A Vision of the Church
I had a vision a few weeks ago. I don't mean a full-fledged, “pull back the curtain, transported to Heaven” vision. But I did have a sort of vision a few weeks ago when I was visiting Dormition Monastery in Michigan. It was a vision of something that is always happening, that is always true, but for a moment I was able to see it.
As I was standing in the altar of the beautiful monastery church, and later while I was preaching, suddenly the faithful gathered there that morning in the Liturgy were indistinguishable from the icons of the saints on the walls next to them and behind them. Young and old - men, women and children - blended with and were in the company of the many saints whose icons adorned the walls of the church. I could not clearly tell where the icons stopped and the flesh and blood people started. They were one community, one people, one body of worshippers.
Undoubtedly my vision had something to do with the physical structure of the church, the life-sized dimensions of the icons on the walls, the play of light coming through the windows, and perhaps the haze of incense lingering in the air, as well. Again, I’m not saying I had a mystical vision, but what I saw was a true vision of the worshipping Church, nevertheless.
You see, this happens in every Divine Liturgy, always and everywhere. It’s not just a trick of the light or just to do with the beautiful iconography in the monastery church. Every time we are gathered together at the holy altar we are gathered with all the saints in heaven and on earth. This is not mere sentiment or pious thought: it is a core dogma of our Faith. What else do we mean by “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church” but this mystical and liturgical reality? St John Chrysostom describes the single, Heavenly-earthly Liturgy this way:
On high the armies of the angels are giving praise. Here below, in the Church, the human choir takes up after them the same doxology. Above us, angels of fire make the thrice-holy hymn resound magnificently. Here below is raised the echo of their hymn. The festival of heaven’s citizens is united with that of the inhabitants of earth in a single thanksgiving, a single upsurge of happiness, a single chorus of joy.
Far too many of us hold to the mistaken notion that Jesus came to save us as individuals. And this very quickly slides into other - no less mistaken - ideas emphasizing our individual “walk with the Lord”, “my personal relationship with Jesus”, etc. It’s not that these ideas are all wrong, of course, but that they are one-sided, individualistic, and come dangerously close to turning Christianity into just another form of self-absorption. When a Christian’s sole focus becomes their individual relationship with Jesus the Church becomes in their mind a support group at best and a vestigial organ at worst. Either way, the biblical and apostolic vision of the Church as one body, the Body of the risen and glorified Christ, is lost.
Perhaps one of these days in the middle of the Liturgy you, too, will have a vision. Like mine yours might not be truly mystical, but maybe it will be! Either way, however we are able to see, our eyes must be opened if we are going to see the true scope of salvation.
Then one of the seven angels…talked with me, saying, “Come, I will show you the bride, the Lamb’s wife.” And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, having the glory of God…. But I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it. The Lamb is its light.(Revelation 21:9-11, 22-23)
With Love In Christ,