What Christ’s Church is Really About

by Fr. Basil Biberdorf

Every time that we gather as church, we celebrate the Divine Liturgy, the Holy Eucharist, it’s always essentially the same… [St. John Chrysostom elaborates] ‘no Liturgy is less holy or more holy than any other.’

Fr. Thomas Hopko began his homily at the recent extraordinary All-American Council with these words. In the context of our worship life in Beavertown, they ring particularly true.

Our vision of “Church” is often conditioned on what can, at best, be described as the “trappings” of church. We like thinking of “Church” in terms of our buildings: the icons, the iconostasis, the smell of the incense, the tables and stands, and even the location and purpose of the parish hall. We also like thinking of the kinds of music we sing, and the way we sing it. We often have opinions about which groups a proper parish needs: choir, altar guild, church school, etc. We consider our fasts, and the way people should dress when coming to services. We look forward to holy suppers, home blessings, Paschal baskets, and the like. But, as I said, these things are all trappings of the Faith. They express and reflect our belief, but do not, in themselves, constitute the Faith. If they do for us, we have it all wrong.

All of which brings us to Fr. Thomas’s words. We gather in order to celebrate the Divine Liturgy, which exists for us to join our thanksgiving (eucharistia) to the Body and Blood of Christ in His Eucharist. Everything we do at Church is in preparation for that: for the acquisition of the One who is Himself Life. Since God does not change, and His holiness does not increase or decrease, there is no way to say that one Liturgy is more or less holy than any other. Christ’s gifts to us are as unchanging as He is. They come to us in our holiness and our unholiness, in our dignity and in our abasement.

This is vitally important for our Chapel. We cannot look to our lack of building and say, “We’re not really Church yet,” as though our “churchhood” is dependent on a structure. The Church is built on Christ, the Son of the Living God (Matthew 16:18), not upon bricks or timbers. The foundation of our chapel is the same as that of any parish church, any monastery, and any cathedral anywhere: Christ Himself, who redeems the world, feeding and sanctifying those who believe in Him with His own precious Body and Blood.

Nope. We are Christ’s Church, and we have the blessing of sojourning as our earliest brethren did, praying and gathering in a home, giving witness to our God to those whom we encounter, giving of ourselves to those in spiritual and material need, studying the Scriptures, caring for each other, both in and out of the Church. We have the same opportunities to live and pray as Christians as the faithful in a large parish do. Indeed, we even have the opportunity to become targets of ridicule and ostracism by seeking to be in Christ’s Church.

These facts must dominate our thoughts especially in seasons like this one. It’s easy to become distracted by all the Christmas “stuff” (both in and out of the Church) and, in the case of the Chapel, distracted by our pursuit of a building that enables us to do even more. Regardless of those things, we are Church because we possess Christ and He possesses us. No liturgy is less holy or more holy than any other. May this reflection shape us in these holy weeks, and guide our efforts as we continue building in Snyder County.