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Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky
Orthodox dogmatic theology

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The close bond between the Church on earth and the Church in Heaven.

The Apostle instructs those who have come to believe in Christ and have been joined to the

Church as follows: “Ye are come unto mount Zion, and unto the city of the laving God, the heavenly

Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church

of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of

just men made perfect, and to Jesus, the Mediator of the new covenant(Heb. 12:22-24). We are

not separated from our dead brothers in the faith by the impassable abyss of death: they are close

to us in God, “for all live unto Him”(Luke 20:38).

The Church hymns this relationship in the kontakion of the feast of the Ascension of the

Lord: “Having accomplished for us Thy mission and united things on earth with things in heaven,

Thou didst ascend into glory, O Christ our God, being nowhere separated from those who love

Thee, but remaining ever present with us and calling: I am with you and no one is against you.”

Of course, there is a distinction between the Church of Christ on earth and the Church of the

saints in heaven: the members of the earthly Church are not yet members of the heavenly Church.

In this connection the “Epistle of the Eastern Patriarchs” (17th century), in reply to the teaching

of the Calvinists concerning the one invisible Church, thus formulates the Orthodox teaching

about the Church: “We believe, as we have been instructed to believe, in what is called, and what

in actual fact is, the Holy, Catholic, Apostolic Church, which embraces all those, whoever and

wherever they might be, who believe in Christ, who being now on their earthly pilgrimage have

not yet come to dwell in the heavenly homeland But we do not in the least confuse the Church inpilgrimage with the Church that has reached the homeland, just because, as certain of the heretics

think, one and the other both exist, that they both comprise as it were two flocks of the single

Chief Shepherd, God, and are sanctified by the one Holy Spirit. Such a confusion of them is out

of place and impossible, inasmuch as one is battling and is still on the way, while the other is already

celebrating its victory and has reached the Fatherland and has received the reward, something

which will follow also for the whole Ecumenical Church.”

And in actuality, the earth and the heavenly world are two separate forms of existence: there

in heaven is bodilessness, here on earth are bodily life and physical death; there, those who have

attained, here, those seeking to attain; here, faith, there, seeing the Lord face to face; here, hope,

there, fulfillment.

Nonetheless, one cannot represent the existence of these two regions, the heavenly and the

earthly, as completely separate. If we do not reach as far as the saints in heaven, the saints do

reach as far as us. As one who has studied the whole of a science has command also over its elementary

parts, just as a general who has entered into a country has command also over its borderlands;

so those who have reached heaven have in their command what they have gone through,

and they do not cease to be participants an the life of the militant Church on earth.

The holy Apostles, departing from this world, put off the earthly body, but have not put off

the Church body. They not only were, but they also remain the foundations of the Church The

Church is built “upon the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being

the chief cornerstone(Eph. 2:20). Being in heaven, they continue to be in communion with believers

on earth.

Such an understanding was present in ancient Patristic thought, both of East and West Here

are the words of Chrysostom:

“Again, the memorial of the martyrs, and again a feast day and a spiritual solemnity. They

suffered, and we rejoice; they struggled, and we leap for joy; their crown is the glory of all,

or rather, the glory of the whole Church. How can this be? you will say. The martyrs are our

parts and members. But, 'whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; and

one member be honored, all the members rejoice with it' (1 Cor. 12:26). The head is

crowned, and the rest of the body rejoices. One becomes a victor in the Olympic games, and

the whole people rejoices and receives him with great glory. If at the Olympic games those

who do not in the least participate in the labors receive such satisfaction, all the more can

this be with regard to the strugglers of piety. We are the feet, and the martyrs are the head;

'but the head cannot say to the feet, I have no need of you' (1 Cor. 12:21). The members are

glorified, but the preeminence of glory does not estrange them from the bond with the other

parts: for then especially are they glorious when they are not estranged from the bond with

them.” “If their Master is not ashamed to be our Head, then all the more, they are not

ashamed to be our members; for in them is expressed love, and love usually joins and binds

things which are separate, despite their difference in dignity” (St. John Chrysostom, “Eulogy

for the Holy Martyr Romanus”).

“For the souls of the pious dead,” says Blessed Augustine, “do not depart from the Church,

which is the Kingdom of Christ. This is why, on the altar of the Lord, their memorial is performed

in the offering of the Body of Christ . . . Why should this be done if not because the faithful

even after death remain members of it?” (the Church)The ever-memorable Russian Pastor, St. John of Kronstadt, in his “Thoughts Concerning

the Churchwrites: “Acknowledge that all the saints are our elder brothers in the one House of

the Heavenly Father, who have departed from earth to heaven, and they are always with us in

God, and they constantly teach us and guide us to eternal life by means of the church services,

Mysteries, rites, instructions, and church decrees, which they have composed — as for example,

those concerning the fasts and feasts, — so to speak, they serve together with us, they sing, they

speak, they instruct, they help us in various temptations and sorrows. And call upon them as living

with you under a single roof; glorify them, thank them, converse with them as with living

people; and you will believe in the Church” (St. John of Kronstadt, “What Does It Mean to Believe

in the Church? Thoughts About the Church and the Orthodox Divine Services”).

The Church in its prayers to the apostles and hierarchs calls them her pillars, upon which

even now the Church is established. “Thou art a pillar of the Church”; “ye are pillars of the

Church”; “Thou art a good shepherd and fervent teacher, O hierarch”; “ye are the eyes of the

Church of Christ”; “ye are the stars of the Church” (from various church services). In harmony

with the consciousness of the Church, the saints, going to heaven, comprise, as it were, the firmament

of the Church. “Ye do ever illumine the precious firmament of the Church like magnificent

stars, and ye shine upon the faithful, O divine Martyrs, warriors of Christ” (from the Common

Service to Martyrs). “Like brightly shining stars ye have mentally shone forth upon the firmament

of the Church, and ye do illumine the whole creation” (from the Service to Hieromartyrs).

There is a foundation for such appeals to the saints in the word of God itself. In the Apocalypse

of St. John the Theologian we read: “Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple

of my God(Apoc. 3:12). Thus the saints are pillars of the Church not only in the past, but in

all times as well.

In this bond of the Church with the saints, and likewise in the Headship of the Church by the

Lord Himself, may be seen one of the mystical sides of the Church. “By Thy Cross, O Christ,

there is a single flock of angels and men; and in the one assembly heaven and earth rejoice, crying

out, O Lord, glory to Thee” (Octoechos, Tone 1, Aposticha of Wednesday Matins).

The ninth Article of the Symbol of Faith indicates the four basic signs of the Church: “We

believe in One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church,” These attributes are called essential, that

is, those without which the Church would not be the Church.

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