The Holy Trinity as the Beginning and Source of the Church
Thus the Church as a Mystery, which has her heavenly origins in the Triune God, "before all ages", exceeds every definition. The Church has her source and beginning from the same Triune God before all ages. "And the books of the Apostles plainly declare that the Church exists not now for the first time, but has been from the beginning: for she was spiritual, as our Jesus also was spiritual, but was manifested in the last days that He might save us."
Paradise as the Earthly Beginning of the Church from the Beginning of the Human Race
This spiritual Church had her beginning on earth in Paradise from the creation of the first-formed, namely the parents of the human race, as the Fathers of the Church say. There existed full communion between God and man, where God and man "spoke friend to friend", according to Saint John Chrysostom. This is how life in Paradise is described, as the Church of the first-born, a communion of the righteous in a sacred place, where the Church was planted. And Tertullian says that Adam is "translated into Paradise, out of the world into the Church." Fr. Theodore Zisis, repeating Origen, says: "The spiritual Church was planted on the earth at the creation of the first man and since then the history of man follows the plan of God."
Even after the fall of the first-formed the Church exists although it is "darkened", and "it is kept by the grace and care of God." It is a fact that according to Patristic and Orthodox teaching the image of God in fallen man was not destroyed, but darkened. Athanasius the Great says that the image was darkened and concealed, just like a mirror, without losing its abilities to have a knowledge of God and divine grace in its historical course. Regarding this historical course of the human race and the Church, this holy father stresses the continued and unbroken divine grace: "For Adam too, though he received grace from the beginning, and upon his creation was at once placed in Paradise, differed in no respect either from Enoch, who was translated there after some time from his birth on his pleasing God, or from the Apostle, who likewise was caught up to Paradise after his actions; nay, not from him who once was a thief, who on the ground of his confession, received a promise that he should be immediately in Paradise." And Eusebius of Caesarea also refers to this unbroken continuity of the Church from the creation of the human race in Paradise. Of interest is his observation that there exists an unbroken continuity of righteous people, from the first-formed to Abraham. And if, he says, someone called these people, the rightous, Christians, not according to name but way of life, they would not be far from the truth.
Regarding the singleness of the body of the Church, Saint John Chrysostom says: "What is this body? All the faithful of the entire ecumene that have been born and exist. Also those who preceded Christ's coming in a body. How? Because they also saw Christ.". The spermatic word of the philosopher and martyr Justin of the period before Christ is certainly known. Regarding the breadth of his spirit and his soteriological boundaries Professor George Martzelos makes reference how Justin records the Johannine conception, according to which the luminous energy of the Logos in the world is not limited exclusively to Christians, but extends to all people, since the Logos of John is "the true light, which gives light to everyone coming into the world" (Jn. 1:9), and "certainly not just Christians." And John of Damascus, "who summarized most broadly the patristic teachings," defined the Church as "the assembly of the holy Fathers, Patriarchs, Prophets, Apostles, Evangelists, and Martyrs who have been from the very beginning, to whom were added all the nations who believed with one accord." The same is said almost verbatim in the middle of the Divine Liturgy after the change of the Holy Gifts: "Again we offer this rational worship to You, for those who have reposed in faith, Forefathers, Fathers, Patriarchs, Prophets, Apostles, Preachers, Evangelists, Martyrs, Confessors, Ascetics, and for every righteous spirit perfected in faith. Especially for our all-holy, pure, most-blessed, glorious, Lady, the Theotokos, and ever-Virgin Mary." In a single moment is referred the catholicity of the salvation of the entire human race.
The Incarnation of the Logos of God - The Perfection of the Church
The Church continues to exist and indeed "is reborn, refashioned and perfected through the incarnation" of Jesus Christ. Thus the Church was not founded by Jesus Christ after the Incarnation out of nothing, as if previously it did not exist at all. Jesus Christ Himself says: "Do not think I came to abolish the law and the prophets; I did not come to abolish it, but to fulfill it" (Matt. 5:17). And this "fulfill" does not simply mean the "fulfillment" of prophecy, but, as Karmires says, "her perfection." This view is held by other Fathers of the Church, among whom are John Chrysostom, as well as other interpreters of Holy Scripture, such as Zygabenos, etc.
The incarnate Savior did not only receive an individual human nature, but was united with the entire human race, that He may redeem everyone, as the ancient Fathers taught, such as Irenaeus, Athanasius the Great, Methodius, Gregory of Nyssa, Cyril of Alexandria, Hilary, Leo the Great, Augustine and others. Within Patristic theology, therefore, is the universality of salvation.
When on the day of Pentecost the Church received the Holy Spirit, she was illumined, strengthened, and rejuvenated to launch her missionary and pastoral activity. The first public preaching of the Gospel and the establishment of the first community in Jerusalem became the beginnings of the Church, which was transplanted throughout the world, with the activity of the apostles and preachers of the faith, and of course with the help and support of God.
14. Clement of Rome, "Second Epistle" 14.
15. John Chrysostom, "Homily 3", 1, PG 63, 473-474.
16. Tertullian, "Adv. Marc". 2, 4, PL 2, 314D.
17. Theodore Zisis, "Ἑπόμενοι τοῖς θείοις Πατράσι. Ἀρχές καί κριτήρια τῆς Πατερικῆς Θεολογίας". Πατερικά Ι, Θεσσαλονίκη 1997, 162.
18. John Karmires, Ὀρθόδοξος Ἐκκλησιολογία, 52.
19. "Against the Greeks" 8, PG 25, 16 CD.
20. "On the Synod of Nicaea", ΒΕΠ 31, 147.
21. Ecclesiastical History 1, 4, 4.
22. "Homily 4", 10, PG 62, 75.
23. "H θεολογία του 'σπερματικού λόγου' και η σημασία της για τους θεολογικούς και διαθρησκειακούς διαλόγους", Θεολογία 84, 2 (2013)3.
24. "Against Those Who Decry the Holy Images", PG 96, 1357.
25. John Karmires, Ὀρθόδοξος Ἐκκλησιολογία, 74.
26. "On the Gospel of Matthew", Homily 16, 2-3 PG 57, 241-242.
27. "Interpretation of the Gospel of Matthew", 5:17, PG 129, 204ΑΒ.
28. John Karmires, Ὀρθόδοξος Ἐκκλησιολογία, 80.
Translated by John Sanidopoulos.