Why do I need to go to Church in order to believe?
The prevailing image of the Church amongst most people today is that of an organized religion with a distinct code of rules, a conglomeration of laws and complex structures. The Church is simply thought to be an institution in society alongside other institutions fulfilling the needs of people side by side with other entities like business, government, labor and entertainment. These people are happy to allot a role to the Church as long as it does not interfere in the functions of the other agencies. However, understood only as a society, entirely integrated in the world, the Church can lose its world-transforming power if it remains a mere institution alongside others. On the other hand, other people believe that Jesus did leave the keys to His kingdom to the Church as we read in St Matthew's Gospel (cf 16.9), but it would appear to them today, that the Church has lost those keys. And for this reason you hear many people say, "Jesus yes, Church no!"
But the Church is not a mere human society but has both a human and divine character. The Church is Christ throughout the ages; it is the body of Christ present in the world today. For this reason, whilst it is true that the Church is in the world, it is something more - it is the body of Christ – that is, God incarnate "prolonged unto the ages". And one needs to be in communion participating in the life of this body if one wants to be considered a member of the Church. Christianity is not simply knowing certain facts about Christ but experiencing Him through the life in the Church; by literally "eating and drinking" Christ Himself in the gift of Holy Communion.
It becomes apparent just how important it is to participate in the very life of the Church. One needs to be grafted upon the Church which and not stand afar simply knowing certain facts about it. Just like any organ or part of our body, as healthy as it may be in itself, cannot exist isolated from all other parts of the body, since there is an interdependence between all parts of our body, so too, human persons, as healthy as they may think they are alone, need one another if they want to live the fullness of life and not just survive. To be part of this body means precisely a distinct way of existing whereby we commune life; that is we exist only because we participate in the life-giving unity of the unified body.
It is not our individual virtues or attributes which will save us but our participation in the body of Christ which is the Church. And the centre of this communion is the Eucharist where we share the common nourishment of life; that is the body and blood of Christ which the fathers of the Church have called the bread of immortality. In this way, not only can we become one with Christ but we become one with all those present in this communal event. The human person must overcome this false sense of security that it is better to remain alone since there is no danger in getting hurt because living life in this way, totally isolated from others, leads to our death whilst still alive. Rather, the true destiny of human persons is to exist the way God exists, that is free - free from the bounds of death; loving - that is ceasing to draw their existence from their individuality which is corrupt and mortal and instead seeking the freedom of personal relationships - a life as communion of love.
What true sense of comfort and peace of mind being in this sign of solidarity between those around us. The greatest gift that the Church gives us is not simply teachings about Christ and salvation but Christ Himself and salvation itself since God promises that He is present in His Church. I end with a beautiful quote from Genesis regarding the Church: "How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven!" (Gen 28:17)
Mr. Philip Kariatlis
Academic Secretary and Associate Lecturer,
St Andrew's Greek Orthodox Theological College