The divine teachings of Jesus Christ, with their power to regenerate, mould, and fashion man, and lead him to salvation and eternal life, are found in the Holy Scriptures which the Church has preserved in her bosom over the centuries. As St. Paul testified, the Church is the pillar and ground of the truth (I Timothy 3:15).
Just as God inscribed the Decalogue upon tablets of stone and by the hands of Moses placed them for safe keeping in the ark prepared for this purpose, so too He declared the Gospel law and the teaching concerning grace, through the mouth of the saviour – the Theanthropos. Through the instruments of the apostles whose eyes witnessed Christ and whose ears heard His teachings, God recorded all that was necessary in the Holy Gospel and entrusted it to His ark, the Church, for safe keeping.
This transpired so that all who sincerely and diligently seek truth might enter into the holy mother Church and therein search for, discover, and learn the eternal truth. Furthermore, information· concerning truth comes through faith. “For we walk by faith, not by sight,” observed St. Paul (II Corinthians 5:7).
Because the Church possesses and safeguards within herself the eternal truth, the inspired Word of God, she not only is of God and is sacred, but also is true and indestructible. The true Church of God remains forever, for according to the assurance of the Theanthropos there exists no hostile power capable of prevailing against her.
We must seek an answer to the questions of how and when the Church was established, and what is her structure. The manner in which the Church was established is mysterious; it is indeed incomprehensible to our finite minds. In every respect it is similar to the preparation of the new man, the new Adam, the perfect man who is Jesus Christ. If one can comprehend the way in which human nature was combined with the eternal substance (hypostasis) of the Logos, or how the human element of the divine saviour was fashioned, then one can understand the manner in which the Church was established in Christ and fashioned upon Him.
Even as God created Eve from one of Adam’s ribs, so also God fashioned the Church from the human-divine nature of the saviour, the new Adam. Or when the Church is compared with a building, the new Adam became her foundation stone and the head of the corner. Since Eve was made from a rib of the earthly Adam, she too was earthly and had all the characteristics of a finite being, and a finite nature which she took from Adam. In similar manner, because the Church was fashioned from the incarnate Logos, she is immortal and has a full portion of the perfect nature of the Theanthropos, for she received a share of all His divine characteristics.
The Church came as close to Him as a bride with her spouse, and the Church justly is called the bride of Christ, because she shared His sufferings as well as His glory. Just as in the substance (hypostasis) of God the Logos, the two natures, the divine and the human, were united in one person, although each retained its own special attributes without confusion, change, or mingling, so too in the Theanthropos there was a union of all the members who comprise the Church, together with the whole body of the Church whose head is Christ.
Let us turn to the question of when the Church was established. The foundation of the Church must be distinguished from her preparation. The time of the preparation for the Church’s foundation is totally different from the time of her actual establishment.
Before the Theanthropos appeared in the world and before His gentle voice was heard in the land of Judea, and from there in all the world, calling sinners to repentance and perfection of life, the faith of men who loved God was directed toward the saviour and redeemer who was to come. The prophets proclaimed Him, and the symbols of the synagogue foreshadowed and prefigured Him, as did the law of the Old Testament which was given for the sanctification of man.
Wherefore, the saviour and messiah, so long expected, was the hope of the nations. He was the progenitor of a new, spiritual race of men, and the creator of a new creation, moral and spiritual. He was the foundation of a new building and the cornerstone on which His heavenly Father intended to build His eternal, indestructible, and immovable building. It was to be the best, the unique product of His creative art.
If the foundation stone still were not in the sight of mankind, clearly revealed, how could the Church have been able to exist and to live once she had been built? The Church endured because the incarnate Logos of God was revealed in the world when Jesus Christ, the saviour of the world, appeared in Judea and when the divine words of grace, love, and truth were heard ringing over the countryside and mountains, the plains and lakes, and dwelling places of men and women, righteous and sinners, wise and simple, great and small.
Verily, the establishment of the Church dates from the appearance of the divine saviour in the world. What exactly is this establishment? When anything is scattered haphazardly and is thrown down in disorder, then it is in fact in disarray and is so styled. But when anything is arranged in good order, neatly fitted, and placed where it belongs, then it is said to be set in order. It is in a state of composition; it is in its own proper system or order.
If the Church is thought of as a spiritual building, then before her establishment she was in disarray, just as the stones, wood, and clay of a material building before the foundation stone has been laid. The man who intends to build a house first collects the building material and prepares it. Then he assembles it and arranges it in proper order, and so be sets about building the house. The material of which the holy Church of Jesus Christ is constructed consists of those souls which are capable of receiving eternal salvation. They have complete faith and trust in the true God of perfect feeling, compassion, and righteousness.
The souls are first placed in order by God and when they have been arranged properly, they are fitted into the building of the Church. Otherwise, they are considered unworthy of her. The acceptable souls are placed in order and arranged appropriately, according to their relationship and the manner with which they normally harmonize with the foundation stone of the Church, Jesus Christ.
When the foundation stone of a house has been laid, the remaining stones are placed upon it, each according to its nature, relationship, and strength. The cornerstones, as other foundation stones, lie upon the headstone which supports them, and through them, the entire building.
Jesus Christ is the perfect headstone placed lovingly and carefully in the Church by the heavenly Father. Beside Christ were set the divine apostles and prophets, as other foundation stones. Said St. Paul, “Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God; and are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone·; in whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: in whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:19-22).
The first spiritual and moral stones of the building are the apostles. They are the first souls which the incarnate Logos called to His side. He shaped them, refashioned them, and regenerated them after He bestowed upon them His Spirit of truth and grace with which He is endowed so richly. Through them He called many other souls, and through these still others. As century followed century, the Theanthropos called to Himself those who were capable of being saved through the instruments He has in the Church.
That which binds the Church to the saviour, the Theanthropos, is faith. The more this faith is unshakable, steadfast, and firm, so much greater is the accompanying love which binds and unites the saviour with those being saved, the physician with his patients, the benefactor with his beneficiaries. It is this love that makes the beloved souls blessed. The souls of those who have been saved by Jesus are blessed by unbroken union with Jesus, and by the eternal love they share with Him.
Because they are united with Jesus indissolubly through divine love and are already in the life of blessedness, they cannot quarrel among themselves, disagree, and be hated; they can only love and agree. To love Jesus brings with it the capacity to love one’s neighbor also; it is only in our union with Jesus that we can fulfill the Gospel law. Only so can we love God and our neighbor. This virtue exists within the Church but not outside, because outside the Church there is darkness.
Once the Church has been thought of as a building, reason suggests that we seek to find the plan for its arrangement and the principle on which it is organized through the centuries and comes to perfection. Let us proceed in search of those who work in the building, and of the means by which the building is completed. Let us look especially for the plan which was followed in the erection of the beautifully designed dwelling for the wisdom of God – God’s plan.
When we have found the plan of the building, then we shall find the very mind of God, the very truth of God, for that is the design for the building of the Church, and for the setting of the holy apostles, the prophets, the martyrs, the saints, and the company of the righteous in the Church, as carefully chosen stones. Not even one of these moral stones is set in the building of the Church if it is not consistent with the truth and plan of God. Such a stone does not pass the test and is rejected.
Thus, it is true that outside the Church there is no salvation. If anyone desires and longs for salvation for himself, it is his duty to seek it within the precincts of the Church where it may be attained, because in the Church of Christ may be found light, truth, the power to fulfill God’s law, the Spirit of truth “whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him:” (John 14:17), and the spirit of life, incorruption, immortality, and blessedness.
Just as Noah was saved from the great flood by the ark which floated on the surface of the deadly waters, similarly holy Orthodoxy brings salvation from the great inundation of spiritual and doctrinal decay. The Church which God founded floats above the swirling tide of sinful mankind, and is not submerged by it.
Glory to Thee, 0 Christ, most perfect and holy Son of the eternal heavenly Father! Glory to Thy wisdom! Glory to Thy compassion for sinful mankind! Glory to Thy life-giving Cross! Glory to Thy holy Orthodox Church, the manger and ark of our eternal salvation! O most holy, most blessed, most perfect Christ our God, eternal glory to Thee! Amen.