Orthodox America

The Apostolic Church

Protoprespbyter Michael Pomansky
Orthodox Dogmatic Theology

THE APOSTOLIC CHURCH The Orthodox Church is called "apostolic" because the Apostles placed the historical beginning of the Church. They spread Christianity to the ends of the earth, and almost all of them sealed their preaching with a martyr's death. The seeds of Christianity were sown in the world by their word and watered with their blood. They lit the unquenched flame of faith in the world by the power of their personal faith.

The Apostles preserved and transmitted to the Church the Christian teaching of faith and life in the form in which they had received it from their Master and Lord. Giving in themselves the example of the fulfillment of the commandments of the Gospel, they handed down to the faithful the teaching of Christ by word of mouth and in the Sacred Scriptures so that it might be preserved, confessed, and lived. The Apostles established, according to the commandment of the Lord, the Church's sacred rites. They placed the beginning of the performance of the Holy Mysteries of the Body and Blood of Christ, of baptism, of ordination.

The Apostles established in the Church the grace-giving succession of the episcopate, and through it the succession of the whole grace-giving ministry of the church hierarchy, which is called to be stewards of the Mysteries of God, in accordance with I Corinthians 4:1.

The Apostles established the beginning of the canonical structure of the Church's life, being concerned that everything should be done "decently and in order"; an example of this is given in the fourteenth chapter of the First Epistle to the Corinthians, which contains directions for the assemblies where church services are celebrated.

All this concerns the historical aspect. But besides this there is another, inward aspect which gives to the Church an apostolic quality. The Apostles were not only historically in the Church of Christ; they remain in it and are in it now. They were in the earthly Church, and they are now in the Heavenly Church, continuing to be in communion with believers on earth. Being the historical nucleus of the Church, they continue to be the spiritually living, although invisible, nucleus of the Church, both now and forever, in its constant existence. The Apostle John the Theologian writes…"Declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ" (I John 1:3). These words have for us the same force as they had for the contemporaries of the Apostle; they contain an exhortation to us to be in communion with the ranks of Apostles, for the nearness of the Apostles to the Holy Trinity is greater than ours. Thus, both for reasons of an historical character, and for reasons of an inward character, the Apostles are the foundations of the Church. Therefore it is said of the Church: It is built upon the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone (Eph. 2:20). The naming of the Church as "apostolic" indicates that it is established not on a single Apostle (as the Roman Church later taught), but upon all twelve; otherwise it would have to bear the name of Peter, or John, or some other. The Church as it were ahead of time, warned us against thinking according to a "fleshly" principle (I Cor. 3:4): "I am of Paul, I am of Apollos, I am of Cephas." In the Apocalypse, concerning the city coming down from heaven it is said: And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and in them the names of the twelve Apostles of the Lamb (Apoc. 21:14).