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The Mind of the Orthodox Church
The chapters making up this book were talks given to the Catechists of the Holy Archdiocese of Athens in the year 1989-90, and they examine what the Church is and what the real dimensions of the mind of the Church are.
At the beginning of the book the chapters “Origin and Revelation of the Church” and “Definition and Characteristics of the Church” emphasise that the Church is not a human organisation but a Divine-Human Organism. It is the Body of Christ and a “communion of deification”. The source of the Church is God Himself. The characteristics of the Church (One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic) are analysed, as well as the aim of the Church, which is man’s deification and salvation. An explanation is given of who the real members of the Church are.
In the chapter on “Orthodoxy according to the Holy Fathers” it is made clear that Orthodoxy is the true faith and the real Church, because only within the Church is the salvation of man made sure. The unity between the Church, Orthodoxy and the divine Eucharist is underlined, since the holy Fathers stress that Orthodoxy is the true faith of the Church and the divine Eucharist is the true action of the Church.
The chapter entitled “The Church and the Divine Eucharist according to St Maximos the Confessor” looks in detail at the teaching of St Maximos the Confessor on the Church and the Divine Eucharist in a work of his called “Mystagogy”. The divine Eucharist points to the whole work of the divine Economy and signifies the soul’s journey to acquiring true knowledge. Within the Holy Temple (the Church building) and the divine Eucharist Christians have the living experience of the unity of the Church.
Reading the chapter on “The Mind of the Orthodox Church” makes us aware that this way of thinking is inspired by the Holy Spirit and is linked with the regenerated life which is experienced in the heart. Reference is made to the characteristics of the Orthodox ecclesiastical mind as recorded by St Paul in his Epistles
The chapter on “The Catholic Way of Life” can be seen as especially significant. It points out that a catholic man is one who recognises the truth (Orthodox) and lives the truth (righteous). It examines the fact that there are no splits within the Church, nor are there different categories of people, but one catholic way of life which can be experienced by all the Church’s members, for each person is created by God in His image and likeness.
In the chapter “Orthodoxy and Legalism” the Orthodox viewpoint is set out: the Church accepts neither antinomianism nor legalism in the spiritual life. Our relationship with God is personal, ecclesiastical, and not juridical. Sin is regarded as an illness of the soul and is not placed in a legal framework. The difference between Papism and Orthodoxy is made clear, because in the Latin Church more legalism in experienced in both theology and life, whereas in the Orthodox Church we keep the law with the aim of living the spirit of the law, because the law is not an end in itself but a necessary means to man’s healing.
It is worth paying particular attention to the chapter on “Secularism in the Church, Theology and Pastoral Care”, which stresses that when the Church loses its main objective, to cure its members, it becomes secular. The secularisation of the members of the Church is regarded as the gravest danger in our time. Many people today see the Church as a religious or social organisation, or as an ideological or even magic place, and as a result they remain unhealed. The Church is the spiritual hospital which heals man and leads him to deification, which is the fundamental purpose for which he was created.
At the end of the book we can study the chapter on the “Synodikon of Orthodoxy”. This is a concise sacred text which sums up the Orthodox teaching of the Church. The “Synodikon of Orthodoxy” expresses the teaching of Orthodox faith and life, and the ethos and mind of the Church, which are linked to, and in harmony with, the decisions of the Fathers of the Church as expressed with conciliar authority. Reference is made to the distinguishing marks which characterise the Ecumenical Councils and differentiate them from Local Councils. Emphasis is laid on the great value vested in the definitions of the Ecumenical Councils, because they assure us of the possibility of salvation and indicate the Orthodox way which leads to deification.
We realise from reading this book that we must struggle to remain within the Church, which is a place of life, and to experience its sanctifying grace. Every Christian should attune his life to the life and teaching of experienced Saints who have been granted a vision of God, in order that he may be characterised as having the mind and conscience of the Church; because “The Church produces the saints, and the saints express the devout mind of the Church”.