Ecclesiology Final

The Assignment was to answer these two questions (in five pages or less): What is the Church? What is the Church’s mission?

IN HIS HOMILY ON 11 May 2023, Fr James Moore, OP, said, “Jesus did not leave us a book, he left us a Church!” The questions of what is the church and what is her mission are causing quite a lot of struggle: while I have a very (I think) coherent response to offer, I’m not quite sure if it’s a Catholic response or an Orthodox one that we might call “un-westerned”. Is this answer an example of “breathing with both lungs” or is it merely an Eastern Orthodox Ecclesiology with the Pope on top? If it’s the latter, is that OK? To open my struggle here’s a quote from an Orthodox priest:

The Church is not an institution although it has acquired institutional aspects… The Church is not a charitable organization although it performs charitable works. The church is not a place to have one’s needs met although it meets the most profound needs of humanity. The Church is not a building where sacraments are offered on demand. The Church is not an afterthought in the plan of salvation. 

Fr Maxym Lysack, Pastor of Christ the Saviour Orthodox Church, Ottawa, Canada: Introduction to the Church in Orthodox Theology retrieved on 5/18/2023

It’s the both-and of Catholic theology expressed as Eastern Apophaticism. We can say what the Church is-not even while saying she is, kinda that anyway. “She’s not an institution, but she has acquired institutional aspects.” She is a mystery as we experience her. De Lubac’s Chapter III, The Two Aspects of the One Church, fleshes this out, highlighting the Church’s active and passive modes. The sanctifying and the sanctified, the Bride and Daughter of Christ. 

The Church is the “vine which God has planted” (Psalm 80:14-15) she is also the trellis on which the vine grows, the structure by which God guides the vine. De Lubac says, “No children without a mother; no people without leaders; no acquired sanctity without a sanctifying power… no communion of saints… without a communication of holy things… no realized community without a society in which and through which it is realized.” (Splendor of the Church my digital copy says that’s page 47…) He notes the (seeming) opposition between hierarchic and charismatic gifts, but they are both rooted in the church, arising from the same source. This language will later be found in Lumen Gentium ¶4: “The Church, which the Spirit guides in way of all truth and which He unified in communion and in works of ministry, He both equips and directs with hierarchical and charismatic gifts and adorns with His fruits.” She is all that as well as the structure that holds it all together. De Lubac quotes the Venerable Bede, “Every day the Church brings forth the Church”.

The Catechism provides another point from which to begin unpacking the identity of the Church and there, also, her Mission:

“‘The Lord Jesus inaugurated his Church by preaching the Good News, that is, the coming of the Reign of God, promised over the ages in the scriptures.’ To fulfill the Father’s will, Christ ushered in the Kingdom of heaven on earth. The Church ‘is the Reign of Christ already present in mystery.’” (CCC ¶763)

In ¶752 the Catechism points to the People of Israel as the source of the Church’s claim to be the People of God. The Church is not an entirely new thing but rather the continuation of God’s actions throughout history beginning at not only with Abraham, but back to the original domestic Church in the Garden of Eden. (“The gathering together of the People of God began at the moment when sin destroyed the communion of men with God, and that of men among themselves.” CCC ¶761)  The people of God cannot begin until there is a people of course. Adam and Eve are the right place to begin, yet our First Parents were reflecting something or Someone: the Holy Trinity. The Church is the sharing of the Divine Life which is from eternity so, following De Lubac, we must see the Church’s origins in the mystery of Eternity. At the same time, the Church is instituted by Jesus Christ (¶763 ff) so she is, in some way, also a thing in time. This time-and-eternity aspect, again not either/or, but rather both/and, paralleled by other both/and comparisons listed in the CCC, especially in ¶761, citing Sacrosanctum Concilium:

The Church is essentially both human and divine, visible but endowed with invisible realities, zealous in action and dedicated to contemplation, present in the world, but as a pilgrim, so constituted that in her the human is directed toward and subordinated to the divine, the visible to the invisible, action to contemplation, and this present world to that city yet to come, the object of our quest.

To use the Eastern theological language, the Church is theosis or divinization in action in the world. She is the initiation, the goal, and the process by which the goal is approached. And, since God is infinitely beyond humanity, theosis is a journey, not an endpoint or destination. Even beyond this world, there is no place at which to stop and say, “There is no more journey left to take.” God’s love will always call us (that is the Church) “further up and further in” to use C.S. Lewis’ wonderful phrase. Yet the entire journey is the same. As Catherine of Siena said, “All the way to heaven is heaven, for Jesus says, ‘I am the way’”. To enter willingly on the way (even, perhaps, unknowingly) is to enter, in some way, into the desired end. 

The Church is the sharing in the life of God by the people of God, served by their Bishop and other clergy, gathered around the Eucharist. In and through the Eucharist, the entire people, in their mutual love and worship are referred to God the Father in the self-offering of the Son, Jesus.  The Church, then, is the Reign of God breaking into this world. Her mission is to manifest the Reign of God in the world and to draw all people deeper into that reign – into union in God by Grace. (See CCC ¶768, “the mission of proclaiming and establishing among all peoples the Kingdom of Christ and of God” quoting Lumen Gentium 5; and ¶772, “in the Church that Christ fulfills and reveals his own mystery as the purpose of God’s plan: “to unite all things in him.”). 

If Christ is, as the late Pope Benedict XVI said (in Verbum Domini ¶93), Autobasileia, “the Kingdom in himself” then the final both/and is that it is he who is, himself, the Church and her mission. Christ has left us himself.  The Church is his body and he is her head, and also her heart: he is her beloved one whom her soul loves (Song of Songs, 3:4) and also her very soul himself.

Ecclesiology Assignment #1

The assignment was to do a 25 min presentation on one chapter in The Church of God by Louis Bouyer. I took Part 1, Chapter 10 on the “Renaissance of Russian Ecclesiology. These are my notes. I added content based on other presentations as I synthesized the material. I had not read the entire book.


  • Introduction

Before we can talk about a “renaissance” in Russian Ecclesiology it’s important to understand what was going on in the Russian Church prior to the 20th Century. From what is she being reborn? As we talk about all the names mentioned in Chapter ten, what is going on in Russia (and other places)?

The book sites the effects of the Patriarch of Constantinople but, honestly… not so much. Each Orthodox Church stands on her own. While Patriarch St Nicodemus of Constantinople was very much into the writing of St Ignatius of Loyola that would not have affected the Church in Russia. 

The books says Peter the Great has a governance set up along protestant model… not exactly… 

There was no reformation in the Orthodox World

However… the book seems a little biased in favor of the west. Let the east tell her own story.

Russia – the Tsardom – has a troubled history with the Church. 

Go back 300 years. Tsar means “Ceasar” like “Kaisar”. This idea that Russia is the continuation of the Roman Empire (“Third Rome”) gives us…Holy Russia? (Slavrophiles) Phyletism – religious racism, really.

What is Holy Russia?

Many of our clergy and faithful come from various non-Russian backgrounds, and have whole-heartedly embraced the sacred customs and traditions of the Russian Orthodox Church. Let us not fall into the temptation of segregating our Diocese into cultural groups, because as sons and daughters of the Russian Orthodox Church, we are all citizens of Holy Russia. When we speak of Holy Russia, we are not talking about the Russian Federation or any civil society on earth; rather, it is a way of life that has been passed down to us through the centuries by such great saints of the Russian Land as the Holy Great Prince Vladimir and Great Princess Olga, Venerable Sergius of Radonezh, Job of Pochaev, Seraphim of Sarov, and more recently, the countless New Martyrs and Confessors of the 20th century. These saints are our ancestors, and we must look to them for instruction on how to bravely confess the Faith, even when facing persecution. There is no achievement in simply calling oneself “Russian:” in order to be a genuine Russian, one must first become Orthodox and live a life in the Church, as did our forebears, the founders of Holy Russia!

— Metropolitan Hilarion (Kapral) of New York

The Troubles (Smuta) 1598-1613 – Tsar dies without and heir. Social and economic collapse. Multiple factions.

God did this b/c of our sins… 

Tsar Boris Godinov – had been regent under the dead guy –  was clearing up political enemies. Getting rid of rivals. Enslaved the serfs to the land = prelude to 1917 Revolution.

His Rival Feodor Romanov – very popular, nearly elected king – was forced to become a monk. So was his wife.  They had had a son… Michael.

The political machinations = ecclesial machinations: resulted in Feodor becoming a bishop and patriarch but wasn’t recognized by many as such.

Their son – very popular – Election of Michael Romanov 1613 as the first Tsar from that family. (Romanovs would rule until the Communist Revolution in 1917)

He decided to confirm Dad as Patriarch of all Russia in 1619. There were actually two kings… Coregent with Dad the Patriarch (relationship status: it’s complicated)

Nikonian reforms 1652 along with Nikon’s insistence that the Ecclesial power was greater than the state.

Rough period – Nikon deposed in 1667 In Revenge, Peter the Great did away with the Patriarchate- installed Synod in 1700

Not very pious at all. Wanted control of the church as an arm of the state control. He did use the Reformation as a model, yes, but exactly to destroy the Church’s catholicity and enslave her to the state. 

The governance part Worked. There were people in the Church that wanted the power of the patriarchate removed. western captivity of the church?

The destruction of the church, however, didn’t work.

Peter was succeeded by his Wife, Mrs The Great, (not really wife… fun joke tho) that is Catherine. She brought Jesuits into Russia for teaching, thinking that her own clergy were not well educated, or up to western standards.

When the Jesuits were suppressed in 1773, Catherine said to the Pope, “You have no power here. Be gone before someone drops a house on you…” and protected the Jesuits, saving them “almost single handedly” 

This is the “western captivity of the church”?

Communists try to buy the church by giving back the Patriarch Sep 1918

Out with the chair. The state is still in control. At Death of Patriarch St Tikhon, church elects Metropolitan Sergius as Patriarch. Then “the Living Church” as an arm of Communist State. Western captivity of the church?

One other thing to note: after Revolution, establishment of the Parish School (St Sergius Institute) still there and very active. 

Many American Orthodox thinkers – Alexander Schmemman, Son in Law Thomas Hopko. Spiritual Fathers of Victor Sokolov, the priest who brought me into the Church in 2002.

Summary of Book Contents 

Church as unity of Love. Layman. Influenced by lay piety of the west. Read passage on page 137.yellow tab #1

Papalism & protestantism as invidivualisms. Church lived sobornost life in a russian village

The whole people needed for action

Criticism from Florovsky and others: seems to conflict with the ideas of what a bishop is? Seems to be entirely focused on the Spirit and not on Christ. 

This will play out in most of the others who we discuss.

  • Vladimir Sergeyevich Solovyov 1853-1900

Evolved to see unity of Love more clearly with the Bishops

Perhaps even the Pope? See page 140 green tab

Not fully covered in out text…
Civil powers – social reform. Pope Leo XIII – social teachings of the church.

Solovyov thought needed the state arm.

Church needs one center point – pope – to pair with one civil point. Then these things can happen. Aeterni Patris and Rerum Novarum

Had the idea of linking the Caesar (Tsar) with the Pope, the eccesial and secular orders, to build a better (perfect?) world.

‘Bella idea, ma fuor d’un miracolo, é cosa impossible’ (a beautiful idea but, short of a miracle, impossible to carry out). – Pope Leo XIII

Also Sophilogy. Actually more stress in Orthodoxy. General idea: trinity exists in communion essence/energy division… what makes the Church exist in communion in mirror? What unites them? 

How is grace communicated?

Sophia = energy but not essence of God? 

Another hypostasis in the trinity? (page 141 green tab

(Western Trinity makes way more sense to this writer…)

Gnostic? Nearly New Age? Orthodox?


Direct influence… Paris school

  • Fr Pavel Aleksandrovich Florensky 1882-1937

Picked up on Sophiology…

Wrapped it in his science (physics, biology) and attempted to develop a world-system…

According to the forward Pillar and Ground of the Truth (mentioned on p141 green tab) published by the Princeton University Press: “The book is a series of twelve letters to a ‘brother’ or ‘friend,’ who may be understood symbolically as Christ. Central to Florensky’s work is an exploration of the various meanings of Christian love, which is viewed as a combination of philia (friendship) and agape (universal love). He describes the ancient Christian rites of the adelphopoiesis (brother-making), which joins male friends in chaste bonds of love. In addition, Florensky was one of the first thinkers in the twentieth century to develop the idea of the Divine Sophia, who has become one of the central concerns of feminist theologians.”

(quoted here)

Again, his ecclesiology was wrapped around this idea that we cannot experience God directly so there must be something between us – that is Sophia. 

  • & Sergei Nikolayevich Bulgakov 1871-1944

Went further into Sophianism. Condemned as heresy in the 1930s Seriously wrapped up in the politics of the period. 

He saw the the Blessed Virgin a bit “higher” than the other Orthodox (also condemned as part of his Sophianism) in that she was (how???) the incarnation of the Holy SPirit.

In the words [of Fr. Sergius Bulgakov], when the Holy Spirit came to dwell in the Virgin Mary, she acquired “a dyadic life, human and divine; that is, She was completely deified, because in Her hypostatic being was manifest the living, creative revelation of the Holy Spirit” (Archpriest Sergei Bulgakov, The Unburnt Bush, 1927, p. 154). “She is a perfect manifestation of the Third Hypostasis” (Ibid., p. 175), “a creature, but also no longer a creature” (P. 191) (Quoted in the

From this he saw the Church as the fullest embodiment of this (page 142 in our text)

One of the founders of Paris School (western captivity? liberation?)

  • Vladimir Nikolaievich Lossky 1903-1958

Opposed to Sophianism.
Reads a bit more Orthodox and also Catholic

Text on page 142-143 (red tab)

Filioque – of course. However this is important. The issue is does the son, somehow, constitute a source or cause of the Spirit? Orthodox would say no – both the Son and the Spirit find their first cause in the Father. They would ask, if the Spirit is the “love between the Father and the Son” then how can he be his own person? He somehow then dwells in us. 

Final two sentences on p 144.

In the church, our human persons, like the Divine persons in the trinity, without being confused or able to separate from one another, are one in the only son of the Eternal father. At the same time, however, they are consecrated in their diversity by the spirit of Life which proceeds from the same father.

This writer finds this expression of the Orthodox position to be very Catholic, actually. 

Taught patristics at the Paris School (which was not all heretical, see?)

Dean of St Valdimir’s Seminary (NY) in 1949. Also taught at Harvard.

Critiqued all of the previous as following too much on Khomyakov, not Christological enough – the Church is Christ’s body, yes?

Hard sentence on page 144 blue tab 

Taught at Paris School.

This is where it gets interesting…

Afanasiev taught what is called a “Eucharistic Theology” meaning that in some way the Church is Constituted/Realized in the Eucharist. In the liturgy, itself, the worshipping community embodies (mediates) the entire Church. 

He also believes in the universal Church, perhaps with the Church of Rome presiding in Love over the entire communion of Churches.

He is criticized by more recent writers such as John Zizioulas as seeming to teach that even the local parish Mass is a full embodiment of the Catholic Church. (See here)

But his work is also synthesized by Zizioulas (in Being as Communion) and Fr Alexander Schmemman (whom I mentioned at the beginning of the discussion) in Eucharist: Sacrament of the Kingdom and other works. 

Our text notes that there is a marked lack of juridical aspects in Afanasiev and previous writers. I would say this was not missing in Solovyov, who wanted to build a state around the Church, or, rather, under the Church and that being the Pope’s Church – and state.

As I mentioned – not fully covered

  • Konstantin Nikolayevich Leontiev 1831-1891

Confused by ending with him. But it seems Bouyer brought us back to show that long before the Sophia folks there was the notion of Law needed in Orthodoxy. Leontiev cited the need for law arising in the traditionof the Byzantine Church prior to the fall of Constantinople to the Muslims.

Not noted in the text though: the possibility that this is exactly why Russian Orthodoxy instead of Greek, plays such a huge, and yet messy role: just as Russia was getting off the ground, as it were, and would have needed some sense of “nomocanonical work” from Byzantium, Byzantium fell. Russia ended up on her own.

So maybe the “‘renaissance’ in Russian Ecclesiology” comes through at the end. Where someone who was writing before all the mess with the Communists and Sophianists was thinking about the missing nomocanonical work of the universal church and it suddenly connects with the Eucharist.

Metropolitan John Zizioulas, whom I mentioned above, was good friends with Rome, and presented Laudato Si to the press

Zizioulas’ main correction to Afanasiev’s work was to underscore the historic teaching that the “local church” is not pariochial, but rather gathered around the Bishop. Thus, the Local Church links us through mediation with the Universal Church gathered around the Holy Father and all celebrating the same Eucharist.

May it be so.


In addition to the URLs in the body above, these URLs are of interest:


Russian Village 

Thoughts on Sophiology

Retrieved on 14 April after original URL ( suddenly vanished.

St Tikhon of Moscow