One should distinguish between the Church-Organism and the Church-organization. Only to the Church-Organism are some names for the Church applicable, which we find in the Holy Scripture; for example: “glorious, holy, blameless” (Eph. 1: 4), “without spot or blemish” (Eph. 5:27), “Lamb’s wife” (Rev. 19: 7, 21:9), “body of Christ” (Eph.1: 23; Col.:18), “pillar and the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15) and many others. These concepts do not apply to the church organization (or are applicable with great restrictions) and legitimately confuse and reject people.
The Church-Organism is the same in all ages, for it is eternal in essence, and the Church-organization depends on the historical conditions of its existence. The Church-Organism is a pure “bride of Christ, adorned for her husband” (Rev. 21:2), and the church-organization has all the shortcomings of human society and always bears the imprint of human infirmities.
The Church-organism does not include anything that defiles, and in church-organizations wheat and tares grow together—and the need to grow, according to the word of the Lord, to the end of this age (Mt.13: 24-30).
The Church-organization often persecutes the saints of God, and the Church-Organism takes them into its core. How much the church-organization and the Church-Organism do not coincide can be seen from many examples: St. Athanasius the Great, St. John Chrysostom (who was clearly persecuted by an Orthodox church-organization), St. Maximus the Confessor, St. Gregory Palamas and others. The church-organization throws them out of its midst, deprives them of Episcopal sees, etc., and in the church-organism they are and eternally remain the most glorious members.
The Church-Organism is “the pillar and confirmation of the truth,” and the Church-organization is subject to delusions, filled with heresies. And it happens, as can be seen from the previous letters, that a small part of the church-organization is held at the Church-Organism, at the Body of Truth, and most of it is split off, and the truth continues to live in a smaller part.
One can belong to the visible church (organization) externally, and to the Body of Christ (Organism)—certainly internally; and the measure of belonging, determined by the measure of holiness, determines the degree of a person's involvement in the Truth—Christ.
Holy New-Martyr Mikhail Alexandrovich Novoselov (+1938) from “Letters to Friends,” Letter 18.
1. About the Church as a living organism
From the very beginning, there were two different ideas about Christianity and the Christian community:
The Jewish concept is now called rationalistic. Christianity is reduced to the personal inner connection of individuals with the Divine Person and to faith in Her [the Church’s] and Her work. At the same time, the Person Himself, as being in heaven, “conceals” everything. The idea of Her is made vague, and Her teaching is put in Her place. And a person “binds himself” not with the Divine Person, but with Her teaching.
Gnosticism degenerated into mystical sects. Mystics build their understanding of Christianity on the principles of the heart, on love for the Person of Christ. They affirm the necessity of knowing the living, visible, and tangible Christ. And in this they are right, for the gospel of Christ contains precisely such an idea. But the mystics are wrong when they seek and “find” a living, tangible, and visible Christ in those places where they seek and [claim] find Him.
Rationalists don't lie, they only narrow down the gospel. The mystics expand—and expand quite correctly—the understanding of the rationalists; but they also (apart from the error of seeking and finding) have a huge gap: they ignore a very important part of the Gospel. This part relates to the essence of the Christian community and to the interconnection of its members.
In the minds of rationalists and mystics, the Christian community is an organization—and nothing else. The members of this organization are related to each other like members of any organization: by a common goal, common beliefs, and common convictions. But in the Gospel we have an indication of a different kind of community, a community as an organism, a community as a living Personality.
This idea of Christianity, as something not only Personal, but also catholic-social, we have only in the teaching of the Church. According to the teaching of the Church, the Church of Christ is not only an organization, but it is still a living Organism, a Living Person, the Body of Christ. Just as Christ once needed a Body to carry out His work, so now, to continue His work, He needs a visible and tangible Body. The present Body of Christ is His Church.
Now an analogy: what does a living apple tree do when it grows? A live apple tree—i.e. some force, which we call life in an apple tree, grabs the dead, inorganic and gives life, makes it alive and organic. It is the same with Christ: the Power of Christ grabs the living only physically, draws it into His Body and endows it with life of a higher order, life that is timeless. Just as something living only by plant life—consumed into man—begins to enliven human life, man begins to live from this plant life. So in the same way a man, drawn into the Body of Christ, begins to live in Christ, and Christ begins to live in him.
The cells of our body all live an independent life, but besides this life they have another life—the one that we give them. The cells of our body, since they live in us, and we live in them, have a common life and connection with each other. If we die then the cells in our corpse, preserving their life, will then lose their life in us and the connection with each other (in the human).
Here is the Apostle, speaking about this, said: When I was drawn into the Body of Christ, I, like a cell, was alive, but the center of gravity of my life and its meaning and significance changed. “I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me” (Gal. 2:20). If the cell of our body were conscious and recognized our personal, human, mental life as an individual, then it could say: “I am alive, but it is not I who live, but Ivan Ivanovich lives in me.”
And Christ spoke about this truly. He told the cell: only that cell that begins by losing its cell's life can hope to get life in Ivan Ivanovich. “To preserve your soul, you must first lose it” (Luke 9:24 and others).
Against their will, many, hearing such words, said: “what strange words!” They seem strange to those who have not thought scions and apple trees and will never guess that these words must be understood in the most direct, everyday sense. As soon as you understand these words (“in order to gain your life, you must first lose it”) in a simple manner, you will see that it is impossible to say better and more precisely: in order for the scion to find life (come to life), it must first stop living only as a scion, but begin to live in an apple tree. It is not scions that should “embody” the tree (for what does that mean?). And it is necessary for the apple tree to incarnate (take on the matter of) scions. It was not Paul who became the organism of Christ — this is the Khlyst doctrine, the essence of the Khlysty—but Paul entered, as a part, into the Body of Christ, into the living Organism of Christ, into the Church of Christ—and in exactly the same way as scions enter an apple tree.
For eternal life, not man must incarnate Christ, but Christ must incarnate man. If man were to incarnate Christ, then Christ would be a part of man. And only if Christ incarnated a person, it is possible to say—to put it more precisely—that a person has become a part of the Body of Christ. Christ said that He is the beginning of a new Being, a new Organism (not an organization), that He is the head of this Being. And people—His friends—are members of this Organism. And He spoke absolutely precisely and definitely: since I have eternal life, they can have eternal life—only parts of Me for Himself.
I took the apple tree as a likeness of Christ. I likened a person to scion that only comes to life in an apple tree. Not if in resting in close proximity, but if it becomes part of the apple tree. “I am the beginning of a new life,” Christ said. “I draw people not into an organization, but I draw people into Me, into My life... I am eternal life itself” (John 11:25).
You say you don't understand how you can be drawn into the Body of Christ. Christ spoke a lot about this, and it all comes down to the likeness of an apple tree and a scion. Is it possible to explain how the scion is drawn into the tree and becomes alive? “Anyone who has heard from the Father about the need to be drawn in, is drawn in.” Divine power acts and attracts, and nothing else is known. It is also known that some do not resist this force, while others do resist. So, according to the teaching of the Church, we are particles and molecules of the Body of Christ, if we do not resist the Power of Christ drawing us into the Body of Christ.
2. About “contemporary Orthodoxy”
Now I can answer the question of what is contemporary Orthodoxy from the point of view of the teachings of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church of Christ.
I ask the person who asks me: “What do you mean by the words: the Church of Christ? Do you mean only one organization, or do you mean ‘organism’? Do you have any general idea of the community as an organism? If you do not have such an idea, then you should not apply the name Church to the organization, because this only gives rise to misunderstandings. Better to call it a party, society, community, etc. Then the question will appear in a much more definite form, namely: is the contemporary Orthodox party or community similar to a primitive Christian party, organization, or community?” And I answer: “It is not similar at all! The only difficulty here is that it is difficult to judge an organization that includes hundreds of millions. But still the answer remains the same: it is not at all similar!
But if we take the point of view of the Gospel and recognize that the Church is precisely the Church—the temple of the Holy Spirit living in Her, the Body of Christ and the living Organism—then our whole concept changes, and the question loses all meaning. Loses because there is no question in it! After all, the Church is the life in Christ of hundreds of millions of people. Why can we think that this life in Christ of these hundreds of millions or a part of them is not the same as that which the parts and molecules of the Body of Christ lived before?
With such a view of the Church (as a living Organism), pointing to the Synod or “a group of bishops,” according to the teaching of the Church Fathers, is the same as approaching an apple tree, pointing to a hollow, and saying that you affirm “the apple tree is alive that this is something alive and real”; but look—an empty place filled with dirt and dust! And another analogy: a “malignant growth” has grown on the human body. This is how the doctors diagnosed it. Now I ask: “What relation is this growth to the person's personality?” Let's just say: our individuality lives in our body, lives in the hand, leg, ears. The “growth” emerges. I ask: “do we live in this growth?” Christ gives the following answer: “As long as the growth is ‘sensitive’ while you are in pain if ‘pricked’, until then you undoubtedly live in this growth. If “sensitivity” is lost, then let this growth be to you like a tax collector and a sinner. If he “does not obey”, if the sensitivity is lost, then it means that he is no longer part of the body.
Imagine that now with us something that will certainly come and come true: that out of 100 bishops 99 will renounce Orthodoxy, and out of 80 million 79,999,900 people will renounce it. So what of this? Nothing at all! This case would be of great “concern” for the Forsaken, but it would not concern the Church at all. As she was the Body of Christ and the New Organism, she would have remained that way. If Christ did not come to found an organization, but to give life to a higher Organism, then crowds of filthy parasites, monks, etc. has absolutely nothing to do with it. It is as absurd and unreasonable to point to them when wishing to belittle Christianity; as if someone, when arguing about the superiority of a rotten fruit over a faceted diamond, from the point of view of “life” explains that rotten fruit is in compost and manure. And such remarks have always been made, and are always made, and will always be made by Judaizers, i.e. rationalists. They spoke and say to Christ: “Your disciples are in dung! And Christ always answered, answers, and will answer: “Yes! unfortunately, this is so, but since they are alive, they will throw off the manure from themselves.” What is the use that you Jews have nothing, since you are dead?”