Friends, the following is an excerpt from a book titled The Roots of Christian Mysticism by Olivier Clément. This book was very helpful for me as I was exploring the Orthodox Church and Tradition some twenty years ago and I continue to find it a wonderful synthesis of spiritual and patristic wisdom that I return to again and again.
The Ecclesia, the Church, is not primarily or fundamentally the concern of sociology. The institution is merely the visible aspect of the 'mystery'. Above all, the Church is the power of resurrection, the sacrament of the Risen One who imparts his resurrection to us; the new Eve, born from Christ's open side as Eve was born from Adam's rib. From Christ's pierced side indeed there flowed water and blood (John 19.34), the water of baptism and the blood of the Eucharist….
In its deepest understanding the Church is nothing other than the world in the course of transfiguration, the world that in Christ reflects the light of paradise. The paradise of his presence is in truth Christ himself, who could say to the thief full of faith who was crucified beside him, 'Today you will be with me in paradise' (Luke 23.43). The world-in-Christ, the new heaven and the new earth, means the heaven and the earth renewed, brought to us in the Church's sacraments and in the Scriptures, which are also a sacrament. The different sacraments (or 'mysteries') are in any case only aspects of the sacramental character of the Church as a whole, whose heart and brightest light is the 'mystery of mysteries', the Eucharist.
We need to take refuge with the Church; to drink milk at her breast, to be fed with the Scriptures of the Lord. For the Church has been planted in the world as a paradise.
-St Irenaeus of Lyons
In the Spirit, the Church is the mystery of the Risen One, his sacramental presence. It might be called the Pneumatosphere, in which the preaching of the Apostles, the Good News, is always alive and present, continuing the 'witness of the prophets, the apostles and all the disciples'. Faithful and creative Tradition therefore is the life of the Holy Spirit in the Body of Christ; not passing things down, but 'newness of the Spirit', the newness that is constantly being renewed in persons. The Spirit abounds most plentifully in the sacramental body of Christ, but wherever the Spirit is at work in history and in the universe, the Church is secretly present. There is not a blade of grass that does not grow within the Church, not a constellation that does not gravitate towards her, every quest for truth, for justice, for beauty is made within her (even if the prophets and great creative spirits have sometimes been persecuted by the ecclesiastical institution), every scrap of meditation, of wisdom, of celebration is gathered in by her (even though Christianity has at certain times formed itself into a religious association that ignored or fought against other people).
The Church's preaching is the same everywhere and remains true to itself, supported by the witness of the prophets, the apostles and all the disciples, from the beginning, through the middle, to the end, in a word, throughout the history of God's constant activity of saving humanity and making himself present to us in faith. This faith never ceases. We receive it from the Church and guard it under the action of the Spirit like a precious liquid that rejuvenates itself and the vessel containing it. The Church has been entrusted with this gift of God, just as God gave his breath to the flesh that he fashioned in order that all the members might receive its life. And this gift conveys the fullness of union with Christ, that is, the Holy Spirit, pledge of incorruptibility, confirmation of our faith, ladder of our ascent to God.… For where the Church is, there the Spirit of God is also; and where the Spirit of God is, there the Church is, and all grace. And the Spirit is truth.
-St Irenaeus of Lyons
The Bride of Christ, the Church, in its human, all too human aspect, can be unfaithful to him. But he never ceases to give himself to her who is his body. He makes her mother of living truth for us, a place of rebirth.
The Roots of Christian Mysticism.