“I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth” (I Timothy 3:15)
How blessed are they who have a home address but who live in the house of God. For them the church is where you find their hearts and passions. They are called in our native tongues “churchy people.” To be Orthodox Christian is to love your parish with a passion, whether it be a huge cathedral or a garage-size chapel. And such Christians know how to conduct themselves in God’s house whether or not there are sacred services going on.
A famous priest of the Russian Orthodox Church during the traumatic Communist regime, Fr. Pavel Florensky, now a saint who was killed as a martyr of faith, a polymath of science and theology, used the above phrase as the title of his masterpiece: The Pillar and Ground of Truth. As a young man searching for truth, he explored the writings of European philosophers, tracing their roots to Plato, who himself was looking for the fundamental basis of knowledge that would integrate all thought and enlightenment. Even more, young Florensky wanted to discover how it is that a human being has the ability to reason. It stands to reason that he would look to the church for enlightenment.
Notice in the quote above to his disciple, St. Timothy, that the holy apostle refers to “the house of God,” and his next thought is “Church of the living God.” Not any building, but a church—the place for those called out [Ekklesia]. “The church of the living God.” The living God is alive in the people who are alive in the Holy Spirit of God. They have the resurrected Lord Jesus with them and in them, for they are dead to the world and alive in Christ through holy baptism. This is where the search for truth begins and ends, as suggested by the title of St. Pavel’s treatise. If we are asked to define the word “Church”—is it the building, the gathering of those within, or Jesus Christ in their midst? Or is it the entire global Orthodox Church? We respond: “Yes.” There is not a definition fixed by canon and agreed upon by all, because to define means to limit. The Church has no boundaries that can be described completely. It is possible, however, to explain what the church is not.
“The pillar and ground of the truth.” Pillars are intended for prominence and display. In St. Paul’s time statues were elevated high above the ground to exhibit the image of an emperor or deity for all to behold and honor or worship. Christ Himself commanded us to let our light shine and not hide it under a bushel. He Is our Light, our Way, and Truth. He ordered us to go out and let His light shine from us, and let the world that lives in darkness see the Source of our joy, hope, faith and truth. This is why our churches are designed to call attention to themselves. They are often built in places of prominence—when that is possible. One can tell immediately what a city or civilization hold most dear by the height of its supreme edifice.
The Church is also the ground of the pillar and building. It stabilizes the base as the solid foundation. The church of the Orthodox Christians, now entering her third millennium, has endured physical earthquakes and distress as well as attacks from cultures committed to destroy and eradicate her. Only because of her basic buttress has she endured, survived and nourishes the people of God who are the living church united with her Lord, God and Savior, Jesus Christ.