The Church is the Bride of Christ (John 3:29), united to the Son of God in faith and love. And He gave himself up on the cross for the Church (Eph. 5:23). The intimacy of a husband and wife is an earthly image of the intimacy that Christ has with His Church, and the union of an earthly marriage is a shadow of the union of the marriage of Jesus, the heavenly Bridegroom, with the Church.
The community of the Church is the location of salvation for mankind; it is the Ark in which we can be saved from the flood of corruption and sin. In it, Christians sacramentally work out their salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12), worshiping the Holy Trinity in spirit and in truth (John 4:24). The Church is the pillar and ground of the truth (I Tim. 3:15) and so we rely on the Church in our struggle to apprehend the one truth for ourselves. The Church is eternal, and the gates of Hell will never prevail against it (Matt. 16:18).
The Church includes the prophets and saints of both the Old and New Covenants, the angels and the concrete, historical community of believers in this earthly life. Those who have gone on before us are sometimes called the Church Triumphant, while those still in this life are called the Church Militant (Heb. 12:1).
The final boundaries of the Church are known only to God himself, but outside the historical Church—which is the Orthodox Church—the connection of any particular person to the Church (Christian or not) is unknown to us. Throughout history, various groups have broken away from the Church, which is a tragic reality that we want to overcome. Whether Christians outside the historic Church in this life are saved is up to God’s mercy and grace. And the same is true of those who have that visible participation in the Church.
In this life, to be an Orthodox Christian means belonging to the Orthodox Church. It is not something you can do by yourself or as part of a separate group. Orthodox Christians believe that other Christian or even non-Christian religions may teach some of the truth of the Gospel but that the fullness of the Christian faith is found only in Orthodoxy. That fullness is called Holy Tradition, which is centered on the Scriptures.
So what is Holy Tradition?
Next Article: Holy Tradition and the Scriptures
Adapted from St. Paul Antiochian Orthodox Church in Emmaus, Pennsylvania.