by Metropolitan Anthony Khrapovitsky
TO BELIEVE IN THE CHURCH means to believe that:
Firstly, Jesus Christ, in Himself, re-established in those who enter into the flock of His disciples, the unity of human nature lost by man through the fall of Adam and the sins of his descendants.
Secondly, this unity is not an abstract concept, but a living moral force, poured forth into the hearts of His disciples and acting in them as a source of good dispositions and intentions, and especially in their love towards God and each other.
Thirdly, this force, this Church life, according to Christ’s words, will always exist on earth and it is the sole means through which God leads people to salvation, i.e., to holiness and unity.
Fourthly, people living this Church life comprise, together with Christ, one spiritual being, directed by Him as Head; and, according to the measure of their becoming perfect on earth – but totally in heaven – they so strengthen this unity that it resembles the unity of the divine Nature in three divine Persons; and thus it fills each human personality with blessedness and holiness, the beginnings of which it gives to each from the very moment of his entry into the Church.
Fifthly, since people of each generation begin to build their spiritual perfection in Christ on earth, in their struggle with the world, also there is preserved at all times the fullness of divine gifts in the society of people militant for salvation.
Sixthly, this society or Church Militant is designated, first of all, to preserve unharmed the source of divine life, the divine teaching and the good energy of the newly grace-filled life; and secondly, to transmit it both through teaching and prayer (especially the prayers through which the Holy Mysteries are accomplished): both to its own children for their perfection in the grace-filled life of the Church, and to those ignorant of Christ, for their entry into this life.
Seventhly, the task of each person wishing to be saved is, above all, to bring himself into accord with these holy dispositions of heart, granted to this individual from without by the truths of faith, with this life of the Church.
Eighthly, since one’s personal life does not encounter the life of the Church as a life which does not have a certain quality about it, but as a life already filled with sin, then this free accord with the newly grace-filled life of the Church must be more exactly called a free obedience.
Ninthly, if this is so, if life in the Church is met by the life of each individual as a principle which required submission, as a guide in a person’s free, internal struggle, then it is essential that the life of the Church have certain defined external forms so that manifestations might exist of Church life or Church rule and Church discipline. The general bases which define this external order of the Church were given by the Saviour in the Gospel and by the Apostles in the Acts, Epistles and Revelation, while the more particular development is left, by Christ, to Church pastors, and they comprise an object of Holy Tradition, for the most part of the canons.
Tenthly, however, all the external conditions which define the manifestation of grace-filled or Church life on earth, and likewise the Church’s guidance of Her children, are filled with that same spirit of grace-filled divine life, in which the essence of this life is contained, i.e., the spirit of love and holiness. Therefore, if we call these conditions external, it is not in the literal sense of this word, but in that they guide the inner life of our souls with the help of certain external means.
Such is the content of the dogma of the Church. Is it necessary to say that such beliefs comprise the one, irreplaceable moral force for the Christian giving himself up to struggle (podvig), that without such beliefs his life is aimless, his struggle (podvig) is deprived of every vital foundation?
Taken from Orthodox Life, Volume 23, No. 5, September-October 1973, Published by Holy Trinity Monastery, Jordanville, New York.
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