WHY ONE MUST OBEY THE CHURCH
“Why must one obey the Church and not some man whose thinking is opposed to that of the Church, eminent or intellectually gifted though he may be? Because the Church was founded by the Lord Jesus Christ and is guided by the Holy Spirit of God. Also because “the Church” signified the community of saints, an orchard of choice, fruit-bearing trees. If a man remains opposed to the community of saints, that means that he is unholy. Why, therefore, listen to him? “The Church is an enclosure”, says the wise Chrysostom. “If you are within, the wolf cannot enter, but if you stray outside, the wild beasts will get you . . . Do not wander from the Church; there is nothing more impregnable than the Church. She is your hope and your salvation. She is higher than the heavens, firmer than a rock, wider than the world; she never grows old, but is for ever renewing her youth. Prologue of Ochrid Vol. 1 P17, Homily
The Saint speaks the true and divine idea of the Church but we must identify what is the Church and what is not the Church. Sadly, Orthodox Christians have adopted to a great degree the western notion of the Church that it is in the bishops. This is not true, unless it is qualified with this idea. Any Bishop or priest is worth following if he himself is following Christ, keeping His commandments and is completely faithful to Orthodoxy. But what if he is not faithful to Orthodoxy, then if we follow him we both fall into the pit. If Orthodoxy should become like the Papacy with one man ruling over all, then it is no longer Orthodoxy, for this is not what Jesus Christ established, nor did He form His Church as a democracy. However we cannot leave the Church when wolves are infiltrating it, for the Church is like a ship and when you abandon the ship you end up in the more dangerous waters of schism.
The Church is meant to be a Christocracy, where in Christ rules. But how does Christ rule? Through the Holy Spirit whom He sent from the Father to guide us into all truth and to remind us of everything that Christ taught. An example is what is taking place in our own times. Many are outside the Church because of the heresy of ecumenism, and they find fault with those who do not leave and also recognize ecumenism as a heresy. But although ecumenism is a heresy, you cannot leave the Church and begin another church due to heresy. But you do not follow the one who leads you into heresy.
Neither can we leave the Church when wolves take over. If we leave the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church it is obvious that we cannot start another Church, so we must remain and keep the faith even if hierarchs fail to do so. When St. John Chrysostom was readying for exile, some of his ardent supporters were talking about leaving the bishops who were responsible for his exile, but he told them to stay with those bishops.
In the history of the Orthodox Church there have been many Judas types of leaders, and even heretics. But no one left the Church and started a second church, for “the gates of Hades,” said Christ, “shall not prevail against it.” Our Lord remains the Head of the Church and so long as we remain the Church which He founded, and not abandoned her, we are walking on the correct path toward everlasting life.