One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church
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The One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church is the Church of Jesus Christ, against which he promised the gates of hell would not prevail. Specifically, one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church is the creedal form of belief in the Church. What is implied in that belief are commonly called the marks of the Church: unity, sanctity, catholicity, and apostolicity.
The Church is one. The Church is Christ's mystical body; just as he cannot be divided, neither can his body. There is one Church, not many; and it is united, not divided. This may seem naïve or callous given the present realities of Christians separated for nearly a thousand years. In the face of this real division, modern men are tempted to despair and speak of a "divided Church," abandoning the creedal faith.
According to Protopresbyter Thomas Hopko:
- ...this one Church, because its unity depends on God, Christ, and the Spirit, may never be broken. Thus, according to Orthodox doctrine, the Church is indivisible; men may be in it or out of it, but they may not divide it.
- According to Orthodox teaching, the unity of the Church is man's free unity in the truth and love of God. Such unity is not brought about or established by any human authority or juridical power, but by God alone. To the extent that men are in the truth and love of God, they are members of His Church.
The Orthodox Church teaches that she is visibly that one Church.
Some Orthodox hold that there can be a kind of imperfect participation in the Church by those not visibly in communion with her. This is most famously expressed by Bishop Kallistos (Ware) of Diokleia, "We can say where the Church is; we cannot say where she is not."
The Church is holy because God makes her members holy by union with him. God sanctifies the Church by drawing her into his divine life, supremely through the union effected by the Incarnation. The faith and life of the Church participates in the holiness of God by expressing the divine life in doctrine, sacraments, services and saints --- men and women whose lives have been recognized for their holiness.
Just as untruth separates from the unity of God and ultimately separates from the unity of the Church, immorality also separates one from God and the Church.
The Church is the fullness of Christ's body on earth. As a term, catholicity means fullness or perfection, wholeness. Only God is perfect wholeness, the fullness of being. God makes the Church to be catholic by its participation in his full, divine life.
Fr. Thomas Hopko:
- The term "catholic" as originally used to define the Church (as early as the first decades of the second century) was a definition of quality rather than quantity. Calling the Church catholic means to define how it is, namely, full and complete, all-embracing, and with nothing lacking.
- Even before the Church was spread over the world, it was defined as catholic. The original Jerusalem Church of the apostles, or the early city-churches of Antioch, Ephesus, Corinth, or Rome, were catholic. These churches were catholic -- as is each and every Orthodox church today -- because nothing essential was lacking for them to be the genuine Church of Christ. God Himself is fully revealed and present in each church through Christ and the Holy Spirit, acting in the local community of believers with its apostolic doctrine, ministry (hierarchy), and sacraments, thus requiring nothing to be added to it in order for it to participate fully in the Kingdom of God.
Catholicity is sometimes confused with universality — the idea that the Christian faith is for all men. However, the word was originally used to denote the true Church among a growing horde of heretics who had removed elements from the faith which they disliked, refashioning Christian belief to their pleasure. Catholicity is a qualitative mark: the quality of the whole faith handed down from the apostles.
The Church has been sent into the world, to bring the world into communion with God. Just as the Son was sent by the Father, and the Spirit sent by the Son, the Church has been sent by the Holy Trinity into the world.
Fr. Thomas Hopko:
- As Christ was sent from God, so Christ Himself chose and sent His apostles. "As the Father has sent me, even so I send you ... receive ye the Holy Spirit," the risen Christ says to His disciples. Thus, the apostles go out to the world, becoming the first foundation of the Christian Church.
- In this sense, then, the Church is called apostolic: first, as it is built upon Christ and the Holy Spirit sent from God and upon those apostles who were sent by Christ, filled with the Holy Spirit; and secondly, as the Church in its earthly members is itself sent by God to bear witness to His Kingdom, to keep His word and to do His will and His works in this world.
This sending was first effected with the apostles, thus apostolicity is not only the divine mission; it is also unity of the Church with the apostles who were sent out by Jesus Christ. Thus, there is an apostolic succession by which the pastors of the Church are able to trace their orders back to the infant Church founded by Jesus Christ in the first century.