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|Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky|
Orthodox dogmatic theology
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7. The Church of Christ
The concept of the Church of Christ on earth.
In the literal meaning of the word, the Church is the “assembly,” in Greek, ekklesia, from
ekkaleo, meaning “to gather.” In this meaning it was used in the Old Testament also (the Hebrew
In the New Testament, this name has an incomparably deeper and more mystical meaning
which is difficult to embrace in a short verbal formula. The character of the Church of Christ is
best explained by the Biblical images to which the Church is likened.
The New Testament Church is the new planting of God, the garden of God, the vineyard of
God. The Lord Jesus Christ, by His earthly life, His death on the Cross and His Resurrection, introduced
into humanity new grace-giving powers, a new life which is capable of great fruitfulness.
These powers we have in the Holy Church which is His Body. The Sacred Scripture is rich
in expressive images of the Church. Here are the chief of them:
a) The image of the grapevine and its branches: “I am the true vine and My Father it the
Husbandman. Every branch in Me that beareth not fruit He taketh away; and every branch that
beareth fruit, He purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit . . . Abide in Me, and I in you. 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...
Herein is My Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be My disciples” (John
b) The image of the shepherd and the flock: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that entereth
not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a
robber. But he that entereth in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep . . . Verily, verily, I say
unto you, I am the door of the sheep . . . I am the door; by Me if any man enter in, he shall be
saved, and shall go in and go out, and find pasture . . . I am the good shepherd The good shep-herd giveth his life for the sheep . . . I am the good shepherd, and know My sheep, and am known
of mine . . . and I lay down My life for the sheep. And other sheep I have, which are not of this
fold; them also I must bring and they shall hear My voice; and there shall be one fold and one
shepherd” (John 10:1-16).
c) The image of the head and the body: “The Father hath put all things under His feet, and
gave Him to be the head over all things to the Church, which it His Body, the fulness of Him that
filleth all in all” (Eph. 1:22-23, and other places).
d) The image of a building under construction: “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 a holy temple in the Lord; in
Whom ye also are builded for a habitation of God through the Spirit” (Eph. 2:19-22).
e) The image of a house or family: “That thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave
thyself in the house of God, which is the Church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the
Truth” (1 Tim. 3:15). “Christ as a Son over His own house, Whose house are we” (Heb 3:6).
To this same thing refer likewise other images from the Gospel: the fishing net, the field
which has been sown, the vineyard of God. In the Fathers of the Church one often finds a comparison
of the Church in the world with a ship on the sea.
The Apostle Paul, comparing the life of the Church of Christ with a marriage, or with the
relationship between man and wife, concludes his thoughts with these words: “This is a great
mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the Church” (Eph. 5:32). The life of the Church in its
essence is mystical; the course of its life cannot be entirely included in any “history.” The Church
is completely distinct from any kind whatever of organized society on earth.