The Eternal Church?

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The Eternal Church?

Postby Isaakos » Mon 23 February 2015 3:08 am

Ok, I need some help on this one folks:

In what sense is the Church "Eternal"? I understand that our being IN the Church results on our participation in the uncreated and eternal life of the Trinity. But is it proper to understand the eternal nature of the Church as the ENTIRETY of what the Church IS? How is this possible with respect to the manifestly created and human element of the Church?

Is this not ecclesiological Monophysitism? The human and created being swallowed up in the divine?

Is the Church PRIMARILY Triadological, or Incarnational?

What say you friends?
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Re: The Eternal Church?

Postby Maria » Mon 23 February 2015 7:26 am

Christ, the Incarnational God-Man is the Second Person of the Godhead and is the Head of our Holy Church.

What do the Fathers say about our Church?
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Re: The Eternal Church?

Postby Gregory M » Sun 29 July 2018 10:57 pm

I know this is an old thread, but since I'm new, I thought I'd add and updated response to the opening post. Here are some quotes from the Holy Fathers on the "Eternal Church': (please note, what I'm posting below is an edited revision of an article originally written by Stavros Markou on this topic and other matters unrelated to this thread.)

1. Starting from the Epistles of St. Paul the Apostle of the Nations:

In his epistles, the Apostle Paul refers to a “Mystery” existing before the creation of the world. For instance:

“But we speak the wisdom of God in a MYSTERY, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained BEFORE THE WORLD unto our glory.” (1 Cor 2:7,8)

“Now to him that is of power to establish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the MYSTERY, which was kept secret SINCE THE WORLD BEGAN.” (Rom 16:25)

The Holy Apostle Paul then elaborates on this same “Mystery” that was from the BEGINNING, by stating that it is has now become MANIFEST as the spiritual connection between Christians, and it is the presence of Christ within each soul. Thus the Apostle Paul writes:

“Even the MYSTERY which hath been hid FROM AGES AND FROM GENERATIONS, but now is made MANIFEST to his saints: To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this MYSTERY among the Gentiles; which is CHRIST IN YOU, the hope of glory.” (Col 1:26,27)

This “Mystery” which existed “before the world began,” and was hidden “from ages and from generations” and is also now made “manifest,” and which exists as “Christ in us,” is exactly what the Holy Fathers have always used to refer to the CHURCH. In other words, this MYSTERY is the CHURCH! The Apostle Paul even refers to this Mystery as the Church in the following passage:

“This is a great MYSTERY: but I speak concerning Christ and the CHURCH.” (Eph 5:32)

[In the above passages, it is clear that the Church is a Mystery that existed before the creation of the world. This mystery was hidden from the world, just as Christ was hidden. This mystery was also “made manifest to the saints” in the same way Christ became manifest through the Incarnation, and took on the flesh, and from invisible became visible. To deny the fact that the Church is a mystery existing prior to the foundation of the world, and to deny that this same Church became manifest through the incarnation of Christ, is a denial of the Orthodox ecclesiology and soteriology! – S.M.]

2. From the Second Epistle of St. Clement of Rome:

In his Epistle to the Corinthians, St. Clement of Rome, writes: “Wherefore, brethren, if we do the will of God our Father, we shall be of the first Church, which is spiritual, which was founded before the sun and the moon; but if we do not the will of the Lord, we shall be of the scripture that saith, My house was made a den of robbers. So therefore let us choose rather to be of the Church of life, that we may be saved.” (2 Clement 14:1)

[In the above quote, St. Clement, Bishop of Rome, in his letter to the Corinthians, clearly defines the Church as existing “before the sun and the moon.” This is biblical terminology for “before the creation of the world.” In this quote, St. Clement of Rome mentions a “First Church.” This First Church is called “spiritual” and it existed not only before Pentecost, but even before Adam, and before the world was even created. What “first Church” could exist BEFORE creation? Is this “first Church” not the Holy Trinity and His Grace, which alone can be distinguished from creation, as the Creator? – S.M.]

And again, St. Clement writes: “And I do not suppose ye are ignorant that the living Church is the body of Christ: for the scripture saith, God made man, male and female. The male is Christ and the female is the Church. And the Books and the Apostles plainly declare that the Church existeth not now for the first time, but hath been from the beginning: for she was spiritual, as our Jesus also was spiritual, but was manifested in the last days that He might save us.” (2 Clement 14:2).

[In the above quote, St. Clement of Rome clearly states that the Church “existed not now for the first time, but hath been from the beginning.” The Biblical terminology “from the beginning” means BEFORE the creation of the world. This pre-existence of the Church is likened to the pre-existence of Jesus prior to his incarnation, as the Eternal Word of God. Thus Clement writes “for she [the Church] was spiritual, as our Jesus also was spiritual.” TO deny the SPIRITUAL, ETERNAL, BEGINNINGLESS nature of the Church (the body), is to deny the SPIRITUAL, ETERNAL, BEGINNINGLESS nature of Christ (the head)! Notice that in this passage, Clement also uses “was” to refer to the spiritual nature of the Church and of Christ. This means that neither the Church nor Christ are in spirit alone anymore. After the Incarnation, Christ is no longer only spiritual, but now He is physical too, in having taken upon himself the human flesh. The Church, likewise, by the incarnation of Christ, is no longer spiritual, but actually physical also: the body of Christ. This body of Christ is transmitted to us by the Immaculate Mysteries, and we therefore become part of this body, part of the Church. To deny any of these points, would amount to a denial of the fundamental Orthodox understanding of ecclesiology and soteriology! – S.M.]

3. From the Writings of St. Epiphanius of Salamis:

"But after the eighty [sects] there is the one foundation of truth which is as well the doctrine and saving teaching and Holy Bride of Christ, the Church, WHICH IS FROM ETERNITY, but through Christ's incarnation has, in the sequence of time, appeared in the midst of the aforesaid sects." (Epiphanius of Salamis, Panarion, Preface I, Haer. 1.156, Chapter 1, paragraph 3.)

The above can be found in the following book: The Panarion of St. Epiphanius, Bishop of Salamis, Selected Passages, Translated and Edited by Philip R. Amidon, S.J., New York - Oxford, OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS, 1990.

4. From the Writings of St. Maximus the Confessor:

Saint Maximus the Confessor says: "An Icon of the Triadic God is the Holy Church, as she operates the very union among the faithful to God, albeit to those who happen to be of different speech and from different places and customs, according to which [union], by the faith, are made one." (Patrologia Graeca, vol. 91 “Mystagogy,” ch. i, p. 668 B)

[Note: In the above, St. Maximus calls the Church an "icon" of the Holy Trinity, insofar as the union of faithful is concerned. But if the Church can be called the “icon” of the Holy Trinity, it therefore means the Holy Trinity can be called the "prototype" of the Church. For that is the very meaning of "icon," that it is based on a “prototype.” Therefore it is not unpatristic to call the Holy Trinity the “prototype” or figuratively the "First Church." S.M.]

5. From the Writings of St. Photius the Great:

"The unity of the Trinity, it is lawful to say, forming a Church,..." The context of the paragraph is in regards to God's united counsel "let us make man in our image and after our likeness." So when St. Photius the Great refers to "the unity of the Trinity... forming a Church" he is referring to the united counsel of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Greek word used is "ecclesiasasa" which derives from the Greek word "ecclesia" which can be translated as Church, Congregation, Gathering, etc. Thus it is definitely "lawful to say" according to St. Photius the Great, that the united counsel of the Holy Trinity "forms a Church." – S.M.]

I hope these quotes are helpful!

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