Editor's note: What follows is an excerpt from
The Homeland of Your Heart's Desire by Clark Carlton, an adjunct instructor of philosophy at Tenessee Technical University. He holds a Master of Divinity degree from St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary as well as an MA in Early Christian Studies from the Catholic University of America. He is also the author of the most widely used and trusted Orthodox teaching texts by all Orthodox jurisdictions in America,
The Faith, The Truth, and
COMING TO CHRIST
It is not enough simply to believe that Jesus Christ can give you eternal life. If you were sick - as indeed we are all sick with the cancer of pride and self-centeredness - it would not be enough simply to believe that medicine will make you well. You must take the medicine; it must become a part of you in order to attack the disease and restore health. In the same way, you must be united to Christ; you must participate in His eternal life in order to overcome the life-destroying cancer of sin within you. The Son of God assumed human nature so that you might be able to share in His divine life. Only by being united to Christ and by participating in His life will you be able to live life as God intended: as a person living in an eternal communion of love with God, with one another, and with all of creation.
After Simon Peter confessed Jesus to be the Messiah of Israel and the Son of God, Jesus promised to build His Church and said that the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it (Matthew 16:18). Before His death and resurrection Jesus told His disciples, I will not leave you comfortless; I will come to you (John 14:18). He promised to send them the Holy Spirit, Who would embue them with power from on high (cf. Luke 24:49). On the Day of Pentecost, fifty days after the resurrection of Christ, the Holy Spirit came upon Jesus' disciples. This was the birth of the Church.
The Church is not a social organization or a group of people with similar social or political beliefs. Rather, She is the presence and life of Christ on earth. Just as the Son of God became man when the Holy Spirit came upon the Virgin Mary, so Christ's disciples were able to share in His life when the Holy Spirit came upon them. The life of the Church is life in Christ. Her life is His life. Her ministry is His ministry. Thus, the Church is not merely a place where Christians learn about God. When Jesus took upon Himself our human nature, He made it possible for us to share in His divine life. In the Church we experience and participate in the life of Christ.
The Apostle Paul often referred to the Church as the Body of Christ. If you desire to follow Jesus Christ and to share in His life, you must be united to His Body, the Church. Just as Jesus Christ was a real man, Who lived a real human life, so His Church really exists. The Church is not a building; She is a People filled the Holy Spirit who share in His life and bring His life to the world. By being united to Christ's Holy Orthodox Church through the mysteries (sacraments) of baptism and chrismation (confirmation), you also can share in the life of Christ. You also can be reunited with God and call Him your Father.
The Church is also referred to as our Mother, for it is in the bosom of the Church that we are nurtured and prepared for the life of the world to come. Nicholas Cabasilas uses this imagery when he likens the life of a Christian to the development of a fetus in the womb:
As nature prepares the fetus, while it is in its dark and fluid life, for that life which is in the light, and shapes it, as though according to a model, for the life of which it is about to receive, so likewise it happens to the saint... In this present world, therefore, it is possible for the saints not only to be disposed and prepared for that life, but also even now to live and act in accordance with it... Yet the Lord did not promise merely to be present with the saints, but to abide with them - nay more than this, to make His abode in them.
Thus, the Church is both the preparation for and the experience of the life of the Kingdom of God here and now. In the Church, the relationships that have been destroyed by sin are healed and recreated. By being united to Christ, we share in His relationship of love with God the Father and are thus reunited with our Creator. But as many as received Him, to them gave He the power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God (John 1:12-13). We are also reunited to one another in a bond that is much stronger than any physical or emothional bond, for we are united by the Holy Spirit in the one Body of Christ. For as the body is one and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body - whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be slaves or free - and have all been made to drink into one Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:12-13).
Finally, our relationship witht he physical world is healed as we once again learn to experience the matter of creation as a means of communion with God. The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we, being many, are one bread and one body; for we are all partakers of that one bread (1 Corinthinans 10:16-17).