The Church as the Keeper of Divine Revelation

Met. Anthony sketch

Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky) of Kiev

We feel especially glad to talk about the Church in the gathering meeting of our community, which, as far as some aspects of its life are concerned, looks like the bearer of the life of ancient Christian communities in heathen towns. Really, let us recall the scene of living in those times and of nowadays. Let us suppose that in front of us is a big heathen city, for example, Rome, with all its theaters, public baths, circuses, places of entertainment, with all the vices nesting there, loathsome services to heathen abominations, characterized by cruelty and crimes, which terrified the world. But then in that world of "sin and death" there appears another world of "peace and joy in the Holy Spirit"; and within ancient heathen Rome there is revived another, Christian Rome. Different, once hostile people, "Greek,…Jew, Barbarian, Scythian, bond,… free" become the parts of one body, the body of Christ. In that time, when heathens with their wild feasts, inhuman depravity, and murders that aroused indignation brought the universe into trepidation, in that very time the chanting of the holy men of God, glorifying the Resurrection of the Crucified, came out of the catacombs. In the first case, everybody is amazed by the subtleness of mind and will in serving passions, and in the second case the resigned slaves of the Lord of hosts rise over the laws of nature, curing the sick with a prayer and resurrecting the dead.

Now there are no admirers of heathen gods in front of us; those terrible religious crimes have disappeared. Now [in the early 20th C.] the rulers, troops, and nations venerate the Cross of the Savior. But the difference between the life of Christ and the Church and secular life did not cease existing, and surely it will remain forever, both in communities and in every single man. Within Christian communities, according to the predictions of the Gospel, love became so weak that long ago non-religious ideals started to attract people’s attention in places with great populations. Already John the Chrysostom, the teacher of the Church, who lived 350 years after the resurrection of Christ, constantly expressed his grief over the fact that Christ stopped being a part of life in the capitals, and people were attracted only to theaters, circuses, gossip, fashion, and the accumulation of wealth, but did not search for the divine will. Nowadays these secular interests have overwhelmed society in such measure that religious life, except for divine services, started to become a matter of each one’s personal conscience and started to be thoroughly hidden from neighbors. We always had many pious people, but had no pious society, no pious common life.

But the light of the Word of God quite recently shone in this darkness of this fussy and increasingly secularized life. With the powerful hand which created heaven, God the Word gathered people of different social circles, ages, and dispositions into one body, put in their hearts a thirst for listening to the evangelic message, and into their breasts and mouths—His holy hymns. And as in ancient Rome the glorification of the resurrected Christ reached the angels of God, suppressing the sounds of frantic orgies and feasts loathsome to God, in the same way, from the new, bustling and dissolute Petersburg appeared New Petersburg, united by the word of the Gospel and the chanting of sacred hymns. In the same hours and minutes when the majority of its inhabitants hurry to serve their worldly interests and pleasures, others—with prayer-books in their hands and with Christ in their hearts—gather in the temples of God at unusual hours (for such a forgotten matter) in order to attend additional divine services dedicated to the evangelic revelation. Surely, the majority of these people are simple and are less numerous than those who are rich and deluded by the charms of this world, according to the word of the apostle: “For ye see your calling, brethren, that there are not many wise according to the flesh, not many powerful, not many wellborn. But God chose for Himself the foolish things of the world, that He may put to shame the wise; and God chose for Himself the weak things of the world, that He may put to shame the mighty things. And God chose for Himself the lowborn of the world and the despised, and the things that are nothing, that He might make of no effect the things that are, so that no flesh should boast before Him” (1 Cor. 1:26-29).

This new life began or was restored not only for the righteous but also for desperate sinners, who now through the sanctification by the word of God became better than the righteous and together with them glorified the Resurrection of Christ in those holy days, and not vaguely, as the rest, but being filled with the bright light of sincere communication with God, tasting of the joy of Pascha: "When they who were held by the chains of Hades beheld Thy boundless compassion, O Christ, they hastened to the light with joyful feet, exalting the eternal Pascha." Our gladness and joy are exactly because we, through the assimilation of the word of God due to the Church, "partake of the fruit of the new vine of divine joy on the auspicious day of the Resurrection and kingdom of Christ." Therefore we need to understand in what our advantage is among the other listeners and readers of the Gospel, who do not partake of the kingdom of Christ, who accept the Gospel not from the Church, but each one does this for himself, for his personal life.

"What is to me the Church, priests, and divine services?”—the sectarians say. "My Christ has given me His Gospel, and I do not need anything that is not in the Gospel in order to be saved; it is enough to fulfill what I will understand in the Scriptures, and I do not know and do not want to know about the teaching of the fathers of the Church and the ecumenical councils. I must not be judged for that, for I try to study the law of Christ and join Him and His divine Person, and to search for my salvation within It, but not within the Church."

These words are unjust and do not bear the evangelical spirit. In reality, it is impossible to understand the teaching of Christ without the Church, and one cannot join Christ outside the Church, so our salvation is not only the reward for the exploits of this life, but it is found in the process of the gradual merging of our life with the life of the Church, which is the body of Christ.

1. The Lord said that His glory is "the way and the life" (John 6:63), and by that showed that one cannot understand and perceive His teaching in the way any other rational teaching is perceived. Simple human wisdom is perceived through reason, and it is impossible to perceive the teaching of Christ—the teaching of the spirit and life—in any other way than through life. “If anyone be willing to do His will,” says the Lord, “he shall know concerning the teaching, whether it is from God” (Jn. 7:17).

About what fulfillment of the will of the heavenly Father and about what unique means to perceive His law is the Lord talking? Is it only concerning the fulfillment of individual good deeds?—No; the whole life, human nature must merge with the life of Christ in order to master His teaching of life. The Jews ask Him if He is the Messiah promised by the prophets, Whom they had been waiting for. The Lord answers them: “I told you, and ye believe not.... Ye believe not; for ye are not of My sheep, even as I said to you. The sheep, those that are Mine, hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me” (Jn. 10:25-27). So, in order to believe truly and assimilate the divine truth of the teaching of Christ, one needs to merge with the life of Christ, first, through the fulfillment of the will of the heavenly Father, and secondly, through joining the divine flock, that society, that life which the Lord has established on earth, and this life is the Church.

This cannot be otherwise. It is impossible to understand any life-impacting teaching without taking into account that society or people who live according to it. Even in secular matters, in order to understand, for instance, Russian songs or ancient epics, one needs to understand Russian life, Russian customs, and if one would not do that, he will have a very funny perception of them, as the French or Germans have about Russian traditions. Only the very life of the people, the very character of them, can clarify the essence of the folk legends and ideals, but it will happen only to the extent that this folk life remained faithful to itself, to the extent of not yielding to external influence, as happened with the life of the highest walks of Russian society, by which one surely cannot judge concerning the ancient noble customs and legends.

Consequently, in order to perceive the life of Christ conveyed in the Bible, one needs not only to plunge into the very life of the contemporary Christian society, but have reasons to believe that this life did not deviate from its original path. Truly, in this respect we received the indisputable promise of the Lord: "I will build My Church; and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it," so that anybody who "neglects to hear the Church, let him be unto thee as a heathen man and a publican."

Beside that, in the Holy Scripture there are references to the fact that people would perceive the teaching of Christ precisely through the Church, which was depicted already by the prophets of the Old Testament as a mountain or a virgin, not knowing a man but having many children. "And it shall come to pass in the last days,” predicted Isaiah (2:2-4) and Micah (4:1-3), “that the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it. And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Sion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem."

In this way, the law and the word cannot be perceived separately, but through the process of ascending onto the Lord’s mountain, Sion, i.e., the Church. The same thought is confirmed in the farewell prayer of the Lord about the Church. “In order that all may be one, even as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be one in Us, that the world might believe that Thou didst send Me forth. And the glory which Thou hast given Me I have given them, in order that they may be one, even as We are one: I in them, and Thou in Me, that they may be perfected into one, and that the world may know that Thou didst send Me forth, and didst love them even as Thou didst love Me” (Jn. 17:21-23).

The belief of the people in Christ depends on that spiritual unity in which abide those believing in Christ, the apostles’ followers, the sons of the Church, whom Apostle Paul calls "no more strangers and foreigners," but as a unity "built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets."

So, the word of God teaches that without being in the Church and without Christian life man cannot perceive the evangelic teaching. Therefore those who assert that only the Bible is necessary for the salvation of each one of them are mistaken, for the Bible is given not to each one separately, but to the unity of the disciples of Christ, created by God, i.e.—the Church. That is why, brothers, when the sectarians talk to you about your confession, you should ask them: "Did Christ come to give us a book or to give us life? Should we only submit our will to the book, or to that life which has been established by Christ, and without which the Bible itself is unclear? And this life, holy and infallible, which rises over my will and mind, is called the Church, which unfailingly bears the truth of Christ, the examples of the hope of the apostles and ascetics, the interpretation of the ecumenical councils, the divine services of great saints and hymnographers, the grace of the Comforter-Holy Spirit."

2. A sectarian is bombarding you with his statements about life in Christ, about his personal communication with Him: "My Christ ordered me to do this or that, and He did not ask me to fulfill these things, and I do not want to know about any of your sacraments," etc. But do we, the Orthodox, state that we do not need communication with Christ? Do we not partake of His mysteries (sacraments)? Do we not call one another on that great day to behold "the radiant Christ Who said: Rejoice"? Do we not ask Him: "Grant that we may more perfectly partake of Thee in the unwaning day of Thy kingdom”? What is the difference between our communication with Christ and theirs? It is in that they cry: "I… my…to me," i.e., they put themselves outside of that unity to which Christ calls His followers. Does such excluding, jealous love please Christ? Will He ask us about this kind of love at His Judgment? —Yes, He will demand love for Himself, but not that kind of exclusive, personal love; He will ask for uniting love.

Those who out of love for Him have forgotten about love for their neighbor will be amazed at His judgment, and “Then shall they also answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see Thee hungering, or thirsting, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and we did not minister to Thee?’ Then shall He answer them, saying, ‘Verily I say to you, insofar as ye did it not to one of the least of these, neither did ye do it to Me’” (Mt. 25:44, 45). Christ demanded that we should be in Him, live with Him, but does He talk about Himself as about a separate personality? No, these words about abiding in Him are preceded by the Lord’s comparison of Himself with a vine with many branches, that is, people; therefore there appears not exclusively my personal Christ, but Christ within the Church. Christ is not alone, but with His universal family, with brothers and sisters and mother, who are those who listen to His word and fulfill His will.

We should love Christ and live only for Him, but not that Christ that knows you alone, and you know Him, not that One Who is only your Bridegroom, but Who is the Bridegroom of the Church. We should love the incarnate Christ not only in the glorified flesh but in that flesh about which the apostle said: "For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ… And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you" (1 Cor. 12:12-22). But still, all that can be heard from the sectarians is: ‘There is no need for the Church, for good deeds, struggles, but only Christ personally is needed.’ But as you see, Christ is not self-loving, and one cannot please Him with such carnal love and zeal. “Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, we prophesied in Thy name, and cast out demons in Thy name, and did many works of power in Thy name, did we not?’ And then will I profess to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, ye who work lawlessness’” (Mt. 7:22, 23). It is easy to imagine ourselves to love that beautiful image of Christ which we have conjured in our mind, but to love Him as a part of the Church—with all His brothers, with His spiritual body, with His bride—this is what we should long for. This Orthodox love for Christ is love of constant self-denial, good will, and resignation in life, while sectarian love is exclusive, proud, and makes one blind; it is not love but an emotion, which rejects the exploit of struggling with oneself, filled with fantasizing and not contributing to the spiritual growth of man. This is that state of prelest or delusion, against which the fathers of the Church warn us, explaining that real spiritual delight should be preceded by a number of confessionary exercises and the cleansing of the heart from self-love and passions through prayer and good works. "Thy bridal chamber, O my Savior, I see all adorned, but I have no garment so that I may enter it. Make bright the mantle of my soul, O Giver of light, and save me." See in which words our attitude to Christ is expressed.

Is it clear now that without the Church, we can neither perceive communication with it and its guidance nor love Christ? We should be so grateful to God that He gave us the chance to be fed from the source of the Evangelic teaching, preserved by the Church! How we should cherish any recollection of our communication with it, starting with the Holy Mysteries, in which we truly obtain the grace of the Holy Spirit, beginning with the sign of the Cross and ending with any rite held by the universal family of our Savior! And lastly, we should not be embarrassed that only the minority of people calling themselves Christians really belong to the body of the Church: "Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom!" "Let the dead bury their dead." Let every year of earthly life set out new gods for worship: we shall neither be embarrassed by them nor judge them, as the Lord did not judge them: "And if any man hear My words, and believe not, I judge him not; for I came not to judge the world but to save the world" (John 12:47). We, joyful about the divine salvation, should not judge them, but pity them, as the person that can see pities the blind, as the healthy man pities the sick. We should have mercy for them and help them to be saved through word, example, and prayer. We shall help them and humbly thank God that He made us study His word, and we shall beware of sin, knowing the statement: "That servant, which knew his lord's will and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes." Let us, finally, subdue ourselves to God and men, remembering that we have fulfilled so little from what we have learned about the will of God, and ask the Lord to help us in leading a better, God-pleasing life.

Archbishop Gregory
Dormition Skete
P.O. Box 3177
Buena Vista, CO 81211-3177
Contact: Archbishop Gregory
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