distortion of church life, the experience of oppression produced different and more tangible dangers to the church: as Christian education was restricted, so financial penalties for church membership were imposed, while elections to ecclesiastical office were influenced by the state. In communist Russia the church as an institution was systematically dismantled. By the year 1940 there were only three bishops remaining out of the 150 or so existing before the Revolution: the patriarchal locum tenens Sergii, Metropolitan Aleksii, and the liaison between church and state, Nikolai Kruititskii.
It is hardly surprising then that Orthodox theologians have given so much attention to ecclesiology, and have reaffirmed the clarity and simplicity of the Ignatian understanding of the nature of the church as communion. Aleksei Khomiakov (1804-60) saw the basis of church life in the local community gathered together in faith, forming a unity in plurality, moving together in love towards union with God. His understanding is expressed by the Russian sobornost, which is sometimes translated as community.9 This rich theological tradition was developed and articulated by Nikolai Afanas'ev (1893-1966), Alexander Schmemann (1921-83) and John Zizioulas (Metropolitan Ioannes of Pergamon) (1931-). The church comes into being at the Eucharist, when the bishop, or his representative, presides and where the community gathers together, the sacrament of bread and wine is transformed by the Spirit into the Body and Blood of Christ, and the church becomes a spirit-led community. This is a powerful and creative way of conceiving the church which provides continuity with the past, emphasises the importance of the liturgy, and can bring into being and sustain the church community in a variety of settings, and provide a clear foundation for its life. The recovery of the centrality of the liturgy not only has parallels with the parish communion movement in the western church, but also has influenced the ecumenical movement. While for the western parish communion movement renewal meant returning to primitive models, for the Orthodox it meant entering into the riches of Byzantine liturgy, and thus renewing local communities. Also, the west encouraged regular receiving of communion, while in the east this often remains infrequent although the regular, even weekly, receiving of Holy Communion is increasingly encouraged. The Orthodox liturgy is also an effective agent of mission, and many first are attracted by and then become committed to the Orthodox Church through the richness, power and sheer beauty of the worship. The
9 Khomiakov never actually used the word sobornost, although he did write extensively of its derivatives - sobirat: to gather together; sobor: council; and sobornyi: catholic. See V. Shevzov, Russian Orthodoxy on the eve of the Revolution (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 30.
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