My beloved brothers and sisters in Christ God,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE.
THE CHURCH (Part II)
By Father Anthony Alevizopoulos
The Church, moreover, has its visible dimension, Jesus Christ Himself chose His twelve Disciples and called them Apostles. Before His glorious Ascension, He promised them "power from on High" (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:8) and He sent them forth to proclaim the Kingdom of God and to make Disciples of those who would believe, incorporating them into the Church through Holy Baptism (Matthew 28:19). This promise was fulfilled on the day of Pentecost on which three thousand souls were added to the Church (Acts 2:41).
The first Church was concrete community and society it included the exercise of the Holy virtues of Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1) and had as its center THE PERFORMANCE OF THE Holy Eucharist on the Lord’s Day and INCLUDED A COMMON CONFESSION which was the Apostolic (Didache), COMMON PRAYER and the COMMUNION OF LOVE, which as we have already mentioned, reached to the point of common possession of all things (Acts 2:42; 4:42). Whoever participated in the SYNAXIS was included among the Christians. Whoever DID NOT PARTICIPATE WAS NOT CONSIDERED A CHRISTIAN. In the Apostolic Church there existed specific structures: THE APOSTLES, THE PRESBYTERS, THE DEACONS, and other cadres, such as Timothy, Titus, et al. Whenever serious problems concerning the faith arose, they were solved in broader Councils under the guidance of the Holy Spirit as was the case with the Apostolic Council which was in some way "THE MOUTH" or voice of the Church (Acts 15:22-29, cf 1 Timothy 3:15). The Church about which Holy Scripture speaks was VISIBLE AND CONCRETE. Among its members were numbered individuals WHO WERE VERY WEAK AND EVEN GRAVELY ILL SPIRITUALLY; WHO WEREE CALLED TO REPENTANCE SO AS NOT BE CAST OUT (Matthew 13:30. 47; 1 Corinthians 5:1; 11; Jude 12:23).
The Orthodox Church has condemned any notion whatsoever concerning a supposed "Church of the pure" (Katharoi), and declares that the "separation of the clean from the unclean" will take place "at the time of the harvest", during the Second Coming of Christ and certainly not by man; no one is to attempt such a separation before the Lord’s Coming, for in such a case the criteria and standard of judgment would be human and the evaluation subject to error (Matthew 13:29-30).
The fact that in the Church there are weak members does not mean that the entire Church has fallen into apostasy. When Moses was on the mountain and speaking to God nearly the entire "chosen people" fell into apostasy, and yet for God is still remained His people; He did not reject them (Exodos 32:1-8).
The Church of the New Testament, the NEW PEOPLE OF GOD, is not simply an episode in history which took place during the time of the Apostles, but a continuous event, extending to the time of Christ’s Second Coming. The Holy Spirit remains eternally in the Church and leads to the Truth (John 14:16); Christ is the Head of the Church, and as the Head, He IS AND EVER REMAINS UNITED WITH THE BODY. HE LEADS THE BODY AND IS NOT LED BY IT. THIS IS ALSO WHY THE CHURCH, THE BODY OF CHRIST, CAN NEVER FALL INTO APOSTASY — ONLY INDIVIDUAL MEMBERS CAN BECOME INDEPENDENT AND SEPARATE THEMSELVES FROM THE BODY, FALL INTO APOSTASY, AND BE LED TO SPIRITUAL DEATH. Even pastors of the Church and "stars from heaven" can fall into apostasy, BUT NEVER THE Church (Acts 20:30). 2 Thessalonians 2:3; Revelation 9:1-1; Timothy 3:15). There will always be A SMALL "REMNANT" and the remainder of the faithful people, UNITED WITH THE HEAD and THAT WILL BE THE CHURCH, BECAUSE ACCORDING TO CHRIST’S PROMISE EVEN "THE GATES OF HELL" WILL NOT PREVAIL AGAINST HER (Matthew 16:18).
The Church then, IS UNIQUE AND INVISIBLE (Matthew 16:18). It means throughout the ages and is the "PILLAR" and FOUNDATION OF Truth"; the Truth is founded UPON THE CHURCH AND NOT THE CHURCH ON THE TRUTH. The Church IS THE TRUTH because ITS HEAD IS CHRIST, i.e. the Truth (1 Timothy 3:15; John 6). WITHOUT CHRIST THERE IS NO CHURCH (Matthew 16:18 and WITHOUT THE CHURCH THERE IS NO TRUTH (1 Timothy 3:15).
These marks are THE CONTINUOUS AND UNBROKEN CONTINUITY OF THE CHURCH IN THE FAITH, ORGANIZATION AND LIFE IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE WILL OF CHRIST AND THE PRAXIS OF THE APOSTLES. The most visible focus of the Church’s continuity is the APOSTOLIC SUCCESSION. Here we do not have an arbitrary act that was decided upon and later enforced. Apostolic Succession has its source in the Divine Will as it is distinguished from the specific person. The Holy Apostles proceed to elect Matthias to assume the "EPISCOPE" of Judas, in accordance with the prophecy of the Old Testament (Acts 1:26; Psalms 108:8). This proves that in the Church there exists the ministry (diakonia) of the "episcope", for which the Priesthood (1 Timothy 4:14; 2 Timothy 1:6), and gave to them the commandment to undertake the pasturing of the local Church and to ordain in every city Presbyters and Deacons in the manner which was shown unto them (Acts 14:23; 2 Timothy 3:8-12).
All these pastors of the Church were in an unbroken Apostolic Succession, which was the guarantee and assurance of the preservation of the purity of the Apostolic teaching and of the one accord ("make my joy complete; be of the same mind, having the same love, being of full accord and of one mind" (Philippians 2:2). The Orthodox Church has all these marks and characteristics of the Apostolic Church: the Apostolic teaching and the entire hierarchic structure of the First Church, the Apostolic teaching, and the Apostolic mind.
The Orthodox Church knows two different expressions of the Catholic Church in a given place: the Monastic Coenivium and the parish. In the Orthodox Monastic Coenovium, the primitive form of the Church is preserved inviolate, as it is described in the Acts of the Apostles and includes holding all possessions in common (Acts 2:42-47).
(To be continued)
"Glory Be To GOD
– Saint John Chrysostomos
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With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia (Ministry),
The sinner and unworthy servant of God
+ Father George