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Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky
Orthodox dogmatic theology

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The Head of the Church.

The Saviour, in giving authority to the Apostles before His Ascension, told them very

clearly that He Himself would not cease to be the invisible Shepherd and Pilot of the Church. “I

am with you alway, even unto the end of the world(every day constantly and inseparably) (Matt.

28:20). The Saviour taught that He, as the Good Shepherd, had to bring in also those sheep who

were not of this fold, so that there might be one flock and One Shepherd (John 10:16). “All

power as given unto Me in heaven and in earth. Go ye, therefore, and teach all nations(Matt.

28:18-19). In all these words there is contained the idea that the highest Shepherd of the Church

is Christ Himself. We must be aware of this so as not to forget the close bond and the inward

unity of the Church on earth with the Heavenly Church.

The Lord Jesus Christ is also the Founder of the Church: “I will build My Church, and the

gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18).

Christ is also the Foundation of the Church, its cornerstone: “Other foundation can no man

lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ(1 Cor. 3:11).

He also is its Head. God the Father gave Him to be the head over all things to the Church,

which is His body, the fulness of Him that filleth all an all” (Eph. 1:22-23). “The Head is Christ,

from Whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth,

according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body

unto the edifying of itself in love(Eph. 4:16). As all the members of our body comprise a full

and living organism which depends upon its head, so also the Church is a spiritual organism in

which there is no place where the powers of Christ do not act. It is “full of Christ” (Bishop Theophan

the Recluse).

Christ is the Good Shepherd of His flock, the Church. We have the great Shepherd of the

sheep,according to the Apostle Paul (Heb. 13:20). The Lord Jesus Christ is the Chief of Shepherds.

Being examples to the flock,” the Apostle Peter entreats those who have been placed as

shepherds in the Church, as their co-pastor (Greek syn-presbyteros), “when the Chief Shepherd

shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away” (1 Peter 5:1-4).Christ Himself is the invisible Chief Bishop of the Church. The Hieromartyr Ignatius the

God bearer, an Apostolic Father, calls the Lord the “Invisible Bishop” (Greek: episkopos aoratos).

Christ is the eternal High-Priest of His Church, as the Apostle Paul explains in the Epistle to

the Hebrews. The Old Testament Chief Priests “were many, because they were not suffered to

continue by reason of death. But this one, because He continueth forever, hath an unchangeable

priesthood. Wherefore He is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by Him,

seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for them” (Heb. 7:23-25).

He is, according to the Apocalypse of St. John the Theologian, “He that is true, He that

hath the key of David, He that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth and no man openeth

(Apoc. 3:7).

The truth that Christ Himself is the Head of the Church has always in lively fashion run

through, and continues to run through, the self-awareness of the Church. In our daily prayers also

we read, “O Jesus, Good Shepherd of Thy sheep” (The Prayer of St. Antioch in the Prayers Before

Sleep of the Orthodox Prayer Book).

Chrysostom teaches in his Homilies on the Epistle to the Ephesians as follows: “In Christ, in

the flesh, God placed a single head for everyone, for angels and men; that is, He gave one principle

both to angels and men: to the one, Christ according to the flesh; and to the other, God the

Word. Just as if someone should say about a house, that one part of it is rotten and the other part

strong, and he should restore the house, that is, make it stronger, placing a stronger foundation

under it; so also here, He has brought all under a single head Only then is union possible; only

then will there be that perfect bond, when everything, having a certain indispensable bond with

what is above, will be brought under a single Head” (Works of St. Chrysostom in Russian, v. 11,

p. 14).

The Orthodox Church of Christ refuses to recognize yet another head of the Church in the

form of a “Vicar of Christ on earth,” a title given in the Roman Catholic Church to the Bishop of

Rome. Such a title does not correspond either to the word of God or to the universal Church consciousness

and tradition; it tears away the Church on earth from immediate unity with the heavenly

Church. A vicar is assigned during the absence of the one replaced; but Christ is invisibly

present in His Church always.

The rejection by the ancient Church of the view of the Bishop of Rome as the Head of the

Church and Vicar of Christ upon earth is expressed in the writings of those who were active in

the Ecumenical Councils.

The Second Ecumenical Council of bishops, after the completion of their activities, wrote

an epistle to Pope Damasus and other bishops of the Roman Church, which ended thus: “When

in this way the teaching of Faith is in agreement, and Christian love is established in us, we will

cease to speak the words which were condemned by the Apostle: 'I am of Paul, I am of Apollo, I

am of Cephas.' And when we will all be manifest as of Christ, since Christ is not divided in us,

then by God’s mercy we will preserve the Body of Christ undivided, and will boldly stand before

the throne of the Lord.”

The leading personality of the Third Ecumenical Council, St. Cyril of Alexandria, in his

Epistle on the Holy Symbol,” which is included in the Acts of this Council, writes: “The most

holy Fathers . . . who once gathered in Nicaea, composed the venerable Ecumenical Symbol

(Creed). With them Christ Himself presided, for He said, 'Where two or three are gathered together

in My Name, there am I in the midst of them' (Matt. 18:20). For how can there be anydoubt that Christ presided at this Holy and Ecumenical Council? Because there a certain basis

and a firm, unvanquishable foundation was laid, and even extended to the whole universe, that is,

this holy and irreproachable confession. If it is thus, then can Christ be absent, when He is the

Foundation, according to the words of the most wise Paul, 'Other foundation can no man lay

than that is laid which is Jesus Christ'” (1 Cor. 3:11).

Blessed Theodoret, in a homily which was also placed in the Acts of the Third Ecumenical

Council, addressing the heretics, the followers of Nestorius, says: “Christ is a stone of stumbling

and a scandal for unbelievers, but does not put the believers to shame; a precious stone and a

foundation, according to the word of Isaiah when he said that Christ is the stone which the builders

rejected and which has become the cornerstone. Christ is the foundation of the Church. Christ

is the stone which was taken out not with hands, and was changed into a great mountain and covered

the universe, according to the prophecy of Daniel; it is for Him, with Him, and by the power

of Him that we battle, and for Whose sake we are far removed from the reigning city, but are not

excluded from the Kingdom of Heaven; for we have a city on high, Jerusalem, 'whose builder

and maker is God' (Heb. 11:10), as the Apostle Paul says.”

Concerning the rock upon which the Lord promised the Apostle Peter to found His Church,

St. Juvenal, Patriarch of Jerusalem, in his epistle to the clergy of Palestine after the Fourth Ecumenical

Council of Chalcedon writes: “When the chief and first of the Apostles Peter said, 'Thou

art the Christ, the Son of the living God,' the Lord replied, 'Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jonah:

for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but My Father which is in heaven. And I say

also unto thee, that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church; and the gates of

hell shall not prevail against it'” (Matt. 16:17-18). On this confession the Church of God is made

firm, and this Faith, given to us by the holy Apostles, the Church has kept and will keep to the

end of the world.”

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