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.
THE CHURCH AS THE BRIDE OF CHRIST (Part IV)
By Vladimir Moss
The Holiness of the Church. The Church of Christ is One because the Body of Christ is One, and all Christians partake in this unity through the Mysteries (Sacraments). In the same way the Church of Christ is Holy because the Body of Christ is Holy, and all Christians partake in this holiness through the Mysteries (Sacraments).
The distinction between the Church as organism and the Church as organization is useful again here. Thus Hieromartyr Mark writes: "Only to the Church-organism can we apply such titles as we meet in the Logos/Word of God for example: "Glorious, Holy, Spotless" (Ephesians 1:4); 'the Bride of the Lamb' (Revelation 19:7; 21:9); 'the Body of Christ' (Ephesians 1:23; Colossians 1:24); 'the pillar and ground of the Truth' (1 Timothy 3:15). These concepts are inapplicable to the Church-organization (or applicable only with great qualifications); they lead people into perplexity and are rejected by them. The Church-organism is the pure 'Bride' of Christ (Revelation 21:2), but the Church-organization has all the faults of human society and always bears the marks of human infirmities...The Church-organization often persecutes the saints of God, but the Church-organism receives them into her bosom...The Church-organization rejects them from its midst, deprives them of episcopal sees, while they remain the most glorious members of the Church-organism...
Thus the Church as organism is one and holy, while the Church as organization is often divided and impure. As an image of this distinction let us consider the two Marys, Mary the Mother of God and Mary Magdalene, who went together to the tomb to meet the Risen Lord (St. Matthew 28:1). The one Mary, the Mother of God, is already "holy and without blemish", "not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing" (Ephesians 5:27), while the other Mary Magdalene, is "black, but comely" (Song of Songs 1:5), being not yet completely purified through repentance. The one represents the Church Triumphant (Heavenly Church), already "full of grace" (St. Luke 1:28) and crowned with the Bridegroom at the right hand of the Father, while the other is the Church Militant (Earthly Church), still having to struggle with sin both within and outside her.
Just as, in a marriage between a believer and an unbeliever, the unbeliever partner is sanctified through the union with the believer, and their children, too, are sanctified (1 Corinthians 7:14), so in the marriage between God and man that takes place in the Church, man is sanctified through his union with God. Saint John Chrysostom puts it as follows: "God desired a harlot...and has intercourse with human nature, (whereby) the harlot herself is transformed into a maiden." Again, Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich writes: "It is a great mystery when a man leaves his father and mother and cleaves to his wife. The Apostle himself, who has been raised to the third heaven and beheld many heavenly mysteries, calls the marriage of natural man on earth a great mystery. It is the mystery of love and life, and the only mystery that exceeds it is the mystery of Christ's bond with His Church. Christ calls Himself the Bridegroom and the Church the Bride. Christ so loves the Church that He left His heavenly Father for her - though remaining equal with Him in unity of essence and Divinity - and came down to earth and clave to His Church. He suffered for her sake that He might by His Blood, cleanse her from sin and from all impurity and make her worthy to be called His Bride. He warms the Church with His love, feeds her with His Blood, and enlivens, enlightens and adorns her with His Holy Spirit."
The Church remains holy as long as she remains faithful to her Bridegroom (Christ). The holiness of the Church which is communicated through the sacraments is not tarnished by the personal sinfulness of the priest who administers them as long as he remains within the Body. But immediately he steps outside the Body and commits spiritual adultery with a heretical body, he ceases to be a channel of holiness, and the so-called "sacraments" he administers are not a source of holiness, but of defilement.
The individual Christian participates in the holiness of the Church as long as he remains faithful to her and does not enter into communion with heretics. Thus Saint John the Almsgiver writes, "If, having legally named a wife in this world of the flesh, we are forbidden by God and by the laws to desert her and be united to another woman, even thought we have to spend a long time separated from her in a distant country, and shall incur punishment if we violate our vows, how then shall we, who have been joined to God through the Orthodox Faith and the Catholic Church - as the Apostle says: "I have espoused you to one husband that I might present you as a pure virgin to Christ" (2 Corinthians 11:2) - how shall we defile the Orthodox and Holy Faith by adulterous communion with heretics?" For the heretical communion have ceased to be holy churches," writes Nicetas of Remesiana, "inasmuch as they have been deceived by doctrines of demons, and both believe and do otherwise than is required by the commands of Christ the Lord and the traditions of the Apostles.
"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