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The House of the Father

by Fr. George Florovsky

Webmaster Note: There is an article by Fr. George Florovsky entitled “The Limits [Boundaries] of the Church” that is often cited by Orthodox ecumenists, as well as by those who disparage the “theory of (sacramental) economy (oikonomia).” It is frequently offered as a cogent argument for the recognition of heterodox Sacraments per se, and even the development of an ecumenistic ecclesiology in which the boundaries of the Church are extended to wherever “valid” Baptism is found.

The following article is set as a counterweight on the scale of debate regarding these issues. Herein you will find a beautiful exposition of Orthodox ecclesiology, which also reflects the more conservative side of Fr. George‘s ecclesiological views. Contrast this with “The Limits of the Church,” which was one of Fr. Florovsky’s “heuristic exercises” – a theologoumenon – that was not intended to express dogmatic teaching concerning the Church.

In 2014 the Orthodox Christian Information Center intends to make available the English translation of an important critique of “The Limits of the Church,” by the Serbian Bishop Athanasius Yevtich (In Greek: Theologia, Vol. 81, Issue 4, Oct.- Dec. 2010, pp. 137-158). Bishop Athanasius favorably cites “The House of the Father” in his critique.

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In the teachings about the Church “a great pious mystery” is revealed to the believer’s consciousness in all its unexplored fullness. The Church relates to Christ on earth, and is the objective result of his redemptive feat, the image of his dwelling in grace in the world, “every single day, until the end of time.” It is in the Church that the divine oikonomia culminates and is fulfilled. It is to the Church that the Holy Spirit descended in the “terrible and inscrutable mysterious act” of Pentecost; and it is in the Church, as “the house of God,” that the salvation, sanctification and “deification” of creation have been accomplished, and continue by the strength, action and grace of the All-Holy Spirit. The Church is the single “door of life,” as St. Irenaeus of Lyons wrote, and moreover — is a rich “treasure house” of everything relating to truth. And that is why only in the Church, from the Church and through the Church is the real path of Christian knowledge and piety revealed. For Christianity is not a teaching which could have been apprehended through external teaching, but life, which must essentially be gained, which can be received only through real birth from the source of life. It is insufficient to know Christianity, “to have a Christian image of thought”; it is necessary to be a Christian, to live “in Christ,” and this is possible only through life in the Church. Christianity is experience. And all Christian dogma by its origin is namely Church dogma, the description of Church experience, the witness of the Church about the “guarantee of faith” entrusted to it. Only through this charismatic Church confirmation of the definition of faith do the forces and significance take on fullness, receiving them from the Church not as from power and authority but as the voice of the Holy Spirit and the Lord himself, “never becoming remote, but existing continuously.” “Allow the Holy Spirit to us,” this solemn prayer of the regulations of the councils raises all the testimony of the Church to its real “life-bearing source.” Not only mystically but also historically, the Church is the single source of Christian life and Christian teaching. For Christianity appeared to the world only in the aspect of the Church. On the other hand, even by its content, Christian theology in the final account is reduced namely to teachings about the Church, as the eternal New Testament, as the “Body of Christ”; and any harm to the teachings about the Church, any destruction of the fullness of Church self-consciousness inevitably drags behind it dogmatic and theological imprecision, error and distortion. This is why, in essence, there cannot be particular, individual, complete dogmatic teachings about the Church, set forth in generally accessible dogmatic formulations. For the Church is the focus of all Christianity and is known only from within, through experience and the accomplishment of a life of grace — not in individual dogmatic definitions but in the entire fullness of the doctrine of the faith. And, as one contemporary Russian theologian correctly noted, “there is no understanding of churchness, but there is the Church herself, and for any living member of the Church, Church life is the most definite and tangible thing he knows.”

Christianity is not exhausted by teachings or morals, nor by the totality of theoretical knowledge, nor the canon of moral prescriptions and rules; and they are not central to it. Christianity is the Church. It is in the Church that the teachings, the “Divine dogma,” is contained and delivered, and the “rule of the faith,” the rules and regulations of piety are suggested. But the Church itself is something immeasurably greater. Chrisianity is not only teachings about salvation but salvation itself, the once and for all perfect Godmanhood; “and it is his death, and not his teachings and not the severe life of human beings that compose the means of reconciliation,” in the clear and firm expression of the Russian theologian, Filaret, Archbishop of Chernigov. In the Orthodox consciousness, Christ is above all the Savior, not only the “teacher of blessings” and not only the Prophet but above all — the King and High Priest, the “King of the World and Savior of our souls.” And salvation is based not so much on the heralding of the heavenly Kingdom so much as in the Godmanhood image of the Lord himself and in his deeds, in his “saving passion” and “life-creating Cross,” in his death and resurrection. For “if Christ has not risen, then our faith would be vain.” Christianity is Eternal Life, having been revealed to the world and human beings in the inscrutable Incarnation of the Son of God, and having been revealed to the faithful through the holy Sacraments by the grace of the Holy Spirit. “For life appeared, and we saw and we witness and proclaim to you this eternal life which the Father possessed and which appeared to us.” As the remarkable Russian ascetic of the recent past, Bishop Feofan (the Hermit) said: “in the consciousness of the Christian first is seen the Figure of Christ the Lord, Son of God Incarnate, and behind the curtain of his flesh is seen the Trihypostatic God.” In the Orthodox consciousness the Lord Jesus Christ above all is the Son of God, the Logos Incarnate, “One of the Holy Trinity,” the Lamb of God, having taken on the sins of the world. And Orthodox faith is totally inseparable from the Image of Godmanhood, impossible outside of a living contact with him through the sacraments of the Church.

Given the totality of symbolic expressions, the entirety of the life of prayer, the liturgical life, and the Creed, the Orthodox Church confirms the mystery of Godmanhood in the spirit and meaning of the Chalcedonian dogma. It professes the mysterious unmixed “fullness of Divinity” and the fullness of humanity in the entire earthly life of the Saviour, in his mysterious birth from the Ever-Virgin Mary by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, in his temptations, humiliation and sufferings — “even until death, and death on the Cross,” in his resurrection and “in the heavens with the Divine Ascension of his pure flesh.” All these are real and historical events, having been accomplished in this world, and in this way having enlightened this world. “The Logos became flesh, and dwelt among us” — this was accomplished in Judaic Bethlehem in the days of King Herod. And this historical event stands as the focus of the Christian faith. The Christian faith is essentially historical, historically concrete, for it takes its essence namely from historical events. Apostolic preaching was historical in character — from the very day of Pentecost, when the Apostle Peter testified, as a witness, about the completed salvation, about the wonders, miracles, and signs which God did through Christ, about his sufferings, Resurrecton, and Ascension, and about the descent of the Holy Spirit. In the apostolic preaching the empirical experience grew together with mystical experience, for in the empirical itself, in the invisibility of the creation, appeared the supra-empirical, the Divine — the mystery of Godmanhood. And this mystery is contained in and manifested by the Holy Church, the “Church of the Living God, the Pillar and Confirmation of Truth”. The entire Christian faith is the clarification and revelation of the mystery of the Hypostatic Godmanhood; and only in connection with this event — “the Son of God is the Son of the Virgin”— is the essence and nature of the Church understood as the real “Body of Christ.” It is namely this image of the Apostle Paul which is the most precise and fundamental definition of the Holy Church, making possible all other and later definitions.

The Savior testified about himself that he “conquered the world.” And his victory, his redemptive achievement is included in the fact that he created his Church, the beginning of the “new creation.” Beginning with the holy apostles, ancient Christians called themselves the “people of God,” a new nation, the “chosen people,” “a holy people.” And in truth the Holy Church is the “House of God,” the City of God, “of which the artist and builder is God,” the “Kingdom of God,” “the New Jerusalem from above.” Already in the name itself — ekklesia — the idea of the Church is contained and is carried on, as a City or Kingdom of God. Ekklesia is like a never-dispersing national convocation of new people born in grace, the “summoned” citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem. And it is namely this concept which is disclosed even now by the Orthodox Church, when before Holy Baptism it demands from the “enlightened” to confess faith in Christ,” “as King and God”; and in baptismal prayers it prays for them, “and they will honor the higher calling and be numbered among the first born written in the heavens.” In holy baptism man leaves “this guilty world,” leaves “hostile work” as if entering or being released from the natural order of things, from the order of “flesh and blood,” and passes to the order of grace — and, according to the mysterious and solemn words of the Apostle Paul, “approaches Mt. Zion and the city of the Living God, the Heavenly Jerusalem, and the host of angels, and the solemn council, and Church of the First Born, written in the heavens, and the Courts of all — God, and the souls of the righteous, having achieved perfection.” The entire meaning and strength of the sacrament of Holy Baptism is that the baptized enters into the one Church, “the one Church of angels and men,” taking root and growing into the one Body of Christ,” and becomes a “fellow citizen of the saints and friends of God,” for “we are all one Spirit baptized in one body.” Holy Baptism is like a mysterious initiation into the Church, as into the kingdom of grace. Therefore, the Holy Church prays for the baptized: “Write him in Your book of life; unite him to the flock of Your legacy and make him a sheep of the holy flock of Your Christ, Your honored Church, son and heir of Your Kingdom. Plant his planting of truth within Your holy apostolic Church.” The Church is the new people in grace, not coinciding with any natural or earthly people, neither with the Hellenes nor with Jews, nor with barbarians and with Scythians, tertium genus — a people having been formed according to another principle entirely — not through the necessity of natural birth, but through the “mystery of water,” through the mysterious union with Christ in the “mysterious font,” “through freedom, deed and gift of adoption by God.” And in this is included the basis of all those features of the Church which we confess in words of the Creed — the unity, sanctity, catholicism and apostolic origin — all these definitions are not only connected but quite inseparable from each other.

We confirm the very act of faith “in One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church” by its “other-worldly” nature, its being not from this world: for “faith is the exposure of invisible things.” And by this, among the objects of faith we put the Church as a reality along with the Lord God himself; we witness the divinity and sanctity of the Church. We believe in the Church and can only believe in it, because it is the “Body of Christ”—”the fullness of the Fulfilling of everybody in everything.” “On the basis of God’s Word,” wrote the famous Russian theologian, Filaret, Metropolitan of Moscow, “I imagine the Universal Church as a “single” great “body.” Jesus Christ is for him like the “heart” or principle of “life,” the “Head” or ruling wisdom. There is known to him only the full measure and inner composition of this body. We know the various parts of it and the external image as it is extended in time and space. In this visible “image” or “visible Church” is found the “invisible Body of Christ” or the “invisible Church.” “The Church, glorious and indigent in vileness or vice, but “with all glory within” and which, therefore, I do not see clearly and distinctly, but in which, following the Creed, I ‘believe in’. Disclosing the invisible, the visible Church frequently reveals the purity of the invisible, so that everyone could find it and unite with it, and partly conceals its glory.” Calling the Church the “Body of Christ” connects its existence with the mystery of the Incarnation; and the living and immutable basis of the visibility of the Church is namely in the mystery: “The Logos became flesh.” The teachings about the Church as visible and invisible at one and the same time, about the greatness and historically given, and sacred, i.e. divine, is a direct continuation and revelation of the Christological dogma in the spirit and meaning of the Chalcedonian dogma. Only in the Church and from the depths of Church experience is the Chalcedonian dogma understood in its unexpressed fullness — otherwise it breaks down into a series of contradictions not subject to any rational unity. And in turn, only through the Chalcedonian dogma is it possible to recognize the Godmanhood nature of the Church. In the Church, as the body of Christ, two natures are also combined, and they are combined precisely as “unfused, unchanging, indivisible, inseparable.” “The quality and essence of each nature is preserved. And in the Church divine grace and visible images of its manifestation are only discernible but not divisible. The Church, in the existence of the unity of these two natures, gives them not only in symbolic but namely in essential and real indissoluble unity, and, therefore, the visible itself loses the accidental nature typical of creation, is transformed by grace and becomes not only sacred but also holy. The Church has a human, creative essence, has historical flesh, for the Church is the transformed world, and in this development of creation in grace is included the entire meaning and genuine content of history, of existence in time. The Church is the beginning of the universal charismatic transformation of creation, replaced by the mysterious image of the Burning Bush. But the Church has also a divine essence, for in it dwells in real flesh the Lord himself, Jesus Christ, and the never diminishing divine grace and the gifts of the life-giving Spirit act within it and are communicated in it. “Light already shines in the darkness, and in the night and in the day, and in our hearts and in our minds,” says St. Simeon the New Theologian — “and illuminates us inextinguishably, indestructibly, unchangedly, unconcealedly — speaks, acts, lives, invigorates, and makes a light of those who are illuminated by him.” There is no break between God and creation. The world, this sad life full of vanity, temptations and suffering, was not left behind by God. And namely “in helplessness,” in the vanity and languor of empirical existence, is the force of God accomplished. Growing and being transformed by the strength of the vivifying Spirit, the “visible” historical Church becomes and will become the Eternal House of the Glory of the Lord. “You — are our kin in the flesh, and we — Yours, by Your Divinity,” exclaimed St. Simeon in prayer, “for having taken on flesh, You gave us the divine Spirit, and we all together became one house of David according to Your flesh and in kinship to You. Having become united, we will become a single house, i.e. we all are kin, we all are Your brothers. And how awesome the miracle and how one might shudder when one ponders this and weighs the fact that You will dwell among us now and forever and will make each a dwelling and will dwell in everyone, and You Yourself will appear as a dwelling for everyone, and we will dwell within You.” And, in truth, “awe-inspiring is this place: not this, but the House of God, and these heavenly gates.”

The Church is a theophany, the mysterious manifestation of God, and the concealed strength of God becomes clear and tangible under the visible images of saints and salutory mysteries. The Holy Sacraments are not only symbolic acts or recollections, but genuine mysteries, images of a real and unchanging presence of God, “tools which necessarily act by grace on those moving toward him.” The Orthodox Church decisively denies as “alien to Christian teaching,” the opinion that “if not used, that which is sanctified in the sacraments by sanctification remains a mere thing.” (Epistle to the Eastern Patriarchs [1].) Therefore, neither the matter (material) of the sacrament nor the form of the sanctifying words are in any way inseparable, for according to the will of God it is namely such matter that is sanctified, and namely in such a way. In addition, having become a sacred object, the thing sanctified by prayer does not change its physical form and image; invisible grace is communicated always through physical means, under a specific, external aspect. For, “since we are dual, composed of soul and body, and our soul is not bared, but seems to be covered with a curtain,” writes St. John of Damascus, “then for us it is impossible, apart from corporeal means, to achieve the conceptual. Since man has body and soul, then, therefore, Christ also took on body and soul. That is the reason for the dual baptism: by water and spirit; and communion, and prayer and the singing of hymns — all are dual, corporeal and spiritual — like the lamps and incense.” And “our entire service is a handmade sacred object, leading us through matter to God.” The created and final remains created and final, but through sanctification inscrutably it unites with Divine grace, becomes a “vessel of grace.” And now, again not separating [them], it is necessary strictly to distinguish the sanctified object and the sanctifying grace: between them there always remains a difference in nature, difference in essence, but this does not prevent the full reality of the Divine presence — through union and communion. In all the sacraments forming the real core of Church life, God is present in creation, really and effectively — by the special presence of grace, distinct from the providential presence everywhere. “The special presence of God, which is mysterious, is reverentially known and perceived by the faithful, and is manifested sometimes in special signs.” The Orthodox Church speaks with great eloquence about this, in numerous rituals: the founding and sanctification of the churches, the holy ikons and sacred objects, holy water, myrrh, annointing oil, etc. They all merge into a great, single ritual of theology, a sanctification of the world. Any docetism or phenomenism is totally alien to the consciousness of the Church. Creation is real, and has not been eliminated; what stands ahead of it is not a passing over, not a falling into nonbeing, but a “changing,” being transformed, uniting with God. “Human essence is changing and false; and only the Divine essence is non-false and unchanging,” writes St. Simeon the New Theologian. “But the Christian, being made a communicant of the divine essence in Jesus Christ our Lord through acceptance of the grace of the Holy Spirit, is transformed and changed by his force into a God-resembling state.” Through all of Church life passes a vivid and strained feeling of the beneficial closeness of God, not a burning and not a destructive closeness, but a healing and fortifying creation, through the elimination of corruption and sin. This sanctification of the visible and physical world in the consciousness of the Church is definitely connected again with the Incarnation of the Divine Logos. “I will not bow down to matter,” St. John of Damascus audaciously exclaimed, “but I will bow down to the matter of the Trinity, having become matter for my sake, and dwelling in matter, and through matter accomplishing my salvation; and I will not stop respecting matter, through which my salvation has been accomplished.” Through the Incarnation of the Son of God “our essence was glorified and passed into noncorruption,” writes that same holy father: “we essentially were sanctified from the time when God the Logos became flesh, resembling us in everything except sin and, without fusing, joined with our nature and immutably deified the flesh through the nonmerging interpenetration of that same Divinity and that same flesh. We essentially were adopted and were made heirs to God from the time of the birth of the Water and the Spirit.” And through Christ “the essence arose from the lowly of the earth higher than any authority and in him mounted the Father’s Throne.” In the words of St. John Chrysostom, the Lord “raised the Church to a great height and set It on the very same Throne because where the head is, there is the body; there is no break between the head and the body, and if the connection between them had been interrupted, then it would not have been a body or a head.” That is namely why the Holy Church is the “Body of Christ,” and in It — by grace — “the fullness of the Divine” is present bodily. But the created essence remains created. The fruit of redemption and the Resurrection of the Savior is included not in the elimination of the essence, but in the victory over corruption and death. Divinity became accessible. And the Church is holy and is an eternal sign of this victory and an indestructible “receptacle of Divine action.” It is namely the Church in the direct and proper sense that is “God bearing.” And that is why it is holy, for it is “the House of God,” “the Dwelling of God.” God lives in the Church, is present by grace in the holy churches, sends down his heavenly blessing, communicated in the holy sacraments and imagined in the faithful, and glorifies them. In the sacraments, the faithful, in the words of St. Gregory of Nyssa, become not only “spectators” but also “communicants” of Divine Energy — become with God “soul in soul,” “unite and grow together with the Spirit Comforter, through inexpressible communion with him,” as St. Macanus the Egyptian said. “Attainment of the Holy Spirit,” according to the patristic words, is the essence and task of Christian accomplishment. And, therefore, in the Church, through grace and communion, as if for the second time the invisible God becomes visible — of course, not for the unseeing eyes of natural understanding, but for the enlightened believing gaze. Indeed, in the Godmanhood of Christ the children of his age did not see and did not recognize the Son of God, did not accept and did not understand the mystery of the Incarnation. For those living in the Church even now, “the awe-inspiring and glorified sacrament is viewed as energizing,” the sacrament of salvation, sanctification and transformation of the world. ‘Oh, wondrous miracle, seen twice, by double eyes, corporeal and spiritual”— St. Simeon the New Theologian exclaims. The sacrament of the Holy Eucharist historically was a concentration of ancient Christian piety, and mystically was always a vivid focus of the Church’s life. The fullness of the presence of God here achieves the greatest force. According to the unchanging creed of the Orthodox faith, precisely expressed by St. John Chrysostom, in the Holy Eucharist “we are transformed in body in no way differently from that body which rose higher, to which angels bow — it is namely this body of which we partake.” The unity of the Church is mysteriously grounded in the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, for everyone receives communion of the One Body. And in every Eucharist there is present the entire Christ, “the Lamb of God is broken and distributed; broken but not sundered, always fed upon but never consumed but sanctifying those who partake.” Every Eucharistic sacrifice is a “complete” sacrifice. “We constantly bring one and the same Lamb, and not one today, another tomorrow, but always one and the same,” says St. John Chrysostom. “Thus, this sacrifice is one. Although it is brought in many places, can there be many Christs? No, one Christ is everywhere, and here it is full, and there it is full. His Body is one. And it can be brought in many places — one body, and not many bodies, just like one sacrifice.” There is a direct and self-evident connection between the full life of the Church, the precision of Christological dogma and the dogma about the Holy Eucharist, for these are the supplementary aspects of a single dogma, about a single fact of Godmanhood. It is also necessary to follow exactly the Chalcedonian definition of faith in the confession of the faith in the perfect reality and immutability of the presence of Christ the Savior in the Holy Eucharist. “We believe,” speaking in the words of the Epistle to the Eastern Patriarchs, “that in this religious rite our Lord Jesus Christ is present, not symbolically, not figuratively, not only by inspiration, as was said by several of the Fathers about baptism, and not through permeation of the bread, so that the Divine Word essentially entered into the bread designated for the Eucharist — but really and truly, so that by sanctification of the bread and wine, the bread is transformed into the most pure body of the Lord, which was born in Bethlehem from the Virgin, christened in the Jordan, suffered, was buried, was resurrected, ascended, sits at the right of God the Father, and appears in heaven; and the wine is turned into the real blood of the Lord, which, during his suffering on the cross, poured out for the life of the world.”[2] Every time that the Divine Liturgy is accomplished, the mysterious unity of the Church is realized and revealed, and through acceptance of the holy Mysteries really and actually, and not only symbolically or intellectually, the faithful merge into one single and catholic body.

The Church is one in its nature of Godmanhood, and by its nature it is the universal Church. One and the same, the identical Church is visible and invisible — visible as a “well-organized composition of helpless and strong members,” as a “society of persons,” and invisible as the grace of the Holy Spirit, reviving every believing soul and being revealed in particular grandeur in the Divine saints, in the “friends of Christ’; and it is namely the grace of God that is “actually the object of faith in the Church.” But the grace of God is manifest and acts in the sacraments, not so that every time gifts of the Holy Spirit descend especially and anew from above, but through communion from a single treasurehouse, once and for all given in the Descent of the Holy Spirit into the Church. The Sending-down of the Comforter was a singular and unrepeatable act, and since that time the Holy Spirit “dwells within the world”: “everywhere fulfilling all.” Therefore, only through the apostolic succession of the laying on of hands, through a God-established clerical hierarchy, the gifts of the Holy Spirit were communicated and are communicated until now to the faithful. Only through the sacraments accomplished by the hand of the pastor, set in order of apostolic succession, are those again coming to God numbered among the mysterious Body of Christ. Apostolic succession, “succession of the clerical hierarchy,” is preserved and continued in the archbishopry and parish, and is the only door to the Church, the only basis of a community of life in grace. Only through communion with the once and for all given source of life can man be revived. In the apostolic succession of consecration is included the single basis of the unity of the Church, proceeding from the unity of grace, the single body, for the Spirit is one. The One Church is the apostolic Church, and only the apostolic Church can be one and universal, as only it can be sacred — for only onto the apostles did “the Holy Spirit descend in flaming tongues,” and through them “into a union of everyone summoned.” Thus the canonical structure of the Church, “visible” and “historic,” receives mystical meaning and a charismatic basis. Through the Church hierarchy, through servants of the sacraments and spiritual fathers, every believer is accepted into the universal body of the Godmanhood of the Church, communes with Its treasure house of beneficial gifts. And the “spiritual family,” the "brotherhood of the holy temple” being united around its pastor, hierarchically unified with the archbishopry of the Church, with the “entire bishopry,” is the real cell or unit of the body of the Church. In the bishop, who is the image of the Heavenly Bishop, of Christ, a multitude of such families unite. Thus the many-in-one earthly body of the Church is formed. The universal Church empirically and historically is and lives in the multitude of co-subjects of local Churches. This is defined not only by historical, temporal, and temporary conditions. According to the image of Christ, every bishop “is betrothed” directly to his flock, is inseverably connected with it by a charismatic bond. Only through this bond is there realized for each son of the Church his contact with the entire Church. That is why any canonical wilfulness and disobedience is so strictly and severely examined by the Church consciousness. Destroying empirical canonical ties, the Christian in this way harms his ties of grace and sacrament with the entire body of the Church, and is torn away from it. Once wilfully torn away from the concrete body, it is difficult wilfully to be grafted onto the Church “in general.” The unity of the Church, the unity of the Church hierarchy, the unity of grace, the unity of the Spirit — all these are connected inseparably from each other. Deviation from the legal Church hierarchy is a deviation from the Holy Spirit, from Christ himself.

The unity of spirit is the real basis of the catholic nature of the Church. And that is why the Holy Church is, nevertheless, a Universal Church. The universal character of the Church is not an external, quantitative, spatial or geographical property, and certainly does not depend on spreading the faithful everywhere. The universality of the Church is the result, but not the basis of its catholicism — the Church embraces and can embrace the faithful of any nation and any place because it is a catholic church. Spatial “universality” is a productive and empirical sign, lacking in the first days of Christianity, and not absolutely necessary. Indeed, at the end, when the mystery of deviation is revealed, burning down to a “small flock,” the Church will not stop being Universal, just as it was Universal even when the Christian communities, like rare islands, were scattered in the dense sea of disbelief and opposition. “If the city or province falls away from the Universal church,” notes Metropolitan Filaret, “The universal Church always remains a whole, uncorrupted body.” The Church has a catholic nature. Therefore, the universal Church appears not only in the totality of all its members, or all the locations of the Church, but indeed in any local Church, in any temple, for the Lord himself is present everywhere, and the heavenly forces serve him. And if one seeks external definitions, then the universal character of the Church is expressed much more by the sign of universal temporality, to the extent that the faithful of all periods equally belong to the body of Christ — some are called in the first hour; some at the eleventh. As St. John Chrysostom said, the Church is a single body, for to It belong all the faithful, “living, having lived and who will live,” and also “pleasing God until the coming of Christ,” for they have prophesied about him, they await him and probably knew him, and “without doubt, revered him.” The entire liturgical sacrament is based on this mystical-metaphysical essential-identity and unity. In him “the heavenly forces invisibly serve us;” they accompany the liturgicizing priest: “create with our entrance the entrance of holy angels, serving us and serving Your joy” (prayer on entrance in the liturgy). And the “spirits of the righteous having died,” and the righteous, “having achieved love” on earth, and martyrs, sufferering well with honor and crowned,” and confessors, and all “holy persons” having died, we, sinners and unworthy — all compose a single body, belong to a single Church and merge into one in the prayer of grace by the one Throne of the Lord of Glory. “What is the Church if not the cathedral of all the saints?” asked a bishop of the fourth century. “From the beginning of the ages the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and the prophets and apostles and martyrs and other righteous people who were, are and will be, composed a single body. And I will say more. The angels and rulers and heavenly authorities join together in that same single church.”

The experience of this universal and temporal unity has been revealed and fortified in every liturgical Church custom. And it can be said that in the Church time is mysteriously overcome. And it is as if that apocalyptic moment is anticipated, when “there will be no time.” The touch of grace seems to have stopped time, the alternation and change of minutes, removes showing favor from the order of sequence and in a certain mysterious “simultaneity” overcomes the separateness of different times. This is a certain mysterious image of eternity, under which only we can understand and imagine eternity, eternal life. And in this approximate image we can comprehend how people of different generations really become living contemporaries in grace. The Church is a living image of eternity, and in Church experience this beneficial “simultaneity of different times” is truly given and is realized in its fullness. Eternal life is being revealed in contact with the Eternal King, Christ. The Church is the eternal kingdom, for it has an Eternal King. In the Church, dwelling now in historical wandering, time is already weak. The Church, as the Body of Christ, is the mysterious predecessor of the universal Resurrection. For Christ, the God-Man, is the “life, resurrection and peace” of his deceased slaves. Earthly death, the separation of the soul from the body, does not destroy the tie of the faithful with the Church, does not bring it beyond its borders and composition, does not distinguish it from its fellow members in Christ. In memorial prayers and in the funeral ceremony we pray “Christ, immortal King and our God” “commit” the souls of the dead “in holy dwellings,” in the bosom of Abraham, “and here the righteous will find peace.” “And therefore with special feeling in these parting and farewell prayers we call upon the Holy Theotokos, angelic powers, holy martyrs and all saints as our heavenly fellow citizens according to the Church.” In the funeral ceremony the universal and all-temporal self-consciousness of the Church is revealed with exceptional strength. The prayer for the dead is a very necessary moment of faith in the Church, as the Body of Christ. Achieving the true contact with Christ himself in the salvatory sacraments, the faithful cannot be separated from him even in death: “Blessed are the righteous dying for the Lord — their soul is established in blessing.” The Church harkens with reverence to those signs and testimonies of grace which attest and almost engrave the earthly achievement of the dead. Reverence and prayerful summoning of the saints, and above all — the Theotokos, “Beneficial,” “Heavenly Queen,”— is closely connected with the full Christological creed, and by this with the fullness of Church self-consciousness. Holy saints, said St. John of Damascus, “resembled God.” “God is revered;” they “became treasure houses and pure dwellings of God;” they “are in themselves the Venerated by essence.” “I call them Gods, kings and lords not by essence but because they reigned and ruled over passions and preserved unharmed the likeness to the image of God, by which they were created, and also because they by their own free disposition united with God, accepted him in the dwelling of their heart and, joining him, became by grace that which he himself is in essence. That is why the death of saints are celebrated and churches erected to them and ikons painted.” “For the saints even in life were filled with the Holy Spirit; when they died, the grace of the Holy Spirit always was co-present with the souls and with their bodies in the tombs, and with their holy ikons — not in essence, but by grace and activity. The saints are alive and with daring stand before God; the saints are not dead — the death of saints is more like a dream than death,” for they dwell in the “hand of God,” i.e. in life and in light. And “after the One Who is life itself and the Source of Life was lamented for dead, we already do not call dead those who have passed on in the hope of resurrection and with belief in it.” To the saints are given “permission to intercede for the world,” according to the testimony of the fathers of the Seventh Ecumenical Council. And not only for the sake of gaining aid and intercession does the Holy Church teach every believer to summon by prayer the illustrious saints, but also because in this summoning, through prayerful contact, the Church self-consciousness, its catholic self-consciousness deepens. In prayerful address to the saints there is expressed the measure of Christian love, Christian living sympathy of unanimity, the strength of Church unity. On the other hand, doubt or insensitivity of the representative of grace and the petitioning of saints witnessed before God testifies not only to the impoverishment of love and the weakening of fraternal, collective ties and strength, but also to the impoverishment of the fullness of faith in the eternal significance and strength of the Incarnation and Resurrection. Besides our address and summoning, the saints intercede for the world; one might say that the entire existence of the saints beyond the grave is one incessant prayer, one constant intercession, for, according to the apostolic expression, love is the “totality of perfection.” One of the most mysterious insights of the Orthodox church is the insight of the “Intercession of the Holy Theotokos,” her constant prayerful intercession in the midst of the saints to God for the world. “The Virgin Today stands in Church and invisibly prays for them to God; angels from the hierarchy bow, apostles with the prophets rejoice: for our sake does the Theotokos, Herald of God, pray.” Teaching us the prayerful summons of the saints, the Church summons us to listen and feel this voice of love. The great Eastern ascetic, St. Isaac the Syrian, with incomparable daring testified about that all-embracing prayer which crowns the Christian feat. This deed receives fullness and completion according to his words — in purity, and purity is “a heart showing mercy to any created nature.” “And what is aforgiving heart? — and he said: “The burning of the heart for all creation, people, birds, animals, demons and all of creation. And from recalling them and contemplation of them his eyes shed tears. From the great and powerful sympathy enveloping the heart and from great self-control his heart is moved, and he cannot bear hearing or seeing harm or the least sorrow occurring in creation. And as [a] result, he says a prayer about this and about the mute and about enemies of Truth, and about those harming him —always with tears in his eyes, so that they be preserved and so that they be shown mercy; he prays equally about the nature belonging to those groveling — from his great pity, aroused in his heart immeasurably in likeness with God” (Sermon 48, in Russian translation). And if on earth the ascetic’s prayer is so ardent, then it burns even more there “in the embrace of the Father,” in the bosom of Divine Love. Multiple and varied was this prayerful intercession of the saints, but only the fullness of Church self-consciousness allows one to perceive and undestand it. The Church does not essentially know solitary and isolated prayer, for it is not typical for the Christian to feel himself solitary and isolated. He is saved only in the collectivity of the Church. Of course, every prayer is a personal deed and is raised from the depths of one’s personal heart; but the real strength of prayer is taken on namely in unanimous love. Every personal prayerful deed is defined and must be defined by collective self-consciousness, unanimity of love, embracing even those whose name is known only to God. And the crown of the prayer is that flaring up of love which was expressed in the prayer of Moses: “Forgive them their sins. And, if not, then remove me also from Your book in which You have written me down.” The culmination of prayer is the Eucharistic prayer. And here the entire Church is joined together, here the sacrifice is brought and a prayer is raised “about everyone and for everything,” here there “is mentioned” the entire Church, visible and invisible — incorporeal forces and the Holy Theotokos, and all the saints. The ancient Church custom and rule preserved until now, arms the churches in sacred power. This very entrance of the Lord of Glory is frequently depicted in ikon style on the walls of the Holy Altar — not in terms of symbolism, but namely in pointing to the invisible, in what actually has been accomplished. In general the entire ikonic mural of the Church speaks about the mysterious unity of the Church, about the co-presence of the saints. “We depict Christ, the King and Lord, without leaving out his army,” says St. John of Damascus. “The army of the Lord are the saints.”

The Church is the unity of the life in grace, and in this is the basis of the unity and immutability of Church faith. “Having accepted this teaching and this faith,” writes St. Irenaeus of Lyons about the apostolic preaching, “the Church, although dispersed throughout the entire world, carefully preserves them, as if dwelling in one house; however, it believes this, as if having one soul and one heart; accordingly it preaches this, teaches and conveys it, as if it had one mouth. For although the languages are different in the world, the strength of tradition is one and the same. . . And one must not seek truth from others but must learn it from the Church, into which, as a rich man into a treasure house, the apostles with abundance put everything that relates to the Truth, so that everyone desiring to, can take from it the nourishment of life. It is this which is the door of life. And one must love that which proceeds from the Church, and accept from it the tradition of truth.” It is a question here not only of external, historical, and formal succession and transmission, a question not only of the legacy and community of faith and teaching, but above all — of the fullness, unity, and continuity of the life of grace, of the unity of spirit-bearing experience. St. Irenaeus compares faith with the breath of life, which was entrusted to the Church “so that all members, having accepted it, will be revived, and in which there is included contact with Christ.” Therefore, “where the Church is, that is where the Divine Spirit is also, and where the Divine Spirit is, there is the Church and all grace.” Sacred tradition is based in and receives meaning from this unity of a life in grace, and it is comprehensible only as it is tightly and inseparably linked with the succession of the priesthood, as with the charisma and “service of the sacraments.” In this sense the priesthood is a necessary support of theology. The “annointing of truth,” charisma veritatis is connected with the priesthood. According to the fathers of the Seventh Ecumenical Council, “the essence of our hierarchy is composed of God-transmitted words, i.e. the true knowledge of Divine Scriptures.” With categorical specificity the Orthodox Church confesses that “without the bishop, the Church is not a Church, nor is a Christian a Christian; they cannot be called one. The bishop, as the apostolic successor, by the laying on of hands and by the calling of the Holy Spirit, received the power given by God by succession to loose and bind. The bishop is the living image of God on earth, and by the holy-operative power of the Holy Spirit is an abundant source of all sacraments of the universal Church, by which salvation is acquired. The bishop is as necessary for the Church as breathing is for man, and the sun for the world.” [3] (Epistle to the Eastern Patriarchs).

As the unity of the life of grace, the Church is mystically more primary than the Gospels, than the Holy Scriptures in general; just as historically the Church is more primary than the written Gospels, more primary than the New Testament canon which was only established by and within the Church. It is not the Church which is confirmed in the Gospel, but the Gospel is shown favor and is witnessed in the Church, and by this testimony is confirmed in its divine and spiritual genuineness. The entire New Testament is the voice of the Church, written for Christians, addressed to the enlightened. Outside of the Church there are simply no Holy Scriptures as the Word of God. For “no one can speak of the Lord Jesus, except through the Holy Spirit.” The Holy Scriptures are the basis and main part of the Church tradition, therefore, this is precisely what is inseparable from Church life. “We believe, according to what has been expressed in the Epistle of the Eastern Patriarchs, that the divine and Sacred Scriptures are inspired by God; that is why we must believe it implicitly, and, moreover, not somehow in itself but precisely as explained and handed down by the catholic Church. To the extent that the source of both is one and the same Holy Spirit, whether it be taught from the Scriptures or from the Universal Church is all the same.” [4] Faithfulness to tradition is not faithfulness to antiquity or external authority, but an immutable and living tie with the fullness of Church life. Tradition is not something external, accessible from the side; it is not only historical testimony. The Church is the living carrier of tradition, only from inside and within the Church, for a person living in the Church tradition is completely realized and self-verified. Tradition is the image and manifestation of the Holy Spirit dwelling in the Church, its continual herald and revelation. Tradition is the life itself of the Church and therefore, the religious fullness of Church life, and the indestructible faithfulness to patristic traditions are inseparably connected. Reference to tradition is reference to eternal and universal Church consciousness and suggests communion with this consciousness. Tradition is the image of the universal and all-temporal nature of the Church; for living members of the Church body it is not an historical authority, but an eternal and immutable, all-present beneficial voice of God. Faith is founded not by example or testament from the past, but by the grace of the Holy Spirit testifying always, even now, eternally, forever and ever. Accepting the Church teachings, we “follow” tradition namely as “God-spoken teaching.” As Khomiakov so successfully put it, “not a person and not a multitude of persons in the Church preserve the tradition and write, but the Spirit of God, living in the totality of the Church.” “Agreement with the past” is already secondary, arbitrary, though a very necessary result of the unity of spirit-bearing experience in the entire course of Church history. For always and immutably “one and the same Christ” is revealed in the communion of the sacraments, and one and the same Divine grace illuminates the believing soul. Both understanding and acceptance of the tradition is closely connected with the faith and the physicality of the immutable beneficial presence of the Lord in the Church. “Whoever speaks,” taught the remarkable Orthodox ascetic and contemplator, St. Simeon the New Theologian:

that now there are no people who would love God and would be considered worthy to accept the Holy Spirit and be baptized from him, i.e. be reborn by the grace of the Holy Spirit and become Sons of God, with consciousness, experience, participation and insight — that one debases the entire Incarnate oikonomia of the Lord and God and our Savior Jesus Christ, and clearly denies the renewal of the Image of God. I think that such a vain person says: vainly the Holy Gospel has now been proclaimed, vainly are the works of our Holy Fathers read or even written. Is it not evident that those speaking thus lock up the heavens, which Christ the L.ord opened for us by his descent to earth, and they bar the ascent to heaven, which renewed for us that same Christ the Lord.

Denial of the significance of tradition is in essence a denial of the Church as the Body of Christ, is insensitivity, denigration and nonacceptance of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit. Behind the denial of holy tradition seems to stand the thought that the faithful have been abandoned by Christ and must again seek him; and by this the adoption of the redemptive act of Christ yields to the will of subjective chance and whim. On the contrary, the acceptance of Church tradition is nothing other than faith in the continual presence of the Lord in the world, the perception and confirmation of the continuance of a sanctifying life in grace. Always and immutably, according to the belief of the Orthodox Church — “the Church teaches the Holy Spirit through the holy fathers and teaches of the Catholic Church. The Church learns from the giving Spirit, but in no other way than through the mediation of the holy fathers and teachers. The Catholic Church cannot sin or err and express falsehood instead of truth: for the Holy Spirit, always acting through the faithfully serving fathers and teachers of the Church, preserves it from any error.” [5] (Epistle to the Eastern Patriarchs). The more deeply that the faithful grows into the fullness of the Church, the broader and more loving his Church experience becomes, and the more distinct and tangible the spiritual tradition becomes for him.

Dogmatic truth is contained in the Church and, therefore, living in the Church it is given, and not set. No matter how immeasurably far present knowledge is “partial” from the promised knowledge “face to face,” now, as always, full and complete truth is revealed in Church experience, Truth one and immutable — for Christ himself has been revealed. The full truth — and there is only one unalloyed truth — was revealed in the resolutions on dogma at the Ecumenical Councils; and nothing falls away from the dogmas of the Orthodox faith, nothing changes, and there are no new definitions changing the meaning of old; nothing is added. There cannot be any dogmatic development, for dogmas are not theoretical axioms from which gradually and subsequently there unfold some kind of “theorems of the faith.” Dogmas are “God given” testimony of the human spirit about what has been seen and experienced, about the sending down and revelation in the catholic experience of faith, about the mysteries of eternal life revealed by the Holy Spirit. They all in strict clarity are revealed in the catholic experience of faith, in the real touching of “things invisible”; therefore in the Church it is impossible to doubt and “allow” other dogmas — in other dogmas another life would have been revealed and concealed, another experience, touching something else. Reflected and imprinted in dogmatic definitions of the faith is “life in Christ,” the dwelling of the Lord in the faithful. According to the words of the Savior, eternal life consists in the perfect knowledge of God — and although not to all, but only to the pure heart is the Lord visible, but is visible always — without difference in time and period — identical, although varied. In the Church no “new discoveries” are possible, and any expectation of “new prophecies” and new “testaments” once and for all have been repudiated and condemned by the Church. There cannot be any new revelations in Christianity except the Second Coming, when history will end and “there will be no time,” when the Last Judgment will be accomplished and the Kingdom of Glory will be revealed. Through the Incarnation and Resurrection of the Son of God everything “has been accomplished.” After the Ascension of the Lord, the Holy Spirit dwells in the world and is continually revealed in the saints of God. This glorification, enriching the world by grace, does not change the nature of the historical life which remains completely uniform over the entire duration, from Pentecost to the “Great Day of Judgment.” There was no dogmatic development even in the past. Dogmatic controversies in the ancient church were not carried on concerning the content of faith. In face of the teachings outside of the Church, the philosophical pastors and teachers of the Church, led by the Holy Spirit, searched and minted the “God-appropriate” expressions for integral and identical experience still not consolidated in verbal garments; “dogma was composed by the word of reason, for fishermen earlier expounded simple words, in reason by strength of the Spirit.” In this direct fullness and self-verified experienced knowledge of God is included in the basis and support of that daring definitiveness with which the Apostle Paul anathematized those who would not teach what he had proclaimed. For the Gospel of the kingdom preserved by the Church is not a human proclamation, and taken not from human beings —“but through the revelation of Jesus Christ,” and in it is contained “perfect understanding, knowledge of the Mystery of God and of the Father and Christ.” Faith is experience, and therefore with daring we confirm — “this is true faith.” Dogmatic apodictism is essentially characteristic of faith, “for the Son of God, Jesus Christ, was not “yes” and “no,” but in him was “yes,” as the Apostle Paul has said. Of course, with great care and fear of God one must take into account the weakness of our understanding, the incommensurability of our utterances in face of the inscrutable Mystery. With the greatest of care one must read the gnostic temptations of “proven faith” and distinguish the historical from the immutable, distinguish God-inspired dogma fortified by charismatic testimony and by the approval of the Ecumenical Councils from theological opinions, even those of the holy fathers. And here we encounter another understanding of dogmatic development, exactly reverse to what has been pointed out. Under the possibility of dogmatic development sometimes is understood the possibility of further consolidation of the once and for all experience given by grace in a generally significant definition and formula, the possibility of new obligatory and infallible formulas on still unresolved questions of dogma — in other words, the possiblity of a logical crystallization of Church experience, but still within the limits of anticipation of an apparently full and adequate expression of the mystery of piety in an unchanging theological system. Of course, one need not deny or even only call into question the possiblity of a new Ecumenical Council which, inspired by the Holy Spirit, would define and express with new God-given expressions of the immutable faith and, like the seven Ecumenical Councils of the past, by their testimony, would delimit the Orthodox faith from false and deceptive conjectures and opinions. And, in addition, there is a certain refined temptation already in this very need for further definitions and restrictions by which the living Church experience is schematized and subject to the danger of turning into logical theologizing about the faith. According to the correct remarks of one Orthodox theologian, a heretic is one who not only really and directly opposes the dogmatic teaching but also who appropriates to himself obligatory and dogmatic meaning without having knowledge of it. For the erring Christian consciousness, what is characteristic is precisely this striving for a logical exhaustion of faith, as if striving for a substitution of the living communication with God by religious and philosophical speculations about the Divine, of life — by teaching. Error and heresy are always born from a certain waning of Church fullness; an extinguishing Church self-consciousness is the result of egotistical self-assurance and isolation. And in the final account any separation from the Church, any schism is — in rudimentary form — already a heresy, a heresy against the dogma about the Church; history testifies that in the associations breaking away, sooner or later, but quite inevitably, dogma undergoes profound distortion and perversion, and in the final account may completely fall apart. For as St. Cyprian of Carthage said so vehemently: “Anyone separating from the Church associates himself with an illegal wife.”

The knowledge of the Church is not exausted by dogmatic definitions of the faith — Church experience is broader and fuller than definitions. Divine Revelation, witnessed and expressed by the Holy Scriptures, certainly has not been fully revealed and clarified. It lives in the Church, only guarded and protected by symbols, creeds and definitions of the faith. The personal experience of the sons of the Church, which namely makes possible the blessed existence of “theological opnions,” is not concealed by dogmatic creed. Within the limits of Church experience there are many mysterious truths. Freedom remains for the believing consciousness of these truths — freedom limited and guided only by a categorical renunciation of paths and opinions deliberately falsely defined. Freedom also remains in the revelation and understanding of those truths which are testified to by infallible experience and the voice of the Church. Of course, there is no place here for subjective, speculative, arbitrariness. Theologizing in its roots must be intuitive, defined as the experience of faith, vision, and not as a self-satisfying dialectic movement of inert abstract concepts. For in general, dogmas of faith are the truths of experience, the truths of life, and they can and must be revealed not through logical synthesis or analysis, but only through spiritual life, through the presence of testified dogmatic definitions of experience. At the basis of Orthodox “theological opinions” and judgments there must lie not a [logical] conclusion but direct vision, contemplation. It is accessible only through the feat of prayer, through the spiritual development of the believing personality, through living communion with the eternal experience of the Church. “What is contained in these words,” said St. Simeon the New Theologian, “must not be called thoughts, but contemplation of the true essence: for we are speaking about what is gained through contemplation. That is why what has been said must be called narration about what has been contemplated, and not what has been thought. For it has been ascertained that our words are not about essence and phenomena but are about what has already taken place.” Theologizing is defined and guided by tradition, witnessed and expressed by the wise fathers and teachers of the Church, whom in recognizing as “saintly figures,” the Church declares reliable witnesses about the firm pledge of faith entrusted to the Church. However, the patristic “theologumena” are also not equivalent to Church dogma in the strict sense, and do not have statutory force equal to it. Their meaning and significance is in the experience of grace, which they reveal and which surpasses them. In its clarification the holy fathers frequently take different positions among themselves, which in no way shakes and destroys the unity and identity of their faith, consciousness, and experience. In this variety there is no contradiction to the apodictic existence of faith. In the words of St. Irenaeus of Lyons, “since faith is one and the same, then the one who can say a lot about it does not add anything, and the one who says little — does not diminish it. More or less knowledge of some understanding consists not in a change of the content itself, but in carefully tracing the thought of what has been said in parables and in agreeing with the content of the faith.” “Theological opinion” is advanced judgment about the unspoken fullness of life being revealed in the experience of prayerful communion in the Church. Even their contradictory nature, their antinomic conflict beween themselves, testifies only to the inexpressibility, to the logical incommensurability of the mystery of faith, comprehended in the experience of faith — and, along with this a certain prematureness of their legal and dogmatic revelation and expression. It is not accidental that the catholic consciousness of the Church abstained from consolidation and conciliation of the theologumena, being limited only by the cutting off of the tempting paths of blessing. It is not accidental, for example, that the knowledge of the Church about the final fate of the world and man was not invested in dogmatic armor, although the historic conditions of the ancient Church also apparently gave sufficient cause for this — but only direct false doctrine and error were denounced, renounced, and repudiated. Much that is seen clearly and contained in Church consciousness is not confirmed directly. It is necessary to view this as testimony about the fact that according to the apostolic word, now we will always know only partially, and that there is much concealed until the “bright and clear day” of the Lord Jesus, the future glory. According to the explanation of St. Maximos the Confessor, in this world, man also, having achieved the greatest “perfection according to activity and contemplation,” has only a certain part of the knowledge of the prophecy and testament of the Holy Spirit, and not the fullness of the rest,” and only “some time, at the end of time, he will enter into that state of perfection, which he has merited, will begin to contemplate the distinctive Truth, face to face” and receive in measure accessible to him “all the fullness of grace.” In the Church fullness of knowledge and understanding is given, but it will be absorbed and revealed in part, and therefore, it is necessary to oppose not different epochs of Church history but the entire earthly wandering of the Church as a whole and that inexpressible state of glory according to the Second Coming, in which “there has not apppeared what will be.” The partial and inexpressible nature of present knowledge does not destroy its originality, and St. Basil the Great clarified it with an analogy: “if the eyes are turned to knowledge of the visible, then it does not follow from this that everything visible is subject to view; the heavenly vault cannot be viewed for one moment. . . the same thing can be said about God.” The Church treasury of total truth is revealed to each in the measure of his spiritual growth. And, in general, perhaps it is permissible to connect the concealed nature of the fullness of Church Creed with the dynamic essence of the Church, as the Redemption being accomplished, as a living process of salvation, sanctification, and transformation of the world. It is not accidental that what was not consolidated in definitions of the faith was namely those truths which relate either to the actual formation of a “new creation” or to its final fate, i.e. to the fact that it has still not culminated and has not been completed in time, that it still “is seen as being affected” and that, therefore, it is the formation of a creation not yet fully known. And in the already revealed dogma of the faith there remains hidden that which is directed in them toward a future age. The Holy Church did not express categorical judgment about the image of the action and dwelling of the Holy Spirit in the world nor about the fate after death of the righteous and sinners, nor about much else which still remains to be accomplished. It testified only about the fact that either eternal being is not at all connected with oikonomia in time (the dogma of the Trinitarian Unity of God), or has already been clearly and basically revealed (the dogma about the Image of the Savior). And in Christological dogma what was consolidated was mainly what is connected with what has occurred in time past (the Incarnation, the reality of suffering, the Crucifixion and Resurrection, the Ascension) or what from the future has been revealed by the Savior himself (the Second Coming, the general resurrection, etc.). The Church testifies about many things not so much dogmatically as liturgically — including the circle of great annual holidays — the days of Ascension and Transfiguration, the Dormition of the Theotokos, and the Exaltation of the Living Cross. It testifies about much that has not been designated completely and dogmatically, and which is connected with the realization of the world which is in the process of being realized, but has not yet been realized. The mystery of the Ascension of the Lord can be completely revealed only in the Second Coming — “by his image you will see him in the heavens.” For only then and through the general resurrection will appear the fullness of the restoration of created corruption into noncorruption. And related to this is the secret of the Transfiguration of the Lord, easily revealed in the catholic testimony about the light of Tabor. And there is dogmatically revealed about the Theotokos only that which has been fortified by the name of the “Mother of God” and “Virgin” and the liturgical celebration of her Dormition reveals more. Many things are irrefutably given only in anticipation. And Christological knowledge of fullness and finality is achieved only when the deed of Christ will be fulfilled, “when he will hand over the Kingdom to God and the Father.” The mystery of Godmanhood is being fulfilled, acts in the world, and, therefore, is still unknown to developing humanity. This mysterious dogmatic inexpressibility uniquely testifies about the mystical reality of time — of that historical time in which the sanctifying grace of God operates, in which mysteriously the Church of Christ lives and develops unchanged, but growing, to the extent that “everyone will come to unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of God, to perfect man, in measure of the complete growth of Christ,” when, according to the apostle, “everyone from small to great will know the Lord,” and “every knee of the heavenly, earthly and the underworld will bend before the name of Jesus,” and “the kingdom of the world will become the Kingdom of Our Lord and his Christ.” On the contrary, in the need to fetter all the fullness of Church experience and hope into an infallible system of final dogmatic definitions, there is expressed a certain historical docetism, a derogation of the reality of time, a derogation of the mystery of the Church, derogation of the future Coming in glory — one might say, a bad remnant of time, in which the real “deification” of creation and development in grace is replaced by the logical unfolding of timeless and abstract logical concepts. Not everything visible and proclaimed in the Church is professed dogmatically, although everything is given in the growing experience of the Church which is being realized, immutably and inseparably dwelling with its Head, Christ. Our hope leads us beyond the limits of history, as the oppressive change and sequence of natural births and deaths — to Resurrection. The Scripture has not yet been realized and fulfilled, and not what has been but what is hoped for, according to promise, will be revealed in the “last days.”

In historical wandering and in the Church there will be realized the bitter word of the Gospel — “He came to his own, and his own knew him not.” And the world hated the Church as it did Christ — for it is not of the world, just as the Lord is not of the world. In this was revealed the terrible mystery of apostasy and opposition, frightening and unknowlable even for the believing spirit. And the heart is troubled with the thought that in Church history the chasuble of the Lord has again been torn apart. The divine precept “unity of spirit in the union of the world” remains scorned and unfulfilled. This seduction will only be overcome and this temptation in the fullness and strength of the teaching of the Chalcedonian Creed, also in the Church, as the Body of Christ, to distinguish the inseparable essences — Divine and human, so that the weakness and opposition of creation will not weaken grace. But the weary and declining consciousness of cowardly and wavering Christians seeks another and easier way out of their confusion — this will not take on the tragic mystery of freedom, expressed equally in obedience. The thirst for agreement and reconciliation burns, an inclination to underestimate the discord and division has been expressed, so that by means of connivance and concession “union” will be achieved on a certain “minimum” level. Relativity is introduced into the realm of faith, and even “adogmatism.” The “creeds’ seem to have been equalized, interpreted as historically equal and even to be providentially agreed forms of the human knowledge of Divine truth. A flexible tolerance toward difference in thought is preached — in the hope that at some time in a limited synthesis there will be elicited a healthy kernal of all opinions, but the human husk will be rejected in each one. Behind such a representation is hidden a unique church-historic docetism, an insensitivity toward reality and the fullness of Divine revelation in the world, an insensitivity to the mystery of the Church, a misunderstanding of its profoundly natural nature. Indeed, not only mystically, but also historically, division in faith always appeared through schism and falling away, through separation from the Church. The single path of their redefinition is the path of reunification or return, and not union. One might say that the discordant “creeds” in general are not unified, for each is a self-enclosed whole. In the Church a mosaic of different parts is impossible. There stand opposite each other not “creeds” with equal rights, but the Church and the schism, united in spirit of opposition. It can be whole only through elimination, through a return to the Church. There is no and can be no “partial” Christianity — “can it be Christ was divided?” There is only One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic Church — a single Father’s House; and the believers, as St. Cyprian of Carthage said, “do not have any other home than the one Church.”

The entire creation is headed and united in Christ, and through his Incarnation and humanity the Son of God, according to the remarkable expression of St. Irenaeus “again began the long series of human existences.” The Church is the spiritual posterity of the Second Adam, and in its history is fulfilled his redemptive act, his love blossoms and burns. And through the course of the ages of the Church, the ideal aim of creation shone through in prophecy. The Church is the “fulfillment” of Christ; and in the words of St. John Chrysostom, “only then will the head be fulfilled when a perfect body will be established.” There is a certain mysterious movement from the terrible day of Pentecost, when all of creation seemed to take on the fiery baptism by the Spirit, and in it was confirmed the inviolable treasure house of grace — to that final limit, when there will appear the holy city of the New Jerusalem, descending from heaven, where there will no longer be a temple, for the Lord God the Pantokrator will be the temple and the Lamb. The maximum fulfillment will be reached by the Church in the Resurrection of the dead and in the life of the future age. The Revelation of the Apostle John mysteriously testified about this — “the tabernacle of God with man, and he will dwell with them; they will be his people, and God himself with them will be their God.” In the experience of the Church the glorification of creation has been foretold and anticipated. And that is why, among the languor and vanity of the world, our heart is not disturbed and not frightened. For we have a promise: “I am with you in everything until the end of time.”

Webmaster Notes

  1. It is unclear what is meant by the Epistle to the Eastern Patriarchs. Quotes from this source are taken from the decrees of the Synod of Jerusalem (1672), which were also cited in the correspondence between the Orthodox Patriarchs and the non-juring Anglican bishops in 1718 and 1723. The history of this exchange, as well as all the related documents, can be found in The Orthodox Church of the East in the Eighteenth Century, by George Williams (London: 1868). For the Synod of Jerusalem see The Acts and Decrees of the Synod of Jerusalem, ed. by J. J. Overbeck (London: 1899).
  2. Synod of Jerusalem, Decree XVII.
  3. Ibid., Decree X.
  4. This is an unsourced citation that mentions the Epistle to the Eastern Patriarchs, not a direct quote from it. There are unfortunately numerous unsourced quotes in his essay.
  5. Ibid., Decree XII.

Translated from the Russian by Dr. Roberta Reeder. From Ecumenism I: A Doctrinal Approach, Vol. XIII of The Collected Works of Georges Florovsky, pp. 58-80. Posted on Dec. 20, 2013.