What is the Church?

12 August 2021

For many people, the Church is identified with the parish and the actual building of the church. They think it’s a company, an association, an organization, a charity shop, a wonderful ideology which is financially sound and has very extensive property holdings. There are a good number who think of the Church as a powerful economic organization, a good business, which fools the naïve and the incompetent. Others again think that in church they’ll make friends, find company, a job, their metaphysical demands will be met quickly and in brief, their religious obligations will be sorted and they won’t have any problem with their conscience.

The Church is a maternal embrace, it’s the body of the living Christ, it’s the assembly of the people of God in the upper room. The Orthodox Church isn’t a difficult theology for only a few people, a wonderful philosophy, barren morality, a harsh and inhuman set of ethical rules which are all to do with requirements and constraints. Orthodoxy is the truth, freedom, love, redemption, sweetness, salvation and joy. We usually talk about what the Church does, not about what it really is in its essence.

The Church was founded by God, built on the blood of Christ and the martyrs. Its foundations are strong and it fears no earthquake, headwind, ‘enemy’, ‘adversary’ or ‘persecutor’. As Papa-Tikhon the Athonite used to say, the householder of the Church is the Holy Spirit, who holds together the whole institution. The Holy Spirit is ever vigilant, standing upright, rightly interpreting, inspiring, securing, guarding, granting blessings to and strengthening the faithful, clergy and laity. The humble and fervent prayer of the faithful unites earth and heaven and prevents us from feeling despair, melancholy, fear or exhaustion.

Prayer isn’t a private act, an individual activity. Ever. When you pray, you’re united to Christ and to all the members of the Church. This prevents you from feeling loneliness that is tedious and draining. This is more evident and real if you go the church  and take part consciously and conscientiously in the sacramental life of the Church. The Church’s teaching isn’t the presentation of ideas, grandiloquence, verbalism, a quest for will-o’-the-wisps and the flaying of the impious and unbelievers. The Church’s message emerges from silence, prayer, edification, preparation, study, pain and an overflowing of love for those who are missing out and suffering.

In the Church nobody acts in an arbitrary manner, no-one improvises, isolates, or acts as corrector and judge of the Church. Unity, concord, joy, a ‘good confession and defence’, are of central importance. The Church is concerned for the salvation of everyone. Its missionary work isn’t conducted by an association of fanatical supporters, but of loving children, linked together by holy love and holy humility.

In our support for Orthodoxy, we cannot hate anyone. Christian love is always selfless and sacrificial. It has no relation to hypocritical smiles, diplomatic courtesies, unacceptable backsliding, superficial embraces,  false compliments or empty civilities. Christian love acts together with the truth.

It’s those who love God and their neighbors unrestrictedly who have a genuine Church outlook. All the rest is pious trivia. It’s time we looked at the essence of the Church, that we got to know its liberating grace and delved into its fathomless mystery. Time that we encountered Christ himself.