I believe in One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church — we profess in the Creed.
But how can the Church be one, when there are so many church societies and organizations, reciprocally excluding one another, which have pretensions for this name? We know the Orthodox, Catholic, Lutheran, Anglican, Armenian and other churches.
We believe in one Church, because only one of all churches has the well-founded right to be called so, all the rest are called as churches only according to the common custom, similar to the one, following which in the letters they call the person, to whom they write "a merciful sir," and themselves as "resigned servants," though both the expressions do not coincide with the real state of things.
Only one church can be real, because with the notion of the Church is inseparably connected the title of the carrier of the perfect truth, which can be only one. If concerning important and precise things they express various points of view, only one of them can be correct, and the rest will be wrong.
But can the Orthodox Church be one, if we see separate churches in It: the Russian, Greek, Serbian, Bulgarian, Romanian, etc.? These local churches comprise to one Orthodox Church. They are not even the parts of the Church, because the Church is indivisible, but only local, limited by the national or state character, separate manifestations of one and the same Church. The originality of each local Church can be great, but the unity will stay untouched, if the Evangelical truth is not violated.
The air in the whole world is the same and everywhere equally life-giving, if its chemical composition remains unchanged. But the action of the air, the fields, that it envelops, the degree of its dampness are various, and this variety comes from the peculiarities of the region, which the air fills. The same way the Church, one for all places, manifests itself in different ways in Russian, Greeks and other Orthodox nations. But all these nations belong to one Church, till they profess one, unique true faith.
In what is the sense of division of the Church into visible and invisible, into the heavenly and terrestrial Churches?
This division exists only in the respect of the man. In the essence, the invisible Church, the leader of Which is Christ, to Which belong angels and all the saved people, and the visible Church, consisting of the living on the earth Orthodox people, are the Body of Christ. For example: if an ant looks at the man from the ground and sees only a toe, and the rest of the man: the head, arms, legs and body are lost in the height of the ant’s glance, then for this ant the man, observed by him, is divided into the visible, — the closest toe, and invisible, — all the rest, — parts. But in the essence, there is no such a division within the man. The same way the Church, in reality inseparable, is divided for us into the accessible to our sight, and That, which is not accessible to it. But in the full measure, such a division exists for us, until we, as an ant, looking at the man, look at the Church from without, from aside, as strangers. But when we become its Body parts, this division disappears and we clearly, though inexpressibly, feel the completeness and indivisibility of Its life.
The outside unity of the Church is manifested in the unity of Its mysteries in the fact, that the man, baptized with a Russian, Greek or Syrian priest, joins one and the same Church, confessing he receives the remission of sins from one and the same Church, partaking Communion he receives the same grace. The inner unity is the unity of the spirit. Many were saved (even some martyrs) without undergoing any Sacraments of the Church (even baptism), but no one will be saved, without partaking church holiness.
How the Church can be holy, if the comprising It people are sinful, moreover, not only the simple members of It, but the pastors and archpriests?
The Church is holy not due to the holiness of people, but to the sanctity of Its Leader, not metaphorical or figurative, but real Christ, together with Whom it comprises one organism. Holiness, i.e. purity, freedom from sins, is necessary for the people, for only thanks to it they can enter the Church, in Which there should be nothing unclean, for It is one body with Christ. Committing any grave sin the man falls off the Church, with repentance he gets restored in It again.
Without holiness there can be no involvement in the Church. Apostle Peter says not about exceptions, but of all the Christians: "But ye are…a holy nation" (Pet. 2:9). The Lord calls all of us: "Be ye therefore perfect (i.e. holy), even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect" (Math. 5:48), and Apostle Paul explains: "But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end (as a consequence) everlasting life," i.e. life in the Church (Rom. 6:22).
If we sin, we can rise through confession, having sinned again, we need to confess again, even seven times seven a day, without getting tired, weak in repenting, for it is the door to the Church. "Reconcile and unite him (or her) to Your Holy Church" — says a priest in the prayer for the sacrament of Confession, absolving the separated by sins, but returning through confession into the Church sinner.
Therefore, it is so important to be an Orthodox, i.e. to defend the point of view of the Church — suppose to be evil that It thinks to be evil, and accept as the good anything that it calls so. If the man does not step away from this church ground, then, even being deeply plunged into sins, he always will find the way for repentance and restoration of his unity with the Church. And, on the contrary, woe is to the man, who does not agree with the Church in the interpretation of the evil and the good. Sinning not because of weakness or negligence, but of assuredness that this or that sin is good, such a person will not find his way to repentance, will not restore his unity with the Church, until he rejects his self-will and self-wisdom and will not subdue them to the church way of thinking.
So, our Church is holy, though Its members are all the sinful people on earth. But they join It only with the holy sides of their souls and the more they take root in Its blessed life, the more holy they become, and the holiness of the most holy people does not proceed from them but from the Church. There is no other holiness, than that of the Church. Any possible good, all sanctity that is in the universe, wherever it is, inseparably belongs to the Church, Which is one with Christ.
What does it mean, council-like, catholic (the Greek word) Church? Does not it mean ecumenical? The word catholic has several meanings. It comprises the notion of universality, what especially like to underline the Latin, translating the word "catholic" with the word "ecumenical." But the universal character concerning the Church does not mean that it is mostly spread in the world, and does not at all mean the number of Its followers, then we would have denied the catholicity of the Church of the first times of the Christianity, when it was spread only in Palestine, and all its members could go into one room, and when the Church existed only in the Roman empire. On the contrary, we should have accepted as catholic Aryanism of the 4th century and Nestorian heresy of 7th-10th centuries, when these heresies were wide-spread throughout the world, and the Orthodox Church was outnumbered. Finally, we would have to agree with the catholicity of Buddhism, the most populous of religions.
No, the notion of ecumenism, when used in the relation to the Church, means another thing. It means that it is not connected with any state or nation, but all the people of the world have the equal possibility and right to be its children, that it can be equally spread over al nations and countries, and nobody — neither Greeks nor Russians — have a right to claim possessing it.
But the main meaning of the word "catholic" is not in the sense "ecumenical," but in that, what is interpreted by the Slavonic and Russian word "council-like."
Saint, Equal-to-the-Apostles brothers Cyril and Methodius could leave the word "catholic" with no translation, as the West did, or translate it by the word "ecumenical." This word existed in their times as well: for example, in the expression "the Ecumenical Council." But they preferred the word "council-like," which expresses the idea not only of visible spreading, but the idea of unity in the multitude.
Does it mean that the Orthodox Church is the Church of seven Ecumenical Councils, and that the Ecumenical Council is the highest authority? Yes, but it is not the main thing. The Catholic Church had council character even before the first Ecumenical Council and before the Jerusalem Council of the holy apostles, from its very foundation, for equally with its unity and holiness, catholicity is the basic feature of the Church.
The Lord could save every man separately. But the Divine plan is not in that. He built the Church — the council of people, similar to the Pre-Eternal Divine Council, and revealed His will and teaching not to some separate people, but to their council unity, and gave it the great and terrible power of grace.
The council character of the Orthodoxy is manifested in the fact that the Orthodox Christians, for they live in the Church, no matter how different the outward circumstances of their living are, believe, think and feel absolutely the same way.
In 1938 there was held a conference of the Orthodox and Anglicans. Among the Orthodox there were Russians, Greeks, Serbian, Romanian, Bulgarian and Syrian — the people of different nations and races, different cultures and cultural levels, which had very little in common in the mundane life. But in the question of faith, for they were attached to the grounds of the Church, they were absolutely unanimous. At the same time other participants of the conference, belonging to one nation, one cultural medium, representing the unity in all tastes and customs, were profoundly estranged in the matter of faith, though officially they belonged to one church.
Together with the fact that the unity of the Orthodox Church is ensured not by the outward authority, like the authority of the Pope in the Roman-Catholic Church, but exclusively by the inner unity of life. Such unity is catholicity.
In the first centuries of the Christianity, with the great strain of the church life, when the Christians’ life passed in the Church, and outside the Church they did not have any interests, this catholicity revealed itself with great power. In different parts of that time world: in Spain and in Mesopotamia, in Mauritania and Gallia, the Christians without any previous arrangement, lead life, which was so perfectly unanimous, that a Christian, which happened to be transferred from Damascus into Messily, felt himself the same way in the church community of the foreign country, as in his motherland. Everything, that was worked out by the outwardly multi-colored, but inwardly absolutely unanimous various Christian communities, without any official meetings or special decrees, was the manifestation of will and life of the Holy Spirit, abiding in the Church.
Further on, when there appeared an opportunity, the same spirit of catholicity, the organ of the Holy Spirit, started to be revealed in the gatherings of bishops, which got the name of the Ecumenical and Local Councils, which zealously, with complete realization of their right for that, declared: "This is what the Holy Spirit and we demand."
Catholicity is not the common subordination to any authority, is not obedience to the directions how to believe and think, is not a scrupulous investigation on the question, about how they taught about this or that in antiquity. An Orthodox Christian believes and professes it not in the way, how this or that church authority directs him to do , not in the way, how one or another ancient holy father prescribes, but how his conscience and consciousness, living in the Church, prompt him to do. But he checks his conscience and consciousness with the voice of the Church — that of the Ecumenical Councils, holy fathers and that of his contemporaries, whom he knows to be truly Orthodox. And if he finds in his consciousness divergence of his and their opinion, he does not assert it as the contrary to the church consciousness, as a Protestant, but realizing that if his consciousness came into a conflict with that of the Church, then there is some drawback in his way of thinking, and there is necessary not simple submissiveness, but changing of one’s spiritual state with repentance and subdued prayer.
Keeping to catholicity is not always that easy. It demands constant spiritual steadfastness. To that calls us Christ, saying: "The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force" (Math. 11:12).
In what sense do we call the Church apostolic, though much had been changed in it since the apostolic times? In the sense, that our Church till the present day stays inwardly perfect, similarly to the apostolic times, in spite of changing of rites and the church traditions since the time of apostles. The Church and its members know with the inner knowledge of faith the unity and constancy of their spirit, which is the Divine spirit.
The outward people, i.e. not Orthodox, see the outer changes of the outward rites with human eyes, not realizing their inner unity. The Church admits itself to be immutable, and since the apostolic times never announces the things, which It always considered to be true, a lie.
Anyway, not the apostles determine the Church, but the Church, as the Body of Christ, determines the apostles. Continuing the activity of Christ, the Church called apostles such attendants as Clement, Timothy, Titus and the others, who, probably, did not know Christ in person; then It called Equal-to-the-Apostles the multitude of the heroes of faith from different countries and historical époques.
The Church deprived those, who became unfaithful to It, as for example, Apostle Nicolas, of the title of apostles. It asserted the new forms of serving to itself, such as Presbyterian service, or deaconate, and some of those representatives it endowed with the apostolic rights. The Church authorized or non-authorized the apostolic epistles and with that established the canon of the Holy Scripture, which those, who deny the Church, feel necessity to accept.
A scientist-historian knows, that in the first centuries of our époque there were many books, which were called gospels or apostolic epistles, some of them were authentic, the others were false or distorted by heretics. Analyzing them, the Church, led by the Holy Spirit, asserted and accepted as true only four Gospels, 21 epistle and 50 books of the Old Testament. Together with that, the Church did not insist on the fact of the authorship, but admitted that these are Its books, for they express Its ideas.
The rest of the so-called gospels the Church either rejected, as those not coinciding with Its ideas, or gave them less authority, as for example, the epistles of Apostle Barnabas, Apostle Clement, prophetic revelations of Apostle Erma and others. Nevertheless, from the number of these so-called "apocryphal," i.e. doubtful books, it sometimes used those, which did not contradict Its teaching. Thus, for example, some of the church legends, connected with the feasts of the Lord and Theotokos, which are written down in our Mineas and Synacsarion, are taken out of those apocryphal writings.
All that the Church did in the full accordance with the voice of the Divine Spirit, living in It. But the activity of the Church did not end there. There was the necessity in the further explication of the teaching of Christ.
The truths, necessary for the human salvation are not many in reality. In order to be saved, one does not need to be a theologian, but the existence of atheism and appearance of the false doctrines put before the Christians new questions, which cause the development of theology, that is the answer of the Church to the posed questions.
This way, in the narrow sense of the word, there appear the writings of the fathers and teachers of the Church, which are sacred as well, for they are enlightened by the same Holy Spirit, Which spoke through prophets and apostles.
In this ocean of holiness and spiritual knowledge we all are called to reach for perfection, being the members of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.