The Individual and the Church – Eastern Orthodox Perspectives

*the following is a post I wrote in Fuller studies this past week.

The Orthodox individual views church through the lens of being. They seem to ask what the Church is intrinsically before moving to what it might do. As a concurrent physical and immaterial reality, the Church throughout history is one big family. “Whenever a congregation engages in worship, that congregation is not alone in the presence of God, but is included with the whole church” (Payton 2007, 174) which includes “Christians of past ages who have departed this life and live in God’s presence” (174). 

As a westerner, I’ve been taught that the church, though God’s family, is ultimately defined by its capacity to make disciples, to participate in missio Dei, and to serve in ushering in Jesus reign on earth. Basically, it’s what we do, more than what we already are. When a westerner worships, we can be aware of the heavenly realities, but less emphasis is placed on the Church at worship; reflecting Hebrews 12:18-24 as a central ongoing activity that defines us corporately. 

For the Orthodox, because the nature of the Church is in it’s familial relatedness, “Salvation is social and communal, not isolated and individualistic” (170). “One is a Christian only in concert with other Christians” (169). I found this connection between worshiping alongside the invisible Bride of Christ and the nature of communal salvation an important distinction from Protestant theology. Perhaps this is how the Orthodox can pray for, and request prayer from Saints? If salvation is viewed as an ongoing process or means of God’s past/present/future victory in Jesus, then believers past/present are all caught up in this divine movement?

Dr. Tibbs, our Eastern Orthodox professor, replied to my post with: Generally, Orthodox ecclesiology is a “realized eschatology” (which is often cited as a criticism.) Not only the already/not yet idea, but more: participation in eternity in the here and now. So the saints may be invisible to us, but having entered eternity themselves they are participating in the eternal worship of Christ in a new way. The Orthodox ask for the prayer of saints because they are somehow still active in Christ (consider the “activity” of Elijah and Moses in the Transfiguration on Mt. Tabor). In other words, the saints are dead from an earthly perspective, but they are alive in Christ and worshiping together with the Church on earth.

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