Orthodox America


  Our Living Mystical Church


 

The sea is the world, in which the Church is set 'like a ship tossed in the deep, but not destroyed, for she has with her the skilled pilot, Christ And she bears in her midst also the trophy over death; for she carries with her the Cross of the Lord. For her prow is the east, and her stern is the west, and her hold is the south, and her tillers are the two Testaments; and the ropes that stretch around her are the love of Christ. which binds 'the Church; and the net which she bears with her is the laver of regeneration which renews the believing.  As a splendid sail, the Spirit from heaven is present, by whom those who believe are sealed; she has also anchors of iron accompanying her, that is, the 'holy commandments of 'Christ Himself, which are' as strong as iron.

St. Hippolytus of Rome

 

We who are part of the Mystical Body of Christ, His living Church, are in the company of saints, martyrs, prophets, ascetics, the “choir of angels, and the Most Holy Theotokos, Ever Virgin Mary. While still on earth, we are citizens together with them of the Kingdom of God.

Here is a great mystery indeed. How is it possible for us, who are constantly beset by passions and all manner of sin, to be members of one Body with the saints? Our minds are fallen, our bodily eyes are clouded, and we do not see the saints. At times we are even tempted to question the reality of heaven. How, then, are we to understand that mystical union. of Christ and His saints which is thc Church?

St. Paul writes: "Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen" (Heb. 11:1). Just so, we must exercise our eyes of faith in order to see the heavenly kingdom.  The same Apostle exhorts: "Let this mind be in you which was in Christ Jesus" (Phil 2:5). But. who has the mind of Christ unless we be His Body which is the. Church? It is the Church which enlightens the eyes of our mind; it is the Church which instructs, us in faith; it is the Church which unites heaven and earth, carrying within her bosom all those who belong to Christ, now and from all ages.

By active participation in the life of the Church we partake of the heavenly, for the Church is the Kingdom of God. They are in error, therefore, who expect Christ to come to earth and establish a reign of universal peace for a thousand years before the end of the work. Since the first Pentecost, Christ has been reigning in His Church in the life of grace. Through our sins and weaknesses we do not experience the full measure of grace, but it is there; the Church invites us, to come, "taste and see" and become "partakers of life eternal".

If we are not in Christ's, Church, this living Mystical Body, then we are not in the kingdom of Heaven. For this reason, St. John of Kronstadt, the great pastoral saint of this century, exclaimed, 'Honor the Church!

Venerate her holiness, her antiquity, her unshaken firmness, her divinely enlightened wisdom and spiritual experience, her soul- saving ordinances, her divine services, sacraments, and rites." Let us hasten, therefore, to listen to the .voice of the Church which speaks to us through the words of Scripture, the Sacraments and prayer. In this way our faith will be strengthened and our minds transformed.

When we hear Holy Scripture within the living Church, a confident peace descends upon us and we know' that God is guiding, helping, and saving us.' In partaking or the very Body and Blood of our Saviour, we par- take or His divine nature, sharing in His victory 'over sin and setting foot on the path which leads to Christ-likeness. And while we cannot always listen to Scripture or receive Communion, prayer is available to us at all times. Through prayer we can be continually in a state of conversation with God. In all of this, the Church instructs us, encourages us, and prepares us, with love, to enter the next world.

Part of the Church is already in the next world, where dwell all the inhabitants of heaven; and part of it is here on earth. The Church on earth is often likened to an ark. We are blind if we do not see that a flood of ungodliness is rising the world over.  Just as she righteous Noah stood as a lamp of faith in his godless generation, we Christians of today must serve as witnesses to those of our own generation who have turned their backs on God. Even more, we are commanded by Christ to "teach all nations"; to call all men to the 'ship of salvation', the ark, which is the Church.

To quote the words of St. John of Kronstadt once more:

"How can we do other than respect the Church, eyen if only for having saved in her bosom an innumerable multitude of people, translating them into the abode of eternal peace and joy, forgetting them not, even after death... .Where will you find, a more grateful friend, a more tender mother?

"May Christians attach themselves wholly, with all their hearts, to the Church of Christ, that in her, they may be firmly established unto the end of their days on earth. May they all be zealous to fulfill her commandments and ordinances, and in her may they obtain eternal salvation through Christ our Lord." Amen.

Fr. Demetrios Serfes
St. Xenia's Orthodox Church Moundsville, West Virginia

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