Fr Andrew Stephen Damick on Orthodox Ecclesiology

I believe that the church in which I was baptized and brought up ‘is’ in very truth ‘the Church’, i.e. ‘the true’ Church and the ‘only’ true Church . . . I am therefore compelled to regard all other Christian churches as deficient, and in many cases can identify these deficiencies accurately enough. Therefore, for me, Christian reunion is simply universal conversion to Orthodoxy. I have no confessional loyalty; my loyalty belongs solely to the ‘Una Sancta’.

– Fr. Georges Florovsky, “Confessional Loyalty in the Ecumenical Movement”

It seems to be a sin in polite Christian parlance to suggest that one’s own communion is actually right about anything, and it is perhaps the unpardonable sin to suggest that one’s own communion is actually coterminous with the very Church that Christ founded. Yet it was not so very long ago (and I don’t mean centuries here, just decades) that nearly every Christian actually thought these things about his own communion—at the very least, that his own communion was right and that those who disagreed were wrong, even if that disagreement did not necessarily place other communions outside the Church.

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Why exactly would, for instance, a Lutheran want me to recognize him as a Christian? Or why would a Baptist bother to wonder whether a Roman Catholic is a Christian? Why this drive for defining a communion as Christian that is, by its nature, not Christian in the way that one’s own communion is Christian?

It seems to me that the real reason why I am supposed to accept as Christian those who believe certain things is actually that I am supposed to accept the anti-ecclesiology of denominationalism, the idea that there can be multiple “denominations” (including the non-denominational denomination) of Christianity who have conflicting doctrine and practice and yet are somehow all legitimately the Body of Christ, the Church. But I don’t believe that. That presupposition is antithetical to my faith. I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, not myriad, conflicting, fragmented and innovative denominations. I do not accept that there are different “brands” of Christianity. There is only the Church, and as an Orthodox Christian, I believe that that one Church is the Orthodox Church.

I also note that this sub-orthodoxy (for that is what it is) only seems to include dogmatic affirmations. Churchly practice never enters into the question. Such things are “non-essentials,” I suppose. But how could whether baptism actually contributes to salvation or merely symbolizes something, whether the Eucharist is actually the very Body and Blood of the God-man or is just a nice memorial with crackers and juice, whether worship is ordained by God to be liturgical or can be made up by some bright-idea “worship leader,” whether asceticism is training for love and humility or Pharisaical “works righteousness,” et cetera, ad nauseam, ever be “non-essential”? Since when is a caste system of the elements of Christian faith and life even hinted at in the Scripture?

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