In the recent podcast from Fr. Tom Hopko that I posted this past Sunday a point was made that I wanted to expand upon a bit. Fr. Tom mentions that in The Arena St. Ignatius says that God will use any means necessary to save us. Our salvation may not be neat and pretty, but He will do everything He can on His part to ensure our salvation. Fr. Tom then gave the example of St. Paul and his companions whose ship was wrecked, but they all made it ashore alive, some by swimming others by floating on the wreckage of the ship.
This last image is what set my mind to thinking. Often in the Church Fathers the Church itself is compared to a ship carrying its passengers to safety while the storms of the world crash around it. I've heard the Church referred to as the "Ark of Salvation," and many of the Fathers found typological connections between the ark of Noah and the Church. But we who are members of the Church (whether it be the Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, or any of the Oriental Orthodox Churches) know too well that the Church oftentimes resembles the sinking Titanic more than it does the ark of Noah.
Particularly in our own day and age we hear far too many reports of various scandals that have gone on in one or another Church. We hear of monks and priests who have behaved unchastely with others. We hear of bishops covering up the sins of the priests and monks entrusted to them. We hear of disputes over land or even parish churches. I've even heard stories of monks breaking out into fist fights in the shrine built around the birth-place of our Blessed Lord because they couldn't determine who was responsible (or rather who got the honor) of cleaning what areas!
As Christians of the Apostolic Faith (again, whether we are Catholic, Orthodox, or Oriental) we believe that the Church is indeed the ark of our Salvation in Christ because the Church is Christ's Body, His continued existence here on earth. St. Teresa of Avila probably put it best when she said that Christ has no hands but yours, no feet but yours, no voice but yours, etc., etc., etc. (I'm paraphrasing, of course). But how do we reconcile this image of the Church with the brokenness we encounter in the trenches? I think a good answer lies in the words and imagery of St. Ignatius in The Arena. Christ promised to save us. He even gave us His Church as the ark of salvation. But he didn't say that our salvation would be picture perfect. In some ages our salvation comes amidst the wreckage. God gives us some driftwood to cling to, or the strength to swim on just a little further. It may just be one board from the ship that proves to be our salvation, but it is still a part of the ship. The Church, despite her weaknesses and sometimes all-too-human existence, is still divine as well as human. It was instituted by Christ, and despite man and Satan's best efforts to destroy it (even from within), it will still be the ark of our salvation even if only one board of that ark remains.
So if you are loosing heart at what you see going on in the Church. If you are fed up with liturgical and clerical abuses, luke-warm Christians, relativism, etc., etc., etc. I hope you find hope in this image. Cling to Christ and His Church. The road may be rough, but He will see to it that we make it safely home one way or another. May heaven consume us.