Last week at church, in the Adult Education class, we began a study of Hymn of Entry: Liturgy and Life in the Orthodox Church by Archimandrite Vasilieios. The author, the Abbot of Stavronikita Monastery on Mount Athos, has produced an incredible little book, only 133 pages, but powerful in its impact. I plan to post a few excerpts from each of the 6 chapters, but will withhold whatever meager commentary I could offer until the end of the series.
Chapter 2 -- The Structure of the Church as an Initiation into the Mystery of the Trinity
The unity of the Church is not the result of a theoretical plan, but a reflection of the mystical unity of the Trinity. That which exists by nature, eternally, in the relations of the three divine persons, is given by grace to the life of men.
What the world needs is the trinitarian flock, regardless of whether it is small or large. Its greatness is to be found in its trinitarian nature. What man thirsts for is eternity, "even a tiny little part of eternity"; and this is what we have here. To have the character of the Trinity is to be eternal....There is one way of true unity and existence: the way of life of the Holy Trinity.
The Church has one mission: to be in the world; and by its presence and the manner of its existence to confess: it is no longer I who live, but the Holy Trinity who lives in me....He who has really seen the Church has seen the Holy Trinity. This vision is Paradise, a pledge of the life to come and of the Kingdom. It is a vision revealed to those who are baptized in the name of the Holy Trinity, to those "who have attained not only union with the Holy Trinity, but also the unity which can be perceived within the Holy Trinity."
If we love the world, following the Lord's example we have to turn towards the church and not towards the world. The Church is the kosmos, the order and beauty of the world. In it the whole world finds meaning and harmony. Outside it, it falls into chaos and ruin. Thus the way to show the greatest love for the world and give it a unique blessing is not by supporting it in a worldly manner, but through the extension of the Church to embrace all things, giving them life and joy.
The unity of the Church is not an administrative system or a method of procedure which can be seen with the naked eye and arranged in a human fashion. It is a theanthropic mystery made known in the Spirit, who "unites the whole institution of the Church."
The Church is not an organization of "pious" people that provides liturgical outlets for the psychological needs of the faithful or theology to solve their metaphysical problems and puzzles. It is "the dwelling of God among men" (Rev. 21:3). It is at once the little flock and she who is wider than the heavens, which is not contained but contains history and the whole of creation.
...if you keep one aspect of your life removed from the "strange and most glorious change," you affect the entire mystery, putting your whole life out of joint and tormenting it through not receiving worthily Him who proclaims in categorical terms, "Behold, I make all things new."
The union of all for which the Church prays is not to be understood as an assembly of parts made up of 'Christian communities, " but as an extension of the trinitarian unity divinely active in the liturgical body of the Church.
Anything that exists outside freedom is hell and death....The faithful are children of freedom....Only within the Church can the truth which frees be embodied and become known and intelligible.How beautiful it is for a man to become theology.
Fortunate is the man who is broken in pieces and offered to others, who is poured out and given to others to drink. When his time of trial comes, he will not be afraid. he will have nothing to fear. He will already have understood that, in the celebration of love, by grace man is broken and not divided, eaten and never consumed. By grace he has become Christ, and so his life gives food and drink to his brother. that is to say, he nourishes the other's very existence and makes it grow.
We are bound together by the common faith which, in accordance with tradition, each of us has found and finds personally through the exercise of his own responsibility--"so each of us shall give account of himself to God" (Rom. 14:12)....The Church leaves the believer free to feel Christ dwelling within him; free to live in fear on the sea of the present age; free to be crushed by his responsibility; free to cry out to the Lord, "master, we perish," and to see Him in the night of the present age, walking on the waters for him personally and for the whole Church; and free to hear the Lord say to him, "It is I."