The Early Christian Church
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Feast of Pentecost
The Local Church Community
The Orthodox Catholic Church
The feast of Pentecost marks the birth of the Christian Church when the Holy Spirit descended on the Apostles (Acts 2:1-11). We know that it was from this day the disciples of Christ went forth baptizing in the Trinity and they [who believed in Christ] "continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers." (Acts 2:42)
According to the Fathers, the Church is known by the name "Church" "because it calls to and assembles together all men; [it] is His body, the fullness of Him that filleth all in all."
It is constituted of two elements : the Divine, spiritual and invisible; and also the human, material and visible (as in that of the living body we cannot divorce the soul from the body, spiritual from material; so in the Church we cannot separate the divine/spiritual element from the human/material).
The Church is the totality of all those who profess the correct belief in Christ and Lord and Savior of the world, united in the same Orthodox faith, in the same sacraments, to "one body," the "Head" of which is the Lord.
The Church is comprised of both the clergy (bishops, priests, and deacons) and the laity (all those baptized into Christ). Bishops who possess an unbroken succession dating back to the Apostles and through them to the Founder of the Church, the Lord Jesus Christ, administer the Church.
The Church is the only authentic and infallible teacher of the revealed truth.
The book of Acts and the writings of St. Ignatius, bishop of Antioch (107) provide a great detail about the structure and the practice of the early Church immediately after the feast of Pentecost.
Following the events of Pentecost, the disciples went forth spreading the word of Christ and baptizing believers "in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit." Within a short time, small Christian communities had been established throughout the Roman Empire and on its outskirts. A bishop who was assisted in his duties by priests and deacons governed these communities (one per city). By the end of the first century, this is the structure of the local community.
"In the Temple and from house to house" best describes the dynamic of the New Testament Church. The faithful continued the practices of the Temple and developed practices established in the revelation of Christ. This newness of the Christian community was emphasized in two liturgical acts : baptism and the Eucharist. These actions affirmed and actualized the coming of the Messiah and the beginning of a new life and salvation in Christ, the Son of the living God. They served as the identifying acts of this community and the acts by which this community would be perpetuated to this day.
The book of Acts and the writings of Saint Cyprian of Carthage provide us an understanding of the unity of the churches that make of the Christian Church. It is understood that each local community when celebrating the Eucharist is "the Church in its fullness." At the same time, the understanding is that "there are many churches, but only one Church."
Acts of the Apostles, details that the apostles gathered together to discuss common concerns and issues of the infant Church. Saint Cyprian later noted that this practice continued, for "it was only natural that the bishops of the same episcopacy should meet together to discuss common problems." It was in this spirit that we see the emphasis and significance of councils in the Christian Church.
Orthodoxy has always attached great importance to the place of councils in the life of the church. It believes that the council is the chief organ whereby God has chosen to guide His people, and it regards the Catholic Church as essentially a conciliar Church. In the Church there is neither dictatorship, nor individualism, but harmony and unanimity; its members remain free but not isolated, for they are united in love, in faith, and in sacramental communion. In a council, this idea of harmony is and free unanimity can be seen worked out in practice. In a true council no single member arbitrarily imposes his will upon the rest, but each consults with the others, and in this way they all freely achieve a 'common mind'. A council is a living embodiment of the essential nature of the Church (Timothy Ware, The Orthodox Church, p. 15).
Canon from the Greek meant a straight wooden rod by which one could draw a straight line. Metaphorically, a canon of the Church is a standard by which we are kept in line with the Orthodox Catholic Church and her precepts. The Canon Law of the Orthodox Catholic Church refers to the rules or laws issued by the authority of the Church (i.e. councils) in matters of faith, morals, and disciple. The compendium of the Canons of the Church is called the Rudder of the Orthodox Catholic Church.
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