On the Church
By Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky
Is There an Invisible Church?
The sphere is the Heavenly Church. How We Can Serve the Church.
Catholicity and Cooperation in the Church.
What is the Catholicity of the Church on Earth and How Is It Expressed? Catholicity in the Usual Vernacular Sense. The Church in the Sea of Life. Catholic Unity and Cooperation in the Church. Vladimir S. Soloviev and the Catholic Aspect of the Church.
The Rite of Churching an Infant.
Children in Church.
Is There an Invisible Church?
Western Protestantism, broken into a hundred sects and denominations, naturally had to approach the question: Where is the true Church in the midst of all these confessional divisions? And it has found no other way out than to invent a teaching of an "invisible church" that mysteriously exists in the midst of all the differences and mistakes and sins of men a church that is holy, whose membership is known only to God, and that consists only of those who are worthy of being in it.
However, it is for a reason that our Divine Savior has left us parables: the parable of the net that brings to shore not only good fish, but also bad; the parable of the field in which the owner leaves the tares to grow together with the good wheat until the harvest. The Apostles founded the Church through the visible Mystery of Baptism of all who declared to them their faith in Christ. And the Church was, as it remains, a net or field "for those who wish to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." for those who seek eternal life, although now living "in hope," not yet having entered into heavenly repose.
The Apostles founded outwardly "visible" communities, with a definite membership, one in soul even though outwardly separated, and all these communities were the single Church of Christ. Such will the Church remain forever. Its aim is to call and prepare men for eternal life in Christ.
Therefore, the Orthodox Apostolic Church, replies: Such an invisible Church which, in the midst of many confessional divisions or above them, would single out the worthy people from among them and would unite them all does not exist.
But nevertheless, this does not in the least mean that we Orthodox Christians do not believe in an Invisible Church. If we did not, we would not pronounce in the Creed daily, and even several times a day, both in Divine services and in prayer at home, the words "I believe" with regard to the Church. Faith, in the definition of the Apostle, is "the evidence of things not seen" (Heb. 11:1). To the three following and final subjects of the Creed we apply the words "I confess" and "I look for"... This means that in our teaching on the Church we acknowledge also its invisible sphere. Where and what is it?
The sphere is the Heavenly Church.
When we talk about the Church, and in our written discussions of it, we often, as it were, forget about this sphere, and by this very fact we lessen the spiritual power, we lose the grace-giving seed which is contained in the Orthodox understanding of the being and essence of the Church. And therefore our talk about the Church, the earthly Church, in the present period which is so difficult for faith, often brings sorrow rather than consolation. Restricting our ideas about faith to the earthly sphere alone, we impoverish ourselves. This can be felt, especially now. On the one hand, the Orthodox Local Churches are becoming isolated (from each other) in their earthly relations, and possibly deeper divisions lie ahead. On the other hand, attempts are being made to form "one church" on earth on principles totally foreign to the Orthodox consciousness. It is not a cold, abstract recognition of the invisible Heavenly Church that we need. Rather, with all our soul we must think and feel ourselves to be members of the "Church of the called" in living and active communion with the "Church of the chosen." For in this also is to be found in part our chosenness not our personal, individual chosenness, but the chosenness of Orthodoxy among the Christian confessions.
In the last century, the Protestant spirit began to penetrate into Russian society, and in some places also into the simple people. Our church writers had set before them the aim of' opposing the above mentioned alien view of' the Church the Orthodox, teaching that in the midst of all the divisions in Christianity the Church on earth is one and unique. They explained that the essential, logically clear, and natural attributes of the Church had to be, and were, the uninterruptedness of the hierarchy, coming from the Holy Apostles, and the teaching of faith, confessed and kept without change. Such are the outward signs that are understandable for everyone; such is the Orthodox Eastern Church. Thus the question was limited and answered by the teaching about the Church on earth.
The question of the Church has become a real one in our days also, but now it has a broader scope. Although the "ecumenical movement" of recent times is occupied not with the question of the unity of faith, but with the aim of participating in the proposed plan of an epochal reconstruction of' human society still, sooner or later, the question of' the foundations and scope of Christian Faith in this attempt at union will have to arise. It is our obligation to show why this movement cannot be justified. But we ourselves will not be completely justified if we descend from the breadth of the Orthodox world-view, with all its fullness, to a narrow platform of conceptions and, most importantly, to Western conceptions of the Church.
At one time it was permissible and harmless for the representatives of our church history and theology, when entering into dialogue with Protestantism, to descend to its narrow platform; but in present circumstances this is no longer justified.
Even if we were not forced to reply to a movement that is passing us by, that is off to the side of us still, it is always more consoling for us to acknowledge that we are under the protection of a great heavenly choir of saints, than it is to forget about this...
"Today shalt thou be with Me in paradise" (Luke 23:43) the holy words pronounced on Golgotha. Paradise! Is this not a forgotten word? After the third chapter of Genesis it is not. Heard in the Old Testament Scripture, a cherubim with a bared sword was placed to guard the entrance into Paradise. But on the day of Golgotha its gates were opened: "The Cherubim steps away from the tree of life, and the flaming weapon turns to flight." The Old Testament righteous ones, the departed first Christian martyrs entered into the Kingdom of Christ in the heavens.
With the course of decades and centuries the granary of the Lord began to be filled, after the Apostles, with the ranks of martyrs and confessors, hierarchs, ascetics and righteous ones. The Church of the saints lives a life of blessedness in God, with prayers of praise and thanksgiving; and since "love never faileth" (1 Cor. 13:8), these are joined by prayers for the brethren on earth. And we also ask their prayers for us and for our close ones who are departed. These prayers, as an expression of' spiritual closeness, are intertwined in all directions, drawing heaven near to earth. Indeed, how can we not feel the closeness of heavenly and earthly things, when we so desire the blessed life for our close departed ones and entreat the Savior in prayer for them?
Furthermore, the Orthodox Christian, if he has a living bond with his Church, constantly sees and hears in church and at home reminders of the Invisible Church of the saints, and his soul is in constant contact with thoughts about it. He received in infancy, at his baptism, a Christian name, the name of a saint, and he feels himself especially close to this saint and in his personal prayer entreats the saint to pray to God for him. He looks into his usual calendar, and before his eyes is a monthly list, filled with the names of the saints of all periods of Christianity. He enters the church, and before his eyes there appears another world, the heavenly world fixed in images in the icons, on the iconostasis, on the walls, often in the very peak of the dome.
The Vespers service, beginning with the glorification of' the Most Holy Trinity, immediately directs his thoughts to the Kingdom of' Christ, by the call to come together and worship its Head, "Christ Himself our King and our God." Therefore, the whole service is penetrated with the remembrance of the saints, and especially of the Most Holy Theotokos. In the shortest litany, "Again and again" which is said nearly ten times in a feast-day Vigil we are reminded to "call to remembrance the Most Holy, Most Pure, Most Blessed, glorious Theotokos and Ever-virgin Mary, with all the saints," and in such an awareness to commit ourselves and one another to Christ God.
When giving a prosphora for commemoration in the Altar at the Proskomedia before the Liturgy, the Christian who has ever heard an explanation of the Liturgy knows that the particles taken out of the prosphora will be placed on the sacred paten amidst the particles "for the living and the dead" below the set of' particles which symbolically represent the whole Church of Christ: in the center the Lamb of' God, and on the sides one particle in honor of the Theotokos, and other particles in memory of all the saints in their nine ranks. So close to us is the Heavenly Church that we confide to it all our sorrows, weaknesses, falls, griefs, and joys; we express love for it; we ask its prayers and its help for us.
Such is the spiritual world which is accessible to us even if we live in the usual church parish. Multiply this possibility for those who live in a monastery, and especially for priests or deacons who frequently serve in the Altar, or for those who are assigned to the cliros. It turns out that in the Orthodox Church communion with the saints, with the Invisible Church, can be more intimate than with the world that surrounds us outside the church building; for many it is indeed such.
But is a real earthly communion with the whole earthly Church, dispersed in various nations and states, possible for us? Indeed, within one and the same church parish, does any religious, spiritual communion occur outside the church building? In vain do people lull themselves, dreaming of a "fullness" of communion and unity of the whole Christian world on earth.
In our Orthodox Church, however, communion of soul and mind, all our striving, everything is directed to the Heavenly Church, so that it, being invisible, becomes almost visible, and from the distance of the heavenly heights becomes the closest thing to us, Earth and heaven are a single Church of Christ. This is a Church more complete than any other one that might be organized, even though one might call together and bind with a single name all the varieties of present-day societies and churches which belong to the historical Christianity outside the Church, outside of Orthodoxy.
But isn't our communion with the Heavenly Church one-sided? Does it give benefit to the soul? The saints hear us in the same way one soul hears another. And more than this: on earth the contact between people through the bodily organs of sense somewhat impedes and hinders the immediate communion of souls, but in the heavenly-earthly sphere this communion is free. In this sphere our voice, our words, reading and singing in the work of prayer are necessary for ourselves, for our sake, so as to unite two or three of us or a whole church into a single common soul, "that with a single heart we may hymn" God and His saints.
It is said of earthly relationships: "Tell me who your friends are, and I'll tell you who you are." "A man learns from the company he keeps" whether for good or ill. Is it not so also in the purely spiritual sphere? The Apostle John the Theologian instructs in his catholic epistle, which is for all Christians, including ourselves: "I write (the Gospel, the Epistles, the Apocalypse) that ye also may have fellowship with us, and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ" (1 John 1:3). He writes this, being in great old age, giving us his testament that men live in common love. The chief of the Apostles writes: "I consider it right, as long as I am in this earthly dwelling, to stir you up by way of reminder, knowing that the laying aside of my earthly dwelling is imminent, as also our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. And I will also be diligent that at any time after my departure you may be able to call these things to mind" (II Peter 1:13-15).
However, in speaking of' a single heavenly-earthly Church, do we not confuse two distinct spheres?
We do not confuse them, but only confess their union: "Having accomplished for us Thy mission and united things on earth with things in heaven, Thou didst ascend into glory, 0 Christ our God, being nowhere separated from those who love Thee, but remaining ever-present with us and calling: I am with you and no one is against you" (Kontakion of the Ascension). The Canonical Epistle of the Eastern Patriarchs in the 17th century expresses the truth of the unity of the Church in the words: "Two flocks of a single Pastor." And so do we believe.
But why did the Fathers of the Church at the Councils not raise the question of the Heavenly Church, but by the word "Church" always had in mind its existence on earth? And why in their works does one have to "search out" the passages where they ascend to thoughts of the heavenly sphere, giving it the name of "Church?
This is because they were entrusted with shepherding the earthly flock of Christ: all their thoughts, all their effort and care, concern the ordering and service of what had been entrusted to them the preservation of the faith and the ordering of the earthly sphere of the Church. But their service was illuminated and received power by the constant awareness of being in the single ecumenical heavenly-earthly Kingdom or Body of Christ.
How We Can Serve the Church.
If we love the Church, if she is dear to us, then how can each of us serve her? And if someone were to ask you: "How have you served her?. what activities can you glory in?
When this question was put to the holy Apostle Paul and he had to defend his authority before the Corinthian Christians, he answered in this way: I glory in it in my infirmities (II Cor. 11:30). Glory in infirmities? Without question, the humble realization of our infirmities is beneficial for each of us, but how can we serve the Church in this way? At the same time, the holy Apostle insists on his answer and explains: For when I am weak, then I am strong (II Cor. 12:10).
Then, this is no paradox, no play on words, no contradiction. The Apostle shows no trace of being "imaginative" or 'witty." He writes from the fullness of his heart, from a deep conviction. His meaning is direct. He speaks of the Christian principle of life.
Christianity upset the usual concepts dominant in the word, and in particular the concept or power. In Christianity, power is what "seems to the world to be impotence, what appears to its short-sighted view to be a contemptible weakness. Christian power is meekness. Meekness is the law of the new life and action, under whose banner the Gospel declared war on the world: "Blessed are the poor in spirit. Blessed are they that weep. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth."
And so, two contradictory laws of life stand one against the other, two kingdoms: the kingdom of the meek and the kingdom of power. The kingdom of the meek is forced to wage war against the kingdom of power, while located in its midst and surrounded on all sides by the kingdom of power and force.
The Church is meek. For this reason she is in need of protection and defense, Only they must be good means for her defense. In the past, both the Byzantine and Russian Churches had external defenders: a government system, the emperors, the tsars.... Times have changed. Now the care or the Church is entrusted by the Lord to the people of the Church herself and so, to each orthodox Christian. In this regard, we are returning to the times. of the first Christians. Our times call us all to a conscious, constant sacrificial stand for the Church," each with his talents and means. However the principal power of service lies not in this and not in our knowledge, abilities and callings The principal power is in that "infirmity through which the power of Christ comes to abide. It is in our morality, in our hiving according to the law of the Gospel, according to the law of the Church...
Each of us has a place in the ranks of the soldiers of the Church, and the forms of participation in service to the Church are varied. The Aposlle writes: Let every. man abide in the same calling where in he was called (I Cor. 7:20). Translating this quotation into contemporary concepts, we can say that there does not exist a constructive, good profession and a social position where a good person could not at some time or other contribute his good mite to the work of the Church...
One mast see the Church as the one body of Christ, a single, organism, a. single substance. Each persons individuality is the plot entrusted to him, for him to labor over, clean up, and produce fruit on. In working on ourselves, we work for the whole, for the entire Church, for its Head, the selfless Saviour. In letting one's plot become overgrown, in neglecting it, condemning it, we bring harm not only to ourselves but also to the Church. By not gathering for our own soul, we scatter what belongs to the Church.
Our service to the Church consists in this: that through our personal Christian life the spirit of the values of the Gospel flow into the life of the world, thus putting the enemies of the Church to shame. In our personal qualities lies the pledge or the internal unity of the Church as a whole and of the parish in particular; it is from this source that there come mutual understanding, obedience, unanimity in goals, friendly labor for the glory of God and the glory of the Church. Thus a completely special Church atmosphere is established. in such an atmosphere a. person feels that he is in a special world, which gives rest and joy to the soul, refreshing and renewing it. One strives to come to it as if to a new earth, the earth of the meek. In it one feels the beneficial power of the Church within oneself. It is easier in such circumstances for the soul to open up for the reception of the breath of the. grace of God that abides in the Church. But if this spirit is absent; if within the groups of the Church there are divisions, discord, the struggle of ambitions and self-love, then can one, in such circumstances, speak of the power of the Church?
Therefore, to the question of how can we serve the Church, the answer is simple: by active obedience to her. Active obedience to her is a life according to the rules of the Church, with observation of the moral laws with zealous attendance to the services in church, with prayer at home and a Christian foundation of and direction in home life. We can say, then, in general, that for us it consists in the joy of belonging to the Russian Church Abroad as a true confessor of the Catholic Orthodox faith and a herald of righteousness, and in the peace in our personal life, corresponding with that membership.
Catholicity and Cooperation in the Church.
Catholicity this is not merely a sonorous word, but a theological concept of the loftiest significance. It is, of course, used in the Nicene Creed as one of the non-biblical terms to define the Church as one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. What does the original Greek word mean of itself? The main root of this word, όλος, means, according to Lampe (G. W. H. Lampe, A Patristic Greek Lexicon, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1965), whole, entire, complete. The prefix καν has as one of its three meanings the intensification of the word to which it is joined. Thus, in sum, the meaning is that of an unlimited fullness, all-inclusiveness, a "pleroma." "Catholicity" expresses what the Scriptures state of the Church, that in her there is neither Greek nor Jew, nor circumcision, nor un-drcumcision, nor Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free, but Christ is all in all (Col. 3:11). And again, the Father... gave Him to be the head over all things to the Church, Which is His body, the fullness of Him that filleth all in all (Eph. 1:22-3). And again, That at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow, of things in the heavens, things in earth, and things under the earth (Phil. 2:10). Catholicity refers to the fact that the Church is not limited to space, by earthly boundaries, nor is it limited in time, that is, by the passing of generations into the life beyond the grave. In its catholic fullness, in its catholicity, the Church embraces both the Church of the called and the Church of the chosen, the Church on earth and the Church in Heaven. Such is the Orthodox understanding of the essence and elements of the Church in its perfect form, as our Orthodox services make especially clear.
A problem has arisen in some Russian theological circles due to the misinterpretation of the Russian word for catholicity, sobornost. This word, whose adjectival form has been used in the Slavonic translation of the Symbol of the Faith for a thousand years, is related to the Slavonic
word for a council, sobor. In its present form as a noun, sobornost is indebted to the Russian Slavophiles, who employed it to define the uniquely lofty connotations of the Slavonic sobornuyu as used in the ninth article of the Creed: "I believe in One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church." "I will not presume to say," writes the Russian Orthodox thinker and devoted son of the Church, A. S. Khomiakov, "whether this profound realization of the essence of the Church (to translate the word 'Catholic' with the word 'Sobornaya') was taken by the first teachers of the Slavs from the very sources of truth in the schools of the East or whether it was yet a more lofty inspiration granted by Him Who alone is Truth and Life, but I boldly affirm that this one word contains in itself a complete confession of the faith" (A. S. Khomiakov, Theological Works, p. 313). One must bear in mind that in Greek there is no philological or linguistic connection between the concepts catholic and council (ecumenical). A council of the Church is called in Greek Σύνοδος, and an ecumenical council, οικουμενική Σύνοδος. In the secular usage, the dictionary meaning of Σύνοδος is a gathering, meeting, congress.
Concerning the Russian and Slavonic word sobor, one can readily see its relationship to the concept of catholicity in its usage as a term for a large church or cathedral. A sobor is a church with two or three altars, which thus more fully expresses the union with the heavenly church, whose lofty iconostasis portrays the choirs of the saints, where the daily services are constantly being celebrated in memory and glorification of the heavenly Church, and where the vessel of Grace and the bond with the hierarchy of heaven and earth, the bishop, serves and has his seat.
What is the Catholicity of the Church on Earth and How Is It Expressed?
Catholicity is the unceasing prayerful communion with the celestial Church. The radiant bonds of prayer go in all directions: we on earth pray for one another; we ask the saints to pray for us; the saints, we believe, hear us and lift our prayers unto God; we pray for our reposed fathers and brothers in Christ; we ask the saints to assist us also in these appeals to the Lord.
Catholicity is expressed in the fact that the ancient Fathers and Teachers of the Church continue to be as relevant in our times, and are just as instructive, memorable and valuable as they were in their own time. The Church is nurtured by One Spirit, and therefore temporal divisions between generations of Christians are irrelevant. The Christian who studies the Apostolic Scriptures, the writings of the Holy Fathers and Ascetics, or the texts of the divine services, we believe, enters into a spiritual communion outside of time, with the very authors of these writings, fulfilling the behest of the holy Apostle John the Theologian: That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you you, that ye also may have fellowship (communion) with us; and truly our fellowship (communion) is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ (I John 1:3).
Catholicity is expressed in the fact that members of the Orthodox Church living at various ends of the earth have one common faith. This is why in the ancient Church the faith itself was called the "catholic faith" and "catholic truth." All have one and the same Mysteries; all commune of the one Body of Christ in the Mystery of the Eucharist, no matter where or when they live; all have one priesthood, which takes its one succession from the Apostles; all Church life is built on the common foundation of the canons of the Church.
Catholicity, finally, is expressed in the fact that all true members of the Church treasure her. We grieve for the Church in her times of difficulty. For the members of the small community of a parish, she is just as close whether in part or as a whole. "For the welfare of the holy churches of God and the union of all," we pray at every liturgy. A Christian who makes the salvation of his soul the goal of his personal life in the Church demonstrates concern for the peace and welfare of his own local church, working towards this according to the measure of his own capabilities and strength. Of course, such an ecclesiastical cooperativeness is also an expression, although more remote, of the concept of the catholicity of the Church.
It is, generally speaking, with these characteristics that the Russian Slavophiles received into their hearts the concept of the catholicity of the Church; such was the understanding which they had of the term "the sobornost of the Church." Expressing by this formula the fullness of the spiritual unity of the Orthodox Church, regardless of her geographical and national separations, they underscored the ethical aspect of Orthodox catholicity which is free from compulsion and legalistic concepts. It is this ethical aspect of Orthodoxy which contrasted with the legal principle of "rights and privileges" in the structure of the Roman Church, and likewise, to the cold rationalism, sometimes replaced by mysticism, in Protes- tantism. The Slavophiles did not associate with the concept of sobornost any kind of elective lay organs of Church government.
Catholicity in the Usual Vernacular Sense.
With the passage of time the meaning of the term sobornost began to narrow. At the beginning of this century when talk arose of the need for calling a council of the Russian Church, due to the similarity of the Russian words for council (sobor) and catholic (sobornaya), this term began to ' be used in everyday polemics as virtually identical with the concept of a I council of bishops, local or ecumenical. Subsequently it came to be identified with conciliar government in the Church in general, which, incidentally, was conceived of by different people in different ways: for some a patriarchate in conjunction with periodical, frequent convocations of the bishops; for others on the contrary, a continuation of conciliar government by the Synod; still others saw in a patriarchate an immensely unifying moral force which eliminated the need for collegial forms of ecclesiastical government.
During the sessions of the Russian Church Council of 1917-18 this term took on a new significance. At that time one could already foresee and sense the approach of the brutal blows against the Russian Church from the enemies of the Orthodox Church, of Christianity, and of religion in general. It was imperative to seek out means of uniting all the vital forces of the Church, an authentic alignment of firmness and the faithful forces of the believers in accordance with the principle of the catholicity of the Church. The Church must be defended; a moral confirmation of the episcopate and the parish pastors was required, so that they would not be left isolated. This goal could be realized only by attracting the faithful to an active participation in the protection of the Church through representatives of the laity who were self-sacrificing and well-tested. The vast majority of these turned out to be people who were also prepared to be confessors when this choice sooner or later presented itself. The consciousness of this necessity and the corresponding summoning of the people was reflected in the resolutions of the Council of 1917-18. This mobilization of Church forces at that moment was truly an expression of the idea of the catholicity of the Church in a profoundly ethical sense.
In the period of the Russian emigration after the First World War, the term sobornost began to be used in an extremely simplistic way and acquired a special connotation. The idea was spread abroad that the lay members of the Church were being deprived of their rights; that the time had come to put elected persons into diocesan government, both from the laity and from the clergy. As long as this was lacking in the ecclesiastical framework, it was said, the doctrine of the Creed was not being implemented. From time to time these voices grew more shrill and they were even given a hearing in the press. Before the Second World War a pamphlet published throughout the emigration entitled For Sobornost (in Russian), expressed this kind of understanding of the word.
The Church in the Sea of Life.
The historical path of the Church has not been an easy one. The Holy Fathers represented it by the image of a ship sailing on the sea of life. Its lot is such that even when the sea is calm, the vessel must move against the current. What then must be said about the moments of storm? The Church is forced always to maintain a resistance against the sinful world. The world possesses power, authority, the instruments of compulsion and punishment, as well as the seductive pleasures of life. The Church in and of herself possesses nothing except moral influence. Whence could she draw on the strength that she requires, were it not that the Lord protects and has mercy on her?
The Orthodox Church is the inheritance of Christ.
The Lord protects as well the little vessel which is called the Russian Church Outside of Russia, the offspring of the once outwardly magnificent Russian Orthodox Church. Should the Church in the homeland be reborn, then this free part of her will return to her bosom.
Within the diaspora, our little Church watches over, to the fullest extent, the canonical structure that she inherited from of old, and sets for herself as one aspect of her duties to maintain the entire inheritance of Orthodoxy inviolate, undiminished, and undistorted. To keep watch over oneself in this way in foreign lands is more difficult than at home, however, she has not only succeeded in this, but even shows certain encouraging signs in comparison with the past in Russia.
In old Russia the ruling bishop had under his jurisdiction a thousand or more parishes; this meant a population of millions in a diocesan flock. Could he have visited each and directed it personally? Could he have been as close to it as are our archpastors here? Our bishops here know the parishes committed to them, with their own eyes they see their members and, one can say, bear them all within their hearts, rejoicing and weeping together with them. All the more painfully, of course, do they experience disturbances in the parishes, and it may be that only God sees their suffering of soul for their flocks. One must also say the same concerning the parish pastors. How often both bishop and priest quietly reconcile them-selves to the most adverse conditions of life, concerning which many of the flock, being themselves well provided for in life, perhaps do not even take the trouble to consider...? And frequently those who serve the Church face, instead of cooperation, only cold analysis and criticism a very discouraging phenomenon.
Nonetheless, the negative aspects do not overwhelm the spiritual consolation which accompanies service to God and the Church. Those living amid the vanity of the world do not even imagine the existence of such consolation, and for this reason so few are prepared to embark on the pastor's way of life. Because of this, there is in our day an acute lack of clergy, and the number of parishes not tended by their own pastors continues to grow.
The apostolic epistles provide us with a sketch of the image of pastoral sorrows. The Apostle Paul writes to the community of Christians which he founded: "You are already filled; you have grown rich; you have begun to reign with us... We are fools for Christ's sake, but you are wise in Christ; we are weak, but you are strong; you are in glory but we are in dishonor... O, if only in fact you had begun to reign, so that we might reign together with you!" (cf. I Cor. 4:10, 8) What then? Is this grief of the apostle a cause of despair and indecision? Not in the least! Note the outstanding spiritual state of the Apostle: "Who can separate us from the love of God: grief or deprivation? or persecution or hunger or nakedness? or danger or the sword?.. All this we overcome by the power of Him Who loved us" (cf. Rom. 8:35, 37).
Catholic Unity and Cooperation in the Church.
The biblical image of the Church in the world is that of a human body. In the body there is an innumerable number of parts that work together, both visibly and invisibly. They all have their value and their purpose. The foot does not say: I do not belong to the body, because I am not a hand... the ear does not say: I do not belong to the body because I am not an eye... (I Cor. 12:15-16) So also in the Church; for each of her members there is a place for union with the other persons who serve her. But just as the body is in need of outer coverings, clothing, and other necessary items which are not a part of the body, so in the serving of the Church there are also two spheres: the internal sphere, truly ecclesiastical, catholic; and another -the outward, on the surface, temporary, passing. We must distinguish between the "essential" and the "nonessential," at least in practice and in indispensable matters. Since we live in a material world, a world of relativity, the external often becomes indispensable. In the Church this constitutes the organizational aspect besides the Grace-bearing hierarchal structure; there is also the need to maintain the church building and clergy, parish meetings, finances, organizations associated with the Church: schools, publishing, and so on. Life summons us to participate in both spheres. However, it is of no benefit to a person's salvation to take part in the outward without participating in the internal.
Which of our activities, then, represents the full and authentic expression of the catholicity of the Church?
It is manifested, namely, in congregational prayer in the church building. The church is the Christian center of our lives. Setting out for the services, we say, "Let's go to church," or "Let's go to the cathedral"; thus we express half-consciously by these words the fact that catholicity and the Church are fully manifested in the church building.
Is the priest, standing before the gates of the sanctuary or within it, praying for himself alone? No, these prayers of thanksgiving for the past day and the approaching night, these petitions for the mercy of God are completely catholic. "Incline Thine ear, and hearken unto us, and remember by name, O Lord all that are with us and pray with us, and save them by Thy might... Give peace to Thy world, to Thy churches, to the priests and to all Thy people." "Teach us, O God, Thy righteousness... grant us to behold the dawn and day in rejoicing,.. Remember, O Lord, in the multitude of Thy compassions, all Thy people that are with us and pray with us, and all our brethren, on land, on the sea, in every place of Thy dominion, needing Thy help and love for mankind... that always remaining saved in soul and body, with boldness we may glorify Thy wondrous and blessed name..." One after another, these prayers reach ever higher unto the "Treasury of good things, the Ever-flowing Fountain, the Benefactor of our lives, Who is Holy and Unattainable." The majority of these prayers could be read aloud. But experience has proven that people in church are not able to maintain sufficient concentration and attention to become absorbed in the meaning of these prayers the fruit of the lofty, Grace-filled inspiration of the great Fathers of the Church. In particular, this must be said of the principal section of the Divine Liturgy, that of the Faithful. Therefore, the Church has found it better to place in our thoughts and mouths as often as possible, the brief prayer of contrition and request, "Lord, have mercy." This prayer expresses the Church-inspired catholic consciousness of the primary importance for a Christian: sincere repentance.
Is not the whole Church meant to pray through the mouth of the choir? We must add that the readers and chanters, as well as those who listen, should bear in mind the communal character of the praises, petitions, and thanksgiving of the services, and mutually strive to realize common prayer. In at least certain parts of the divine services it is possible for the whole congregation to participate actively in the chanting. Undoubtedly, in the future Russian Church, reborn through sufferings, this aspect of ecclesiastical catholicity will attain a more complete expression.
At the conclusion of each service we leave the church. At the end of the vigil service we hear the concluding prayer of the First Hour: "O Christ the True Light, Who enlightenest and sanctifiest every man that cometh into the world..." And, indeed, our departure from the services is, in fact, a passing over "from the Church into the world." We depart to our worldly cares and interests. The Church and catholicity recede for a time into the background, into the past. Completely? That depends on us. Not completely, if we preserve them within ourselves, in our soul, in our consciousness, in our actions; in a word, if we maintain ourselves in piety. Thus, even in the world it is possible to work together with the Church, as a reflection of that same catholicity. It cannot be said here that the Church's path is narrow.
What activities of the members of the Church, then, can and do express the spirit of catholicity?
One of the first modes of activity is directly associated with the church building itself. This includes the construction of the church, the providing of it with all that is necessary, acquisition of icons and frescoes. In terms of moral value, acts of love and philanthropy in the name of Christ have an even greater significance. The manifestations of Christian faith and love can be extremely diverse. For example, personal Christian missionary activity springs from devotion to Christ and the Church, upholding the right, compassionate defense of the persecuted and abused. Christian service through lectures, reports, the printed word, work in church schools, scholarly activity in a Christian spirit all this constitutes a broad, open and, here outside the Communist world, a free field for Church cooperation, both as individuals and in groups.
These forms of activity and those like them are loftier and more worthy than plans for participating in the administrative side of the Church. The peaceful and prosperous management of the house of God rests not on legal foundations but on the rock of right faith and ethical, voluntary obedience to the rules of the Church by all her members, both clerical and lay. One cannot imagine how such an approach to the question of catholicity could be considered conventional or boring.
Vladimir S. Soloviev and the Catholic Aspect of the Church.
So that the skeptical reader might not think that the concept of catholicity found in the ninth article of the Creed and set forth here is onesided, and to make it clear that such an understanding is not limited to a single group of persons or to that movement whose spokesman was A. S. Khomiakov (the Slavophiles), let us avail ourselves of the opinions of Vladimir S. Soloviev on this question. We consider him here not as a theological authority, but as a free-thinker who did not confine himself to the traditional theological frame of reference. In many of his opinions he went far beyond the bounds of the Gospel's truths. However, he was a sincere Christian, and he had a well-intentioned, if vain, hope that by an originality of conclusions he might interest the Russian intelligentsia in the questions of faith, towards which it had grown so indifferent. But his devoted followers, when they began to introduce certain philosophical speculations into theology and develop them, made him the source of one more heresy. In his work The Justification of the Good, Soloviev, commenting on the characteristics of the Church given in the Creed, writes in agreement with the conception generally accepted by the Orthodox Church:
Catholicity (καθόλον as a whole, or in agreement with the whole) consists in this, that all the forms and activities of the Church join separate persons and separate nations with the entire God-Manhood, both in its individual concentration -Christ, and likewise in its collective circles in the world of the bodiless hosts, the saints who have departed and live in God, and the faithful struggling upon the earth. In so far as all within the Church is brought into harmony with an absolute whole, all is catholic. Within her all the exclusions of national and personal characteristics and social status fall away, all the separations and divisions cease, and all differences are left behind, for godliness requires that one perceive unity in God not as an empty indifference nor bleak uniformity, but as the unconditional fullness of every life. There is no separation, but rather there is preserved the distinction between the invisible and the visible Churches, for the first is the hidden active power of the second, and the second is the first becoming manifest; they are one with each other in essence, but different in condition. There is no separation, but rather there distinction is preserved in the visible Church between the many races and nations, in whose unanimity the one Spirit by various tongues witnesses to the one Truth and by various gifts and callings imparts one Good. There is not, finally, any division, but rather there is preserved the distinction in the Church between those who teach and those who are taught, between the clergy and the laity, between the mind and the body of the Church, just as in the distinction between husband and wife there is not a barrier but a basis for their perfect unification.
(The Justification of the Good, Pt. Ill, Sec. VIII, pp. 473-4)
The Rite of Churching an Infant.
The question is often raised as to why the Church does not permit the mother of a newborn child to enter a church or approach the Mysteries of Communion before the fortieth day following the delivery of her baby the day on which the "churching" of the newborn child is performed. We consider it best to respond to this question by way of an explanation of the rite itself.
The fundamental purpose of the Rite of Churching is the reception of a new person into membership in the Church of Christ, just as an adult passes a set period of time in preparation before entering the Church of Christ, standing in the ranks of the catechumens, which of old occupied, and today still occupies, a period of about forty days. Usually this was the period of the Great Fast before Pascha, or another fast, likewise forty days, prior to the feast of Theophany the Baptism of the Lord, which was later moved after the feast of the Nativity of Christ. The Church has recognized that such a length of time is also necessary for the infant, though in a somewhat different sense, namely, that having been accounted worthy within the first few days after his physical birth of a new, spiritual birth in the Mystery of Baptism, he might be prepared, throughout the succeeding days until the fortieth, for his entrance into the ranks of the members of the Church; and this means that the parents themselves are assured that the child will be able, in the arms of his own mother, to receive the Communion of the Holy Mysteries of Christ at the Divine Liturgy. Although as a newborn infant he as yet does not have a Christian consciousness, he nevertheless stands on the path which leads to the appearance and strengthening of this consciousness, under the Grace-bearing influence of the Church and Her divine services with the good influence, of course, of the family lifestyle. The infant is still in need of physical strengthening. He must enter upon conditions of earthly life unknown to him, become familiar with the method of partaking of nourishment and respond normally to the sensations he receives in a word, he must show himself capable of a new form of life. The child is already baptized, already cleansed, spiritually washed; sponsors have made the Orthodox confession of faith for him and have promised to guide him spiritually in that confession. In Chrismation, the second Mystery, which immediately follows that of Baptism, he received the "seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit," and is thus open to the influence of the Holy Spirit's gift of Grace upon his soul.
The Church has done all that is within Her power in this sphere to open the path of salvation to him. He has been clothed in spiritually radiant garments. Adult catechumens who have received Baptism remain for eight days thereafter in their white robes as an expression of their radiant spiritual state. Here, also, concerning the infant, we ought to be especially attentive to the purity and noble aspect of his external appearance and environment. What else should follow?
Those first steps toward the fulfillment of the confession of faith and the promises given in the infant's name should be made. He has been received by the Church: let him enter therein. Churching is that first step: the child enters, is carried into the temple. Under the conditions of our way of life it is far from possible always to keep exactly the forty-day period of time for bringing the child into the church, since parish churches are often open only on Sundays and feast days. This matter, of course, is purely a formality: the Sabbath is for man, not man for the Sabbath.
This rite of Churching is not lengthy, and the fulfillment of the duty of bringing the child to church is not complicated. But for the one who does so, it is a profound obligation in the Christian upbringing of a new member of the Church.
Who shall bear him for the first time, as is fitting, into this divine chamber where the Mystical Supper is performed? "I behold Thy bridal chamber, O my Saviour, but have no garments that I might enter therein." Who, if not the mother? To whom, if not to her, does this right, this spiritual obligation, belong? In actuality she will yet further nourish him physically and spiritually. Forty days is sufficient for her to become strong in body and spirit, just like her child, and she is able to fulfill that duty, which is a joy to her: to bear her child into church and hand him to the priest, that with prayer he might lay him spiritually before God, might bear him before the altar and the holy things of the temple; that in the shortest possible time she may commune of the Mystical Supper of the Lord, not only herself, but with her child.
Once the All-holy Virgin, accompanied by her betrothed, the righteous elder Joseph, bore her divine Infant into the temple in Jerusalem precisely on the fortieth day the temple was then open for prayer. She bore Him there to offer Him to the heavenly Father, in accordance with the prescription of the law of Moses that firstborn sons be specially consecrated to the Lord. And we honor this day among the great feasts of the Church, calling it The Meeting of the Lord.
For the woman who has given birth, these forty days as they pass are not simply days of waiting: they are a period for the restoration of her physical strength, and her spiritual equilibrium as well. For many hours and perhaps for many days she was completely in the hands of other people, most likely unknown to her. There were times when she could not pray. Was the medical and other aid accorded her always pure in the moral sense? Does her own conscience not accuse her of sin committed then in spiritual confusion? After the recovery of her strength there were new concerns; the former style of her domestic life has had to undergo certain modifications. If she has experienced a long lapse in the fulfillment of the duty of Confession and Communion of the Holy Mysteries of Christ, then it is beneficial for her to accept this on her soul as a period of penance similar to those imposed at Confession in accordance with the Church's canons.
The period of time comes to an end and the mother, child in arms, enters the church. At this point we should note that in the Church's rules there is no strict prohibition forbidding a woman who has given birth from entering the church before the end of the forty-day period. Circumstances may arise when such must take place before the fortieth day; in these cases, what is important is spiritual benefit, spiritual nourishment.
The mother enters the church with the thought of having her child receive a blessing for the rest of his life. She is conscious of the fact that the child is pure of soul, but she can no more say the same of herself than can we. It is significant that all home rules of prayer, as well as the divine services, begin with the words of repentance: "Have mercy on us, O Lord... cleanse us of our sins... forgive our transgressions... visit our infirmities...." For this reason the Church, blessing the infant, does not leave the mother bereft of attention, but goes beforehand to meet her feeling of lowliness.
In the following beautiful prayer it is suggested to us all in general that we each make our morning entry into church: "Glory to Thee, O King, Almighty God, Who through Thy divine and man-loving providence hast vouchsafed me, a sinner and an unworthy one, to rise from sleep and obtain entry into Thy holy house" with such words it begins; and further on: "Deign that, through my defiled lips, but from a pure heart and humble spirit, praise may be offered to Thee so that I also,.. may become a companion of the wise virgins..."
For the believer, attending church is a precious privilege, a joy, and he yearns when deprived of it. Having every possibility of attending church, it may happen that we underrate it, so it is at times profitable to arouse this feeling by delaying this possibility for a short period of time.
But in the given case we have in mind there is another reason: the strengthening or even the rousing of feelings of humility and repentance. Although marriage is honorable in all, and the bed undefiled (Heb. 13:4), yet life remains life: married life has its weaknesses and stumbling blocks. Thus, the Apostle Paul saw grounds for placing celibacy above marriage. Come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency (I Cor. 7:5). Psalm 50, with its words: For behold, I was conceived in iniquities, and in sins did my mother bear me, is part of nearly every rite of the Church performed in the home.
It is clear that the short restriction on the entry into the church of a woman who has given birth and on her receiving the Holy Mysteries casts no shadow on her, and thus should not elicit any bitterness on her part. A Christian woman should not here introduce the now popular demand for the "equality of women" to the rights of men. In Christianity these rights are always equal and always lofty; only their spheres of activity are different because of the difference in several of the attributes of their respective natures. There are no grounds for personal distress. Whoever might harbor such a feeling of discontent should realize that it is only an indication of self-importance, of too great a confidence in oneself, of the languishing in the soul of pride which is the root of our moral discontent. In this decision of the Church it is precisely the particular concern of the Church for the mother, its care for her, that is evident. In and of itself, the desire to partake of the Mysteries is always blessed, but only insofar as the reception of the Mysteries does not bring condemnation upon the communicant.
Thus, according to the Church Slavonic text of the Rite of Churching, we read:
On the fortieth day the babe is brought to the church by its mother, the babe having already been cleansed and washed... And when she hath inclined her head and the infant, the priest maketh the sign of the Cross over them, and, touching the child's head, he saith the prayer: "Let us pray to the Lord. O Lord God, Ruler of all,.. by Thy will Thou hast saved Thy handmaid, N., who cometh to Thy holy temple, cleansing her of every sin and of every impurity, that without condemnation she may be vouchsafed to partake of Thy Holy Mysteries. The babe born of her do Thou bless, sanctify, enlighten, render chaste, and make of right mind,.. that he (she) maybe vouchsafed the noetic light at the time which Thou hast ordained, and may be numbered among Thy holy flock by Thine Only-begotten Son. With Him art Thou blessed, with Thine all-holy, good and life-creating Spirit..." There follow then several brief prayers of similar content, and then the priest, taking the infant in his arms, bears it into the depths of the church, saying: "The servant (handmaid) of God, N., is churched...; he (she) entereth into Thy house...; In the midst of the church he (she) will hymn Thee.. " Such is the essence of this short rite.
It may be that the infant was baptized before the fortieth day. In general, however, if it is in no danger and is healthy, the mother comes to church for the prayers of remission without the baby; and the infant is brought to church for its churching immediately after the Mystery of Baptism has been performed. Hence, the chronological significance of several of the prayers is altered.
Let all things be done decently, and in order (I Cor. 14:40).
Children in Church.
Every Christian mother considers it one of her primary obligations to teach her child prayer as soon as his consciousness awakens prayer that is simple and easy for him to understand. His soul must be accustomed to the warm and fervent experience of prayer at home, by his cradle, for his neighbors, his family. The child's evening prayer calms and softens his soul, he experiences the sweetness of prayer with his little heart and catches the first scent of sacred feelings.
It is harder for a child to assimilate in the atmosphere which prevails in church. At first he just observes. He sees people concentrating and rites he does not as yet understand and hears incomprehensible words. However, the very solemnity and festivity of the church have an uplifting effect on him. When a two year-old child wants to take part in church, to sing, speak or make prostrations we can see in this his uplifted state of soul, wherein he is involuntarily influenced. We say this from simple observation.
But there is also something higher than our sense perceptions. Christ is invisibly present in church and He sees the child, blesses him, and receives him into the atmosphere of the Grace of the Holy Spirit. Grace envelopes him as a warm wind wafts over a blade of grass in a field, helping it to grow up slowly, gradually, to put down roots and develop. And so the mother hastens to bring her child to Christ, to His Grace, regardless even of whether he has any understanding at all of this contact with the gift of Grace. This is especially true concerning the Eucharist, the very closest union with Christ. The mother brings her infant to this Mystery while he is still a baby lying in her arms. Is the mother right?
Suffer the little children to come unto Me, for of such is the kingdom of God. Can you really say with certainty that there and then in the fields of Palestine these children had already understood Christ's teaching, that they had been sitting at the Teacher's feet and listening to His preaching? Do not say this, for the Evangelist himself remarks that they brought unto Him also infants, that He would touch them: but when His disciples saw it, they rebuked them. In bringing their little ones, the mothers' purpose was simply that His hands should touch the children, and not that He should teach them divine knowledge.
Allowing children to have contact with spiritual Grace is one of the first, basic concerns of a Christian who thinks about his children, and the task of Christian society, which is concerned about its youth. Here is the door to a correct Orthodox Christian upbringing. Enlightenment, compunction, and joy, as they awaken in the infant's growing consciousness, are an external indicator of the fact that the little Christian is feeling warmth from the divine source in himself. And even if he does not feel it, the invisible action of God's Grace does not stop; only we do not see it, just as we do not instantly see the effect of the sun on our own health. In Russian literature we have edifying examples of the disposition of children's souls during preparation for Confession and Communion, after Confession and after Communion of the Holy Mysteries.
Nevertheless, how often it is forgotten that herein lies the key to organizing religious education. How often, on seeing the inadequacy of religious education, we pick up the programs and rework them, lay the blame on the textbooks and the teachers and forget about the importance of the church and the influence of the services; certainly we do not always ask ourselves the question: "But did the children go to church?"
As the child grows up, he should enter more deeply into the life of the Church. The child's mind, the youth's mind must be enlightened by the church services, learn from them, become immersed in them; the church should give him knowledge of God.
The matter is more complex. The task of religious education will be fulfilled only when we teach our children to love church.
When we, the adults, organize church services, make arrangements for them, shorten or lengthen the order of service and so on, we are accommodating ourselves to our own concepts and needs, or simply convenience, understood in adult terms. But in so far as the concepts, needs, and spiritual strivings of children are not taken into account, the surroundings are often not conducive towards making children love church. This is, nevertheless, one of the most important means of religious education: let the children come to love the church, so that they may always attend church with a pleasant feeling and receive spiritual nourishment from it. And since parents often cannot help here, if only because not infrequently they are irreligious themselves, we are often compelled, when we think about our Orthodox children, to place this work into the hands of the community, the hands of the school, the hands of the Church.
Just as we are not afraid of destroying a devotion to learning and books, or love for our national literature and history by making our children come running to class at the sound of a bell and sit at desks, and by immersing them in an atmosphere of strict discipline and compulsion, so also, one might think, we would have no reason to be afraid of using a certain amount of compulsion in the matter of attending church, whether it be part of a school regime or an expression of self-discipline on the part of youth organizations both those that are connected with school and those that are not. If, however, this remains just compulsion, and to such an extent that it creates a psychological repulsion in the young people -this will certainly show that the aim has not been attained, that the method has proved to be inadequate and the compulsion fruitless. Let the child brought by our will express a desire to remain there through his own will. Then you will have justified your action.
Again we say: not only natural, psychological effects take place in children's souls in church, but the action of Grace. Our whole concern should be that the soul of the baby, child, or youth should not be closed to holy impressions, but should be opened freely. Then it will no longer need effort, force, or any other form of self-compulsion, but it will be nourished freely, easily and joyfully.
There is one thing that must not be forgotten: human nature requires at least a minimal degree of active participation. In church this can take the form either of reading, or of singing, serving in the altar, or of decorating and cleaning the church, or of some other activity, even if it is only indirectly connected with the services.
The indisputable importance of the church and of communal church services in the religious upbringing of children constitutes one of the arguments in favor of the Orthodox understanding of the Mystery of Baptism: that is to say, an argument in favor of baptizing children at a very young age, as we do in the Orthodox Church. Baptism is the door through which one enters the Church of Christ. One who is not baptized which means he is not a member of Christ's family has no right to participate in the life of this family, in its spiritual gatherings and in its table the Lord's Table. Thus our children would be deprived of the right to be with us in church, to receive the blessing in the name of the Holy Trinity, to partake of the Body and Blood of Christ. And however we may influence them in our family at home, however much we might teach them the Gospel, we would be depriving them of the direct action of heavenly Grace, and at best we would arouse a thirst for faith in them but we would still be keeping them far from the heavenly light and warmth, which comes down, regardless of our human efforts, in the Mysteries, in all the services, in holy prayers. How grossly mistaken are those religions which recognize only adult baptism!
The holy maidens Faith, Hope and Charity, and the holy young bride Perpetua, who became martyrs, are witnesses to the fact that adolescence is an age prepared even for the highest active participation in Christ's Church. The baby in his mother's arms in church who cried out, "Ambrose for Bishop!" and by his exclamation determined the choice of the renowned Ambrose of Milan for the episcopal cathedra this baby is a defender of children's rights to an active participation in Christ's Church.
And so let us take some trouble over our children: first let us give them the chance to participate more in church in a wider and more elevated form than just giving the censer to the priest; and secondly, let us adapt ourselves somewhat to our children when praying together with them.
Let the children be conscious that they are members of Christ's family. Let the children come to love church!
Missionary Leaflet # E77j
Holy Protection Russian Orthodox Church
2049 Argyle Ave. Los Angeles, California 90068
Editor: Bishop Alexander (Mileant)