What is "The Church"?

We have spoken of Jesus Christ and the salvation that He offers us. This salvation is worked out in the context of the Church, but what do we mean by this word, ‘Church’? The Greek word for Church, ‘Ecclesia’, referred in ancient times to a civic assembly—literally, “those called out.” 

In the statement of faith recited at every Divine Liturgy, Orthodox Christians confess their belief in “One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church”. The Church is One, because it is undivided, preserved by the Holy Spirit. People, or communities, may choose to leave from the Church, but they cannot diminish the unity of the Church. It is Holy, because as Christ’s own body, it is set apart—it is not of this world but is of heaven, and calls the whole world into God’s kingdom. It is Catholic because it is ‘whole and lacking nothing’ (the literal meaning of the Greek word ‘catholic’), whether universally (throughout the world) or locally (in a single parish). It is Apostolic, both because it is established on the Apostles of Christ—the men and women He sent out into the world to proclaim the message of His coming, death and resurrection—and also because the Church is itself ‘sent out’ (the literal meaning of the Greek word ‘apostle’) on this same assignment of proclamation.

It is within the Church, the community of believers who have been united to Christ, by baptism and the gift of the Holy Spirit, that the life and work of salvation is accomplished—through the sacred Mysteries, and the whole life of faith.

The Apostle, St. Paul, wrote the following about the Church in his letters to various parishes in the 1st Century:

“[God the Father] put all things under [Christ’s] feet and gave Him as head over all things to the Church, which is His body, the fullness of Him Who fills all in all.” (Ephesians 1:22-23)

“Through the Church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.” (Eph. 3:10)

“Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her, that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that He might present the Church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” (Eph. 5:25b-17)

“Christ is the head of the body, the Church. … Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of His body, that is, the Church.” (Colossians 1:18a; 25)

“The house of God … is the Church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.” (1 Timothy 3:15b)

In the following pages you can learn more about the history of the Christian Church as well as the Church’s modern structure.

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