The Church is One: Just as God is One, the Church which belongs to Him is one, meaning unbroken and undivided. The Orthodox Church has preserved the fullness of the Faith since the time of the apostles. Since the Church began, there is still only one Orthodox Church.
The Church is Holy: Because God is present in the Church, and He is holy, the Church is also holy, or “set apart for God.” We take part in God’s holiness when we receive the Sacraments and live in communion with Him.
The Church is Catholic: The word “catholic” is best understood as “whole, complete, and lacking nothing.” The Church is what it is because God is who He is—whole and complete and lacking nothing!
The Church is Apostolic: An apostle is one who is sent or has a mission. Jesus Christ had a mission to bring salvation to the world. Jesus chose his disciples, and after his Resurrection, sent these disciples to preach the Good News to the world. We continue the same mission. We say the Orthodox Church is apostolic for two reasons: first, because its mission is to preach the Good News of salvation, and second, because it is directly connected to, and built upon, the teaching of the apostles.
“There can only be one Church and not many. And this one Church, because its unity depends on God, Christ and the Spirit, may never be broken. Thus, according to Orthodox doctrine, the Church is indivisible; men may be in it or out of it, but they may not divide it.” (Hopko, “Doctrine,” p. 123)
“The holiness of the Church comes from God. The members of the Church are holy to the extent that they live in communion with God.” (Hopko, “Doctrine,” p. 124)
“To believe in the Church as catholic… is to express the conviction that the fullness of God is present in the Church and that nothing of the “abundant life” that Christ gives to the world in the Spirit is lacking to it. It is to confess exactly that the Church is indeed ‘the fullness of Him who fills all in all.’ (Eph. 1:23 and Coloss. 2:10)” (Hopko, “Doctrine,” p. 126)
“The last attribute of the Church is apostolicity. [The Church] has retained the apostolic faith through the apostolic suggestion of her officers and through the tradition of the Church, which has maintained her unity with the ancient church, a unity in spirit, faith, and in truth.” (Constantelos, “Understanding the Greek Orthodox Church,” p. 73)
There is an old saying: “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” So it is for Christian. The step into the baptismal font is more of a “leap” than a step. Immersed in the water three times, unable to breathe, we symbolically die with Christ. When we rise from the water, we have life anew. We have “put on Christ.” We can begin our walk in His ways. We have begun our life’s journey, and our destination is union with God, or “theosis.” We were created for this union—to live united with God now and forever. We experience union with God most profoundly in the Mystery of the Eucharist. In receiving Holy Communion at the Divine Liturgy, we identify ourselves completely with the Church: its teachings, images, hierarchy, and history.
Try this: Talk with your Sunday Church School students about the Church. (Before you do, gather: a picture of your church building; grapes and/or a grapevine; a shepherd and/or sheep or picture of them; a doll or picture of a head and a body; a partially constructed lego building or picture of a building under construction; a photo of a home or a family; and a Bible.)
Look at the picture of your church building. Have a conversation that includes the following: “When we say, ‘I believe in one holy, catholic, and apostolic church,’ are we talking about this place? What if our church building was suddenly gone, as happens in some parts of the world where Christians are being persecuted? Could we still believe in one holy catholic, and apostolic church? Why or why not?” Go on to discuss what the Church really is. In Greek, the literal meaning of the word church, or ekklesia, is the ‘assembly.’ We get a more full understanding of what the Church is if we look at the word pictures in the scriptures. On a table, spread out all of the items you have gathered (except the church building picture which you have already used). Look up the following scriptures, read them aloud together, and then have the children select the item(s) from the collection which are described in that scriptural word picture. Remind the children that this word picture is describing the Church. Here are the scripture “word picture” passages:
John 15:1-8 (grapevine and branches)
John 10:1-16 (shepherd and flock)
Ephesians 1:22-23 (head and body)
Ephesians 2:19-22 (building under construction)
1 Timothy 3:15 followed by Hebrews 3:6 (home or family photo)
Talk about each word picture and how it relates to the Church. There are also other ways in which the Church is described both in scripture and by the Church Fathers, but this is a good starting point. (You could challenge older students to search the scriptures and come up with additional word pictures related to the Church!) Return to the picture of your church building. Ask again, “Is this what we are talking about when we say, ‘I believe in one holy, catholic, and apostolic church?’ If not, what ARE we talking about?” Challenge each other to think about these word pictures the next time you say this part of the Creed!
Check out http://orthodoxinfo.com/general/pomaz_church.aspx for more on each of the word pictures listed above, as well as much more on the “holy, catholic, and apostolic church” in which we believe!