One of the most common words we hear today in reference to the thousands of Christian groups, which exist, is the name "church". This of course may lead one to believe that because they all believe in one God and all call themselves Christians, they all make up the Church, that is, each group is a "part" of the Church.
What, however, are the characteristics of the Church? Do all of these groups, in fact, comprise the Church? If so, why are there so many differences, even contradictions between them? What is ultimately the relationship between Orthodoxy and the other religious groups? Let's consider the Orthodox Church's teaching concerning the Church as found in the Creed, namely, that the Church is One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic.
In Matt 16:18 we read,
"You are Petros, and upon this rock (see 16:16) I will build my Church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it."
From this passage we note two things:
Thus we see that our Lord Jesus Christ has established the Church. Which Church? Is it possible to discern this Church within the plethora of groups calling themselves the Church? The Orthodox Church claims herself to be the one Church established by Christ continuing to this present day, and which is the pillar and bulwark of the truth. (1 Tim 3:15).
The history of the Orthodox Church can be traced right back, to the days of our Lord and His Apostles. This is the Church, which our Lord promised would always exist and against which the gates of hell would never prevail. For the Orthodox Church all other groups calling themselves "churches" have either formed by themselves at a later date or have separated from the one Church founded by Christ. The Church is one because her head, Christ is one,
"the same yesterday, today and forever," (Heb 13:18),
and He has but one body which has but one Spirit giving it life.
The Church is holy firstly because she is Christ's Body, with Him as the head and the Holy Spirit as the soul. However, the Church is also holy because, as we read in Ephesians 5:25-27,
"Christ also loved the Church, and gave, Himself for it, that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that He might present it to Himself a glorious Church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that it should be holy and without blemish..."
(Not to be confused with the name Roman Catholic). The Church is Catholic because she is open to all people, in all places and in all times, offering them the fullness of the revealed Truth and Salvation. St Cyril of Jerusalem states:
"...it is called Catholic, then, because it extends all over the world, from one end of the earth to the other; and because it teaches universally and completely one and all the doctrines which ought to come to man's knowledge, concerning things both visible and invisible, heavenly and earthly.... for the union of the spread churches which are scattered throughout the world, and which are all under the control of the Holy Spirit.... and for the treating and healing of the whole class of sins, performed by the body and the soul..."
Firstly, because she has been founded by our Lord Jesus Christ, the first and Supreme Apostle (Gal 4:4, Heb 3:1), and also because she is
"built upon the foundation of the Apostles and prophets, with Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone." (Eph 2:20).
The Orthodox Church can trace her beginnings back to our Lord and His Apostles and preserves their teaching unchanged and unadulterated. Thus the Church is Apostolic because of her origin and derivation and her uninterrupted Apostolic Succession. The Apostolic Succession is the continual and uninterrupted transfer to the Bishops, who are the successors of the Apostles, of the gifts of Divine Grace and Truth, which the Apostles themselves received from the Lord. The Priesthood of the Church, passed on by the laying-on of hands of the Bishop and the invocation of the Holy Spirit, is guaranteed by Apostolic Succession. This Priesthood is central to the Church for without it we cannot have the celebration of any of the Mysteries (Baptism, Chrismation, Holy Eucharist, Marriage, Holy Unction, Confession and Priesthood).
God created man for life. By life, I don't simply mean biological life, but life in its fullness as communion and union with God Himself who is the source of all life.
Man, as we know, in the person of Adam and Eve having believed the lie of the Devil, chose to try to find this life without God, far away from him, in the fruit of the Tree of knowledge of good and evil, in other words in material things. They thus abandoned God and consequently life with the result that they came face to face with death, destruction and sin.
It's still this way with man today. He's still chasing after life but in the same way as Adam and Eve, in material things, in the creation instead of the Creator, in things which seek to increase his pleasure, in so-called good times, parties, mansions, luxury cars, sex, drugs, glory, power etc.
The Church is not simply a place of worship and prayer, nor just a place where we go to hear the Bible or listen to the priest. The aim of the Church is to restore man to his original position as King of Creation, as a person created for life as communion and union with God, as a person destined for eternal life. Through membership in the Church, by living its life and participating in its Mysteries man ultimately attains to his destiny, he is united with God, he lives in the glory of God, he is deified. Only the Church saves. The Church is salvation.
From what has been said concerning the Church, it is quite evident that the Church established by Christ is the Orthodox Church which is the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, "the pillar and bulwark of the Truth." All other groups outside this Church, Christian or non-Christian, regardless of how active they are, or how sincere they seem, are not the Church, the Body of Christ, and have altered the unchangeable revealed Truths taught by our Lord, given by the Holy Apostles and handed down through the ages by the generations of our Holy Fathers. Let's therefore remain faithful to this "holy depository" being careful not to be fooled by anyone, "even an angel of light", preaching a different gospel which will lead us away from the Body of Christ, the Orthodox Church.
from a paper presented
to a National Serbian Youth Conference in Australia