The Four “Marks” of the Church

As we struggle to follow Christ as love, then we must do what he asks. Our sin divides us, one from another, and Church from Church. Our toleration of that division will be evidence against us at our Judgement. These are not my words; a clear-headed reading of the New Testament in toto makes it plain.

Metropolitan Jonah, newly-installed hierarch of the Orthodox Church in America, puts the personal standard before us:

The Church’s four characteristic “marks” – unity, holiness, catholicity, and apostolicity – are at once the Church’s content and identity, constituting both her vocation and mission. They are our goal; it is our challenge to actualize them in our lives, both personally and corporately, in order for us to be the Church.

Before anything else, these characteristics are marks of Christ Himself. Jesus Christ is one with the Father and the Holy Spirit; He is the focal point of our unity, and the very context of our relationship with God and one another as His Body. Jesus is the ultimate criterion of holiness: the man transparent to God, revealing God, incarnating God, and imparting that holiness which is participation in God’s very life, which lifts us up from the world of sin and corruption. Christ is the essence of catholicity or wholeness, in that “all things were created through Him and for Him… and in Him all things hold together” [Colossians 1:16-17]. He is also the source of universality because He embraces all things and permeates all things, and all things exist in Him. And He is the foundation of apostleship, the apostle and high priest from God [Hebrews 3:1], Whose obedience reveals Him as transparent to God, speaking only the words of Him Who sent Him [John 3:34], and doing whatever He sees the Father do [John 5:19], transforming and redeeming the world.

Our vision as Orthodox Christians is always first and foremost Jesus Christ. His message is our message: the coming of the Kingdom. His life is our life. His mission is our mission: the salvation of all mankind and its union with the Father in Christ by the Holy Spirit. Our task in the midst of this is constantly to repent, to have this vision renewed in us, and to purge our lives of everything contrary to the vision and incarnation of Christ in our lives. These are the marks of Christ; and if we share His life, we also share these marks.*

May God grant such a sharing within our lives, beginning with me, the first among sinners. Amen

 * from the Winter 2009 edition of the Orthodox Church Newspaper, available on-line at http://www.oca.org/DOC-PUB-TOC.asp?SearchYear=2009&SID=34


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