More Particular Definitions of the Church
by Metropolitan Anthony Khrapovitsky
We said that the Church is the unity, which Christ restored, of mankind that believes. And just as the first God-created unity of nature was not an abstract understanding, but a real living force which constantly gave itself to be felt in the human heart, in a multitude of holy inclinations that were filled with love, so also the Church is not simply the sum of a multitude of separate people, nor is it a legalistic or governmental institution. But first of all, it is that grace-filled and holy life which was established by Christ, and which will exist inviolable and unfalteringly on earth up to His second coming, encompassed from without by certain definite forms, and manifesting itself, above all, in the holy and moving feelings of faith, repentance, spiritual joy, purity and love, which every person who has received grace finds in his heart – not as fruits grown in his personality by his own will power, but as characteristics of another nature given to him from without – of the nature of that New Man, in Whom he arrayed himself by baptism. His further task will consist only in preserving and multiplying these holy first fruits of salvation given to him from God – this life of the renewed nature, this life of the Church – by the moral struggle (podvig) of the freedom of his individuality, while crucifying and banishing the adverse life of the old man.
This moral struggle (podvig), of course, is more difficult than the one which would lie before a mankind that had not fallen. Never-the-less, with such a presentation of the matter, it becomes completely understandable to us why the types of Martyrs, monastic saints, and hierarchs mentioned by us above, at the same time, both contained within themselves giants of will and also strove constantly to crush all self-affirmation, self-love, every assertion of the “I” within themselves. From this we can understand why even Paul, who, according to his own assurance, laboured more than all the disciples of Christ, says that already it is not he that lives, that he has crucified himself, and that Christ lives in him, that it was not he that toiled in the Church, but the grace which was in him.1 Still, our elucidation of the true Church is not yet finished. We indicated its characteristics which link the concept of it with the concept of the human nature originally created by God, but we did not elucidate the difference between these two concepts. This difference consists in that in each person the life of the human essence or of human nature would be expressed directly and without impediment (if there had been no fall).
Christ’s life which He gave to the Church and which flows into the soul of each separate individual is not like this. This instilling of a new nature (grace) into the soul of every Christian is a more complex phenomenon. It does not come to pass as spontaneously as the development of the human personality of the innocent Adam on the fresh soil of human nature, but first of all through a conscious assimilation of Christ’s life or of Christianity; and then also through mysterious instilling of the newly-grace-filled nature of the Church into our personality.
The Lord and the Apostles point to both this and to something else as being equally necessary means of a Christian’s acquisition of grace*. When they speak of the rebirth or cleansing of our nature through the word of teaching, they mean the conscious penetration by the new life expounded in Divine teaching.2 On the other hand, who does not know the Lord’s parable about the unconscious and secret growth of the grace-filled seed of new nature in the soul of a believer? It is as if a man threw seeds on the field, and then spent his days peacefully, while the sun and wind nurtured the plant and ripened the grain, without his effort; it is like the leaven which rises in a dark oven. Like the place of the birth of the wind, according to the Lord’s words to Nicodemus, it is not apprehendable.
Therefore, the Church is neither simply a school of Christian law, nor only an unconscious good energy mysteriously transferred by Christ into human hearts (grace), but in particular an energy such as is contained and spread by a conscious society or principle. From this, one can fill in the usual defect in the definition of the Church as a society or as a body – that defect concerning the mission of the Church, which we noted above. In every definition of the Church, it must be pointed out that the mission of the Church is firstly, to guard unharmed the conscious content of the newly-grace-filled life, i.e. the divine teaching, and then to pass it on to individual persons quantitatively and qualitatively, or, what is the same thing, secondly, to spread divine teaching amidst unbelievers, and thirdly, to lead believers to complete permeation by this life, or to full spiritual perfection. The comparison of the Church with a living body, cited by Apostle Paul, encompasses very fully this mission of the Church.
1) Grace, in the language of the Bible and of the Church, is sometimes the name for the very essence of Church life, sometimes the fruit of this life, sometimes that Divine activity by which this force of new life is planted in the soul of a person.
*) Literally “becoming grace-filled” (tr.)
2) Jn. 15:3; Pet. 1:23; Heb. 10:22.
Taken from Orthodox Life, Volume 23, No. 4, July-August 1973, Published by Holy Trinity Monastery, Jordanville, New York.
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