I don’t usually do a review of tracts, but I so enjoyed Christianity Or The Church? by Archbishop Ilarion of the Russian Orthodox Church that I wanted to share my favorite passages. While it discusses many topics, the main one is why participation in the Church and its sacraments are absolutely necessary for salvation.
All legal societies perish
…a society formed on a legal basis always carries within itself the seeds of its own decay, for it guards egoism which constantly corrodes all unity. The fate of the tower of Babylon is the fate of legal society. In such a society there must frequently occur a “confusion of tongues” when people stop understanding each other even though they speak the same language. Legal order often gives place to terrible disorder.
The necessity of the Church
Outside the Church and without the Church, Christian life is impossible. Without the Church, the Christian teaching alone remains as an empty sound, for Christian life is Church life. Only in the life of the Church can a person live and develop.
…the perfection of the human personality depends upon its belonging to the Church as a living organism, undergoing growth through the beneficial and abundant influence of the Holy Spirit. If the bond with the body of the Church becomes severed then the personality which is thereby isolated and enclosed in its own egoism will be deprived of the beneficial and abundant influence of the Holy Spirit which dwells in the Church.
According to the words of Saint Cyprian, to be a Christian means to belong to the visible Church and to submit to the hierarchy which God has placed in it. The Church is the realization of Christ’s love and any separation from the Church is a violation of this love, in which both heretics and schismatics sin equally.
He who does not adhere to the unity of the Church cannot think that he is preserving the faith. Any separation from the Church is, without fail, connected with the distortion of the faith.
“On the Unity of the Catholic Church,” we read the famous words, “He who does not have the Church as his mother cannot have God as his Father.” Saint Cyprian completely refuses the name “Christian” to all those who stand outside the Church, as if repeating the decisive exclamation of his teacher Tertullian: “haeretici christiani esse non possunt!”—heretics cannot be Christians!
I’ve tried to imagine how my Christian life would be without the Church, without receiving the Body and Blood of Christ, without having my falsehoods and errors checked with priestly guidance, and without praying in one voice with other Christians. Without all that, my faith would boil down to a narcissistic and prideful activity like bodybuilding, of working on my soul completely alone like I would my body in isolation, constantly checking myself in the mirror to see how holy I am compared to others who are so “weak” and “misguided” to need to experience the sacraments within God’s temple with other sinful human beings, and very soon my faith would not even consist of prayer but a collection of vague intellectual beliefs about God’s plan for salvation and totally delusional ideas about how close I am to God.
The Body of Christ
“Christian faith joins the faithful with Christ and thus it composes one harmonious body from separate individuals. Christ fashions this body by communicating Himself to each member and by supplying to them the Spirit of Grace in an effectual, tangible manner. Thus, the Spirit of Grace descending on each makes him what he ought to be in the body of Christ’s Church. Christ’s body being harmoniously fit together through this gift of the Spirit, builds itself up in proportion to the measure in which each member answers his purpose or acts for the welfare of the Church in all the fullness of the gift of Grace received.” [St Theophan the Recluse]
Importance of baptism in the Church
The fact that forgiven sins return if there is no brotherly love is clearly pointed out by the Lord when He spoke of the servant whom the master forgave ten thousand talents. When this same servant did not take pity upon his fellow who owed him only one hundred dinars, the master demanded the payment of all that was owed him. Just as this servant had received forgiveness of the debt for a time, so one who is baptized outside the Church is also freed from his sins for a time. Since, however, he remains outside the Church even after baptism, all the sins which he committed before being baptized are again imposed upon him. His sins are forgiven only when he, through love, unites with the Church.
For Saint Cyprian, the baptism of schismatics upon being received into the Church was not re-baptism at all, but precisely baptism. “We maintain,” he wrote to Quintus, “that we do not rebaptize those who come from there, but we baptize; for they have received nothing there where there is nothing.” He adds that baptism outside the Church is only “an empty and impure immersion.” “There, people are not washed, but are only profaned more; sins are not cleansed, but are only redoubled. Such a birth promotes children to the devil and not to God.”
Upon being received into the Orthodox Church through baptism, many people asked why I was “re-baptized” since I was also baptized in the Armenian Church as a child, and to that I must state that I’ve only been baptized once in my life. It is impossible for anyone to be baptized twice, for either the first baptism was valid, and the second baptism was done in vain, or the first was not valid, and the second was the true baptism. I am currently with the Church that I believe offers true baptism to all.
Protestantism, having carried over the basis of humanism into the religious field, was not a protest of genuine ancient Church Christian consciousness against those forms and norms which were created by medieval Papism, as Protestant theologians are often inclined to claim. Far from it; Protestantism was a protest on the very same plane. It did not re-establish ancient Christianity, it only replaced one distortion of Christianity with another, and the new falsehood was much worse than the first. Protestantism became the last word in Papism, and brought it to its logical conclusion.
Protestantism placed a papal tiara on every German professor and, with its countless number of popes, completely destroyed the concept of the Church, substituting faith with the reason of each separate personality. It substituted salvation in the Church with a dreamy confidence in salvation through Christ in egoistic isolation from the Church. In practice, of course, Protestants departed from the very beginning and by roundabout ways, by contraband, so to speak, introduced some of the elements of the dogma about the Church, having recognized some authorities, although only in the area of dogma. Being a religious anarchy, pure Protestantism, like all anarchies, turned out to be completely impossible, and by that, testified before us to the indisputable truth that the human soul is Church-prone by nature.
Protestantism tried to correct Catholicism but made something worse. It won’t be long until many of its denominations descend into something like a religious atheism.
“Influences” on Christianity
For those who believe in Christ, however, all this talk about various “influences” on Christianity is completely senseless. The essence of Christ’s activities, as we have seen, is not at all in teaching, but in salvation. God sent His only-begotten Son so that we could receive life through Him (cf. 1 John 4:9; 5:13). Even though insights of truth which are close to Christianity can be found in the teachings of earthly philosophers, it was Christ Who renewed human nature, created the Church, sent down the Holy Spirit and thus established the beginning of a new life which no mortal philosopher could do. The descent to earth of the Son of God and His death on the cross were indispensable for the creation of the Church; and all those who separate Christianity sooner or later come to the blasphemy of the denial of Christ the God-man and they come to it because the divinity of Christ becomes unnecessary for them.
It’s blasphemy to say that Christianity took from other sources, as if Christ learned from human minds. Before Christ, there were some philosophies that were closer to the truth than others, and since all truth comes from God, some of their teachings would be similar to what Christ taught. The Stoics, for example, had a philosophy of worldly detachment, which is indeed God’s will for us, but Christ did not get his teaching on worldly detachment from the Stoics; the Stoics got it from the fountainhead of truth, either from stumbling upon it through trial and error, or because they were enlightened and given a proto-grace by God.
Absurd notion of “revival”
Now, there is too often talk about the insufficiency of life in the Church, about the “reviving” of the Church. All such talk is difficult to understand and we are very much inclined to acknowledge it as completely senseless. Life in the Church can never run low, for the Holy Spirit abides in it until the end of time (cf. John 14:16). There is life in the Church and only churchless people do not notice this life. The life of the Spirit of God is incomprehensible to a person who perceives solely with his mind; it may even seem foolish to him, for it is accessible only to a person who perceives with his spirit. People who are of an emotional mode of thinking seldom receive a feeling of the Church-conscious life; yet even now there are people, simple in heart and pious in life, who constantly live by this feeling of the abundant, Grace-filled life in the Church. This atmosphere of Church life and Church inspiration can especially be felt in monasteries.
A relatively quick read, this article is a great summary of basic Orthodox precepts that also disputes common claims of those who falsely teach of Christ. Click here to read it.
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