By Stergios N. Sakkos
Church is God’s holy family. Its members enjoy the caring love of Father God. They are the appointed heirs of His priceless wealth. They rejoice the bond they share with their first brother, the God-Man Jesus Christ, and their fellow Christians. Church is, also, a holy army. All believers obey the law and orders of “Jesus the author and finisher of our faith” (Heb 12:2). All of them should make good use of the spiritual weapons, which are given to them, to fight bravely the spiritual God-assigned war and proceed to victory. But first of all, they must learn and experience Church as Christ’s school and then obtain the wealth of God’s family.
Jesus Christ walked on earth as the unique and eternal teacher (Mt 23:8). Teachers, in this world, teach the scientific truths. Science actually improves life, if is applied in a spirit of love (1 Cor 13), and as an ancient philosopher said: if it doesn’t ignore virtue. Also, science contributes to a professional development and success in an earthly career. Christ as a teacher reveals eternal truths that offer freedom, sanctification, salvation and glory and finally lead to a spiritual restoration and eternal improvement. Jesus Christ is the Teacher of truth, the unique “Professor” and the Leader who opens the way and guides people to experience this truth in everyday life.
In the school of Church the book is the Bible, the Holy Scripture: Old and New Testament. The writings of the holy Fathers enable us to have the best understanding of it. They studied and interpreted God’s words and they had a deep experience of them. Fathers were distinguished as Lord’s competent followers and enlightened guides of Christians. The wisdom of their spirit and the holiness of their life made them stand out as a strong fort where every heresy and divergence were crushed.
Lord called “disciples” His first followers. But we know that besides the twelve disciples, there was also a group of seventy men and one even wider. While leaving this world He ordered His disciples to teach people of all nations. “Go and teach all nations……” (Mt 28:19). So, one of the most common names of Christians, used in the Acts of the Apostles, is “disciples”.
Saint Paul calls the Christian faith and Church, “grace” (Rom 5:2, Tit 2:11) and considers it to be a school, God’s educational institution. He writes to his disciple Titus “For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world” (Tit 2:11-12). According to the Apostle Paul the duty of Church is to train people in the following important lessons: to stay away from any dogmatic ungodliness and from any worldly lusts. At the same time, they should live in harmony with themselves “soberly”, with other people “righteously” and with God “godly".
The believer should study the Holy Scriptures “from an early age” (2 Tim 3:14) throughout his life so that he can learn and apply these lessons as his guide. Learning is a lifelong skill. Applying this to himself, saint Ignatius in an elderly age, while heading for his martyrdom, wrote: “Now I start being Christ’s disciple” (Rom 5).
Indeed, our whole life is not long enough to study and comprehend the divine truths of His Revelation. This knowledge will be fulfilled and completed in the Triumphant Church. At that time, the Holy Spirit will reveal the whole truth. We will be able to see our Lord’s face and we will experience His knowledge, since He will turn us into those who share His glory “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet 1:4). However, until that moment we should thoroughly study God’s Holy Scriptures and learn about His will. This study first leads to self-knowledge and then opens the way to God-knowledge and man-knowledge. The Lord offers us the unique privilege to be “God’s students” (Is 54:13) through the Bible that is our safe guide. This kind of studying inspires prophet Habakkuk, when on his guardhouse he is trying through all his senses, to listen to God “what he will say unto me” (Hab 2:1).
God speaks to every pious soul. After His Incarnation his voice is clear. Saint Paul writes that Jesus Christ is not only “teacher and professor” but, also, becomes the content of the lesson for the Christians (Eph 4:20). This lesson, in the life of church, is offered through the Holy Scripture and through the Sacrament of the Holy Communion. The first teaches the faithful, the second sanctifies him. The Holy Scripture offers people the opportunity to prepare themselves, Holy Communion makes them perfect.
Without the Sacraments of the Orthodox Church, Christianity loses its power of salvation, because it disregards Lord’s death and Resurrection. It is reduced to just a theory, a philosophy alienated from people’s life. However, without studying and comprehending the Holy Scriptures, the faithful stays in the dark and underestimates the Sacraments to mere ritual actions. The writer of the third gospel, Luke, presents four levels for Jesus Christ’s students. These are cited below:
♦ A simple woman of the crowd, who listens to Lord’s teaching, is inspired and excited (Lk 11: 27).
♦ Lazarus’ sister, Maria “which also sat at Jesus' feet, and heard his word” (Lk 10:39) She listens to His words. She is full of zeal.
♦ Maria’s older sister, Martha. She sacrifices her personal pleasure in order to serve the Teacher and his company (Lk 10:40). This kind of learning involves sacrifice.
♦ The last one is Lord’s Mother, who is His excellent student, the one and only after Him. Virgin Mary did not simply admire and just study. She did not confine herself to a mere act of sacrifice but she offered her whole heart and soul (Lk 1:38) to bear Him “the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us” (John 1:14).
Every Christian can place himself in one of these levels. It is obvious that if we want a Church that moves forward and fulfills its mission of salvation and redemption, it has to function as a school as well. Therefore, we should all, since we are students of this school, respond to our tasks.