I. Basic theological provisions
I. 1. The Church is the assembly of believers in Christ, which He Himself calls every one to join. In her «all things heavenly and earthly» should be united in Christ, for He is the Head of «the Church, which is His Body, the fullness of Him that filleth all in all» (Eph. 1:22-23). In the Church the creation is deified and God’s original design for the world and man is fulfilled by the power of the Holy Spirit.
The Church is a result of both the redemptive feat performed by the Son Who was sent by the Father and the sanctifying action of the Holy Spirit Who descended on the great day of Pentecost. According to St. Irenaeus of Lyons, Christ put Himself at the head of humanity, becoming the Head of renewed humanity as His body in which access is found to the source of the Holy Spirit. The Church is the unity of «the new humanity in Christ», «the unity of God’s grace dwelling in the multitude of rational creatures who submit to grace» (A.S. Khomyakov). «Men, women, children, deeply divided as to race, nation, language, way of life, work, education, status, wealth… — all are restored by the Church in the Spirit… All receive from her one nature which is beyond corruption — the nature that is not affected by the numerous and profound differences by which people differ from one another… In her, no one is at all separated from the common, as everyone is as if dissolved in one another by the simple and indivisible power of faith» (St. Maxim the Confessor).
I. 2. The Church is a divine-human organism. Being the body of Christ, she unites in herself the two natures, divine and human, with their inherent actions and wills. The Church relates to the world through her human, created, nature. However, she interacts with it not as a purely earthly organism but in all her mysterious fullness. It is the divine-human nature of the Church that makes possible the grace-giving transformation and purification of the world accomplished in history in the creative co-work, «synergy», of the members and the Head of the church body.
The Church is not of this world, just as her Lord, Jesus, is not of this world. However, He came to the world He was to save and restore, «humbling» Himself to match its conditions. The Church should go through the process of historical kenosis, fulfilling her redemptive mission. Her goal is not only the salvation of people in this world, but also the salvation and restoration of the world itself. The Church is called to act in the world in the image of Christ, to bear witness to Him and His Kingdom. The members of the Church are called to share in Christ’s mission, in His service of the world, which is possible for the Church only as a conciliar service so that «the world may believe» (Jn. 17:21). The Church is called to serve the salvation of the world, for even the Son of man Himself «came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many» (Mk. 10:45).
The Saviour said about Himself: «I am among you as he that serveth» (Lk. 22:27). Service for the salvation of the world and human beings cannot be limited to national and religious limits, as the Lord Himself states clearly in the parable of the merciful Samaritan. Moreover, the members of the Church encounter Christ as the One Who assumed all sins and suffering of the world when they welcome the hungry, homeless, sick or prisoners. Help to those who suffer is in the full sense help to Christ Himself, and the fulfilment of this commandment determines the eternal fate of every man (Mt. 25:31-41). Christ calls upon His disciples not to shun the world, but to be «the salt of the earth» and «the light of the world».
The Church, being the body of God-Man Christ, is divine-human. However, even if Christ is the perfect God-Man, the Church is not yet perfect in her divine humanity, for on earth she has to struggle with sin, and her humanity, though inherently united with the Godhead, is far from expressing Him and matching Him in everything.
I. 3. Life in the Church, to which every one is called, is continuous ministry to God and people. All the people of God are called to it. The members of the body of Christ, participating in common service, also fulfil their particular functions. Each is given a special gift to serve all. «As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same, one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God» (1 Pet. 4:10). «For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; to another the working of miracles; to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits; to another diverse kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues; but all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he wills» (1 Cor. 12:8-11). Gifts of the manifold grace of God are given to every one individually but for the common ministry of the people of God (also for the service of the world). And this represents the common service of the Church performed on the basis of not one but many various gifts. The variety of gifts creates various ministries; however, «there are difference of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all» (1 Cor. 12:5-6).
The Church also calls her faithful children to participation in the life of society, which should be based on the principles of Christian morality. In the High Priestly Prayer, the Lord Jesus interceded the Heavenly Father for His followers: «I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil… As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world» (Jn. 17:15, 18). It is inadmissible to shun the surrounding world in a Manichean way. Christian participation in it should be based on the awareness that the world, socium and state are objects of God’s love, for they are to be transformed and purified on the principles of God-commanded love. The Christian should view the world and society in the light of his ultimate destiny, in the eschatological light of the Kingdom of God.
The variety of gifts in the Church is manifested in a special way in her social ministry. The undivided church organism participates in the life of the world around it in its fullness, but the clergy, monastics and laity can realise this participation in different ways and degrees.
I. 4. Fulfilling the mission of the salvation of the human race, the Church performs it not only through direct preaching, but also through good works aimed to improve the spiritual-moral and material condition of the world around her. To this end, she enters into co-operation with the state, even if it is not Christian, as well as with various public associations and individuals, even if they do not identify themselves with the Christian faith. Without setting herself the direct task to have all converted to Orthodoxy as a condition for co-operation, the Church hopes that joint charity will lead its workers and people around them to the knowledge of the Truth, help them to preserve or restore faithfulness to the God-given moral norms and inspire them to seek peace, harmony and well-being — the conditions in which the Church can best fulfil her salvific work.
Back to: The basis of the social concept