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August 4, 2023

Homilies on the Symbol of Faith (The Nicene Creed) - Our Holy Church (Metr. Hierotheos of Nafpaktos)

On the Symbol of Faith (The Nicene Creed)
Our Holy Church
By Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou
In the ninth article of the Symbol of Faith, which was established by the Second Ecumenical Synod, we confess: "And in One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church," that is, I believe that the Church is one, holy, catholic and apostolic. This is an ecclesiological article, which refers to the Church as the Body of Christ. Having previously spoken about the Triune God, the creation of the world by God, and the incarnation of Christ, the Creed then refers to the Church.

According to the teaching of the Apostle Paul, which is the fruit of revelation, the Church is the Body of Christ and Christ is the Head of the Church. The Son and Word of God, with His incarnation, took on a perfect human nature from the Most Holy Theotokos and deified it immediately upon taking it on. This human nature was extremely pure, but suffering and mortal, since Christ, with His incarnation, voluntarily took on suffering and mortality, in order to defeat the devil, sin and death in His flesh. After His Resurrection, Christ cast off all the blameless passions and thus human nature participates in the glory of the Triune God. At Pentecost, both the Disciples and those who believed in Christ became members of this glorious Body of Christ. Thus, now the Church is the Body of Christ: that which Christ assumed and deified and the Body which is found during the Mystery of the Divine Eucharist at the Holy Altar. Therefore, we too, as members of the Church, partake of the Body and Blood of Christ.

It was necessary for the Second Ecumenical Synod to add this article, because in the time between the First and the Second Ecumenical Synods, various schisms and heretical factions were created, which taught differently about Christ and the Holy Spirit, that is, there were the Arians, the Semi-Arians, the Anomoeans, the Homoians and others. In the 56 years between the First and the Second Ecumenical Synods, many theological discussions took place, rivalries were observed, various Christian groups were formed with leading Bishops, each claiming to be the real Church. That is why the Fathers of the Second Ecumenical Synod, together with the definition of the doctrine of the divinity of Christ and the divinity of the Holy Spirit, also defined what the true Church is and what her characteristics are. This is important, because it shows that the change in the doctrine of the Triune God has consequences in ecclesiology as well. That is, anyone who has incorrect theological views, anyone who formulates heresies cannot belong to the Church.

Let's see the characteristics that express the true Church, as we confess them in the Symbol of Faith. We must always bear in mind the teaching of the Apostle Paul and the Fathers of the Church, that the Church is not a human body, but the God-Human Body of Christ, she is not a human organization, but she is the God-Human Organization, the Body of the God-man Christ.

The first characteristic of the Church is that she is "One". Since the head is one, the body is also one. Just as every man has a head and a body, otherwise he would not be a man, but a monster, so Christ, who is the Head of the Church, has a Body, which He nourishes and guides. There are not many bodies, i.e. many "Churches".

This is said in the sense that the local Orthodox Churches, despite being many, are one Church. This is explained with the Body of Christ in the Eucharist. All of us who partake of the Body and Blood of Christ receive the whole Christ and not a part of Him, since the Body of Christ is "indivisibly divided among individuals". As long as the local churches have the same faith and have communion with each other, they constitute one Church.

This, however, does not happen to those who were cut off from the Church by heresy. When some Christians choose a different teaching from the teaching of Christ, the Apostles and the decisions of the Ecumenical Synods, they do not belong to the One Church, but to heretical parasynagogues, since they are cut off from the Church, the Body of Christ. In these cases the Body of Christ is not dismembered, but these heterodox Christians are cut off and expelled from the Body of Christ, the Church. This also happens with the human body, which expels harmful foods and elements that it does not need.

The second characteristic of the Church is that she is "Holy". It is Holy, because it was sanctified by Christ, it is the blessed Body of Christ and not the so-called mystical Body of Christ. Christ deified the human nature that He assumed from the Most Holy Theotokos and thus His Body is immaculate, spotless. Christ, who sanctified the Church, also sanctifies the members of the Church, the members of His Body.

Thus, the Church is not sanctified by her members, but she herself sanctifies all the members, with the Mysteries. From the head, which is Christ, the Church and all her members are sanctified. Therefore, none of us are saviors of the Church, since the Savior of the Church is Christ, her Head. We remain in the Church with humility in order to sanctify ourselves and not to sanctify her.

The third characteristic of the Church is that she is "Catholic". The word "katholiki", which means the whole, has many meanings. It is called catholic because it is found throughout the world, because it preserves the whole truth and because it has a common life that can be lived by all its members. Mainly, "catholic" is identified with "Orthodox", which means that it has all the truth, as revealed by Christ to the Prophets, Apostles and Fathers and as confessed by the Church in the Ecumenical Synods. There is no true Church outside the Orthodox Church.

The fourth characteristic is that the Church is "Apostolic", because the Apostles are the Disciples of Christ, to whom He delivered the truth. The three of these Disciples saw the glory of His divinity on Mount Tabor, all except Judas, saw the Risen Christ, received the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, became members of the Body of Christ and confessed this truth with teaching, oral and written, and with the martyrdoms they suffered. Because the Fathers are successors of the holy Apostles, that is why the word Apostolic is also understood as Patristic.

These four characteristics of the Church, namely "One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic" proclaim that the true Church is the Orthodox Church and its true members are those who remain in her and are sanctified by her Mysteries and accept all her teachings.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

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