Two Dimensions of the Church

Metropolitan Anthony Bloom

(Excerpts from “Churchianity and Christianity,” Chapter 1, Test of the Gospel, SVS Press, pp. 18-22.  From a talk given on February 8, 1990.)

“If we enter the Church (through Baptism and/or Chrismation) what we discover is that the Church is a strange, living organism, simultaneously and equally human and divine.  The fullness of God abides in it. And also, all that is human is in it – what is fulfilled and what is in the making, what is tragic and what is already shining with glory. The fullness of God abides in it by the presence of the Holy Spirit given at Pentecost.  And the fullness is in it because in Christ and in the Spirit, we are in God.  The Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is our Father, our God.  But the Church is also human.  And in many ways, not simply in one way, in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ we have a vision of man: man, as he is called to be, as he truly is, a human being at one with God.  Less than this, man is not a human being in the full sense of the word, according to the mind of the Scriptures.  Christ is the only true man because He is the only perfect man.  And perfect means fulfilled, brought to perfection.  

“But in the Church, there is also another dimension of humanity:  us – imperfect, in the making.  But we are imperfect in two different ways:  we may be imperfect while we strive God-wards, or we may be imperfect when we turn away from God.  It is not a matter of success; it is a matter of direction.  Saint Ephraim of Syria says that the Church is not a body of saints, it is a crowd of repentant sinners.  And by repentant we do not mean wailing sinners, but people who have turned God-wards and move God-wards, who may fall but will stand.

“But there is also another dimension in our humanity, which is neither the tragic dimension of sin, repentance, and struggle, nor the glorious dimension of the saints.  There is a dimension that is mean, that is small, that in a way is a betrayal and a renunciation – the fig tree covered with leaves and barren.  We can find this dimension in ourselves if we are truly attentive and honest.  I find it.  And I doubt that there is any one of us in whom there is not something of it.  It’s a way in which we renounce our vocation, while we still want to remain of the Church.  Christ came into the world to save the world.  He has left this task, His task, to us.  In the words of Doctor Moffatt in his translations of the Epistles: ‘We are a vanguard of heaven.  Our home is heaven.  And heaven is any place where God is in our midst, or where we are where He belongs.’  Christ told us that He has given us an example:  that is, that we are not only to follow in His footsteps, but to follow His example and be in life what He has been, within the limitation of our understanding, of our strength, or, rather, of our openness to the power of God, which is manifested even in human weakness, if this weakness is surrender to Him.

“And yet, what we see is that we treat the Church as a place where we can take refuge; we run away from life into the Church.  We hide from life in the Church.  How often it happens that instead of coming out of the Church in order to be sent ‘like sheep among the wolves’ (I repeat this phrase because it is so real in so many countries, in so many places now), we go out, ready to run away from all danger, to hide, to refuse to face any challenge.  God tells us to go out into the world for His salvation; we run back to be hidden under His cloak.  And this not only in great things. I’m not speaking of martyrdom, I am speaking of our everyday life.  We do not live our lives on Christ’s own terms.  We want God to live on ours.  We want Him to be our protection, our help, our safety. We almost (we do not say it of course, but our lives say it very often), we almost say to Him: ‘Die for me.  I’m afraid of dying, both for myself or for my neighbor, or even for You.’

“There is this dimension (in our lives), which is so frightening.  I do not mean to say that we must be missionaries, that we must go around the world proclaiming something.  I’m speaking of choosing something, of taking a stand in life, of being one thing or another. In the course of these talks I want us to ask ourselves:  what does the proclamation of the Creed, of the profession of our faith mean?  Is it just a world outlook, one of the many possible philosophies, something that satisfies us more than another?  Or is it an undertaking, and is it an experiential knowledge that binds us?  And the same applies to so many other things…

“…I would like you to think (of what I have said) in the way you would think of yourselves if you intended to go see a doctor because there is something that is not all right, there is a pain here, there is something that is not a fullness of life.  There is weakness, there is tiredness, there is pain, there is depression, there is misery, there is fear, so many other things.  How attentively we think of ourselves when we are physically ill, so as to describe it to the physician, for him to be able to understand and advise us how to come to health.  And this process is a creative one, because it is a way of breaking barriers, of emerging into freedom, of renouncing passivity in order to become active, creative – to turn from death or illness into health and life.

“I will end this introductory talk at this point.  Do not take it as being the voice of pessimism.  In a way it is a voice of hope, the voice of certainty that if we can see things truly, we can put them right.  And I don’t even say ‘with God’s help.’ Of course, God’s help will be offered.  But there is so much that we can do ourselves in His name, in our name, because of the greatness that already exists in us, because of God’s own image in us, for the sake of beauty, of health, of life, of truth.  So, think of what I have said as an opening into a new fullness, a call to conquer…”