The distinction between the Church and people who go to church can be thought of like this. God is the artist. The people are the canvas. The Church is the painting. In order for the painting to exist, there has to be a canvas. When God paints on the canvas, what he paints is beautiful and perfect. But then, over time, the canvas gets dirty and wrinkled. The paint gets cracked and chipped. The painting is still there, but it needs to be restored once in a while so that it’s beauty will be visible to all. It is the same way with the Church. The Church is not a building and it is not something created by people. The Church is Christ Himself. Those who have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ, forever. This is what it means to be a Christian. It means that we are “in Christ” and he is in us. When Christ ascended to heaven after his resurrection from the dead, he established the Church on earth by making the Church a reality for the world through his followers. In other words, we are to “be” the Church. Since the Church is the Body of Christ, we are the members of that body and we must live and work as that body. Christ came to save the world and this is the work of the Church. We are to be his hands, his eyes, his heart, his mind, his presence, his love, his compassion, his forgiveness here on earth so that everyone can know and experience the love of God the Father and be reconciled with him and through Christ have eternal life in the Kingdom of Heaven.
But what happens is that not everyone who becomes a part of the Church understands what is expected of him or her. Not everyone lives up to the identity that is given to them at baptism. Not everyone allows Christ to live and work through them but instead allows the devil to live and work through them. This is the great tragedy. It is worse for someone to have been baptized Orthodox and to not have tried their best to live a holy, Christian life than for someone who never knew about Jesus Christ. So the real tragedy is that there are people in the Church who don’t understand what Christianity is really about. Their hearts are closed and cold and lacking in love because they don’t have any humility. They point out the sins of others because they are afraid of their own sins being known. They are slaves to fear and pride and refuse to be humble and repent so that God could forgive them their sins and so that he could use them in the Church as an instrument of love, peace, kindness and mercy.
Then there are the people in the Church who known Christ and Christ knows them. They desire nothing more than to be close to Christ. And the more they get closer to him, the more they are filled with the love of Christ. And through this relationship, this encounter and communion with Christ, they become holy. And this love, this perfect, beautiful love and light pours out from them to everyone else around them. The mercy, the compassion, the patience, the kindness, the power of Christ dwells in them and they radiate it to all like a bright light in a dark room. Do you see now the difference between the Church and the people who go to church?