Fr. John Behr, Ph.D. (Theology), Professor, Department of Humanities, University of Aberdeen (Aberdeen, UK)
In the 20th century reflections on the Church developed primarily in the context of eucharistic ecclesiology, according to which the Church community is a local congregation united around the Eucharist. This ecclesiology was based on early Christian sources, in particular the text of the epistles of St. Ignatius of Antioch. This article examines a different view of the Church, which, like eucharistic ecclesiology, is based on early Christian sources and is more characteristic the early Christian literature of the 1st–3rd centuries. This is a way of speaking of the Church as the Virgin Mother in whose bosom the faithful are born from death into new life. This image is especially vividly represented in the acts of martyrdom, when the Church appears as a Mother sending a host of martyrs to God the Father. The martyrdom experience is also important for Christian Christology and anthropology: Christ is present in this world in those who follow Him in His suffering, and the image and likeness of God in man is revealed fully when he decides to follow Christ — the New Adam — in His suffering. In the apostolic and early Christian tradition, the Church also appears as a Bride who loved Christ to the end and revealed His glory. The article considers this image using the example of the Gospel of John and the Apocalypse, both of which were perceived by the early Church Fathers as related writings.
Keywords: theology, ecclesiology, Christian anthropology, martyrdom, early Church Fathers, John’s tradition, images of the Church