the Birth of the Church
Father Matta El-Meskeen (Matthew the Poor)
The Holy Spirit between the Old Testament and the New Testament:
he day of Pentecost
and the coming of the Holy Spirit when the disciples were assembled was the day
of the consecration of the Church and the
beginning of its practical life, thus inaugurating the New Testament. In the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit acted prophetically, proclaiming God’s power through miracles, but when the Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples it was a full hypostasis. He filled the disciples and the place they were meeting, in the form of tongues of fire resting on the disciples. God’s presence was expressed in a way similar to when God appeared to Moses in the burning bush. St Antony described it as “The Fiery Spirit”.
between the Holy Spirit
coming upon the Virgin and its coming upon the disciples:
Let us compare the Holy Spirit’s coming upon the Holy Virgin Mary, and the heavenly power sheltering her to beget the Word, the Son of God, with the Holy Spirit’s coming upon the disciples and the acceptance of power from the Highest as Christ’s promise: “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you” (Ac 1:8). We immediately come to the conclusion that this is the birth of the Church, the renewed creation of mankind that is theologically expressed as the body of Christ, with Christ Himself as its Head.
The order is consistent. Christ’s absence ushered the emergence of the Church, the fulfillment of Christ’s words to the disciples before crucifixion: “I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, to be with you for ever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him; you know him, for he dwells with you, and will be in you. I will not leave you desolate; I will come to you.” (John 14: 16-18)
Christ received the headship of the Church when the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples on the day of Pentecost:
The Holy Spirit’s coming upon the disciples on the day of Pentecost fulfilled the Father’s promise. It was the manifestation of another Comforter, and the sign of Christ receiving the headship of the Church and the inauguration of the body of Christ to proclaim the renewed creation in Him. The Eucharist began on the first day: “And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they partook of food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Ac 2: 46, 47). This is how the Church was built.
And the renewed creation was founded on earth:
Thus the Church was founded, the beginning of the renewed creation, considered a heavenly creation living on earth, with its Head in heaven, as Christ, its Head, founded it with His resurrected body. As a result, the Church became known as the House of God according to St Paul the Apostle’s words: “So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (Eph 2:19). According to the words of Peter the Apostle: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Pet 2:9).
The relationship between the Church and the heavenly creations:
Paul the Apostle in his epistle to the Hebrews expresses the relation of the Church with the heavenly creations, at the level of Christ: “And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says, ‘Let all God’s angels worship him’ ” (Heb 1:6). In reference to the Church, Paul the Apostle says to the Ephesians: “That through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places. This was according to the eternal purpose which he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Eph 3:10, 11). The Church is entrusted with proclaiming the mystery of Christ to all the heavenly hosts!
This means that the Church, as a renewed heavenly creation, is counted among the heavenly hosts, and the mystery of Christ will be proclaimed to and through it.
Paul the Apostle adds, concerning the Church’s work as a renewed heavenly creation, that it will have an important role in praising and glorifying God as a leading chorus: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. He destined us in love to be his sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace which he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace which he lavished upon us. For he has made known to us in all wisdom and insight the mystery of his will, according to his purpose which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time” (Eph 1:3-9).
The Characteristics of the Church’s relation with Christ, its Head:
As the church represents the body of Christ and Christ is its head, the transcendent relationship between Christ and the Church has become one of extreme importance and mystery.
1. The first and most important mystery is that Christ handed all of His Divine achievements to the Church. Paul the Apostle reveals it with great clarity and significance. Yet St Paul points out the need for a spirit of wisdom and revelation, and enlightened hearts in order for this awesome mystery to be realized. Listen carefully my friend to these words:
“I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints (the Church), and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power in us (towards the Church) who believe, according to the working of his great might which he accomplished in Christ (for our sakes, i.e. for the sake of the Church) when he raised him from the dead and made him sit at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come; and he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Eph 1:16-23).
2. Before this awesome mystery, the reader or listener must have the greatest awareness, wisdom, and revelation to realize the loftiness of this awesome work of mystery, that of God resurrecting Christ from the dead and seating Him at His right hand, elevating Him above all the highest heavenly hosts, subjugating everything to Him to hand them over to the Church. The Church, because Christ is in it, is higher than all the heavenly hosts, and all are its subjects in heaven.
Paul the Apostle expressed this matter of importance in another place: “that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ” (Rom 8:16, 17).
3. Concerning the Divine knowledge of the mystery exposed to us, Paul the Apostle in a long introduction reaches, at its end, this overwhelming mystery that is revealed to us:
“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with might through his Spirit (Holy Spirit) in the inner man “renewed man i.e. the renewed creation”, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have power to comprehend with all the saints (the Church) what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him, who by the power at work within us is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, for ever and ever. Amen” (Eph 3: 14-21).
4. Paul the Apostle proceeded gradually in these verses, beginning by the work of the Spirit in the renewed man for Christ to dwell in him through faith in the heart. The condition is that your basis is love, so as to become conscious of Christ’s and God’s love to us through the Spirit, the renewed man, and love. Paul the Apostle avows that it is an unsurpassed knowledge, which, if attained, will bring you to the knowledge of the fullness of God! This is the most awesome mystery St Paul dealt with, but if we proceed gradually it is easy to understand. He also says, “the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have come to fullness of life in him” (Col 2:10). If we have the fullness of Christ theologically, we immediately have the fullness of deity that is the Father’s, because the Father and Christ are one in every thing, the fullness of one being the fullness of the other. He said therefore: “We will come to him (I and my Father) and make our home with him” (John 14:23). In fact, the Father gave His fullness to Christ to give it to us, which Christ Himself acknowledged: “The glory which thou hast given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we (The Father and Son) are one” (John 17:22).
5. When the Holy Spirit gives us the fullness of the knowledge of
Christ, we are immediately filled with the fullness of the knowledge of the
Father: “Have I been with you so long, and yet you do not know me, Philip? He
who has seen me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘show us the Father’? ….
Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father in me” (John 14:9, 11).
Reading between the lines we realize that the Holy Spirit is the mediator between the Father and Christ, so that all that is the Father’s may become the Son’s in the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is our mediator with Christ, bringing us all that is Christ’s and all that is the Father’s.
6. In another place he applies that which is the Father’s to that
which is the Son’s. Christ glorified the Father, saying, “all mine are thine,
and all thine are mine” (Christ’s prayer to the Father, John 17:10). Christ
continued saying: “and I am glorified in them.” Inevitably, the Father,
the Son and the Church are glorified together: “all mine are thine, and all
thine are mine, and I am glorified in them” (John 17:10).
The connection between Christ and the Church is also shared with the Father.
In the end, St John the Apostle reveals that the fellowship of the First Apostolic Church was with the Father and with Jesus Christ His Son. John the Apostle then calls the Church to have the same fellowship as the apostles had with the Father and the Son, in order for their joy to be complete (1 John 3, 4).
fullness of Christ becoming the fullness of the Church initiated the tie
between Christ and the Church:
“For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have come to fullness of life in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of flesh in the circumcision of Christ” (Col 2:9-11).
8. Christ took from the Father the image of the renewed man, born from above, and who is above all rule and authority, to give it to us, or to be more correct, for us to become that renewed man. Christ was literally filled with the fullness of the Deity to fill us with Himself: “and you have come to the fullness of life in him” (Col 2:10). This way every connection with Adam and with man’s curse to return back to dust were undone, in order for us to take on a heavenly divine relationship with Christ, and for us to become a renewed creation in Him. The Church has become in Christ an example of the renewed creation that took on the power of fullness and the partnership in Christ and in the Father.
9. As for the mystic relation that binds the Church it is at the holiest level that is very difficult to explain, but can only be explained if we keep ourselves from giving any physical rationalization. The Church in relation to Christ is equal to a bride and a bridegroom, and in the gospels appeared as an example in the Gospel of Matthew 9: 14,15: “Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, ‘Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?’ And Jesus said to them, ‘Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come, when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.” This symbol appeared again when Christ said: “I am the bridegroom of the Church.” This is openly revealed in the book of Revelation: “ ‘Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to be clothed with fine linen, bright and pure’ – for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints” (Rev 19:6-8).
The description of the Church here is complete. The clothes are made of the very white linen out of which Egypt’s and Israel’s priests’ attire were made, which is a sign of purity. It is represented here in the righteous deeds of the saints, meaning their works in serving the Lord God. As for the Lamb’s marriage feast, it is the Church’s proclamation of her Bridegroom’s glory, and the presence of Christ her Bridegroom with the spirits of the Saints and the saintly angels.
10. Christ position to the Church while it is on earth is “Christ is the Head of the Church,” meaning He is its Divine organizer and the “Savior of the body” (Eph 5:23). He saved the body from the curse of death and freed it from the bondage of the devil and of the world, as well as providing it final salvation, the proclamation of the renewed man having donned “the image of his creator” (Col 3:10) to become “like his glorious0 body” (Phil 3:21).
11. The Church was related to Christ as a woman is related to her husband in accordance to the Holy Mystery of “one body” (Eph 5: 31) “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word (baptism), that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle (disfigurement of age) or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Eph 5:25-27).
St Paul reveals here the mystery Christ spoke of in relation to the Church, His body: “Even so husbands should love their wives as their own bodies” (Eph 5:28). He made clear the mystery of the Church truly being the special body of Christ that He loves, as its owner. Also: “He who loves his wife loves himself.” Herein lies another major revelation: She is loved as Christ loves Himself.
12. Our new concept must therefore be that Christ gave His body and Himself to the Church so that the Church will become the mystic body of Christ Himself. For the body to live without the Spirit is impossible. Of course all of this is beyond the meaning of the hypostasis. “For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, as Christ does the church.” This means that it is Christ that feeds the Church with the food of heavenly truth, the hidden manna, tending its growth for Himself, “because we are members of his body” (Eph 5:28-30). This is the clearest revelation concerning the meaning of the Church being the body of Christ. It is the resurrected body that has risen to heaven.
“Now as they said these things, Jesus Himself stood in the midst of them, and said to them, ‘Peace to you.’ But they were terrified and frightened, and supposed they had seen a spirit. And He said to them, ‘Why are you troubled? And why do doubts arise in your hearts? Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself. Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have.’ When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His feet” (Lk 24:36-40 NKJV).
13. That is the body of Christ with which He resurrected, complete with the scars of the Cross. He made that same body His Church, which lives through His resurrection. That is what St Paul describes in his Epistle to the Ephesians, “We are members of his body” (Eph 5:30). Because we are a renewed creation of His resurrected body, St Peter says: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Pet 1:3). The resurrected Christ is for us the head of the renewed creation into which we were born. For we are born from the resurrected body of the Lord Jesus Christ, a renewed creation, living because Christ overcame death and gave us the inheritance of eternal life.
The Church is the living body of the resurrected Christ. We are members of that body. All of us, i.e., all the faithful from the beginning until the end, form Christ’s whole body as the Apostle Paul says:
1. “Until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph 4:13).
2. “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body (i.e., the Church), joined and knit together by every joint with which it is supplied, when each part is working properly, makes bodily growth and upbuilds itself in love” (Eph 4:15-16).
The unity of faith and the fullness of
the knowledge of Christ:
In the first verse the building of the body of Christ is based on the unity of faith and the fullness of the knowledge of Christ. This of course is the new life, the reborn man who is daily renewed and filled with knowledge, which overflows to faith. The church is built as the Church truly lives in Christ and assembles repeatedly, bonded by a single interest in the Spirit. Her faith is then increased by witnessing spiritual works, and her knowledge is augmented through the manifestation and proclamation of the gifts of the Spirit.
True love based on sacrifice and giving:
In the second verse: The basic element is true love, i.e. love that has no other aim than sacrifice and giving. The father sacrifices for his son, and the son sacrifices for his father; the living example being through the father, the son and friends amongst each other, the strong ties of love encouraging their generous service among each other and to others. Christ, the Head of the Church and every one of us, is the model, example and guide, the fragrance of His Cross being spread through them. This Church is a part of and participates in the partnership of the Apostles. The composition, association, connection, support, and responsible joint for growth is the Holy Spirit, who is working between those who love each other.
The powers of death
shall not prevail against it:
“On this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it” (Matt 16:18).
The rock was St Peter’s faith: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt 16:16).
Until now the Church has existed for two thousand years, and the doors of death have been unleashed against it. The Devil’s works through fire, sword, beasts, prison, hunger and torture are many. No words can express the numerous horrors the Church has been through. But the Church is the body of Christ, and Christ is its Head, so the Church has remained, even when all else has perished.
“They will perish, but thou remainest; they will all grow old like a garment, like a mantle thou wilt roll them up, and they will be changed. But thou art the same, and thy years will never end” (Heb 1:11, 12).
“And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, all the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Eph 1:22, 23).
This means that the Church is in every believer who loves Christ and the Church, and the Church enfolds all the faithful in it.
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