The words that express our ecclesial experiences

My students at class today surprised me with a gentle and very helpful criticism. In my introduction to ecclesiology, I speak about the fundamental ecclesial features and content of the Christian faith. I also attempt to clarify and unfold the ecclesial experience by means of an explanation of the words “church” (from the Greek “kuriakos”, things that regard God, that come from God or that move towards God, that belong to the space of God) and “église” (from the Greek “ek-kaleô”, to be called out of a great group so as to fulfill a mission, in casu to build up a community). By combining those two words, the ecclesial experience as part of the core of the Christian faith, indicates the effort to build community out of a call of God and towards a space animated (spirited) by God.

Several students observed that, in other contexts and other languages, still other words are being used to designate the church (and the ecclesial experience).

In Rumenia, the word in use is “basilika” (connected to the Greek “basileô”, to reign, and “basileus”, the king … with a reminisence of the “basileia tou theou”, the Kingdom or Reign of God). This connects well with what was previously said, but it also highlights the presence of the eschatological perspective, often liturgically enacted in a Christian Orthodox context: in our liturgies, we are “enacting” our participation in the Kingdom as a reality that is already (relevant) right now and that influences as a grace that originates in God our actions and commitments in our world. This adds the strength of the eschatological perspective to our ecclesiology.

A student from the Philippines added a word that is locally used for Church: “simbahan”, the place to adore, and this emphasizes the fact that our effort at Church building consists in adoring God. I would interpret this as follows: our construction of the Church, our gathering as a community (with everything that this entails) is the place where we adore God.

I am very grateful for all these creative inputs: they enrich my understanding of the meaning of Church and of the ecclesial depth layers of the Christian faith. I welcome any further suggestions or words out of local contexts that may enrich our (universal) understanding of what it means to be Church together.


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