by Archpriest George Florovsky
Christ conquered the world. This victory consists in His having created His own Church. In the midst of the vanity and poverty, of the weakness and suffering of human history, He laid the foundations of a “new being.” The Church is Christ’s work on earth; it is the image and abode of His blessed Presence in the world. And on the day of Pentecost The Holy Spirit descended on the Church, which was then represented by the twelve Apostles and those who were with them. He entered into the world in order to abide with us and act more fully than He had ever acted before; “for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified” (John 7:39). The Holy Spirit descended once and for always. This is a tremendous and unfathomable mystery. He lives and abides ceaselessly in the church. In the Church we receive the Spirit of adoption (Rom. 8:15). Through reaching towards and accepting the Holy Ghost we become eternally God’s. In the Church our salvation is perfected; the sanctification and transfiguration, the theosis of the human race is accomplished.
Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus: [Outside the Church there is no salvation]. All the categorical strength and point of this aphorism lies in its tautology. Outside the Church there is no salvation, because salvation is the Church. For salvation is the revelation of the way for every one who believes in Christ’s name. This revelation is to be found only in the Church. In the Church, as in the Body of Christ, in its theanthropic organism, the mystery of incarnation, the mystery of the “two natures,” indissolubly united, is continually accomplished. In the Incarnation of the Word is the fullness of revelation, a revelation not only of God, but also of man. “For the Son of God became the Son of Man,” writes St. Irenaeus, “to the end that man too might become the son of God” (Adv. Haere. 3:10, 2). In Christ, as God-Man, the meaning of human existence is not only revealed, but accomplished. In Christ human nature is perfected, it is renewed, rebuilt, created anew. Human destiny reaches its goal, and henceforth human life is, according to the word of the Apostle, “hid with Christ in God” (Coloss. 3:3). In this sense Christ is the “Last Adam” (1 Cor. 15:45), a true man. In Him is the measure and limit of human life. He rose “As the first fruits of them that are asleep” (1 Cor. 15:20-22). He ascended into Heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of God. His Glory is the glory of all human existence. Christ has entered the pre-eternal glory; He has entered it as Man and has called the whole of mankind to abide with Him and in Him. “God, being rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, quickened us together with Christ … and raised us up with Him, and made us to sit with Him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:4-6). Therein lies the mystery of the Church as Christ’s Body. The Church is fulness, (Τò πληρωμα) that is, fulfilment, completion (Eph. 1:23). In this manner St. John Chrysostom explains the words of the Apostle: “The Church is the fulfilment of Christ in the same manner as the head completes the body and the body is completed by the head. Thus we understand why the Apostle sees that Christ, as the Head needs all His members. Because if many of us were not, one the hand, one the foot, one yet another member, His body would not be complete. Thus His body is formed of all the members. This means, “That the head will be complete, only when the body is perfect; when we all are most firmly united and strengthened” (In Ephes. Hom. 3, 2 (Migne, P.G. Ixii. c. 26)). Bishop Theophanes repeats the explanation of Chrysostom: “The Church is the fulfilment of Christ in the same manner as the tree is the fulfilment of the grain. All that is contained in the grain in a condensed manner, receives its full development in the tree … He Himself is complete and all-perfect, but not yet has He drawn mankind to Himself in final completeness. It is only gradually that mankind enters into Communion with Him and so gives a new fulness to His work, which thereby attains its full accomplishment (Explan. Of Ep. To Ephes. M. 1893, 2. pp. 93-94. For the same point of view, cf. the late Very Rev. J. Armitage Robinson, St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians, pp. 44-45, I. 403; short ed. pp. 57-60).
The Church is completeness itself; it is the continuation and the fulfilment of the theanthropic union. The Church is transfigured and regenerated mankind. The meaning of this regeneration and transfiguration is that in the Church mankind becomes one unity, “in one body” (Eph. 2:16). The life of the Church is unity and union. The body is “knit together” and “increaseth” (Col 2:19) in unity of Spirit, in unity of love. The realm of the Church is unity. And of course this unity is no outward one, but is inner, intimate, organic. It is the unity of the living body, the unity of the organism. The Church is a unity not only in the sense that it is one and unique; it is a unity, first of all, because its very being consists in reuniting separated and divided mankind. It is this unity which is the “sobornost” or catholicity of the Church. In the Church humanity passes over into another plane, begins a new manner of existence. A new life becomes possible, a true, whole and complete life, a catholic life, “in the unity of the Spirit, in the bond of peace (Eph. 4:3). A new existence begins, a new principle of life, “Even as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be in Us … that they may be one even as We are one” (John 17:21-23).
This is the mystery of the final reunion in the image of the Unity of the Holy Trinity. It is realized in the life and construction of the Church, it is the mystery of sobornost, the mystery of catholicity.
A selection from The Catholicity of the Church