The nature of the Church and its boundaries - Printable Version
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The nature of the Church and its boundaries - John Charmley - 07-08-2007
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
On another, EO, forum, Peter Farrington, Rick Henry and myself have been engaged in a discussion about the nature of the Church; the other Forum is not really a welcoming vehicle for such a discussion since the answer tends to be 'EO ecclesiology says we are the Church - end of argument', and the discussion tends to be couched in wonderfully Eurocentric terms of 'west' and 'east' where the last is effectively EO.
How are we to understand 'the Church'? I have been told on the EO site that it is not an institution; this I am more than happy to accept, but as a Christian one belongs to a Church which has an institutional form, so there is a sense in which the statement that it is not an institution is true and false at the same time. When I was an Anglican I understood it through the branch theory (even if I seem to have been one of the last people standing on the branch!). That is what led me to the Orthodox Church, in this manner.
The Church is Apostolic in succession and Orthodox in belief, this last being 'what has been believed at all times by all Christians everywhere'. In the eastern part of the Roman empire there were two broad lines of descent - EO and OO; in the West two broad lines, RC and Anglican. But I am aware of the vagueness and fuzziness of this, and that I am probably wrong in some deep sense that matters - so any light or assistance would be welcome.
One of my problems with the EO ecclesiology is that it leaves it unclear what happened in the west after 1054 or so; if salvation is only to be found in the Church, was there no Church and thus no salvation in the west - and despite the fact that no one in the west had access to Orthodoxy for much of the thousand years after 1054? That seems so unlikely, as it does that a Church so palpably holding to the fulness of the Faith as the Coptic Church is not part of God's Church. But these are deeper waters than I can stand in alone, so if there is anyone who can help on this one, it would be much appreciated.
the nature of the Church and its boundaries - kirk yacoub - 08-08-2007
The first answer is that the Church has no boundaries, being the Body of Christ. Any boundaries set up by Christians are arbitrary in the sense that they exclude, sometimes rightly, sometimes wrongly, those deemed to be heretics. Yes, there are heretics, basically those who deny either Christ's
humanity or His divinity, and what they preach has to be kept out of the
Church as we understand it on earth. However, we must continue to pray for heretics so that the Light of Christ's Truth opens their hearts.
Secondly, it is wrong for us to exclude by judgement in matters we are ignorant of. In his magnificent Ladder of Divine Ascent, St John Klimakos
recalls that he once thought of someone as a sinner because that person had sinned openly, only much later learning that the sinner had repented,
but in private. The Church is open because it continually strives to convert
and embrace with Christ's love anyone who does not believe. We should always remember the example of the good thief at Christ's side, his final understanding of his own sinfulness and Christ's innocence was enough for him to be with Christ that very day in Paradise.
Yes, there is only one Church, but who belongs to the Church is not decided by us, but by God. To be baptized, to take Communion, to strive to love our fellow human beings is to live according to Christ, to be part of the Church. There are no branches, simply members of the one Church meeting in different buildings, praying in different languages, receiving the Sacraments through clergy ordained Apostolically.
St Ephrem the Syrian once said that the Church belongs to those who repent and who are ready to die for it. A concise enough but also broad enough definition.
The Church - John Charmley - 08-08-2007
I am immensely grateful to you for these wise and eirenic comments; they come as balm in Gilead after some of the comments I have read elsewhere - and are another sign - were one needed - of the 'Generous Orthodoxy' that I have found in the Oriental Orthodox family.
- Rick Henry - 08-08-2007
I simply want to say thank you, as well, for this. Yes a healing balm that is much appreciated.
Blessed are the peacemakers (and the writers of brief posts on the British Orthodox Fellowship).
Peace to you Kirk.
The Church - John Charmley - 08-08-2007
I would echo both sentiments.
Where is the quotation from St. Ephrem from? I should like to read more of such wisdom.
the nature of the church and its boundaries - kirk yacoub - 10-08-2007
Dear John and Rick,
Thank you for the kind comments, but, of course, everything I say I check first with the Gospel and the Church Fathers (Peace be unto them!)
Regarding the origin of the quotation from St Ephrem I have to say that I'm not quite sure, basically because, very often, when I write down quotations from various websites, I neglect to note down the source. It is possible to read an enormous amount of work by St Ephrem on the internet, just type his name on google and you will see. However, I will try to find out exactly where it came from, precisely because it was one of the quotations that most impressed me in the early days.
Thanks - John Charmley - 10-08-2007
To God be the Glory - but to you as the instrument through which He works here, also thanks are due; we learn so much from what you say - and from following it up. I find so much in the Syriac tradition - and much of it I should not have found without your help.
Where is the Church? - John Charmley - 02-09-2007
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Often we are reminded of something that is good for us to remember, that the 'the Church' is not a building; but just sometimes, He can remind us of how it can be.
This reflection is brought on by what happened as St. Felix Church, Babingley, yesterday.
As some of you will know, the building is a rather wonderful tin tabernacle - with a thatch! It had, however, become a tr file run down over the years, and badly needed repainting, repairing and a good deal of work done on the grounds. Back in June Abba Seraphim, who now comes up from London every two weeks to lead the Liturgy, suggested, along with Deacon Mark that we had a 'work day' on 1 September to do this necessary work. With a congregation in single figures and myself, at 51, the youngest member by some way, this was, indeed an act of Faith; as Glendower said, you can call spirits from the vasty deep, but will they come when you call?
As I have a drive of an hour and a half to Church, I turned up a little later than the 9 am starting time. When I arrived at 9.30 there were already fifteen people there; by 10 am there were twenty. Some were Orthodox Christians who had driven three hours to be with us; most were Christians belonging to other Churches who had heard what we were doing and 'just wanted to help'. With the bishop himself clearing the brushwood, I set to digging to clear the area around the walls - with an Anglican on one side of me and another non-Orthodox Christian on the other; across the way two other non-Orthodox were sanding down our windows, and three others were painting them, helped by two Orthodox.
Where was the Church - well, on a (thank the Lord) coolish September morning as I shovelled yet another mound of earth into a wheelbarrow for my Anglican friend to take away - I looked around me and I saw it visible.
As the Deacon read this from the Epistle of St. James this morning:
Quote:1:22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.an Orthodox congregation got as close as you could get to uttering 'amen brother, amen sister.'
And afterwards, we walked outside into the bright sunshine of a perfect Norfolk September, and the Church gleamed - and I don't just mean the building.
So, sometimes, the Church can be in a building - in a very special way. To all those who helped us, and to my fellow volunteers - not least to Sybil and Dorothy, without whom we should have perished from hunger and thirst - as well as to Deacon Mark and Abba Seraphim for organising it all - deepst thanks - and to Him belongs the Glory!
p.s. a special thank you to Peter Farrington - who I think held the distinction of being our furthest-flung volunteer.
p.p.s. Anyone know a good prayer for backs?
- admin - 02-09-2007
It was actually a great blessing to be at St Felix's yesterday and I received far more than I gave. The drive there and back was a pleasant one and gave me much time for quiet reflection, although yesterday evening I could hardly move my arms without pain shooting up them, and this morning I was still aching. So if you find a prayer for backs let me know if it can be used for arms.
This morning at Liturgy I was blessed again, as we had 15 of us worshipping and communing, and from a wide range of ethnic backgrounds. It was wonderful to have hearty responses to all the congregational parts. Many of our visitors and regular congregation are Indian Orthodox and they seem to have a great tradition of congregational participation.
In terms of the topic of this thread, I am blessed to experience every Sunday a sense of the breadth of the Church in terms of ethnicity. Just last Sunday one of our Indian brothers told me that our British Orthodox Church in Chatham was 'his Church'.
If we can be his Church while also being a Church in which us English people feel at home then we must be doing something right.