Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Church, what is it?

Five short answers, from Sergei Fudel's book, Light in the Darkness

We experience a sense of ‘life incorruptible’ when we find ourselves close to the real holiness of the Church. Such moments do not last long, and when we experience them we can never be sure whether we ourselves are actually within this holiness. For a short and joyous instant we can feel that we stand at the blessed walls of the Church. Our existence within the Church is not our right, it is always a miracle of unexpected joy.
The Church is a mystery of overcoming lonely solitude. Overcoming solitude must be experienced realistically. Attending a church service, you come close to the wall of God's Church only when a ray of love slowly but inexorably melts the ice of your loneliness. Then you stop noticing that which seemed to build a barbed wire fence around you, the real or imaginary lack of faith of the priest, the viciousness of the old women on the watch for proper church behavior, the barbaric curiosity of two gaping youths who happened to drop in, the commercial arguments around the sale of candles. Then, through all of this you reach out to the blind soul of people, to the human being who in a minute may hear better and more clearly than you the voice of Jesus Christ, Man and God.
Quite often we come to realize very unexpectedly that the Church is an all-human reality. One day, riding on the subway, I saw a woman sitting with a little girl of about two in her lap. Over the mother's shoulder the child stretched her blue-mittened hand to the brake handle, almost, but not quite, reaching it. Suddenly I noticed a well-dressed young man watching her too. Our eyes met and we both smiled. We both sensed that the little mitten was a pure treasure of our common humanity. The brake handle was a symbol of some outside power, a key to the cold knowledge of good and evil, but the blue mitten stood for warmth, for the mysterious, unselfconscious innocence of childhood. We smiled to each other as if we were not strangers; for a moment, we were of one warm, innocent heart. This is what the Church is.
‘You are God's temple,’ says Apostle Paul. There is a special prayer in our prayerbook that speaks of our own self as a temple: ‘Let Thy power come down on me, Thy sinful and unworthy servant, and let it fortify my temple through the gospel of The holy teaching… In Thine unfathomable graciousness preserve my body and soul, my mind and my thoughts, as a temple withstanding all enemy snares’ (Prayer of the 12th Kathisma).

Two little boys enter a church; one is about six, the other, younger. The little one has probably never been inside a church before and the older one is guiding him around. They stop at the image of Christ crucified. ‘What's that?’ breathlessly asks the little one, his eyes wide open. The older answers confidently, ‘That's for truth!’

In the hymns to Saint Sergius of Radonezh we say that ‘he lived his bodily life spiritually, spent his days on earth as if it were heaven, communed with people as if they were angels, and his own world was otherworldly.’ Perhaps we do not want to live like this, but each one of us must try, within the measure of his strength, to live on earth in this heavenly way.

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