“You are My witnesses,” says the Lord, “And My servant whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe Me, and understand that I am He. Before Me there was no God formed, nor shall there be after Me. I, even I, am the Lord, and besides Me there is no savior. (Isaiah 43:10-11)
On June 30 each year the Orthodox Church honors the memory of the Twelve Apostles (which includes Matthias not Judas), the original witnesses to Christ’s life, teachings and resurrection. It is they who formed the Church, giving it direction and shaping its structure.
The Church, then, is the world, as the latter was intended to be. And the world is the Church, as the former is called to become. The danger of overemphasizing the Church as the world transfigured, or as some new creation (Revelation 21:1) is that we may be led to see only the divine, other-worldly aspect of the Church. Yet the world is entirely present in the Church. In fact, the Church needs to remember to be down to Earth. Christians are called to be faithful stewards and trustworthy caretakers of the mysterious dimensions of the earth (cf. 1 Cor 4:1-2). For it is precisely by remaining faithful to the earth that the Church also becomes new heaven (Revelation 21:1). (John Chryssavgis, BEYOND THE SHATTERED IMAGE, p 21)
[Chryssavgis’ comments remind us that the Church founded by the Apostles has its ministry and fulfills its purpose on earth, within history. His comments remind me of a sometimes criticism of the Church or the faithful that they can be so heavenly minded to be of no earthly worth!]
Chryssavgis says in another place about the Church:
If theology is a communal experience, purporting ‘to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden in God‘ (Eph 3:9), then the church guarantees the normative continuity from the apostolic era, through the Patristic age, and on to our times. The church is most authentically itself, however, when it prays as a worshipping community. (John Chryssavgis, THE WAY OF THE FATHERS, p 61)
To be ‘apostolic’ means to be witnesses which is the word ‘martyr.’ The Church is to be “Apostolic” as we recite in the Nicene Creed, but we also must remember St Paul’s description of what being an apostle means:
To the present hour we both hunger and thirst, and we are poorly clothed, and beaten, and homeless. And we labor, working with our own hands. Being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we endure; being defamed, we entreat. We have been made as the filth of the world, the offscouring of all things until now. I do not write these things to shame you, but as my beloved children I warn you. (1 Corinthians 4:11-14)
The icons we see of the Apostles portray them as living the heavenly life, glorious and holy, but that can cause us to forget what the Apostles had to go through in their lives on earth. St Paul’s words remind us of the true nature of the apostolic way, a way many of us would prefer to avoid. St Paul does tell us to imitate him!