying power of the Church can be derived from the meaning of the "Church", ekklesia, in Greek. For this literally signifies the "calling out" (ek-klesia) of those who before were separated from unity into unity with each other. As Saint Cyril of Jerusalem says, "it is rightly called "Church" (ekklesia) because it calls forth and assembles together all men."

Bishop Gregory (Grabbe) has developed this idea as follows: "It is very important to understand correctly the derivation and meaning of the word 'Church'. E. Bogdashevsky gives a fine, brief philological explanation of the word: "By simple philological derivation the Church (in Greek, ecclesia) is an assembly; this word corresponds to the Hebrew gahal...

But if the Church is one, how are we to understand the divisions in the Church?

These are of two major kinds: the more easily comprehensible divisions that have taken place form the unity of the Church (the heresies, schisms, unlawful assemblies, etc.), when a group has been officially cut off from the unity of the Church by an act of the Church herself; and the more puzzling kind of divisions that have taken place within the unity of the Church, when communion in the sacraments have been broken, but the conscience of the Church recognizes that both sides still remain within the Body of the Church. The latter kind of division is puzzling because if the Church is one, and her unity is an organic and visible unity created by unity of faith and participation in the sacraments, it is difficult to see how there could be such a thing as a division within, as opposed to from, the Church. Is Christ divided? Can there be more than one body rightly calling itself the Body of Christ?

In considering this problem, it is useful to examine a distinction made by the Russian New Martyr (perhaps Martyr-Bishop) Mark (Novoselov) between the Church as an organism and the Church as an organization. "It is necessary to distinguish between the Church-organism and the Church-organization. As the Apostle taught: "You are the Body of Christ and individually members of it" (1 Corinthians 12:27). The Church-organism is a living person, and just as the cells of our body, besides having their own life, have the life that is common to our body and links between themselves, so a man in the Body of Christ begins to live in Church, while Christ begins to live in him. That is why the Apostle said: "it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me" (Galatians 2:20).

"The basis for the affirmation of the Church-organism is love for Christ. The Lord Himself saw the basis of His Church precisely in love for Him. He asked St. Peter: did he love Him? And He added, "Feed My sheep". The Church of Christ is the union of mutual love of the believers ("United by the bond of love and offering themselves to Christ the Lord, the Apostles were washed clean", (Canon of Holy Thursday). Only in the Church organism can true democratism, equality, and brotherhood come into being; we are equal and brothers only if we are parts of one and the same living body. In the organization there is not and cannot be organizational equality and brotherhood."

In other words, the unity of the church is organic rather than organizational. Divisions from the Church constitute divisions from both the organism and the organization of the Church. Divisions within the Church, on the other hand, are divisions within the organization only, the organism remains undivided.

Bishop Ignatius (Brianchaninov)compared the organizational divisions within the Church of the last times to the different parts of a shipwreck: "God desires and seeks the salvation of all. And He is always saving all who wish to be saved from drowning in the sea of life and sin. But He does not always save in a boat or in a convenient, well-equipped harbor. He promised to save the holy Apostle Paul and all his fellow-travelers, and He did save them. But the Apostle and his fellow-passengers were not saved in the ship, which was wrecked; they were saved with great difficulty, some by swimming and others on boards and various bits of the ship's wreckage."

(To be continued)


"Glory Be To GOD For All Things!" - Saint John Chrysostomos


With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia (Ministry),
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George