In Georgia, over 80% of the population claim to be members of the Georgian Church. Amongst Georgian people, it is not so common to hear reference to “The Georgian Orthodox Church” because that is automatically assumed to be the case. It is more common to hear reference to “The Georgian Church”, “The Church in Georgia”, or just “The Church”.
If one comes from a Western Protestant, or secular, background, then the word “Church” has several meanings. It can be a building or house of worship. It also can be an administrative entity, a gathering of like-minded people.
Orthodox people (and by this, I mean adherents of what English speakers call the Eastern Orthodox Communion) have a different concept of what The Church is. To Orthodox Christians, it is a communion between God and humanity, which exists beyond space and time. It incorporates all the faithful Orthodox Christians living now, as well as the souls of all those who have died. For administrative ease, Orthodox Christians are organised within patriarchates, and leeway is given to to accommodate local language and custom. However, the patriarchates do not constitute separate churches; they are considered integral parts of One Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church established by Christ almost two thousand years ago.
A Patriarch is a bishop, and as the Church has expanded geographically and ethnically over the centuries, various dioceses have been granted Autocephaly (the right to run their own affairs with a high level of autonomy); Georgia was granted Autocephaly in the 5th century. Even so, the Georgian Church maintains an identical theological position with all the other patriarchates of the Eastern Orthodox communion.
The word “orthodox” comes from the Greek, meaning “correct practice”. The term arose early in the history of the Church when various heresies arose; describing mainstream Christians as “Orthodox” distinguished them from those with erroneous beliefs or practices.
This article provides a good general introduction to what The Church is, and what we believe.
1. The origin and the revealing of the Church
The characterization of the Church by the Apostle Paul as the “Body of Christ” and Christ as Her “Head” (Coloss.1, 24:18) brought the Church into a direct association with Christ. Being joined to the eternal Logos of God, the Church is likewise eternal and pre-existent before the ages, within Christ. Her beginning, therefore, and Her origin are not located in mankind, but in God. The Church “is not of this world” (John 18:36); it is a mystery “withheld from the ages, in God” (Ephes. 3:9). The Church had already existed, in God’s eternal volition. Just as God’s plan for the salvation of mankind and the world in the Person of Christ was a pre-eternal one, thus also pre-eternal was His will for the founding of His Church in the world, for the perpetual realization of that salvation. According to Athanasius the Great, the Church, “being previously created by, was thereafter born of God” (PG 26, 1004/5).
This indicates that the Church is a mystery, which is revealed in Christ and which in essence remains an inexplicable mystery, just as Christ Himself is. This is the reason that a formal definition of the Church that corresponds to Her essence cannot be formulated, since She will forever remain beyond the cognitive powers of Man. The Church, as the “Body of Christ”, cannot be defined. She can only be perceived experientially; that is, only through Man’s participation in Her particular way of life. An active member of the Church actually lives the mystery of the Church, and only an active member of the Church – in other words a Saint – can express his mystical experience from within his personal participation in the life of the Church. This is why the Church’s invitation to the world is “come, and see” (John 1:46); She invites us to partake of Her mystical experience, which is the only way that one can acquaint himself with Her. Her visible aspect is of course recognizable, and that is the congregating of the faithful.
The life of the Church evolved in phases:
a) During Her first phase, the Church – which was pre-eternally existent within the wisdom of God – had also begun to exist redemptively for both the world and mankind, as a celestial Church, even before the actual creation of the material world. The very first community that God had created and had included in His Church was the world of spirits: the angels. This is the “Church of the firstborn in the heavens”, the “celestial Jerusalem” (Hebr.12:22-23). In this celestial Church are eventually to be added the souls of the Saints throughout all the ages (Ephes. 1:4), because it is this, the celestial Church, that every faithful would eventually be orientating itself towards. According to Paul, “our polity” – our life – “exists in the heavens”; in other words, in that celestial Church. (Philipp. 3:20) Therefore, the first form of the Church – which appeared upon the initial will of God – was the celestial (spiritual) community: the Church of the angels (spirits).
Many are the tracts of the Bible which refer to the celestial Church; for example: Hebr.12:22-23, 11:10, 8:2 (mentioned as the “true tabernacle”), 9:11. The Book of Revelation calls the Church “holy city, great city, new Jerusalem, holy Jerusalem, descending from God, out of the heavens…” (3:12 and 21:2, 22. Also, Rev.22:17).
With the Incarnation of Christ, the invisible Church becomes visible and “descends” from heaven (the world of spirits) in order to also engulf mankind in Her bosom (Hebr. 2:19), because only then is mankind saved – actually and eternally: when it becomes a member of the Church.
This is the faith that perseveres in the Tradition (i.e., the self-witnessing) of the Church. According to the 2nd Epistle by Clement, the Church is “from above; She is the first-created, even before the Sun and the Moon; Being spiritual, She came to be revealed, in the flesh of Christ.” (Chapter 14, 1-3). The direction pursued by Christians, as members of the (terrestrial) Church, is “from the Church here, to the Church up there”; in other words, from the terrestrial one towards the celestial one (Gregory Nazianzene, PG 35, 796).
b) During Her second phase of existence, the Church “descended out of heaven, from God” (Rev. 21:2) and was “planted” on earth, in the world (Saint Irenaeus, PG 7, 1178). In this way the God-created, celestial angelic community expanded, with the incorporation of the terrestrial community of mankind. The world, according to the holy Fathers, was created with the prospect of Christ’s Incarnation and the revealing of the mystery of the Church. The founding of the world was, in fact, also the founding of the “potential” Church – that is, a Church with potentiality. An ancient ecclesiastic text, “Poemen” by Hermas, says that “the world was constituted” for the sake of the Church (2nd vision).
The substance of the Church is revealed in the world, in God’s communion with the first created couple in the Garden of Eden-paradise. The “first created” couple are not two separate individuals. They stand for a (human) community. The notion of “community” already existed, from the very moment that Adam (man) was created. Woman was (potentially) created along with man, because she already existed inside man (Genesis 1:27, 2:21-22). These two first humans “potentially” had all of mankind within them. This paradisiacal state of man was the first terrestrial manifestation of the mystery of the Church, as the communion between God and humans and that of humans between each other, because it is only within this divine form of communion that man can realize his salvation and become “a communicant of divine nature” as the Apostle Peter had said (Peter II, 1:4). The multiplicity of human personae (hypostases) finds its unity in the communion of persons and God – the Church.
Despite it hinging on the volition of the human persona –which prefers whatever is demonic and opposed to God instead of the divine and the true in order to establish its existence– the Fall is in essence a social occurrence. The divine image inside man is firstly shattered, and the human personality is disintegrated (“human nature rebelling against itself”, saint Maximus the Confessor will characteristically say – PG 196C). At the same time, the God-established human communion is also destroyed, as well as the immediacy of communion between humans and God. (Genesis 3:8 etc.)
And yet, even though that first, redemptive community-church fell on account of man’s Fall –and also lost its original form (“the ancient beauty”) – it nevertheless did not cease to exist. The post-Fall human community was split into two human rivers; one that followed the path of life without God, and the other one that lived on, with the “first gospel” (Genesis 3:15) – in other words, with God’s promise for an “in-Christ” salvation rooted in their conscience. In that second human river is where Abel and Noah and all those who had preserved their faith in God belong, by living with the “anticipation” (Genesis 49:10) of the Redeemer and orientating their lives accordingly.
Thus, the existence and the course of the Church in the world continued, even after the Fall, amidst the Gentiles who lived on the basis of the unwritten law (conscience) and the Jews, who observed the written moral law of the Old Testament. All of these righteous souls, according to the holy Fathers, belong to one people – the “people of God”; to one “city”, to one “kingdom”, to one “body” – that of the Church. Saint Irenaeus characteristically spoke of “two synagogues”; that of the Jews and that of the Gentiles. Hence it is not unusual to notice in Orthodox churches the depiction of ancient philosophers among the saints, because even as early as the 2nd century, the apologist and martyr Justin had spoken of “christians” prior to the Incarnation of Christ, inasmuch as they were ones who had lived “with the Logos” (that is, with Christ), “even though they were believed to be atheists”. He actually numbered Heracletus, Plato, Aristotle and others among them.
The final phase of the Church in the world (the Incarnation of Christ – Pentecost) was to be the continuation of the pre-Christian Church of the righteous of the Old Testament, who are thus differentiated from the rest of mankind, which does not live orientated towards the “fulfilment” of God’s promises – Jesus Christ. The fact that God chose the People of Israel – which does not allude to any elated nationalism or discrimination in favour of the Israeli element, but merely indicates His preference in assigning to Abraham’s descendants (“seed”) the necessary preparatory stages for mankind to receive Christ – merely confirms the presence of the Church as “the people of God”, after the Fall.
God had selected a faithful servant –Abraham– to be the “father of a multitude of nations”, in whom “all the nations of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 17:1…). In other words, Abraham should be regarded as the father of “faith”, in the person of whom everyone “faithful” would be blessed, whether Israelites or not, as long as they continued to be “people of God” and faithful to His promises. The faith of those people is what links them to the faithful of the New Testament; both groups of people have the Persona of Jesus Christ at their core, Who is the focal point where they both coincide, through their faith. And while the faith of the first group is based on the Christ Who was yet to be incarnated, the second group’s faith is based on the “already incarnated” Christ, Who will “come again”. According to the blessed Chrysostom, “all those who have pleased God, before Christ came” also belong to the one “body” of His Church, because “they too appreciated Christ” – that is, they likewise acknowledged Him. (PG 62, 75) The Orthodox celebration of the holy Forefathers, from Adam through to Saint Joseph, the betrothed of the Theotokos, expresses this precise truth.
c) The Incarnation of the eternal Logos of God – Jesus Christ – marks the third phase of the terrestrial course of the Church. Whatever mankind lost in the initial Adam, that is, the potential to remain in eternal communion with God, is achieved in the “second Adam”, Christ (Saint Irenaeus). In place of the former, terrestrial paradise comes another one, a heavenly one: Christ. Communion with God is thus realized, not outside of God, but in God Himself, in Christ and through Christ. It is in Christ that the rebirth and the renovation of mankind and the world is consummated – the “recapitulation” of all – in other words, their union with God (Ephes. 1:10) and their salvation. The body of Christ is the new Paradise, because it is within that body that mankind and the world are united and saved. The Body of Christ is in fact the Church; it is the community of theosis-deification and of redemption. Thus, just as Christ is something entirely new for the world, so is His Church. It is a new temporal reality; an entirely new magnitude, a divine-human community.
Christ saves and regenerates the Church which had been “planted” on earth from the world’s beginning, by mystically joining the Church to Himself and becoming the Head of the Church (Ephes.1:22-23). Christ’s entire salvific opus (incarnation, teaching, crucifixion, resurrection) aspired to the ontological salvation of the Church and the securing of the potential of salvation for every single existence. The Church of the Old Testament is therefore perpetuated after the incarnation of Christ, as the Church of the New Testament, which is now the Body of Christ, in which everything is invited to unite, in order to find salvation.
In their desire to specify as accurately as possible the point in time that the New Testament Church was established by Christ, the holy Fathers concede that its primary nucleus is located in the summoning of the twelve disciples and apostles, who thus became the Church’s foundations (Ephes.2:20). Her historical foundations were laid with Christ’s crucifix, with His suffering, because it is with His Blood that the Church is nurtured (Chrysostom, PG 51, 229). However, the presence of the Church in the world was activated on the day of the Pentecost, which is Her actual day of birth – the moment of Her official appearance in History. With the Holy Spirit -which was bestowed on the world on the day of the Pentecost- the presence of Christ is being perpetuated in the world by the Church as His Body. According to P. Evdokimov, “the Church is nourished, like a lake, by the continuous fount of the Last Supper, but also by the rain of Grace – the perpetual Pentecost”.
Thus, the Church is not only the Body of Christ but also a constant Pentecost, because She is “constituted” as an establishment on earth through the incessant breath of the Holy Spirit. In this way, one can perceive why the Church – even the terrestrial one – does not cease to be something celestial. She lives in the world, but is not “of this world” (=temporal, John 17:16), because She is a divine community – in the persons of Her Saints, naturally. She has Christ as Her Head, while Her soul and motive power is the Holy Spirit. “She is the overflowing of the terrestrial into the celestial.” This is why the Church cannot be related to any worldly persona – for example a priest, a patriarch or a bishop. Whatever the ministry that people may have within the Church, they are still ordinary members of the Body of Christ; Christ is the eternal and only “leader” (Hebr.12:2) of the Church, because He is the Head and the Church is His Body. Therefore, it is only through an erroneous use of the term that can one confine the word “Church” to mean the Hierarchy, because the Church is the communion of all those who are united with Christ – both clergy and laity; She is the corpus of the Lord, the people of God, the community of Grace.
It is Christ, the Head of the Church, Who also determines the work (mission) of the Church as His Body. The work of salvation in Christ is continued in the world by the Church, by subjectively and personally rendering each and every person a participant of salvation “in Christ”. In other words, Christ continually saves the world, through His Church. This indicates how significant the Church is in the course of the world – in History – and this is what the blessed Augustine meant, when he said that the Church is “Christ, perpetuated through the ages”. The Church continues to perpetuate the redemptive opus of Christ, because She is what continues His triple opus: that of High Priest, of Prophet (teacher) and of King. Important Fathers such as Saint Cyprian (PL 3:1169, 4:502) will proclaim that salvation does not exist outside the Church. Those who are familiar with the nature of the Church do not see any exaggeration in this statement. This is because only in the Church can mankind be regenerated, be joined to Christ – the Self-Truth – and live the truth. Furthermore, it is only through the union with Christ – which takes place in the Sacraments of the Church – that the perishable nature of mankind can be joined to the imperishable and eternal nature and become deified – partake, that is, of the eternal life of God.
However, this is the way that the Church’s reason for existence – Her purpose in the world – is defined. The Church, as the Kingdom of God, becomes the spiritual ground where people can be reinstated in the communion with God. The Church becomes the leaven of the world (John 14:16, 25) for the in-Christ transformation of the world. Her purpose is the “Christification” and “churchification” of the world; its transformation into a “new creation” (Galat.6:15). With the Incarnation of His Son, everything is invited by God to become “churchified”, that is, body of Christ. This is why the Church becomes the centre of the universe – the place where mankind’s salvation is decided and judged. It is the place where our theosis-deification takes place, here and now (in place and time). According to Clement of Alexandria, “the desire (of Christ) is the salvation of mankind, and that is called the Church” (PG 8, 281). That is why Christ furnished His Church on earth with everything that is required in order for Her to fulfil this work of salvation. Moreover, according to the Apostle Paul, the Church is the God-given instrument for mankind’s salvation, since Her purpose is “the preparation of the saints, for works of ministering, for the edification of the Body of Christ” (Ephes.4:12). Therefore, with the Church, a “new kingdom” – the kingdom of God – spreads throughout the world and a new polity – the polity of God – becomes a reality. That which was only a vision for the Prophet Isaiah (ch.6) or “Utopia” for Plato (Republic) becomes a universal reality in Christ.
2. The Church and the world
The image that prevailed as being the most faithful depiction of the Church was the ship, because indeed, the Church travels – courses – like a ship through the sea of History.
In striving according to the commandment of Her Founder (John 15:10) to forever remain the new magnitude in History, the Church took a stance opposite those powers that defined and shaped society of the time, and She simultaneously dissociated Herself – being a “community of Grace” – from the institutions and the structures that the PAX ROMANA had imposed on society with its robust centralism. Thus, the Church dissociated Herself from Judaism (this opus is basically attributed to the Apostle Paul) and excised from Her bosom the “Judaizers” – that is, those who wanted to subjugate Christianity to the letter of the Law and Judean ritualism, and who linked the universality of the Church to Judean nationalism.
She also dissociated Herself from Hellenism as paganism-idolatry, and excluded from communion with Her all the Hellenizing traits that aspired to mixing Christianity with the philosophy and the mythology of the world (for example Gnosticism), something that would have confined the role of the Church to a framework of religious worship, thus transforming Her into a substitute – or even a mere supplement – of idolatry.
On the other hand, by remaining faithful to Her universal and eternal mission and Her divine-human character which would preclude every possibility of becoming entrapped in temporality and transience, the Church differentiated Herself from the Roman/State mentality which had repeatedly attempted –especially during the 4th and 5th centuries– to exploit the Church by using Her as a means for temporal prevalence and dominance. Of course this kind of battle is fought by the Saints of every age – by the conscientious and consistent members of the Church, who comprise the Church in every age. Saints are always the uncompromising ones.
This many-fronted battle aspired to the preservation of the Church’s purity; that is, Her identity and Her divine-human character. In parallel (as evidenced in Acts), She began to develop Her multilateral missionary opus; that is to say, Her course towards incorporating the world for its salvation. The entire life of the Church is a continuous outreaching towards the world; a labour of missionary ministering. The life of the Church and Her actions in the world are a constant witness of hope and faith. However, it is also a witness of love – God’s love for the world and mankind – the supreme form of love and at the same time the purest form of love, which reaches the point of God’s offering (sacrificing) Himself for the sake of the world. (John 3:16).
The witness of the Church in the fallen world was not lacking in reactions. According to the holy Fathers, these reactions are of a spiritual nature; they are the work of the devil, who guides his terrestrial instruments to oppose the Church. Besides, the Apostle Paul had already said the following, respectively: “Your struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the potentates of darkness of this aeon, against the spirits of wickedness in the air.” (Ephesians 6:12)
The first form of reaction and interception in the Church’s work were the persecutions – these were violent and harsh measures against the Church, which were attributed to philosophical, social, political and ideological etc. prejudices. Throughout Her life, the Church confronted (and continues to confront) an entire series of persecutions, of a variety of forms and manners. The three first centuries are characterized as the era of persecutions of the Church within the Roman state.
Persecutions were waged against the Church from the first century, on the part of the Jews originally, who saw the Church as a Judean heresy that apostatized from Judaism. But more especially, however, it was because Christianity –as the continuation of the “faith” of the Saints of the Old Testament in the anticipated Messiah (Jesus Christ)- had exposed the fallacy of the pharisaic tradition and the adulteration of the Judean religion by the “traditions of men” (Mark 7:8). Christianity’s first martyr on behalf of Judaism was the Lord Himself, on account of His anti-pharisaic sermon. The first organized persecution of Judaism against Christianity, which was the sentencing of Stephen (30 A.D.), was followed by a series of other persecutions, which had claimed a significant number of victims. From the time of the destruction of Jerusalem (70 A.D.), organized persecutions of Christianity by Judaism began to wane.
Far more extensive and bloody were the persecutions of the Roman State against the Church. The reasons for these persecutions were also varied. The hatred of the people was nurtured by all the slander against the Christians, and this led to their persecution. Furthermore, it was also the philosophers’ opposition, the State’s suspicions about the closed character and the “exclusivity” of the Church, as well as the peculiarities of certain emperors (for example Nero, Deccius, e.a.) which had given rise to persecutions. Their number ranges between seven and ten. The severest ones were during the time of Nero (64 A.D.), of Deccius (249-51 A.D.) and Diocletian (303 A.D.). The persecutions of the Roman State ceased in the year 311 A.D. (decree of Galerius), while in 313 A.D., Christianity was acknowledged by the State as a tolerable religion. This was of course a “victory” for Christianity, but it caused many other problems in the life of the Church, such as Her precarious dependence and at times even Her subjugation to the State. Persecutions often changed form, but they never ceased altogether, inasmuch as they continued in either an obvious or latent manner, up until our time.
It was the era of persecutions which had given birth to martyrs. Their sacrifice was the ultimate expression of their Christian faith and consistency. From the very beginning, the Church honoured them “like Her very own heart”. A martyr’s sacrifice was a witnessing of Christ, and with his martyrdom (having being “bathed” in his own blood), he would immediately enter the kingdom of God. This is why the Church ascribed almost the same significance to the “baptism of blood” or martyrdom as She did to the baptism by water. Later on, She would place at the same level of importance the “baptism of tears”, which is the monastic form of repentance. The extent that the Church honoured martyrdom –as the consistent witnessing of Christ- is apparent in one of Origen’s addresses: “The time of peace”, he said, “is beneficial to Satan, because it deprives the Church of Her martyrs!”
However, the period of persecutions and attacks against Christianity, chiefly on the part of the educated gentiles, gave rise to the development of the theology of the Church, initially in the form of apologies. Its purpose was to confront the gentiles’ slander, to prove the superiority of the Christian teaching and to convince the emperors but also the people that the Church was anything but a danger to them. There are apologies against the Jews and against the gentiles. Christianity’s apologetes are acknowledged as the first “theologians” in the contemporary sense of the term. However, apologetics as a literary item continued into the following centuries and has never ceased to be used, after having been presented according to the needs of each era.
Following the official cessation of persecutions, a period of slackness in fighting spirit began in the Church, while strong tendencies of compromise, submission and a concordance with the world and its authorities was also observed. Witness by martyrs continued, but with a new form of martyrdom, not of blood this time, but of conscience; that is, by monks. Monkhood, which appeared at the end of the 3rd and the beginning of the 4th century as an organized movement (Anthony the Great, Pachum), was understood as a radical revolution against the evils of the world, as a denial of every compromise with the things of this world and the enforcement of the Gospel’s way of life. The angelic ministry of monkhood (the ideal of ascesis), along with its “yearning for the kingdom, conflicted with the overly human character of the empire, which had perhaps hastened too soon to call itself Christian”, as P.Evdokimov had astutely noted.
The partial or overall failure of worldly Christianity to accomplish the metamorphosis of society into a Christian one is rectified within the monastic coenobium, the organizer of which was Basil the Great, one of the major Fathers of the Church. Coenobitic monasticism, with which anachoretic monasticism has never ceased to remain united –even if loosely- remains perennially as the Church’s constant reminder of the necessity for consistency and for systemizing the Christian community in an absolutely Gospel-like manner. Thus, monasticism is not a despising or an avoidance of the world; it is a topical abandoning of the fallen world, which however it continues to carry internally, inside its thoughts, its caring and its prayers! Monasticism’s overall sacrifice is an offering, for the sake of the life of the world and its salvation, so that the world will always have ever-present the measure of true life, of veridicality and of sanctity.
3. Tearing apart Christ’s seamless robe
Schisms and divisions proved to be the even more fearsome weapons that the Devil had wielded against the Church. Underlying them both is fallacy.
Even as early as the Apostolic era, the pure Christian teaching had begun to be adulterated, either with the admixing of secular perceptions (philosophies, mythologies), or with the denial of the oneness of the teaching’s many aspects combined, and instead, the absolutizing of only one of its aspects. The altering of the Christian teaching was named “heresy” (αίρεση, from the Greek verb αιρούμαι, pron. ai-roo-mae = to prefer, to choose). In the New Testament (Acts, Epistles), fabrications of this kind were condemned (for example, the judaizing and gnosticizing-Hellenizing heresies).
From the 3rd century, the Church began to implement Her synodic system more and more, in order to confront –among other things- the various heresies. We know of such synods in Antioch, around 260 A.D., which had confronted the fallacies of Paul of Samosata.
The emergence of heresies gave the Church cause to probe deeper into the essence of the Faith and its tradition and to thenceforth produce Her theology. The Church has always regarded heresy as the greatest of dangers; a threat to Her very essence and Her hypostasis. Heresy “divides” the One and Indivisible Christ (Corinth.I, 1:13), Who is the All-Truth. But in this way, heresy is basically denying Christ, Who only then is accepted, when His unity and catholicity (wholeness) are preserved. The absolutizing of something relative (=heresy) inevitably relativizes what is absolute: the one and only Truth. Heresy constitutes an attempt at subjugating the salvific truth of the Church “to the fragmented way of living of fallen mankind” (Christos Yannaras). This is why –Christianically speaking- heresy is regarded as a fall, as sin and as death; in other words, a breaking away from the life of the Body of Christ – the Church.
Albeit an ideology, heresy is not limited to being an intellectual issue. It influences the overall world view of mankind and it gives rise to an erroneous stance, an alienation at all levels of life. In other words, heresy, just like Orthodoxy, has a clearly existential character. This is because they both have a belief that is transubstantiated into a corresponding manner of existence, of life. Heresy’s failure in the social sphere is highlighted by Saint Ignatius the God-bearer (2nd century), who wrote the following about the heretics of his time to the Christians of Smyrna: “As for love, they (the heretics) show no concern; not for widows, not for any orphan, not for the sorrowed, not for anyone who is bound or loose, not for the hungry or thirsty…” (Smyrn.VI, 2).
Heresy, therefore, in altering the overall, the only salvific truth, deprives the heretic of every possibility for salvation; in fact, in every aspect of his life – both personal and social. This explains the holy Fathers’ struggles in every era for the prevalence of Christianity instead of heresy, because this is the only way that the existential and social truth of the Church can be preserved.
Upon entering the Church, the neophyte confesses the “symbol of faith” by reciting the “Creed”. By doing this, he is making a statement that the faith of the Church has now become his personal faith and the opinion of the Church his personal opinion as well. It is characteristic how the elected bishop recites the same symbol, thus also confessing the Orthodox Faith, which he is called upon to preserve and to preach.
The teachings/dogmas are therefore the “outer limits” of the Church; they are the defining boundaries between truth and fallacy. They safeguard ecclesiastic living and they act as its bulwark. They preserve the identity of the Church from the breaking waves of the God-less world’s heretic fallacies and falsehoods. Dogmas are formulated by the Church in every era, however, they do not represent new truths; they are essentially new ways of formulating the same, one Truth. Development and evolution are of course observed, not in the essence of the dogma (the faith), but only in its form. This is the reason that one hears of the need to re-express Christianity in each era. Christ Himself, the only Orthodox faith, is offered to mankind of every era, articulated in the “language” of that era – that is, with the era’s particular modes of expression. Saint Vincent of Lerin had characteristically said: “Teach the same things that you were taught. Speak in a new way, but don’t say new things…” (COMMONIT, 1:22). In Saint Irenaeus’ words: “Dogmas are the analysis of everything that has already been provided in the Bible” (Control….1, 10,3).
Also formulated along with the Dogmas in the Synods – and especially the Ecumenical ones – were the Canons of the Church. Canons are intended for regulating problems related to the spiritual life of the faithful, but also to their identity as members of the Christian community. This is why there are canons that determine purely social matters; for example, marriage, justice, the condemnation of usury, injustice, etc.. The Synod of Jerusalem (or “Apostolic” Synod, Acts, 15:22), was already regulating matters pertaining to Christians originating from Hebrews.
The purpose of Canons is to provide in every era an outline of the Church’s dogmatic self and to assist the faithful in incorporating it in their own lives, thus making the life of the Church their own personal life in society, along with their brethren. However, given that Canons always have as their starting point a specific historical reality (that is, a specific reason), some of them eventually became obsolete, or, in other instances, some remained inoperative waiting to be implemented. This is why we acknowledge both “prestige” and “validity” in Canons (P. Boumis). Canons possess a perennial prestige – having being composed in the Holy Spirit – however their validity is regulated by the course of the Church and the actual salvific needs of Her faithful in every era.
4. The division of Christianity
From time to time, heresies were the cause of excisions of Christian groups from the Body of the Church. Even during the first Church, groups such as the Gnostics, the Montanists, the Monarchians, the Savellians, the Marcianists, the “katharoi” (=pure), the Monophysites, etc. To these, eventually were added the Arians, the Nestorians, etc.. More especially, the eastern territories of “Byzantium” had embraced Monophysitism, for political rather than purely dogmatic reasons, and had thus excised themselves by creating Monophysitic “churches” – in other words, heresies – most of which continue to exist until this day. Other, smaller heresies had appeared by the 9th century, but also later on. However, the biggest and most tragic division befell the Church in the 9th and the 11th centuries, on account of the claims made by the popes of Rome. The throne of bishop in Old Rome fell under the influence of the Frankish world and politically, it became opposed to New Rome-Constantinople. This tension heightened during the time of Charlemagne (768-814 A.D.). Between 1014 and 1046 A.D., the Franks succeeded in seizing the papal throne and placing on it a Frankish pope, thus paving the way for the Schism.
The spirit of Papism expressed itself systematically, with the introduction of concepts such as the “papal primacy” and “papal infallibility”, as early as the 9th century. There is of course a kind of “primacy” in the Church, but it is the “primacy of the truth” and not a primacy in jurisdiction or power. Thus one would often see bishops of obscure cities in the ancient Church imposing themselves as bearers of the Orthodox Truth; however, on the other hand, the Roman primacy of power expressed the demand for universal jurisdiction, firstly over the Church (=ecclesiastic primacy), but thereafter in the political sphere as well (=the pope as the source of political power also!). Quite recently, the current Pope, Benedict XVI, did not hesitate to declare that Orthodoxy is a ……deficient Church (!!!!), because it has not acknowledged the secular papist primacy!!
With its dual role, papal primacy was a scandal and a rupture in the tradition of the Church. The pope presented himself as “episcopus episcoporum” (the bishop of bishops), the source of all hieratic and ecclesiastic power, the infallible head of the Church and the deputy of Christ on Earth (“Vicarius Christi in Terra”). This demand, which reached its apex in the 9th century, was also expressed with political actions. To begin with, the popes became estranged from Byzantium, having placed themselves under the “protection” of the Frankish kings, thus assisting in the establishment of the western empire and the weakening of the Empire of the east, which was fully achieved later on. The Franks contemporaneously created the Papal State in Italy (754 A.D.), which continues to be financially and politically powerful, to this day. Papism’s political character also involved the dramatic alteration of the meaning of “Church” – the de facto estrangement of Christianity.
However, another, important dogmatic reason was involved, which was the arbitrary insertion by the Frankish synod of 809 A.D. (during the time of Charlemagne) of the phrase “and from the Son” (FILIOQUE) in the Symbol of Faith. This was not merely a theological-philosophical issue; in fact, it had explicit ecclesiological-social repercussions. The Franks had condemned the entire Orthodox East (which did not have the FILIOQUE) as heretic, an action that Papism also exploited in order to secure its primacy, itself already no longer united with the East.
The differentiation between “East” and “West” in the area of faith and tradition was such that every tolerance by the East was no longer possible. According to P.Evdokimov, “while Orthodoxy is experienced as a perpetuated Pentecost, from which it has drawn the principle of forming a collective-synodic authority, in the West, Rome has confirmed itself as a perpetuated Peter, a sole leader and representative (vicar) with all the authorities of Christ”. With the Christianizing of Roman Law in the West, a papist theocracy was forged, which expressed itself as “papal-caesarism”. In the East however, both the clerical and the political authorities were perceived as gifts of God to His People; something like a dual ministry – a twin one to be exact – for the people of God, thus leaving no room for a unilateral and overblown prevalence of the one authority to the detriment of the other.
The first major Schism between East and West took place in 867 A.D., at a time when the episcopal thrones of the two Churches were occupied by two powerful personalities, Pope Nicholas I (858-867 A.D.) and the Patriarch Photios (+886 A.D.). A serious, contra-canonical action by Pope Nicholas in Bulgaria –belonging to the Church of Constantinople–, had given rise to that schism, because it was the first clear attempt at imposing papal primacy as a universal authority. But the Schism was completed in 1054 A.D., when it became final. A delegation by Pope Leo IX had audaciously shown up in Constantinople as controllers and accusers of the Eastern Church, accusing Her as the cradle of all heresies. On the 16th of July 1054 A.D., they stormed into the Temple of Haghia Sophia during the hour of the Liturgy and on the Holy Altar they deposited a libel, in which they excommunicated the entire Orthodox Church, for unsubstantiated reasons. Patriarch at the time was Michael Keroularios, an equally strong personality. A Synod on the 20th of July of the same year anathematized the libel and its authors, but not the pope, leaving in this manner an open door, hopefully for a future smoothing out of the difference. The example of Constantinople was to be followed by the other Patriarchates, thus generalizing the schism. Of course relations had already become tense, given that since 1014 A.D. both Churches had erased each other from their liturgical diptychs. This meant that they had banned each other from every ecclesiastic communion.
Following the major, definitive schism of 1054 A.D., each of the two segments of Christianity went its own separate way. Their diversification had now become a totalitarian one. It was from that point onward that we came to discern between the Eastern-Orthodox Church and the Western-Papist-Latin or Roman Catholic church.
The proper characterization for Orthodoxy is: Catholic (=overall, and the fullness of the Truth) Orthodox, because the term “Catholic” is precedent historically, and coincides with Saint Ignatius the God-bearer (2nd century). The term “Orthodox” (=the upright belief) is a later one (4th century), but is used like the previous term, in order to discern the Church from the heresies. The Christianity of the West –in the form of Papism- was altered in its very essence, despite the many traditional elements that it had preserved. More especially, with its scholastic theology, it lost its spiritual-transcendental character and was transformed into more of an endo-cosmic magnitude, by becoming organized like a State. The secularization of Papism was now a fact, with its philosophical and legalistic rendering of the Faith.
Eventually, the rift between East and West cultivated hatred and thus, about two centuries after the final schism (in the year 1204 A.D.), one witnessed the most unheard-of thing: Constantinople being conquered by the “christians” of the Pope during the 4th Crusade!!
A Latin Patriarch was then instated in Constantinople, while a methodical attempt to subjugate the Orthodox East was also organized (something that was to be continued during the Turkish occupation (15th – 19th centuries) by the swarms of papist missionaries and the various monastic orders of Papism). This was pursued more elaborately, by means of the Papist Trojan horse known as Unia (from 1215 A.D. onwards), which even to this day, at a time of dialogues with Western Christianity, continues to operate in the East, in favour of Papism, thus creating further problems – especially in the Orthodox countries of Eastern Europe and the Middle East.
The fracturing of the Christian family did not, however, stop there. Papism’s alienation from the genuine spirit of the Gospel and its secularization led to abuses that literally altered the essence of the ancient tradition (see Holy Inquisition, indulgences, accumulation of political power and wealth etc.). This alienation by Western Christianity was unable to be tolerated, even by Western Christians. The rebirth of literariness, the socio-political developments in Europe – but most of all the debunking of Papism after its disputes with secular leaders for the acquisition of power (struggle for investiture) – all led to the “revolution” of the Reformation (Protestantism) in the 16th century, which first took place in the Christian world of “tough-as-nails” Germany.
However, in their endeavour to correct the Christianity of their time, the Protestants, with their unbridled liberalism, not only rejected Papism’s abuses, but also much of Christianity’s essence (for example holy tradition, priesthood, sacraments, the rank of bishop etc.) and thus stripped themselves of the Church’s true character. Nowadays there is an infinite number of protestant heretic offshoots, of which only Lutheranism and Anglicanism have preserved elements of the ancient ecclesiastic tradition – for example the rank of bishop, some of the sacraments, etc. – however they have lost the spirituality of the united Church. However, most Protestant confessions have distanced themselves so much from the spirit of the true Church, that they present a Christianity that is literally disfigured and altered.
Protestantism with its multitude of variations was unable (or its leaders did not desire) to turn to Orthodoxy, in order to discover the Christianity of the Gospel. On the contrary, from the 17th century onwards, systematic attempts were made by various protestant offshoots for the spiritual subjugation of the Orthodox East, within the framework of protestant missionary work throughout the world. However, this missionary work was never independent of political aspirations also, as for example with the activities of the Dutch Calvinists in Constantinople in the 17th century, during the time of the Patriarch Cyril Loukaris V (1621-1638). In their struggles against Papism, the Protestants attempted to win over the Ecumenical Patriarchate, while simultaneously striving to protestantize it and through it, all of Orthodoxy.
An analogous attempt was made in the 19th century, but not by pure Calvinists; instead, it was by numerous other Protestant confessions from Europe (England-Germany-Switzerland) and from America. The action now began in an Orthodox territory – in the Hellenic one specifically – by the various Protestant Biblical Societies, with intentions parallel to those of the other protestant missionary Societies (see detailed exposition of the problem in the study by G.D.Metallinos, “The matter of translation of the Holy Bible into the neo-Hellenic language in the 19th century”, Athens 20042). Lacking the ancient Church’s tradition and under the influence of the secular and mostly anti-ecclesiastic European spirit of the 18th and 19th centuries, Protestant theology was led to an incontinent liberalism and in several instances, ended up even in a denial of the historical Christ. The “theology” of “death of God” on the other hand was also the fruit of Protestant thought and it constitutes the quintessence (socially speaking) of Europe and the Western world today.
In 1870, during the 1st Vatican Synod, a number of papist bishops under the German theologian prof. Ignatius Döllinger had refused to acknowledge papal infallibility – having regarded it to be something contra-traditional and contra-Biblical – and had thereafter created a new branch of Christianity, “Old Catholicism”, which brought them very close to Orthodoxy. This is the reason for the attempts made during the previous century for their union with Orthodoxy, which, however, has never borne fruits.
The deployment of the Ecumenical Movement in the 20th century and the theological dialogues by the Papist and the Protestant worlds with Orthodoxy may have generated a spirit of friendship and social collaboration imperative in our day and age; nevertheless, they are also indicative of the distance that the Western Christian world maintains from the Faith and the life of Orthodoxy, which is the Faith and the life of the ancient, united Church. This will become apparent, in the chapters that follow.
The only way to reuniting the Christian world is a dynamic “return” to the period of the ancient unity (up until the 9th century).