Matthew Steenberg

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Much as Orthodox theology is understood as the mystical encounter with the incarnate Christ, Son of the eternal Father, through the Spirit of Truth, so Orthodox ecclesiology is understood in incarnational and trinitarian terms. The Church is the body of Christ, offered 'for the life of the world',1 in which the world finds life through communion with its incarnate Lord. It is first and foremost in the meeting of divine and human, of uncreated and created, in the Incarnation of the Son that the Church finds its own reality. It is in and as the living body of the 'one person in two natures' (to employ the language of the Chalcedonian definition) that it brings to fruition, through the Spirit, the saving will of the Father: that his Son become man, so that man might be united to him as God.2

The Church is seen primarily as a place of encounter, where God is not so much learned about as met, and where human lives are brought into an ecclesia, a community, of relation to this encountered God. At the beginning of its main service, the Divine Liturgy, the deacon proclaims to the celebrant bishop the intention of the Church's work: 'Master, it is time for the Lord to act' (cf. Ps 118 [ii9]:i26) - announcing an act that culminates in the eucharistic encounter of the communicant faithful with the body and blood of Christ.

This focus on encounter establishes the nature of the Church as intrinsically sacramental. The sacraments stand at the centre of the Church's life and mission, not because of a symbolic significance or merit of ritual, but because in each sacrament the person is drawn farther into the encounter with God which transforms and transfigures.3 These sacraments are more traditionally known as the 'mysteries', mysterion and sacramentum being two terms not quite identical in meaning, but both conveying the concept of the sacred and the depth of God's transcendence.

For all this, 'definitions' of Church in Orthodoxy are hard to come by. Whether this is because a tendency against dogmatic definitions is part of the Orthodox heritage is debatable;but a more significant reason is the perception of the Church as, above all, a living organism, Christ's very body, into which his creation is drawn through encounter and relation, rather than an institution or complex that can be neatly defined. The nearest thing to a 'dogmatic' claim concerning the nature of the Church comes in the phrase of the Creed of Nicaea-Constantinople through which the faithful confess belief in 'one holy, catholic and apostolic Church'. In its usual exegesis, this phrase is taken to indicate the cardinal principles of Orthodox ecclesiology: that it is unitive and singular;that it is holy, inasmuch as it is the Church founded and governed by Christ;that it is katholike, or 'universal'; and that it is apostolic, inasmuch as it preserves and provides the encounter with Christ first experienced by his apostles and handed down (literally, 'traditioned', from the Latin traditio, 'to hand over') to future generations. It would be incorrect to assume, however, that this phrase alone stands as the Church's definition of its structure and mission. Too often overlooked is the place this confession holds in the Church's functional life: the Creed is, in Orthodox praxis, not so much a dogmatic statement as an ascetical tool of liturgical preparation for the Eucharist. It is recited in the Liturgy after the gifts are brought into the altar, immediately before the prayers of the anaphora. So the statements of the Creed, including its confession of 'one holy, catholic and apostolic Church', are above all confessions of relational orientation, drawing the faithful into the encounter of the chalice. The Church is 'one' precisely here: in the chalice over which the aer (the large veil that usually covers the holy gifts on the altar) is waved while the Creed is recited, since the Church is the living body of the one there to be met. The Church is 'holy' in exactly this act of sacramental communion, the sanctification of the Spirit (often taken by commentators as signified in the waving of the same aer above the gifts). And the Church is both 'catholic' and 'apostolic' inasmuch as the eucharistic communion is understood as the singular encounter with the one Christ met and known by the apostles, brought to 'the whole inhabited earth' through the mystery of the Spirit at Pentecost.

It is thus in the Eucharist, the sacrament of sacraments, that the Church finds its fullest definition, and not chiefly in any creedal statement. This location of the Church at the chalice provides, in turn, the means to examine its structure; for as much as the Church is the living body of mystical encounter, it is also a community in creation, with its own structure, form and manner of operation.

two perceptions of ecclesial structure: hierarchy in power and hierarchy in communion

It is characteristic of the Church that it is a structured entity, taking as its model the concept of a body made up of many parts in ordered relationship (cf. St Paul's analogy in Romans 12:3-18). The specific organisation of this body is modelled on the relationship of Christ to his apostles: namely, that there is but a single head (Christ), yet a conciliar community of leadership and evangelical work. The usual term for the organisational structures of the Church is 'hierarchy', a term that stresses order and ranks, but which the Church's theologians have always been wont to stress does not equate to a gradation of worth.4 Hierarchies in the Church exist to ensure the right order and operation of the body as a whole, following Paul's reminder that in a body one organ is not of more worth than another by virtue of a seemingly more glorious function,and modern hierarchs (a title normally given to those in the episcopal ranks) such as Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh have laid stress upon the fact that those of 'highest' authority are ultimately chief servants to the body of the Church. One is reminded of one of the titles customary to the pope of Rome since the time of Gregory the Great (sixth/seventh century): servus servorum Dei ('the servant of the servants of God').

Generally speaking, two models or perceptions of church hierarchy and organisation predominate in Orthodox discussion. The first, perhaps the most common, is of a linearity of power and authority, taken in the positive sense of the power given to the apostles by Christ (cf. Mt 9:8, io:i, Mk 6:7, Lk 24:29) and authoritatively preserved through the generations. This pattern traces the episcopal lineage of the churches from the twelve apostles, through the ecclesiastical centres they founded, locating their authoritative structure in the unbroken connection to these first descendants. In each location a bishop, in direct succession to his predecessors, is surrounded by his priests and deacons, whose authority as ministers of the sacraments and teachers of the gospel encounter comes through the charismatic preservation of apostolic heritage and mission. From at least the second century the priests have been taken to symbolise the 'council of elders' - i.e. the apostles - and the deacons, the angelic ministers of the Word, or at times Christ himself. The local churches maintain communion with one another after the manner of the apostles' own interrelationships: equal heirs of the encounter with the living God, accountable to one another in terms of maintaining the universality of the one faith (i.e. that 'the truth and the contemplation of the apostolic tradition is manifested throughout the whole world'5). The common conviction of the early Church was that the apostles were organised in rank: Peter was first among the apostles, while James held a special place as overseer (episko-pos) of Jerusalem. After the same pattern, the successors to these apostles are ranked in relation to each other: so within territories there are patriarchs, metropolitans, archbishops and bishops; and between territories there are rankings of honour and eminence. Yet such ranks are 'of equals', even as the apostles were as one before Christ, who reminded them that 'he who seeks to be first shall be last, and last first' (cf. Mk 9:35).

This perception of the Church's structure, and the means through which it is preserved as 'one, holy, catholic and apostolic', has been the explanation favoured over the past several centuries. Yet in recent decades, and in the past few years in particular, Orthodox theologians have come to question whether it is an adequate portrayal of the ecclesiol-ogy actually encountered in the Church's history and the writings of the Fathers. The questioning began with the works of the Russian theologian N. Afanasiev,6 with his emphasis on the eucharistic celebration as the defining mark of the local Church, and has been most influentially furthered by Metropolitan John Zizioulas with the publication of his Being as Communion in 1985, which emphasised the communion of God the Father with the Son and Spirit, in trinitarian relation, as the foundation of Christian ecclesiology. As a result, the tide has been turning towards explanations of the Church that see the apostolic heritage more squarely in terms of communion.7 It is in the apostles as ministers of the living God and of the encounter with him (i.e. in the sacramental work of the Spirit) that their 'authority' is grounded. And the Church is defined as 'apostolic' inasmuch as it carries forward that singular work of the apostles: to bring human creation into this same incarnational, eucharistic encounter. The unity of the Church is understood as residing not in the monadic structure of its organisational apparatus and history, but in the one encounter with the one God, into whose life the faithful are brought through a communion (or relation) of being, that images the eternal communion of the Father, Son and Spirit as Trinity.

More recent reflections on ecclesiological structure have taken pains to stress, too, that the Church is the communion of the faithful with the crucified and risen Christ, and that the eucharistic life of relation to God is enabled only through the sacramental connection to his death and resur-rection.8 So 'Church' is articulated more carefully as that reality in which the faithful are joined in the Eucharist to the crucified and risen Lord, united through the working of the Spirit to the sacrifice of Christ, which brings them into the authentic ecclesia of the apostles: the community of resurrected sons and daughters of the Father.

community and conciliarity - the church as sobornost

Both models of ecclesiology stress the conciliar nature of the Church, meaning that it is hierarchical but not monadic. There is not a single 'head' amongst the successors to the apostles (the bishops), even as there was no chief of that original apostolic communion, set up over the others. The inter-communion of catholicity (known in Slavonic as sobornost) involves an order of honour and ranks of organisation, but these exist precisely to facilitate conciliar leadership within the Church. The ultimate administrative authority in the Church is not a single episcopal head, but the communion of apostolic successors - the council or sobor.

If the Orthodox Church is sometimes known as 'the Church of the ecumenical councils', it is because this emphasis on conciliar oversight has been a characteristic of its organisation from its earliest days. The supreme dogmatic authorities of the Church are those councils deemed ecumenical, or universal, in scope (from the Greek oikoumene, 'world' or 'inhabited earth'), of which it recognises seven, dating from the fourth century to the eighth. These gatherings of bishops, whilst varied in focus, and at times of questionable political and social orientation,9 nonetheless are considered by the Church to have been guided by the Holy Spirit into the 'right division of the Word of God's truth' (to paraphrase roughly 2 Tim 2:15 and the prayer for hierarchs said at the Divine Liturgy). As the Church proclaims when it commemorates them on the Sunday of the Fathers of the first six ecumenical councils (16 July):

The apostles' preaching and the Fathers' doctrines have established one faith for the Church.

Adorned with the robe of truth, woven from heavenly theology, it defines and glorifies the great mystery of Orthodoxy.10

As the council is a fraternal body in fellowship (koinonia, 'communion'), so it follows that the articulation of dogma in the Church is conciliar in nature. The ecumenical councils, like the local councils of which there are a great (and continually expanding) number, are forums of discussion and discernment amongst hierarchs; while presided over by the highest-ranking bishop of the assembly, they are nonetheless meeting places of canonical equals, determining in sobornost the articulations and practices of the Church. At the level of the ecumenical councils, these have included dogmatic statements (e.g. the Creed of Nicaea-Constantinople (325-8i);the definition of Chalcedon (451)), heresiological definitions (e.g. the anathemas of the second council of Constantinople (553)) and confessional documents (e.g. conciliar recognition of the letters of St Cyril of Alexandria, St Leo of Rome, and others at the council of Chalcedon). They have also determined affairs of ecclesiastical order through laying down, modifying, rescinding and issuing canons (from the Greek kanon, 'measuring stick' or 'rule, guideline') based on situational and historical needs. Many of these delineate and refine precisely the conciliar structure of the Church: determining how bishops are to meet in councils, that they are not to attempt to rule in other bishops' territories, and so forth.

The same emphasis on conciliarity is found in the functional structure of the Church's ministry. Bishops, as ministers of the apostolic encounter with Christ in the Eucharist and other mysteries of the Church, are surrounded by their priests (also known as 'presbyters', from the Greek for 'elder') who serve as their councillors and ministers in a local territory. Amongst the priests there is a similar hierarchy of equality to that found in the episcopacy, with different ranks and orders in a common office of ministry and service. Together with the priests are the deacons, serving a distinct liturgical and pastoral function in the threefold ministerial structure of the Church. Deacons are primarily the ministers of the prayers of the people in the Divine Liturgy, standing in their midst and lifting up their petitions before the altar at which the bishop or priest stands as celebrant.

If the ministerial structure of clerical leadership can be said to be three-fold,11 the full worshipping structure of the Church is fourfold, for ecclesiastical service is the work of the bishop, priest, deacon and the laos, the 'people' of God. The term 'clergy' itself derives from kleros, meaning 'lot': those from the people to whom it is allotted to serve for and with the people in the temple. This understanding of the clerical offices does not allow the clergy to be separated from the body of the faithful of which they are members and for which they are called to service - a call taken up by the people in their proclamation of 'axios!' ('he is worthy!') at ordinations to all levels of the clergy. In the services of the Church, the clergy and the people pray and serve together: the people in affirmation of the deacons' petitions in prayer, the priest in offering and blessing. That in modern practice the people's role has become, in some places, markedly passive in an external sense, with their 'office' of service being relegated wholly to a choir who sings on their behalf, is a regrettable, if subtle, form of clericalising ecclesiology. It should, however, be pointed out that not all silence is passive. There are contexts in which silence is part of an intentional practice of interior prayer and participation in the divine services; and this must not be downplayed in favour of an emphasis on a 'lay participation', which is sometimes seen as authentic only if it is externalised.

communion, fellowship and liturgical memory

The conciliar nature of the Church, expressed in its councils, its clerical structure and its participatory understanding of worshipping life, grounds too the substance of its existence as sacramental and rooted in the common experience of prayer. As Metropolitan John Zizioulas has recently written:

It is not by accident that the Church has given to the Eucharist the name of 'communion'. For in the Eucharist we can find all the dimensions of communion: God communicates himself to us, we enter into communion with him, the participants of the sacrament enter into communion with one another, and creation as a whole enters through man into communion with God. All this takes place in Christ and the Spirit, who brings the last days into history and offers to the world a foretaste of the Kingdom.12

The grounding of the Church in the experience of Christ, through the Spirit, which brings the faithful into conformity to the Father's will, establishes its identity in this communion with God. And as God is the Lord 'of ages past' (cf. Ps 89 [90]: i) as well as of the 'last days', the communion of the person, and of the Church, in this God is the communion too with the whole pleroma ('fullness') of humanity, beyond the confines of the time and space of human history. The Church exists as 'the communion of the saints', not merely by admiring the saints, but in living relation to the whole body of Christ, in the dimension of Christ's own eternity. The living and the dead are not merely common recipients of the Church's prayer, but common participants in it. Prayers are offered 'on behalf of all and for all', since it is for these that Christ died; and in him believers 'do not perish, but have eternal life'.13 If in Christ 'those who have gone to their rest' are not dead but alive in him, then communion in Christ is communion, also, in the fellowship of this body. This is symbolised in Orthodox churches first of all by the iconography of the temple: one is surrounded, on entry into the church, by the images of those persons transfigured in Christ, understood as mystically present in the communion of his body. The continual commemoration of the saints throughout the services (nearly every litany ends with a commemoration of the Mother of God, together 'with all the saints') unites in liturgical memory the whole human race, brought to the sacrifice of Christ, who offered himself 'for the life of the world'.

This practice of memory, of drawing into the heart the redemptive work of God and making it alive and real to the present moment, is at the very centre of the human synergeia, or co-working, with God in the Church's liturgical life. It is 'in remembrance' of Christ, as he commanded, that the gifts of bread and wine become the very body and true blood of which the faithful partake,-14 it is in 'eternal memory' that the saints are ever alive and present to the faithful,-15 it is in 'remembering, therefore, this saving commandment and all that has come to pass for us - the cross, the tomb, the resurrection on the third day', that the faithful enter into the reality of these very things.16 This is memory in the sense not only of recollection, but of calling into the present experience of the human mind and heart - or nous - the reality of God's redeeming work. Through the communion with this God who is beyond time, the Church engages in the reality of the thing remembered. So the Eucharist is not just a re-enactment of Christ's offering, but the real communication of his body and blood. The communion of the saints is not merely the recollection of past lives of holiness, but a genuine presence, the intercommunion of the living with the departed. The events of salvation are not simply called to mind, but in that remembrance they are authentically experienced in the present.

This perception lies behind the commemorative focus of the Church's worshipping cycle, and particularly its festal commemorations. When the Church celebrates Christ's resurrection, the hymns sung by the people 'in remembrance' of that unique and unrepeatable event are not hymns of the past, but of the present: 'Today is the day of resurrection ... A sacred Passover has been shown forth to us today.'17 The same reality that grounds the communion of the saints beyond time and beyond death grounds the continual making-present of transformative moments of the divine economy in the Christian life. The Church is understood as the living body of Christ the eternal Son of the Father, which, through the Spirit, is united to the timelessness of this God's eternity.

So the Church has not only a historical dimension, it has also a dimension of the eternity of beginnings and ends that meet in Christ, who is understood as the one who declares 'I am the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end' (cf. Rev i:8, ii,- 21:26,- 22:13). We have already seen this in terms of the Church's eschatological dimension, its 'bringing the last days into history', but this is equally true of its engagement with protology, with the 'first things'. The pinnacle of the Divine Liturgy is the participation in the Eucharist, accompanied by hymnography drawn primarily from the Book of Revelation (or 'the Apocalypse'),and similarly the liturgical day begins at Vespers with the hymn of creation, Psalm 103 [104], proclaimed with the priest standing outside the closed Holy Doors of the iconostasis, symbolising Adam outside the closed gates of Eden. In order to make real in time, i.e. at the present moment of worship, the full scope of human existence in God, the sacramental remembrance of the Church extends beyond time, into God's eternity, to draw together the full story of human creation, sin, redemption and perfection in the living Christ of the Church's sacraments.

the church as the arena of transfiguration

In all of the above, it is clear that the work of the Church is the work of God in Christ: the transfiguration and deification of the human person and the whole of creation. The understanding of theosis, or deification, as the adoption into God of his own human handiwork, links it inextricably in Orthodox thought to the life and mission of the Church as the arena of human transfiguration. It is in sacramental communion with God that this conversion of life is wrought, and so the intensely personal reality of a deified life is - since personal being, like divine being, is relational -united to the work of the communion of the Church. The Church is thus understood as the place of light, in which creation is 'illumined' (a term traditionally applied to baptism), and the 'spiritual hospital' in which the disease of broken communion with God is healed.

The principal sacraments of the Church are characterised by their transformative character. The Eucharist is par excellence the mystery of restored communion,and with it, in practice as much as in theory, the sacrament of confession, which is the avenue for repentance and conversion leading to that communion. Confession is the liturgical 'removal of the log from one's own eye' before gazing upon the reality of another, even if (especially if) this 'other' is God himself. Baptism is the sacrament of a life received into the sanctification of the Spirit which unites one to the body of Christ, and similarly chrismation, the anointing with the 'seal of the Holy Spirit'. The sacrament of unction, or anointing of the sick, is an extension of the transformative mission of the Spirit in baptism and chrismation, united to confession of sins and communion in Christ's body and blood. The final two most common sacraments, marriage and ordination, may less obviously be transformative in orientation, but these too are understood in an ascetical context by the Church: marriage as the sacrament of communal and relational growth in Christ and struggle against sin, and ordination as the setting aside of a life for participation in a particular way in Christ's work in the world - the very conversion of the world in Christ.

A hesitancy to number the above as 'the seven sacraments', or to give a definitive catalogue of the Church's mysteries, may have something to do with the late arrival of such a classification (which seems to have entered into Orthodox liturgical handbooks around the time of the scholastic influence on traditional Orthodox lands, circa the seventeenth century). More significantly, it reflects a perception of sacraments as those means of transformative encounter in Christ, through the Spirit, that deify creation in the ministry of Christ's body. In this light, these seven sacraments may hold a certain pride of place, but they cannot be seen as categorically distinct from the extension of that encounter that fills many other dimensions of eccle-sial existence. Hence a sermon, properly prepared, is sacramental inasmuch as it gives the hearer a deeper receptivity to Christ's presence in the Eucharist (and so its place, according to Russian practice, immediately before the entry of the holy gifts into the altar). So too the sacramental character of the veneration of icons, of prostrations and the sign of the Cross, of receiving the antidoron (blessed bread) at the end of the Liturgy. In the sense of transformative encounter, the Church sees the whole of its work, and not only certain acts, as deifying and transfiguring. This is a theme particularly developed in modern Russian thought, where it may be expressed in terms of the Church as the soul of the world, progressively transforming the world and the whole of life so that it 'becomes Church'.

the church and human sinfulness

In every dimension of its self-understanding, the Church is an organism of divine-human interrelation. Because this interrelation does not involve either an a-historical humanity or a generic deity, but the one human race begun in Adam and the God revealed fully in Christ crucified and risen, so the redemptive character of the Church correlates to the sinful reality of human experience borne up in it. The Church exists in a broken and fractured world, comprised of similarly broken and fractured people who constitute its life - for Christ has come to save not the healthy, but the sick (cf. Mt 9:13; Mk 2:17; Lk 5:32). As such, the Church may be holy with God's own holiness, but it also remains the hospital of the broken; it deals with the reality of sin as much as with its transformation and redemption.

In practical terms, the conciliar nature of the Church attempts to provide a structure capable of combating the inevitable encroachments of such sin into the life of the Church itself. The fact that there is no localised dogmatic authority in the singular, but rather a connected family of episcopal communities, provides - at least in principle - a robust means for dealing with local and more widespread challenges to the belief and practices of the Church. In some sense the anti-heretical focus of most of the councils emphasises this para-local structure of conciliarity. So Arius, who preached in Africa, would be condemned by bishops gathered in Nicaea, and Nestorius, who ministered in Constantinople, would be condemned in Ephesus - signs of the Church's catholic response to local issues. In a similar manner, clerics and even bishops might fall into error, without necessarily carrying their whole community, or a whole magisterium, with them. Individual error is met by conciliar repair.

In practice, the strengths of this paradigm have been accompanied by weaknesses. Mention of Nestorius, who was condemned at the ecumenical council of Ephesus in ad 431, raises both the issue of geographical de-localisation and the problem of universal conciliar agreement. Geography, as much as political agendas, might influence the practical constitution of councils (an issue of utmost relevance at Ephesus, and also at Chalcedon); and agreement secured at a council does not per se equate to acceptance at the level of the whole oikoumene. Ephesus initially engendered a division between the Eastern and Western portions of the Christian empire in the years immediately following 431, healed (in part) only thanks to careful negotiations between St Cyril of Alexandria and John, Bishop of Antioch. More tragically, the council of Chalcedon in ad 451 engendered a division in the Christian realm that has never fully healed, and remains to this day. That differing ecclesial traditions today regard different councils as ecumenical - Eastern Orthodox recognising seven and Oriental Orthodox three - bears witness to the lifespan of some of these issues. The resiliency of the conciliar model has to be countered by this complexity of localisation and the problems it engenders. Many of the disputes of the early period, between ad 300 and 600, have at least partial grounding in different general approaches to exegesis and dogma between the geographic centres of Alexandria on the one hand and Antioch on the other;just as modern-day difficulties in canonical jurisdiction and territory have substantial grounding in different understandings of canonical frameworks between the Church of Constantinople on the one hand and that of Russia on the other.

This has, in part, led to the present-day phenomenon of 'jurisdictional-ism' in the Orthodox Church. The ancient pattern of geographic evangelisation was (in simplified terms) for a new territory to be evangelised by a mission from one of the ancient patriarchates and to grow under that

'mother patriarchate's' guidance until such time as it be granted independence (autonomy) and self-governance (autocephaly), but the reality of Orthodox presence in much of the New World is quite different. Multiple mother churches have established ecclesiastical presences in single territories, at least in part through the desire of immigrants in such areas to have a Church 'from the homeland' in their new environments. But the situation of a single territory - Great Britain and North America are chief examples - having overlapping dioceses, multiple bishops in a single city, and a variety of churches in a single city divided wholly along jurisdictionally ethnic lines, is one for which the canons of the Church make absolutely no provision. Use of the canons in an attempt to redress such jurisdictional considerations, even if the motivation is divorced from the question of ethnic background and shifted to that of mission, is fraught with problems for precisely this reason, and local churches have often found themselves at loggerheads over the interpretation of specific canons that might be used to determine jurisdictional legitimacy in one way or another. Orthodox theologians over the past century have lamented this question of jurisdictionalism as chief among the challenges facing the Church in the twentieth and now twenty-first centuries, but it is unclear, at present, how the matter may eventually find resolution.

Damaging though jurisdictional divisions may be to the Church's witness, they only rarely and briefly impair the Church's unity in communion. To some, therefore, a still more fundamental question is that of ecclesiastical identity in a world of multiple Christian traditions and churches. If the Orthodox Church is understood as 'the one holy, catholic and apostolic Church', what of those outside it? Suffice it to say that few voices in the Church would suggest anything apart from this foundational claim of ecclesial unity, yet nonetheless there is little by way of common agreement on how precisely to speak of boundaries, limits and relations. Georges Florovsky's article 'The limits of the Church', written in i933, is considered by many to be a classic exploration of the tension between the canonical and the charismatic boundaries of the Church.i8 Orthodox Christians would generally accept the dictum of Cyprian of Carthage that 'outside the Church there is no salvation',- but this can be understood either in an exclusive sense, or as a tautological statement that all who are saved are in some sense within the Church. Orthodoxy understands the Church to be intrinsically one, and salvation to be united to the life and mission of this Church, yet it maintains with equal fervency the confession that Christ's sacrifice was for the life of all the world - a mystery easier to confess than to articulate in precise ecclesiological terms. As

Metropolitan Kallistos Ware puts it, 'There is only one Church, but there are many different ways of being related to this one Church, and many different ways of being separated from it.'19 The divisions of Christendom, which the Orthodox Church understands as the fruits of human sinfulness, remain one of the most challenging aspects of its relationship to the modern world.20


On the human level, as Metropolitan Kallistos again points out, the Church's life is indeed 'grievously impoverished as a result of schisms, yet such schisms cannot affect the essential nature of the Church'.21 Orthodox Christians firmly believe that the Church remains 'one, holy, catholic and apostolic', inasmuch as it is not the fracture of the sinful world that defines it in this way, but the reality of its headship in Christ, who is 'in our midst, now and always' - a proclamation shared between the clergy at the altar during the Liturgy. When the Church comes together at the defining moment of its self-identity, the reception of the body and blood of Christ, it hears the priest proclaim 'The holy things are for those who are holy', to which the people reply, 'There is but one who is holy, one who is Lord: Jesus Christ, to the glory of God the Father.' The Church is holy in Christ, in the very midst of its need for the redemption he brings. Because the Church is sanctified through the living encounter of a broken creation with Christ, an encounter that heals and transforms it, the Church is thus at its core both missionary and evangelical. Though the deacon proclaims at the Liturgy's beginning, 'It is time for the Lord to act', there follows no proclamation of its end - no ite, missa est ('the mass is finished'). The work of the Church is fundamentally a work for the world, and the people are summoned to 'go forth in peace, in the name of the Lord'. If the Church is truly one in the redemptive power of God's holiness, it is charged with the missionary task of making all the world one, joining itself to the intention of Christ before his Father: 'that they may be one, even as thou and I are one' (Jn 17:11). Its charge is nothing less than to bring the whole of creation into itself. The scriptural book of Revelation, so much the sourcebook of the Church's services, concludes with an eschatological vision of the 'new heaven and new earth' of Christ's redemption, in which a new and heavenly Jerusalem descends from heaven to be the abode of man, and it is fitting that in the vision of this perfected city, there is no temple, no Church. It is the Church's mission to take the whole of creation into itself, to bring all of God's handiwork into the life-giving encounter with the incarnate Son, so that the world itself becomes the Church of God, 'who will be all in all' (i Cor 15:28).

Further reading

Florovsky, G., 'The limits of the Church' in Florovsky, Bible, Church, Tradition: An Eastern Orthodox View, Belmont, MA: Notable and Academic Books, 1987.

Hopko, T., 'On ecclesial conciliarity' in J. Breck, J. Meyendorff and E. Silk (eds.), The Legacy of St Vladimir. Byzantium, Russia, .America, Crestwood, NY: SVS Press, 1990, pp. 209-25.

Meyendorff, J. (ed.), The Primacy of Peter: Essays in Ecclesiology and the Early Church, Crestwood, NY: SVS Press, 1992.

Schmemann, A., Church, World, Mission, Crestwood, NY: SVS Press, 1966.

Ware, T., The Orthodox Church, New Edition, London: Penguin Books, 1993.

Zizioulas, J. D., Metropolitan of Pergamon, Being as Communion: Studies in Person-hood and the Church, Crestwood, NY: SVS Press, 1997.

Communion and Otherness: Further Studies in Personhood and the Church, ed. P. McPartlan, London and New York: T. & T. Clark, 2006.

Eucharist, Bishop, Church: The Unity of the Church in the Divine Eucharist and the Bishop During the First Three Centuries, trans. E. Theokritoff, Brookline, MA: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 2001.


1. St John Chrysostom, The Divine Liturgy, Anaphora; cf. 1 Jn 2:2.

2. See Athanasius of Alexandria, On the Incarnation 54.

3. See V. Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church (London: James Clarke & Co., 1957; repr. Crestwood, NY: SVS Press, 1998), p. 181.

4. So the extensive hierarchical theology of, for example, (Ps-)Dionysius the Areopagite; cf. A. Louth, Denys the Areopagite (London and New York: Continuum International, 1989).

5. See Irenaeus of Lyons, Against Heresies m.3.1; cf. 1.10.1, 2.

6. See his important 'The Church which presides in love' in J. Meyendorff (ed.), The Primacy of Peter: Essays in Ecclesiology and the Early Church (Crestwood, NY: SVS Press, 1992).

7. J. Zizioulas, Being as Communion. Studies in Personhood and the Church (Crestwood, NY: SVS Press, 1985).

8. So J. Behr, The Mystery of Christ: Life in Death (Crestwood, NY: SVS Press, 2006); and J. Zizioulas, Communion and Otherness. Further Studies in Personhood and the Church, ed. P. McPartlan (London and New York: T. & T. Clark, 2006).

9. In particular, the third (Ephesus, ad 431) and fourth (Chalcedon, ad 451) councils were fraught with political rivalry and motivations; see J. A. McGuckin, St. Cyril of Alexandria and the Christological Controversy (Crestwood, NY: SVS Press, 2004).

10. Kontakion for the Sunday of the Holy Fathers.

11. Which it has been since at least the middle of the third century, though other models, particularly a two-fold model of presbyter (equivalent to bishop) and deacon, are strongly evidenced in the early patristic corpus; cf. the Didache and Clement of Rome, First Epistle to the Corinthians.

12. Zizioulas, Communion and Otherness, p. 7.

13. Jn 3:15; St John Chrysostom, The Divine Liturgy, Anaphora prayers.

14. So his commandment to 'do this in remembrance of me' (cf. Lk 22:14-19; i Cor i4:24, 25), repeated during the Anaphora of the Divine Liturgy.

15. Cf. the prayer at the end of the funeral and memorial services of the Church: 'May his/her memory be eternal!'

16. St John Chrysostom, The Divine Liturgy, Anaphora.

17. From the stikhera of Paschal Matins.

18. In Florovsky, Bible, Church, Tradition: An Eastern Orthodox View (Belmont, MA: Notable and Academic Books, i987).

19. T. Ware, The Orthodox Church, New Edition (London: Penguin Books, i993), p. 308.

20. See further J. Jillions, 'Orthodox Christianity in the West: the ecumenical challenge', below.

21. Ware, The Orthodox Church, p. 245.

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