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Church - Body and Bride

The Church: Body and Bride

 Unlike human beings, God’s actions are in complete harmony with who He is in essence. Oftentimes while acknowledging that a specific action will lead us further away from God—from the Archetype in whose image our nature is created in—we do it, regardless. However, God is not like this; everything He does conforms to His nature—in the words of St. Gregory of Nyssa, “what He is, this He also does.”[1] This was one of St. Athanasius’ major arguments against Arianism. For St. Athanasius, if everything that God does conforms to His essence, then we should be able to come to know God from creation. He writes,

But if there be not a Son, how then say you that God is a Creator?… For if the Divine Essence be not fruitful itself, but barren, as they hold, as a light that lightens not, and a dry fountain, are they not ashamed to speak of His possessing framing energy? And whereas they deny what is by nature, do they not blush to place before it what is by will? But if He frames things that are external to Him and before were not, by willing them to be, and becomes their Maker, much more will He first be Father of an Offspring from His proper Essence. For if they attribute to God the willing about things which are not, why don’t they recognize that in God which lies above the will? Now it is something that surpasses will, that He should be by nature, and should be Father of His proper Word. If then that which comes first, which is according to nature, did not exist, as they would have it in their stupidity, how could that which is second come to be, which is according to will?[2]

St. Athanasius affirms that since God created the world, then this must reveal something about Him in His nature vis-à-vis the begottenness of His Son. In this same way that we, in the words of St. Ambrose of Milan, “can apprehend the supreme and everlasting good,”[3] we’re able to come to know God, most palpably, in the creation of His image: man.

Throughout Scriptures the relationship between a husband and a wife is presented to be a type of the relationship between Christ and the Church (Ephesians 5:25-27; Revelation 19:7-9; Revelation 21:2; 2 Corinthians 11:2). While not immediately clear, this is also synonymous with Scripture’s representation of marriage as becoming one flesh—Christ being the head and the Church being the body (1 Corinthians 11:3; Ephesians 1:20-22; Ephesians 4:15; Ephesians 5:23; Colossians 1:18; Colossians 2:10; 1 Peter 2:7). This is made most vivid as Christ quotes Scripture, “‘and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh” (Mark 10:8 RSV).

Marriage, thus, reveals to us the proper workings of the relationship between God and the Church. As the husband and the wife ought to work together for a single united goal, having one action, even more so is the Church called to participate in Christ’s work, striving towards one goal with Him. As the wife ought to empty herself for the sake of her husband, so also is the Church called to empty herself for the sake of Christ; for just as the husband is called to empty himself for the wife, much more did Christ empty Himself for the sake of His Church, “unto death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8 RSV).

Finally, being His body, just as Christ is both human and divine, so also is the Church both human and divine. She is human by the participation of her members and divine by the divine indwelling. This is revealed in the mystery of marriage through the sharing of the bride and the bridegroom in the one body. As the body has only one action, so also is the Church called to have one action with Christ, moved by Him and actualized by the Church. Accordingly, participation in the Church is not passive, but an active venture of self-emptying. In the words of Fr. Peter Farrington,

When we are sharing the love and life of Christ with those in need we remain the Church, the Body of Christ, offering the same liturgy of the Church. This moulds and gives structure and order to how we live, and pray and serve. All that we are and all that we do is an expression of our participation in the Church, the Body of Christ.[4]

The self-emptying which we are called for, is not merely a transactional juridical system, rather it is our approach of the likeness of God. This leads to participation in the Church, being an encounter and union with the Triune God, beginning here on earth, not simply an abiding to a specific philosophical, moral, or juridical model. As Metropolitan Paulos Mar Gregorios puts it,

The Church fulfills her vocation not merely by obeying her Lord, but by being in union with Him. The Church is not a mere function of Mission, to be cast away when the Mission  has been fulfilled, It is the ‘House of God’ where the Holy Trinity abides, the foundation being Jesus Christ the Incarnate Lord.[5]

  • [1] Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory of Nyssa’s Treatise on the Inscriptions of the Psalms, trans. Ronald E. Heine, Oxford Early Christian Studies (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1995), 110.
  • [2] Athanasius of Alexandria, “Discourses Against the Arians,” in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, trans. John Henry Newman and Archibald Robertson, vol. 4, 2 (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1892), 2.2.
  • [3] Ambrose of Milan as quoted in Andrew Louth, ed., Genesis 1-11, vol. 1, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Old Testament 1 (Madison, WI: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 44.
  • [4] Peter Farrington, Spiritual Life: Three Hundred Chapters (Maidstone, Kent: The Oriental Orthodox Library, 2016), 99.
  • [5] Paulos Mar Gregorios, A Human God (Kerala, India: Mar Gregorios Foundation Orthodox Theological Seminary, 1992), 100.

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