of the Church
Unity and Uniqueness of the
By +Bishop Gregory Grabbe
THE FALL - - REDEMPTION - - THE CHURCH
Great was the blessedness of the first human beings in paradise. Beautiful nature humbly served them; both of them being one flesh (Gen. 2:24), in their marriage they saw only joys: pure in heart, they constantly contemplated God, and tasting the fruits of the wondrous Tree, communicated in the Source of eternal life. (Cf. St. John Damascene, De fid. orth. II, xi. - Ed.).
But Adam and Eve fell into sin, and by this action they deprived themselves and their posterity of these, their grace-bestowing gifts of God. Yet the Lord is so merciful that He made this blessedness once more accessible to men - though they no longer receive it at birth, but the Kingdom of God is taken by force (Matt. 11:12).
The nature of the first human sin deserves examination. The Lord created human beings free; that is, it lay in their choice to enjoy blessedness in union with Him through obedience to His will, or, refusing this union, to set out on the way of self-will, and having separated themselves from the Source of life, to die spiritually. After listening to the seductive voice of the serpent, they foolishly chose the second course and thus set out on the way of sin. By their decision they started all subsequent human sins. Indeed, at the bottom of every sin there lies self-will, a lack of faith in God and of love towards Him; then pride; and finally, delight in the body with the breaking of the Creator's commandments. All this was contained in the first sin. Since they believed the words of the serpent that God did not wish them all the blessedness available to man, Adam and Eve showed the weakness of their faith and love; wishing to become "like gods", they set out with great pride to compete with their Creator; with the act itself of tasting the forbidden fruit, they showed their disobedience to Him. (Therefore the New Adam - Christ - on the contrary constantly emphasized His submission to the will of the Father, thus starting a humanity which humbles itself and does not think of its existence as separate from God, or much less as in conflict with Him.) But for human beings, sin was a phenomenon against nature. For although they were endowed with free will, their nature was created for a life in obedience to God and in union with Him. Only through Him could genuine love and unity be maintained between them. After setting out on the way of sin, they became isolated, and even shunned each other. Sin always follows on self-love, and each of the first human beings sinned on his own account. Eve, you observe, tasted the fruit without saying a word to her husband; at that moment she became alienated from him for it did not occur to her that he might refuse to follow her example.
Depriving humankind of the blessedness of paradise was not, in the strict sense of the word, retribution for sin. No, it was the very persons who sinned who, thanks to their sin, deprived themselves of blessedness. As we have seen, there was a radical change in their nature which took effect at once. No sooner had they tasted the forbidden fruit than they felt a shame unknown till then; even the contemplation of God became for them not blessedness, but a source of fear and torment - they tried to hide themselves from their good Creator. ( It should be noted that even after the Fall, God did not disdain to visit men in paradise, perhaps so that they should see with their own eyes that they themselves had become incapable of life in paradise with its constant close contact with God. To leave men in paradise would have meant to doom them to worse torments than the burdens of life outside it.) The very union and love between Adam and Eve grew feeble; in each of them the feeling of self-justification began to speak. To God's question, Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat? Adam, forgetting about love and unity and remembering only himself, shifting all the blame onto Eve and partly onto God Himself, answered, The woman whom Thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat (Gen. 3:11-12). The disunifying consequence of sin showed itself still more in Adam's children, and then in the whole human race.
Unity and true love among men were destroyed, and became possible only in the renewed humanity which originated from the New Adam - that is, in the Church of Christ. About whom else other than faithful Christians could one say what St. Basil the Great wrote about the ascetics of his time?
Those who live communally obliterate in themselves the sin of our forefather Adam and renew the primordial goodness - for there would be neither discord nor wars if sin had not torn nature apart. They are the true imitators of the Saviour and His life in the flesh. For just as the Saviour brought the choir of the disciples together and made His very Self common to the Apostles, so is it also with these . . . They emulate the life of the angels, like them rigorously observing communality. They anticipate the blessings of the promised kingdom; in their good will and their communality they present an exact imitation of the habitation and condition of life in that world. They have clearly shown to human life how many blessings were obtained for them by the Saviour's act of becoming man, because according to the measure of their strength, they lead human nature to unity both with itself and with God, it having been torn apart and rent into a thousand pieces. For this is the chief purpose of our Saviour's economy in the flesh - to bring human nature into unity with itself and with the Saviour, and, having destroyed the evil sunderance, to restore the primordial unity, even as the best physician, by his healing means, binds together a body torn into many parts. (Rule for Ascetics, Ch. 18).A holy life such as St. Basil describes was impossible for Old Testament humanity; it became possible only after the Son of God, having become incarnate, having suffered, having endured death and risen from the dead, opened to men the doors of paradise which had been shut by the sin of our parents, Adam and Eve. For this demanded the redemption of mankind by the Only-Begotten Son of God, Who brought with Him on earth His infinite compassionate love, by the help of which to lead us up to perfection, strengthening our spiritual powers with the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
The Church is the result of the redemption. Therefore to speak of Her without touching on this dogma would be to ignore Her foundation and purpose. To understand the meaning of the Church's existence, it is most important to have a correct understanding of the dogma of redemption and I shall therefore dwell a little upon it, although I could limit myself to referring the reader to Metropolitan Anthony's work, The Dogma of Redemption, which explains in accordance with the Church's teaching what was not always made explicit in the Patristic writings. But I do not think it would be superfluous to call some of his thoughts to the reader's attention, and at the same time briefly the main objections to The Dogma of Redemption. It is remarkable that this work, small in size but extremely rich in content, has aroused so few objections. Among these the following deserve no attention at all - an article which appeared in an almost "Renovationist" church journal, and which, being without foundation, is quite unjust; and the very amateurish criticism by a certain Mr. Bekhteyev in the pages of the scandalous paper published by him. A more serious, and in any case more correct, critique was published in the first or second number of the journal of the Pastoral Brotherhood of Fr. John of Kronstadt. As I recall, the criticism it advances, which is chiefly based on those texts of Holy Scripture which speak of Christ the Saviour as a peace-offering, as a ransom for mankind made captive by sin, does not take into consideration that all these expressions are only illustrative examples, metaphors drawn from Jewish rites and from ancient military and commercial customs. (It is noteworthy that a certain theologian who is very much esteemed but who has never appeared in print accuses Metropolitan Anthony of neglecting the physical sufferings of Christ. This is unjust, for Metropolitan Anthony recognizes their profound meaning and only transfers the center of the weight to the spiritual feat ("podvig") of Christ, which, although it is clearer, has until now remained unnoticed by academic theologians. Christ suffered both the spiritual and physical torments of sinful humanity.) Each of them taken by itself sheds light on various aspects of the saving work of Christ, the significance of which cannot be exhausted by understanding it as an offering or a sacrifice, or much less as a ransom, however useful these concepts were for the original adoption of Christianity, especially by the Holy Apostles' contemporaries. But if one takes these comparisons literally, then one inevitably falls into an error which was criticized long before Metropolitan Anthony by St. Gregory the Theologian. Here is what this Holy Father says in his Easter Sermon:
It remains to examine a problem and dogma ignored by many, but which for me is in great need of examination. For whom and for what reason was this blood spilled which was shed for us - the most glorious blood of God the High Priest and Victim? We were held in the bondage of the evil one, having been sold into sin and having purchased injury for ourselves with our voluptuousness. But since a ransom is only given to the one who holds in bondage, I ask to whom and for what reason is such a ransom offered? If to the evil one, then how outrageous! The robber receives a ransom which is not only from God, but which is God Himself; for his tormentings he takes such a limitless fee that for receiving it, it would have been right to spare us altogether. If to the Father, then, in the first place, for what reason would the blood of His Only-Begotten be pleasing to the Father - He Who did not accept that of Isaac, having put a ram in his place instead? Or can one not see from this that the Father accepts it not because he demanded it or had need of it, but by reason of the economy and because man needed to be sanctified by the manhood of God, that He Himself might deliver us, overcoming the power of the tormentor and drawing us up to Himself through the mediacy of the Son, Who ordained all to the honor of the Father, to Whom He shows Himself obedient in all? So much for the works of Christ; the greater part of what we might say shall be honored by silence. (Works Oration XLV, xxii, third edition, Moscow, 1889, pp. 142-144).Thus, according to the teaching of St. Gregory, the Saviour did not ransom us from, and did not by His torments give satisfaction to, a God outraged by the sin of Adam, but came down to earth so that having become united to our nature He could lead us up to heaven. Christ, Who by His sufferings teaches to suffer, Who by His glorification gives the possibility of being glorified with Him (Ibid., p. 199). The over-all significance of the saving work of Christ is defined by the Holy Father as it is by Metropolitan Anthony. But the Holy Father stopped at this point without explaining precisely how it is that the Saviour revives us from sin. However, he does not say that he knows no more than what he has said. If "the greater part" is "honored by silence", this means that St. Gregory penetrated more deeply into the mystery of redemption than he found it possible to divulge in his teaching. Why? Probably in view of the state of the religious consciousness of his hearers. Or perhaps he did not find expressions which would clearly explain the regeneration action of the Divine compassionate love. The Western error, with its extremes of juridical interpretation, was necessary for Metropolitan Anthony to appear as one of the approved (I Cor. 11:19).
Furthermore, several Holy Father (Metropolitan Anthony cites several similar testimonies) speak of the great elevating significance of compassionate love, though they do not use this understanding directly to explain the dogma of redemption. But with the logical extension of their thoughts in this direction, one arrives at Metropolitan Anthony's conclusions. Thus, for instance, St. Gregory the Great takes as an example for pastors the Holy Apostle Paul, who
in contemplation traverses heaven, and yet does not leave the carnal bed of the sons of earth without his concern and care; for being simultaneously joined to the highest and to the lowest by the bond of love, though in himself he is mightily caught up in the power of the spirit to the realm of the spiritual things above, yet at the same time, for his neighbors, in his compassionate love he is happy to become weak. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is scandalized, and I burn not?' (II Cor. 11:29), or, what is more, Unto the Jews I became as a Jew (I Cor. 9:20). Of course he did so not by changing his faith, but by expanding his compassionate love, so as to learn for himself, by imaginatively transferring the person of the unbelievers to himself, how deserving they are of compassion, to the end that he could afterwards do all for them that he would wish for himself if he were in their place. (Pastoral Care II, Cap.v, second edition, Kiev, 1873, pp. 43-44).In teaching pastors compassion, St. Gregory did not, of course, have only their personal emotional benefit in mind. All his instructions are permeated with advice for regenerating sinners by entering into their situation and by having compassion upon their fall - although he does not reveal his thought in all its clarity precisely in this form. From his reflections on the meaning of pastoral compassion, however, one can easily come to an understanding of the power of Divine compassionate love. Christ the Saviour not only "imagined" Himself to be suffering man - He had the good will actually to become one, and actually did suffer all that befell mankind as a consequence of our forefathers' sin. This is the reason that if even compassion for our neighbor can elevate us morally, then the incarnation, sufferings, and resurrection of Christ are saving for us in full.
Jesus Christ suffered the sins of all humanity, but His sufferings are saving only for those who manifest a will to open their souls to receive His regenerating love. He became incarnate in order to lead all of us up to heaven, but they alone enjoy this gift who have become one with Him on the way of moral self-perfecting, for whose renewed human nature he reveals an infinite horizon. Be ye perfect, said Christ, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect (Matt. 5:48), and with these words showed us the ideal for which we are to strive.
And in His High-Priestly prayer the Lord Jesus Christ declared: Holy Father, keep through Thine own Name those whom Thou hast given Me, that they may be one, as we are (John 17:11). Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on Me through their word; that they all may be one; as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be one in Us (John 17:20-21). By these words the Saviour reveals the very essence of the Church, which realizes the union founded on man's love for each other and with God. Mutual love, which becomes like the love of the Persons of the Holy Trinity, must distinguish the true followers of Jesus Christ as He said in His parting conversation with His disciples: A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another . . . by this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another (John 13:34-35).
The people of the Old Testament were incapable of this unity, for they were wholly subordinate to nature, which had been torn apart by sin (see the homily of St. Basil the Great cited above). The recreation of human nature itself was indispensable. That is why the Lord, in His conversation with Nicodemus, gave as the first condition of salvation a completely new birth of man. Regarding this, St. John Chrysostom says: Just as no one puts props under a ruined house, and as no one nails anything onto the old building, but when he has destroyed it to the foundation, then rebuilds it anew, so did He act: He did not repair us, but made us anew (Homily on Titus, 5:3). By being renewed and united with Christ, humanity participates in the Divine nature. Thus, without the incarnation of the Son of God, the union of men in the Church which gives the possibility of a saving, life-giving union with God, would have been impossible. Outside this union it is impossible to be a regenerate member of humanity. Abide in Me, and I in you, says Christ. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in Me. I am the Vine, ye are the branches. He that abideth in Me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without Me ye can do nothing. If a man abide not in Me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned (John 15:4-6). The vine and the branches of which our Saviour speaks are the Church, which unites Him and that humanity which has been regenerated in Holy Baptism, and which approaches perfection under the unceasing influence of the Holy Spirit.
UNITY IN THE CHURCH
The Church is often defined as the society of Christians, but it seems to us that this is too colorless and inexact. Of course, the Church can never be defined with absolute precision because human language is not rich enough to do so; it must resort to metaphor, and these metaphors, drawn from Holy Scripture, depict the Church rather as the Body of the God-Man than as a society. Jesus Christ Himself, as we have seen, represented the Church under the form of a tree and spoke of the organic unity of all believers, a unity outside which the very life of the regenerated personality is impossible. To be outside the Church means to be outside Christ and not to have that grace without which self-perfecting is impossible. In Holy Scripture the Church is compared not only to a Vine which has Christ as its root; She is also called the Body of Christ, Who is Her Head (1 Cor. 12; Eph. 10:22-23; Col. 10:18), or a building of which He is the cornerstone (Eph. 2:20). Christ's love for the Church is compared to the ideal love of a bridegroom for his bride. Here, in all its perfection, without any defects, that union of which the Apostle Paul makes an example to husband and wife is realized (Eph. 5:23-33).
We must dwell on the doctrine of the Church as the Body of Christ with particular attention, for it is here that the great mystery of the union of believers with each other and with Christ is most clearly explained. This union is indivisible, just as the members of a body are indivisibly bound to the head. That is why the Apostle Paul even says that the Lord hath quickened us . . . and hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus (Eph. 2:5-6). As Adam was the ancestor of all humanity and as all of us subsequent generations sinned in his sin, thus, by the same law of unity, the majesty of our Saviour, the New Adam, the New Father of the regenerate humanity which composes the Church, is transferred to us. In the person of Christ the Saviour, says Bishop Theophan the Recluse, we are raised up and seated in heaven. This was not achieved by the deed itself, however, but will be accomplished in its own time. But it will be achieved without a doubt: thus, since Christ is risen, consider us to be risen, and since He has sat on the throne in heaven, consider us already to have been seated there (On Ephesians, p. 131). And further:
By these words (`He raised us up and seated us') both the exceedingly close union of believers with Christ, like that of the members of the body with the head, is shown, together with the special destiny of humanity glorified in Christ. Everything that was achieved in Him was not achieved for Him, but for mankind. And so, when He rose from the dead for man's sake, one can say that in Him our kind rose from the dead; and when He sat at the right hand of the Father, one can say that in Him our kind is seated in heaven. Christ is the possibility, the source, the power. As for the faithful, they are the realization of this possibility, the drinking from this source, the fulness attained by means of this power. Redeemed humanity - the Church - is the development or revealing of Christ - His fulness (Ibid. pp.131-132; also, see Eph. 4:15).
We should pause on this last thought. St. John Chrysostom interprets Ephesians 4:13 in the following manner: The Church is the fulness of Christ in exactly the same way that the body completes the head and that the body is completed by the head. We see how the Apostle conceives that for Christ just as for the head, all members in general are needed, because if many of us did not exist - one as a hand, another as a leg, a third as another sort of member, then His body would be incomplete. Thus, His body is made up of all the members. This means that only when the head is fulfilled, then the perfect body will be established when we are all united and strengthened in the most solid way (On Ephesians, Homily III,2).
St. Chrysostom's thought is made clear by the words of the Blessed Theophylact: Christ is filled out and as it were completed in all His members by the persons of all the faithful: He is filled out as if with a hand in the person of an almsgiver and of one who helps the weak in some other way; He is filled out as if with a leg in the person of one who undertakes to travel for the sake of preaching and of one who supports his brethren by charity, and is filled out in some other way by some other believer (On Ephesians, pp.93-93). Bishop Theophan gives a very profound interpretation to the same text: The Church as the fulness of Christ can be compared to the way in which a tree is the fulfillment of the seed. What is contained compactly in the seed appears in its full development in the tree . . . By Himself alone He is complete and all-perfect, but He had not yet completely drawn humanity to Him. Humanity gradually participates in Him more and more, and thereby as it were `expands' Him - making it possible by this for His work to come to the fulness of completion (On Ephesians, pp.126-127).
The doctrine of the internal unity of the Church was recognized by Her from the very beginning of Her existence. But it was expressed in a particularly striking way by the Shepherd of Hermas, by St. Irenaeus of Lyons, and, in the middle of the third century, by St. Cyprian of Carthage. He likens the mystical union of Christ with the Church to the mixing of wine and water in the cup of the Lord. As the wine and the water are indivisibly united between themselves and cannot be separated from each other, in exactly the same way the Church cannot be separated from Christ.
St. Cyprian also firmly establishes and expresses in images which are often poetic, the fact that the catholicity (sobornost) of the Church - that is, the existence of separate Church communities which are scattered abroad to all the ends of the earth - does not in the least contradict Her unity. This, of course, is not the full meaning of catholicity. Catholicity in the full meaning of the word assumes the union in the Church not only of local communities of diverse peoples, but also the union with Christ of Christians who are now living and of those who have already fallen asleep. I shall quote an extract in which St. Cyprian speaks with particular enthusiasm of this unity:
The Church is one, although in expanding with the increase of fecundity, it is divided into many. For the sun has many rays, but its light is one; there are many branches of the tree, but its trunk, which is firmly held on the root, is one; many streams flow from one spring, but although originating in an abundance of water, it pours out and presents itself as multiplicity; however, at the very source it still preserves its unity. If you separate the ray of the sun from its origin, unity does not allow a separate light to exist; if you break a branch from the tree, the branch broken off loses its ability to grow; if you separate a stream from its source, the separated stream will dry up. In the same way the Church, illumined by the light of the Lord, spreads out its branches through the whole world, but the light which is everywhere poured out is one, and the unity of the body remains undivided. Over all the earth she spreads out her branches, weighed down with fruit: her abundant streams flow through a wide expanse, and for all that, the Head remains one, one origin, one mother who is rich in the ripening of fecundity (On the Unity of the Church, p.180).I will complete St. Cyprian's metaphors with the words of Bishop Theophan:
Particular Churches live the common life of the whole Church, as in the body each function acts, as it were, by itself, e.g., breathing, circulation, nutrition; in actual fact it acts because it is connected with the whole body, so that if you separate it, there will at once be an end to it, just as every external member which is cut from the body dies, or every branch which is cut from a tree (On Ephesians 2:22, p.175).
The consciousness of this internal unity of the Church should not only unite separate Church communities, but also all Her members. This consciousness, which derives from the commandment of love, was strong among the first Christians. The first Christian communities, which were distributed throughout various countries, were at the same time so close to each other that in actuality, according to the phrase of the Acts of the Apostles, they were of one heart and of one soul (Acts 4:32). And do not we see for ourselves the constant affirmation of the existence of this unity when we happen to come into contact with other Orthodox peoples and, especially, have religious communion with them? Finally, does not constant prayer with one another and for one another unite us all, the living members of the Church and those fallen asleep? The Head of the Church Himself taught us this prayer and it is the first and most important manifestation of Her internal unity. But we have not only the obligation to pray for our brothers in the Church. True love must arouse a constant wish to help others both materially and spiritually, must evoke a feeling of mutual responsibility for each other, for those with whom we have communion. The true Christian, according to Bishop Theophan, considers every deed his own deed, and for its sake is prepared for all efforts and sacrifices. He is the same as a member in the body. Not one member in the body lives for itself, but exists entirely for the others. Thus the Christian is under Christ the Head, combined with all in one Body.
The full unity of the Church, with its catholicity, is preserved thanks to the one Head, Who shows everyone his proper place in the work of the economy of the Church. Everyone must take his place in it, says Chrysostom; the Lord orders everything from above. But as there are receptive organs in the body, so are there also in the Spirit, Who is the heavenly root of life in its entirety. Specifically, in the body, the heart is the root of spirit; the liver, of blood; the spleen, of bile; and the other organs of other elements - but all are dependent of the brain. God Himself acted in accordance with this, making man worthy of a special honor. Not wishing to abandon him, He Himself became the cause of all salvation for him, at the same time establishing co-workers for Himself, having entrusted one thing to one of them, another to another (On Ephesians, Homily XI,4). All of us are united by love, which, as the Holy Father further teaches us, reconstitutes, unites, draws together, and joins us together. So, if we wish to receive the Spirit from the Head, let us be in union with each other. There are two kinds of separation from the Church: one, when we grow cold in love, and the other, when we dare do something unworthy in relation to this Body, that is, the Church (Ibid.).
THE CHURCH IS ONE
The posthumous fate of Christians, pagans, and heretics Outside the Church there is no grace of the Holy Spirit
The doctrine of the uniqueness of the true Church logically follows from the doctrine of the internal unity of the Church. Just as Christ cannot have several bodies - especially bodies which are in conflict with each other - so also is the existence of several Churches impossible. The chief proof of this is that in Holy Scripture the Church is always spoken of in the singular (e.g., Matt. 16:18; Acts 2:47, etc.), with the exception of those cases in which local communities are clearly being referred to (e.g., Acts 9:31; IICor. 11:8 & 28, etc.). Christians firmly possessed such a consciousness from the beginning, for any notion of the possibility of two or more grace-bearing Churches would minimize the significance of the true Church. This belief in the uniqueness of the Church, in the fact that She is the ark which alone can save us from destruction in the raging waves of the sea of life, is also indispensable to awaken our zeal for the propagation of Orthodoxy. For why should I work to unite a heretic or schismatic to the Church if he too is in the Church and is also being saved - that is, is on the correct way of self-perfecting? But if I believe that he is in a graceless community, that he is not reborn in Holy Baptism, then Christian love should make me spare no effort for his conversion. I know these words will be offensive to some. In recent times the thought has become altogether too widespread that the "partitions" between the churches do not reach to heaven. People are attracted by all sorts of interconfessional conferences, which, in essence, the true Church, in spite of all stipulations, refuses to attend in the position of one of the churches. I must qualify my statement with the fact that the declarations of hierarchs at conferences, strictly speaking, do not give any grounds for such a notion; but the majority of the faithful do not read these declarations, and know only the newspaper reports about the role of Orthodox bishops in conferences on a level with the heterodox. These conferences often leave the impression on the general public that Orthodox hierarchs too are setting out on the way of interconfessionalism. One of the heads of an autocephalous Church confirmed this still more when he recently unlawfully gave Communion to Anglicans without their being united to Orthodoxy.
I have repeatedly come across the fact that people who are quite attached to Orthodoxy, when they submit to preaching about the relativity of religious truth, have acrimoniously tried to prove that the Roman Catholic church, for example, is almost as grace-bearing as the Orthodox. This widespread error, which is chiefly founded not on rational argument but on a sympathetic feeling for the heterodox, forces me to preface my exposition of the proofs for the absence of grace in those communities which have split off from our Church with a discourse on the posthumous fate of those people who do not belong to Her. For this purpose we must turn briefly to the Fall and the Redemption.
The merciful God created human beings for blessedness, and for the sake of its full scope, He gave them free will. In making use of this freedom, human beings fell into sin - that is, they abandoned God for the evil illusory promises of the devil. Having fallen into sin, they already had become incapable of the blessedness of paradise. Christ's redemption restored that capability to them, returned the nature of Adam to them, but did not free them from the capacity for sin, or, more exactly, does not deprive them of free will. Making use of the fruits of redemption, there are certain persons who become holy while on earth, who perfect themselves in the Church, attaining to high degrees of blessedness expressed in joyful communion with God. But generally speaking, by living on earth and being distracted with the flesh and worldly cares, men are not conscious of the nearness of God and therefore, both the blessedness of the righteous and the torments of the sinful which come from communion with Him are far from complete. We are so swallowed up by the world that we cannot even conceive what a great weight of sin lies upon us and separates us from God. That is why the more perfect a Christian is, the more sinful he confesses himself to be, feeling the weight even of those transgressions which with us ordinary people pass unnoticed. Recently I had occasion to quote the story of A. S. Khomiakov about the moments of self-knowledge he experienced when he, a chaste and virtuous Christian, felt that as a consequence not of his sinful actions, but simply of the vanity of life, his prayer fell back to earth powerless. Being perhaps closer to God than ever in these moments of prayer, Khomiakov felt that burning shame which all of us tormentedly feel when all our sins rise up before us in all their strength. Then even what seems good to us on account of our false notions of virtue or our self-delusion is, before the face of God, revealed as sinful and even as what separates us from God, evoking shame and torments. This discovery of our true moral self results in repentance for some of us, who will therefore be saved (that is, will become capable of union with God), while others - those to whom humility is foreign and who are filled with self- justification -will, on the contrary, grumble and become embittered, thus delivering themselves up to cruel torments. The possibility of repentance exists right up to the Last Judgment, when it will finally be made clear who it is that has washed his soul clean by repentance, and who, justifying himself and complaining, rises up against God, accusing Him of injustice. The prayers for the dead serve as a confirmation of the possibility of repentance and, consequently, also of some self-perfection after death. In praying for the forgiveness of sins, we ask for the enlightenment of the soul by divine Grace, that is, for its self- perfection. Since such prayers have been instituted by the Church, she accepts the point of view expressed.
The redemption accomplished by the Lord Jesus Christ, as we have already stated, has revealed the possibility not only of a most sure way to perfection, but also the possibility that a man may communicate here on earth in the blessedness of paradise. This possibility is revealed in the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. She offers us teachings which enlighten our mind and our conscience. She constantly gives the help of grace and in the Mystery of the Eucharist even unites us with the Saviour, Who leads us up to heaven. What a great gift! How infinite is the degree of perfection accessible to one who, by making use of it, unremittingly acquires the Kingdom of Heaven! But how great the shame of degradation is that man's who, possessing such wealth, has neglected it! For a son of the Church there are more possibilities than there are for "outsiders" - both as regards the blessedness of paradise and as regards the potency of future torments.
But let us return to those who do not belong to the Church. These people are not endowed as we are, but nevertheless even among pagans we see people who do not give themselves up to the passions and who do good works. This occurs because the work of the law is written on men's hearts: their conscience also bearing witness and their thoughts the meanwhile accusing or else excusing one another (Romans 2:15). The Apostle's preceding words in the same chapter (Romans 2:6-11) give grounds for hoping that all virtuous men are capable of being honored with a merciful decision at the Last Judgment. If that is so, I am asked, then why the redemption?
We have already explained the meaning of the redemption for Christians. As for the rest of mankind, it consists in the fact that the wall of hell (Sheol, Hades) has been broken down. The descent of Christ into hell and His preaching there has made it possible to pass from it to heaven, that is, from a condition of torment to one of blessedness. How? By adopting the preaching of Christ, even though after death. The pagans who did not know about Christ on earth are in the same position as the mass of Old Testament humanity. Virtues prompted by the conscience are accessible to them, but Christian self-perfecting is inaccessible to them. With respect to life beyond the grave, they are similar to most of the people of the Old Testament. These people knew Christ only after death and received the possibility of leaving hell with Him. The pagans too, who know Christ only after death, either accept His preaching and are united to the Church, or else become embittered and surrender themselves to torments.
But how can we reconcile the thoughts here expressed with the doctrine of the Holy Fathers that salvation is impossible outside the Church? Very simply.
In the first place, salvation itself must be understood in a more comprehensive manner than simply receiving a reward for a virtuous life. Salvation in Christian terms means self-perfecting, with the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit. There is none of this outside the Church.
In the second place, the attainment of blessedness outside the Church is precluded by the ideas expressed above, for the indispensable condition for it is union with the Church, even though after death.
But how terrible the testimonies of the Holy Fathers are concerning the fate of heretics and schismatics! These testimonies, of course, primarily refer to those who on earth were at war with the Church, that is, who struggled against Christ, rending His seamless garment. But neither is it easy for the lukewarm heretic to be united with the Church. The fact is, that if self-perfecting is possible to some degree after death (only until the Last Judgment, of course), nevertheless a man's moral condition after death is only a continuation of the state in which death found him, just as in maturity those principles adopted by a man in childhood and youth receive their application and development. Consequently, the errors even of those who have not consciously been at direct war with the Church of Christ will interfere with their being united to the Church. Of course, for them as for pagans, good works, mercy, love for one's neighbor, do not remain without benefit. They prepare them too for being united with the Church after death. But any moral teaching which has been distorted by the heretics will stand in the way of repentance, which is indispensable for being united to the Church; and the best of works may turn out to be so only superficially, in actual fact bringing the soul no profit. Such, for example, are works of mercy without real love for the suffering, which are done for the sake of "merit" before God, or still worse, from vainglory. The distortion of dogmas tells upon moral principles also, and consequently can make works of charity not cleanse the soul, but darken it.
That juridical system of moral teaching which is held by the Western heretics, for example, cannot be ignored in this context. The view of good works as a man's merit can become an obstacle to humble repentance, and the conviction that one is right can lead to the questioning of Divine justice. I have in mind the Saviour's words: Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Thy name, and in Thy name have cast out devils, and in Thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from Me, ye that work iniquity (Matt. 5:22-28). Doubtless these words refer to heretics who are so unrepentant that even at the Last Judgment they squabble with God and in their deception hurl accusations at Him. If one can conceive of the posthumous psychology of a man who has spent his whole life in a community separated from the Church, one will understand how hard it would be for him to repent and become united with the Church. Without dwelling too long on this point, let us indicate a few obstacles. They will see that sins which they have already considered forgiven still weigh upon them with their full burden and that those men whom they have been accustomed to regard as saints will be handed over to severe torments on hearing the words of the Saviour quoted above. Chrysostom, whose words are quoted in the synaxarion for Meat-Fare Saturday, speaks about this matter, that in the life beyond the grave we will recognize those who have fallen asleep before us: Let it be known that all will recognize each other there, those whom they know and those whom they never saw. Under such conditions, is it not easier to accept Christ if one has never known anything about Him previously, rather than if one has a distorted conception of Him which has already taken root in one? Did not St. John Chrysostom mean this when he said that With incorrect dogmas there is no profit even from a good life, just as the reverse is also true: sound dogmas are of no profit with a depraved life (Homily on the Gospel of John the Theologian, V111, Book 2, p.447)? How easy it is for one living outside the Church to give in to grumbling against God, Who has not made him worthy to be born within the bosom of the Church! How easy, instead of humble prayer for his acceptance - even at the "twelfth hour" - into the communion of the Church, for him to flare up with hate for those to blame for the error! And any sort of hatred, any sort of anger, separates from God. Furthermore, let us not forget that when standing before the face of God, one who is merely convinced of the truth of the Church will not become united to Her (how could he not be convinced of it, seeing Her glory face to face?), but only one who is worthy of it, that is, whose mental disposition is sufficiently pure. Only one who, in spite of his alienation from the Church, has developed in himself the virtues of love and humility, can with God's help pass through this ordeal.
But this is merely a speculation of ours, which, as far as heretics and schismatics are concerned, does not have firm grounds in the writings of the Church; for the Church points out the unique and therefore the absolutely true way to salvation. She calls Her sons to full perfection and gives no reassurance to those who hope to attain blessedness without Her and Her saving gifts of grace. For, if salvation is difficult for each one of us, for those who have been reborn in Holy Baptism, who have received the gifts of the Holy Spirit in Chrismation, who have been freed of our sins in the mystery of Repentance, who partake of the Body and Blood of the Lord, in a word, who make use of all the universal wealth of the Church of Christ, then how can one who does not have all this be saved?
But people tell me that the Orthodox Church, upon receiving Catholics, Anglicans, and Protestants into Her bosom, does not repeat baptism for them and receives clergy of the first (now even of the second) in their orders. By this very act does She not recognize their baptism and other grace-giving sacraments? This is an old question which has given rise to a whole literature. We have had theologians who, under the influence of heterodox writers, have answered the question in the affirmative, and have devoted heartfelt labors to research on the question of the existence of apostolic succession in the hierarchy of one of another non-Orthodox community (e.g., the composition of Professor V. A. Sokolov, The Hierarch of the Anglican Episcopal Church, Sergiev Posad, 1897.)
Vain labors! The Church recognizes only Herself as grace- bearing, and a bishop who has fallen away from Her has himself lost apostolic succession and consequently cannot give it to another. It is not so important that the thread of the laying-on of hands be traced uninterruptedly back to the Apostles; it is also necessary that each one who has done the laying-on of hands have the episcopal grace himself. But one who has separated himself from the Church does not have it, and consequently cannot communicate it to another. There are no sacraments, beginning with baptism, outside the Church, a fact firmly established by Her from the first centuries of Her existence and in an especially definitive way in the third and fourth centuries (cf. Canon 68 of the Council of Carthage). This position has been irrefutably proved by Archimandrite Hilarion (Troitsky, now languishing in captivity on Solovki), in an article called "The Unity of the Church and the World Conference of Christians". Unfortunately, this brilliant article was published in the Theological Herald (No.1, 1917, pp.1-60) during the revolution and is therefore hardly known to anyone nowadays. (Republished by the Brotherhood of St. Job of Pochaev, Brazil, 1955). In essence, it needs no additions, but the fact that it is little known does not permit us to limit ourselves to a simple reference. Thus, I shall devote a few pages to the question of the lack of grace in communities outside the Church, in many cases unavoidably repeating the arguments found in Archimandrite Hilarion.
First of all, it must be said that the point of view
I shall expound is not that of any theological "school", as heterodox
usually think, having been confused by Orthodox scholars who, under the
influence of Western scholasticism, depreciate the grace of the Holy
by subjecting it to a formula, even when pronounced by a man who has no
contact with the Church. With the logical extension of this
it is impossible not to arrive at the conclusion that any layman,
with harm to his soul, can perform every sacrament. In essence,
Augustine of Hippo fell into just this difficulty. He confessed
possibility of salvation only in the true Church, but entertained the
that the case of a sinful priest was the same as that of a hierarchical
person in a community outside the Church. The beginnings of the
doctrine of sacraments which are "valid" but not "efficacious", that
not manifesting any beneficial action, has its beginnings in
This doctrine, which has now been adopted in the West, is foreign to
Holy Fathers and is not accepted by the Church.
However that may be, such a notion of the validity of the sacraments has behind it no proofs of any weight such as might give grounds for it to be considered a doctrine of the Church. But in Orthodoxy, correct and incorrect teachings about such cardinal questions cannot co-exist. Here, one cannot take refuge in a diversity of "schools". There are definite demands which a teaching must satisfy in order to be recognized as a doctrine of the Church and private opinions are permissible only to the extent that they do not contradict that doctrine. And if a definite point of view is confessed by the most glorious Holy Fathers, if it is adopted by the Oecumenical Councils, then how can one call it the opinion of a "school"?
These views about the grace of the sacraments which are now so widespread are not new.
In the middle of the third century, Stephen, Bishop of Rome, expressed the opinion that heretics and schismatics do not need to be baptized because they have the grace of baptism. Stephen and those who thought like him divided spiritual grace-bestowing gifts into two parts: the grace of Christ and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. The Church alone possesses the gifts of the Holy Spirit and communicates them through the laying-on of hands. Christ's grace exists and is communicated even in the baptism of heretical communities which stand outside the Church. In this view, heretics cannot be compared with pagans: they have left the Church, but they have rejected paganism; even they have a part of grace. Heretics stand as it were between the Church and the pagan world. Thus the boundaries of the Church do not coincide with Christianity in general; She is to be thought of as a smaller concentric circle included in a larger. The Church possesses grace in its full measure; but a part of grace - namely, Christ's grace - exists beyond the boundaries of the Church. (Bishop Troitsky, Sketches from the History of the Dogma of the Church, Sergiev Posad, 1912, p.455).
It must be pointed out that Stephen differed from
contemporary defenders of interconfessionalism by the fact that, even
he did not recognize the equality of communities which had fallen away
from the Church with the Church. His point of view is closer to
of erring Orthodox scholars than to that of Protestants or Anglicans.
Stephen received a sharp rebuke from St. Cyprian of Carthage who affirmed that anyone who does not have the Holy Spirit cannot even baptize. The Holy Father wrote:
Let those who protect heretics and schismatics answer us whether they have the Holy Spirit or not. If they do, then why do we place our hand on those baptized by them when they come to us, to bring the Holy Spirit down upon them? The Holy Spirit would of course be received where He was given, if He were there. If the heretics and schismatics baptized outside the Church do not have the Holy Spirit, then it is obvious that remission of sins cannot be granted by them - of whom it is known that they do not have the Holy Spirit (Epistle to Magnus, Works, p.369). In another place St. Cyprian writes: If they attribute the validity of baptism to the sublimity of the Name, then why among them, in the Name of the same Christ, does not the laying of hands upon the baptized person for the receiving of the Holy Spirit have effect? Why does the same Majesty of one and the same Name not reveal the same power also in the laying-on of hands which is attributed to it in the sanctification of baptism? If one who has been reborn outside the Church can make himself a temple of God, then why can he not make himself a temple of the Holy Spirit? If one who has been baptized among the heretics can put on Christ, then all the more should he be able to receive the Holy Spirit, Who was sent by Christ . . . For water alone, of course, without the Holy Spirit, cannot cleanse a man of sins and sanctify him. So, there exists one of two alternatives: either to agree that on the other side, among the heretics, where they think there is baptism, the Holy Spirit is present; or that among the heretics, where the Holy Spirit is not, no baptism can be recognized - for there can be no baptism without the Holy Spirit (Epistle to Pompey, Works, pp.334-335). If there is no Church among the heretics because She is One and cannot be divided, if they do not have the Holy Spirit either, because He also is One and cannot be among the godless and alien, then of course neither can there be any baptism, which is this same oneness; for it cannot be separated either from the Church or from the Holy Spirit (Ibid., p.358).From these quotations one can see that St. Cyprian did not recognize the possibility of grace-giving sacraments outside communion with the one true Church. The Holy Father denies the existence of an incomplete, imperfect grace, and he proves the correctness of his viewpoint with the most rigorous argument.
Later Fathers of the Church expressed the views not of Stephen or of Augustine, but specifically those of St. Cyprian, although they did not insist with undue vehemence on the fact itself of rebaptism. On the contrary, it is a very important part of these views that formalism is absent. Recognizing grace only in the sacraments of the Church, the Holy Fathers began not so much with the point that in baptism heretics pronounce a different formula, as that even with the most scrupulous observance of Orthodox ritual, it is impossible to receive grace outside unity with the Church. If, says St. John Chrysostom, a hand should be severed from the body, the spirit flowing out of the brain, seeking a continuation and not finding it there, does not wrench itself away from the body and cross over to the severed hand, but if it does not find it there, is not communicated to it (On Ephesians, Homily X1: 3). And further on:
What do you say: `They have the same faith, they are Orthodox as well as we?' If that is so, then why are they not with us? There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism. If they are right, then we are wrong; and if we are right, then they are wrong . . . Tell me: do you really think that this is sufficient - that they are called Orthodox, when the grace of the laying-on of hands has failed and perished among them? What profit is there in all the rest if they do not observe this last thing? One must stand for that as much as for the faith. And if, according to the saying of old, it is lawful for everyone to `fill his hands' (Exod. 29:9), to be a priest, then let them, let them all, and then in vain is this holy table built, in vain are the rites of the Church, in vain are the choirs of the priests, let us overthrow them and be done with them (Ibid., Homily XI:5).The very same teaching is found in the first canonical letter of St. Basil the Great to Amphilochius, Bishop of Iconium. This letter, which was accepted by an Oecumenical Council, has an irreproachable authority, and to ignore it in any discussion of the problem under consideration shows either theological ignorance or the substitution of personal pseudo-wisdom for the teaching of the Church.
It seemed good to the ancients, writes St. Basil, - I mean Cyprian and our own Firmilian - to reject all of these, Cathars, Encratites, and Hydroparastatae, under one common condemnation, because although the origin of their separation arose through schism, those who apostasized from the Church even then no longer had the grace of the Holy Spirit in them, as the imparting of it came to nothing after the break in continuity. Even though the first to separate had ordination from the Fathers, and by the laying-on of hands had received spiritual gifts, yet when they broke away, having become laymen, they had no power to baptize or ordain, and were in no position to transmit to others the grace of the Holy Spirit from which they themselves had fallen away. Therefore, when those baptized by them come to the Church, they are ordered, like those baptized by laymen, to be cleansed with the true baptism of the Church.
It is thus beyond all doubt that St. Basil agrees in principle with the point of view held by Cyprian and Firmilian. Actually he does not utter a word against it and when he suggests another practice, he does so as a concession to local custom, having the good of the Church as his aim. But since on the whole it seemed best to some in Asia, for the sake of the good (oikonomia) of the many, to have their baptism be accepted, let it be received. The difference between such a decision and the recognition of validity outside the baptism of the Church is important. In practice, from this later canon it can be seen that St. Basil considered it possible, while denying the grace of the heretics' baptism, to receive them into the Church without repetition of the baptismal rite. Concerning the Encratites he wrote:
It is our duty to reject their baptism, and if someone has received baptism from them, we should baptize him when he comes to the Church. However, if this is an obstacle to the general good (oikonomia), again we must resort to custom, and follow the Fathers who have prescribed economy in the matter before us. For I fear lest, whist being minded to make them scrupulous about baptism we should by the strictness of the rule put obstacles in the way of those being saved. . . . But in any case, let it be decreed that those who approach the Church who have been baptized by them be chrismated in the presence of the faithful, and only then approach the Mysteries.In the last century, the strictness of the Greek practice hindered the uniting to the Church of the Anglican Palmer, who did not agree to be baptized but who did not want to be joined to the Church anywhere but through Constantinople. In Russia he would have been received by Chrismation alone.
In confirmation of the view that it is not a form, but the very fact of being united to the Church that is important, I will quote the story of St. Dionysius of Alexandria. He wrote to Sixtus, Bishop of Rome:
In the assembly of the brethren there is someone who is considered Orthodox of long standing and who was joined to the society of Christians before my ordination - even, it seems, before the enthronement of the Blessed Heraclius. Having been at a recent baptism and having heard the questions and answers, he came to me with weeping and contrition, and falling at my feet began to confess and swear that the baptism he had received from the heretics was not the same and had nothing in common with ours, because it was filled with impiety and blasphemy. Saying that his soul was suffering and that on account of such impious words and actions he did not dare lift his eyes to God, he asked me to give him the most true cleansing, adoption, and grace. But I decided not to do so, having told him that because of his long communion with the Church, I do not dare prepare anew one who has listened to the blessing of the gifts, pronounced the Amen with the others, approached the table, extended his hands for the reception of the holy food, accepted it, and for a long time communicated of the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. I ordered him to be at peace and to approach the communion of the Holy (Eusebius, VI:9).
Thus St. Dionysius, although he of course did not recognize the heretical baptism which was described in the blackest colors by the penitent himself, regarded him as being united to the Church without the repetition of the baptismal rite. For St. Dionysius what was important was that this believer was in fact united to the Church. Thus also did St. Cyprian recognize the possibility of becoming united to the Church without the repetition of baptism, although he considered such a practice incorrect.
But someone will say, we read in the Epistle to Jubaianus, 'What will happen to those who before this turned from heresy to the Church, and were received into the Church without baptism?' The Lord in His mercy is able to grant them forgiveness, and those who have been received into the Church and who fell asleep in the Church He does not deprive of the gifts of His Church. But it does not in the least follow from this that if an error has at some time been permitted, one must always adhere to the error (Works, Vol.1, p.347).The same St. Cyprian recognized even the so-called baptism of blood, that is, the uniting to the Church of those martyrs who did not manage to receive a baptism of water before death. It is obvious that the established form of baptism does not lessen the fact that as a sort of exception, in the order of condescension, union with the Church is allowed even without it. In the same way, this lenient practice gives no grounds for affirming the presence of grace in baptism outside the Church. That is why, under the influence of one and the same dogmatic teaching - one shared both by the rigorist St. Cyprian and by the lenient St. Basil - practice at different times and in different local Churches has varied. Thus, for example, the Greeks baptized Catholics at a time when in Russia they were accepted by Chrismation alone.
In answering Palmer, who was scandalized because in Constantinople the Church would not accept him into communion otherwise than through baptism, A. S. Khomiakov beautifully explained that these various practices fall into line with general dogmatic teaching.
All the sacraments, he says, for once and for all, can be performed only in the bosom of the Orthodox Church. In what form they are executed is a secondary matter. Through reconciliation with the Church this sacrament is renewed or completed by virtue of the reconciliation: the defective heretical rite receives the fulness and perfection of the Orthodox sacrament. Consequently, visible repetition of baptism or chrismation, although unnecessary, does not have the stamp of error: it evinces a difference in rite, but not in understanding. Comparison with another fact of Church history will make my meaning clear. In the eyes of the Church, marriage is a sacrament; however, the Church does not demand any repetition of marriage from those heathens whom She receives into the society of the faithful. The conversion of the heathens itself, without the performance of a ceremony, confers upon the couple's previous union the significance of the Christian mystery. You must agree with this, for otherwise you will have to concede the impossible, namely that the legal union of the heathen couple had the full significance of a Christian sacrament. The Church does not demand any renewal of marriage from either heathens or Jews, but could a second marriage be considered an error? I think not, even though a change would take place in rite (Complete Collected Works, 3rd letter to Palmer).We can find a corroboration of Khomiakov's explanation in the fact that the Church, in accepting Catholics in holy orders, for example, demands that a Catholic priest be joined to the Church by one of our bishops; a priest, however, could receive him only as a layman. Thus in the ceremony of being united to the Church, the Sacrament of Priesthood, which can be carried out only by a bishop, is also performed.
Establishing the fact that the true Church is One only and that in Her alone the grace of the Holy Spirit resides, is especially important now when almost every year we are witnesses of impressive interconfessional meetings. At these meetings the heterodox sometimes hear statements of ours which are instructive in the highest degree; but the truth of the uniqueness of the Church is emphasized little. In the meantime, how very rightly did Metropolitan Anthony point out, in his most interesting correspondence with the representatives of the Episcopal Church in America, that those who work for union must first of all adopt the truth of the uniqueness of the Church, which would be a real step forward in their otherwise hopeless task.
We can dispute, said he, we can objectively and conscientiously investigate where the true Church is now, the Church from which all other confessions fell away, to their ruin; but to say that the Church was divided, that it lost its unity in the ninth, eleventh, or sixteenth century, means not to believe in Christ, Who said, `I will build My Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it' . . . It means to be in conflict with that essential belief of all Christians that the Church of Christ will be one and unshakable forever (Correspondence of the Most Reverend Anthony, Archbishop of Kharkov, with the Representatives of the Episcopal Church in America, Kharkov, 1918, p.16).
Every one of us who has contact with the heterodox must always remember this unalterable doctrine of the Church. We dare not hide either from ourselves or from them the sad truth that their communities are without grace, for concealing it will put them at their ease and deprive them of zeal to search for the right path.
If they see, wrote St. Cyprian, that in our own judgment and opinion we define and establish the baptism of those baptized among them as right and lawful, then they will think that they rightly and lawfully have the Church and the other treasures of the Church. And there will be no reason for them to turn to us, when, since they have baptism, they think they have all the rest. On the contrary, when they learn that outside the Church there is no baptism and that remission of sins cannot be granted, they will the more eagerly and quickly come to us and will humbly ask for the treasures and gifts of Mother Church, knowing that they absolutely cannot attain the true promise of diving grace if they do not first turn to the true Church (Epistle to Jubaianus, p.348).Hate or impatience did not dictate these lines to the Holy Father, but rather love for men, and a wise concern for those who are strangers to salvation.
The above article, first published in 1929, was taken from the book The Church and Her Doctrine in Life by Protopresbyter George Grabbe, later Bishop Gregory Grabbe (Montreal, 1964), and was translated from the Russian by Mrs. George Jerinic and published as #29 of the St. Nectarios Educational Series, Seattle Washington.