He said to them, "But whom do you say that I am?"
And Simon Cephas answered him, saying, "You are the Anointed One, the son of Eli the Living God."
And Yahshua answered and said to him, "You are blessed, Simon Barjonas, for flesh and blood have not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in Heaven. And I also say to you that you are Cephas, my little stone; and upon this stone I will build my Ecclesia, and even the gates of Hell itself will not surpass its strength."
--The Canticle of Eli, Gospel of St. Levi; Chapter 16, Verses 15-18
"There is only one Church of Eli; holy, orthodox and universal. The Body of the Onequion cannot be divided and yet all remain the Body. If I cut off my hand, it may retain for a while the appearance of being my hand, but it can no longer serve any useful function, for it has been cut off. It will soon be corrupted by rot and decay, until only the bones remain, for there can be no life apart from the Body. So it is with all who cut themselves off from Holy Mother Ecclesia; the life of the Body is no longer in them."
--Patriarch Karmenos II, 558 CR
Doctrine | Scriptures | Organization | Sacraments | Author's Notes
Symbol: A white or silver yew tree on a dark green field, surrounded by a double circle of white or silver. (The yew tree was the implement used for Yahshua's crucifixion, as well as many other crucifixions in various parts of the Suielman Empire.) The current version of the Ecclesia's emblem was adoped at the Second Yesulam Council in 1900 CR.
Seat of Power: Yesulam (pop. 970,000), capital of Ainador
Adherents: Roughly 853 million, as of the Ecclesia's 1990 CR internal census
The Ecclesia is the MK2K equivalent, roughly speaking, of the Roman Catholic Church. It is the largest denomination of Followers in the world, the largest monotheistic religion in the world, and certainly the most highly organized religious body in the world. It once ruled a quarter of the continent of Galendor, thanks to its control of the lords of the Pyralian Kingdoms and nearly half of the Southern Midlands. Even today, it commands a stronger loyalty from its members than nearly any nation on Earth.
In most respects, Ecclesiast doctrine mirrors traditional Catholic doctrine in the real world. Some important points of divergence from the other major Follower faction, the Church of St. Merai, can be found by examining the Doctrine section of that page.
A few topics bear special mention:
Use of Magic. Traditionally, the Ecclesia has considered the use of magic to be spiritually dangerous. Receiving the benefits of "white" magic, such as a healing spell or a strength charm, was considered a venial sin, a relatively minor and pardonable offense. Actually being a mage was much more serious, and was generally looked on as a sort of contract with demonic spiritual forces. This point of view did not develop entirely without reason: in the mana-dead region of Ainador, the only people who could perform supernatural acts of any kind were those who drew on the powers of either Eli Himself or the Adversary and his fallen angels. Arcane magic simply does not exist in Ainador, and so the church did not develop a systematic doctrine to deal with it.
In more recent centuries, the science of manology has demonstrated that arcane magic is a part of the natural universe, that it can be understood and controlled in a rational (or mostly-rational) manner. Magic is no more inherently mysterious and "supernatural" than quantum mechanics. This has eased the fears of many Ecclesiasts about the use of magic.
At the same time, though, there can be no doubt that the use of arcane magic enables mages to make contact with otherworldy powers. Some practitioners of ritual divination magic have been known to open themselves up to possession by the Fallen when they wandered too far from their own bodies, and many mages have summoned and trapped creatures from other planes to either serve them or answer their questions. Magic may be natural at its heart, but it can also be a gateway to true supernatural forces.
For this reason, the Ecclesia has relaxed but not eliminated its restrictions on magic. Studying magic in general is no longer considered a sin, and priests are allowed to give communion to wizards who use their powers responsibly for the glory of Eli. Certain kinds of magic are prohibited entirely, however: no member of the Ecclesia may study Divination, Conjuration, Mind-Affecting Enchantments, or death-aspected Necromancy. (The use of life-aspected necromantic fields is considered white magic, and is involved in all arcane healing spells.) The use of these types of magic is considered serious meddling in affairs that properly belong to Eli alone, and performing any spell that uses them is a mortal sin. In addition, members of the clergy are forbidden from practicing any form of arcane magic, though Ecclesiast clerics have some supernatural giftings of their own.
Role of Women. Most Ecclesiasts do not consider themselves to be chauvinist or disrespectful toward women; nevertheless, they generally do consider women to be spiritually weaker than men and in need of a man's protection. The church teaches that all women must be under the spiritual "covering" of a man -- their father or a male guardian when single, and their husband when married. The proper role of men in creation, they say, is as guardians and protectors, the "priest of the home"; a woman with no spiritual covering is vulnerable to being attacked by the Adversary or enticed away into error, just as Eve was led into sin in the Garden of Paradise. To put a woman in leadership over men is, to the Ecclesiast mindset, inviting spiritual disaster.
This viewpoint is the single greatest source of friction and conflict between the Ecclesia and the Church of St. Merai. The Meraists evolved from a faction of the Lothanasi that were led by women, in a part of the world where women were historically viewed as being more attuned than men to the spiritual realm. The Meraists view men as being more caught up in worldly affairs -- providing for their families, defending the community from attack, struggling with each other for dominance -- and therefore less able to tune their hearts to the voice of the Divine. To the Meraists, the Ecclesia's insistence on using only men in their priesthood is tantamount to using a tone-deaf person to conduct a symphony. They also view the Ecclesia's belief that women need spiritual protection from men as condescending and paternalistic; every adult, they say, is responsible for his or her own spiritual walk, and the idea that adult daughters should have to depend on their fathers to hear from Eli for them is laughable. The Meraists feel that all of the Ecclesia's high-minded talk about "protecting" women is just a way to keep women under their control. This is not entirely fair, but enough Ecclesiasts have used the teachings of the church as a mask for chauvinism that the Meraists have ample evidence to justify their stereotypes.
One woman who has received much acclaim in the Ecclesia is Yanlin, the mother of Yahshua. She is called the Mother of Eli and the Holy Mother by the Ecclesia, and while she is not divine herself, they do believe that she was born without the stain of Original Sin (the condition of being inherently wicked and separated from Eli, which all mortals before that time had shared since the fall of Adam and Eve. This doctrine is called the Immaculate Conception, a term that Rebuilders often erroneously apply to the virgin birth of Yahshua himself.
Monotheism and the Trinity. The Ecclesiasts are the most resolute monotheists of all the Followers -- only Eli is God, end of story. They view the old Pantheon as a group of frauds and usurpers, to be ignored whenever possible; they do not accept the Meraist teaching that the Aedra and Daedra Lords were sent by Eli as moral teachers, exemplars of the virtues and vices He wanted mortals to be aware of. They teach that Yahshua Onequion is the Son of Eli, but also that Yahshua, Abba (the Father), and the Spirit are all parts of one God, three Persons in one Being. The Meraists do not dispute this, but they believe that it is also not the clearest way to explain the idea; they prefer the illustration of Yahshua as the avatar of Eli, the God come to Earth in bodily form. The Ecclesiasts, in turn, say that this terminology muddies the theological waters, wrapping up the Way of Eli with a pagan religion that should have been utterly done away with.
Saints. The Ecclesia recognizes certain Followers as being saints, true exemplars of the Way of Eli. These saints are believed to act as intercessors in Heaven, presenting requests to Abba on behalf of the living. At confirmation (see below), Ecclesiasts adopt a patron saint whose virtues or occupation they identify with, and they will offer prayers to these saints along with their prayers to Yahshua and Abba. The Ecclesia teaches that anyone who is confirmed as a saint is known to have entered Heaven, and can thus be relied upon to intercede faithfully with Eli on behalf of the living. Meraists are puzzled by the idea of offering prayers to departed saints, who had no more power in life than any other mortal being; they see the tendency of Ecclesiasts to offer prayers through intermediaries as evidence of a feeling of remoteness between themselves and Eli. Meraists, for their part, usually feel no fear or discomfort in addressing Eli directly.
The greatest saint of all, of course, is Yanlin, the Holy Virgin, who gave birth to Yahshua. Yanlin is venerated by Ecclesiasts throughout the world, treated with a respect that borders on worship in some places (though mainstream Ecclesiasts find worship of Yanlin detestable). She is believed to sit at the right hand of Yahshua in Heaven, speaking the requests of the living directly into his ear.
The Meraists have saints as well, but they do not carry the same overtones as Ecclesiast saints. A Meraist can be sainted when she is still living -- as is the case, most obviously, with Merai herself. The Meraists have far fewer saints than the Ecclesia, and do not usually pray to them -- again, Merai is the exception, since her personal supernatural power is great enough that many believe she can actually hear their prayers. Some Meraists do, however, offer prayers to members of the fallen Pantheon -- not because they believe that the Pantheon will report their requests to Eli, but because they believe the fallen gods and goddesses may respond directly to their needs.
The primary holy book of the Ecclesia is the Canticle of Eli, just as it is for the Meraists; however, the Ecclesiast Canticle contains a number of additonal books that the Meraists have rejected as apocryphal.
The Ecclesia also considers the writings of the Patriarchs to be holy writ, though not quite on the same level of importance as the Canticle itself. The church teaches that the Patriarch, when making a pronouncement from the Throne of Cephas in Yesulam, is infallible -- he is inspired directly by the Spirit of Eli and cannot err in his judgments. The patriarchal bulls and encyclicals issued from Yesulam are adopted as part of the doctrine and teaching of the church -- at least until another Patriarch declares that the writing in question was misunderstood, misapplied, or written by a false Patriarch. This doesn't happen often, and the Ecclesia has remained very conservative in its approach to doctrine.
The leader of the Ecclesia is the Patriarch, who rules the church from Yesulam as the Vicar of Yahshua on Earth. He is aided directly by the College of Cardinals, a collection of the most prominent and important bishops and archbishops in the church.
The Ecclesia is divided into a series of successively smaller administrative regions that mimic the organization of the ancient Suielman Empire. The smallest administrative region is the parish, which is overseen by a priest. Parishes are organized into a diocese, headed by a bishop; particularly large or important dioceses are called archdioceses, and are headed by archbishops. Dioceses are further organised into an ecclesiastical province, headed by a metropolitan; however, in practice a metropolitan is always the archbishop of the most prominent archdiocese in the province, so the title of metropolitan is rarely used. The metropolitans report to the College of Cardinals (of which they are often members), and to the Patriarch himself.
Like the real-life Roman Catholic Church, the Ecclesia observes seven ritual ceremonies, called sacraments. Most of these mark specific events in a Follower's journey from birth to death. The sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Orders can only be administered a maximum of once in the person's life; Matrimony can only be administered once, unless one partner dies; Eucharist and Confession are expected to be performed often; and the Anointing of the Sick may be performed whenever it is needed.
Baptism: Ecclesiasts baptize their children within a few days of birth, sprinkling the forehead of the child with holy water and blessing him/her in the names of Abba, Yahshua, and the Holy Spirit of Eli. Infants are also named during this sacrament; the child's name becomes official when it is spoken over the child during baptism. (This is of more than symbolic significance: the form of the child's name that is used during baptism actually becomes the child's true name, a kind of supernatural fingerprint that is important in many types of magic. Baptism was performed for centuries by the church before the magical significance of the rite was discovered, and in the modern day the full form of a child's true name is often kept secret, known only to the priest, parents, godparents, and -- eventually -- the child himself.)
The Ecclesia teaches that baptism is required for salvation of a person's soul; converts who join the church later in life are baptized according to the same basic procedure. The purpose of the act is to dedicate the person's life to Eli, consecrating him or her to be part of His kingdom. Baptism is normally performed by an ordained priest, but in an emergency any Ecclesiast may perform the sacrament.
Meraists dispute the Ecclesiast practice of infant baptism, arguing that the person being baptized must make a conscious choice for it to mean anything. They also dispute the claim of the Ecclesia that baptism is necessary for salvation. However, the modern Ecclesia officially recognizes Meraist baptisms as legitimate Follower baptisms, and Meraists also recognize Ecclesiast baptisms as legitimate if the person being baptized was old enough to make the choice for him- or herself.
Confirmation: In this sacrament, the believer receives a special blessing that, in the Ecclesia's view, bestows a special connection to the Spirit of Eli, giving the person supernatural power to live in accordance with Eli's commands. It is normally performed around age 7 for those raised in the church, but may be performed at any age as long as the believer can demonstrate that s/he understands the sacrament and knows and believes in the basic tenets of the faith. The sacrament must normally be administered by a bishop, but a bishop may authorize a priest to do so in his stead in an emergency.
In confirmation, the bishop places his hand on the person's shoulder and, with his right hand, anoints the person's forehead with holy oil while speaking the form of the sacrament: "[Name], I sign thee with the sign of the Tree, and I confirm thee with the holy oil of salvation; in the Name of Abba, and of Yahshua, and of the Holy Spirit of Eli." The name given to the person in this sacrament is not his or her baptismal true name, but the name of the person's patron saint, which s/he adopts as a special, sacred name for use within the church.
Meraists perform a rite similar to confirmation, but it is part of the ceremony of baptism, which in the Church of St. Merai is not performed until the person is old enough to understand and give assent to the ceremony.
Eucharist: This is the sacrament of communion, in which bread and wine are blessed by the priest to become the Body and Blood of Yahshua. Ecclesiasts believe that the sacrament literally transforms the bread and wine, in its essential nature, into Yahshua's Body and Blood; this is called transubstantiation. Ecclesiast theologians deny that this is merely symbolic or spiritual in meaning; they state that the species of the bread and wine -- what we see -- does not change, but its substance -- the eternal Ideal that it is patterned after -- is transformed. Magical researchers have been unable to discern any change in the elements of Eucharist after they have been blessed, so this must be taken on faith. Eucharist is performed at every regular service.
Priests may also administer the Eucharist at the bedside of a person who is believed to be near death; in this case it is known as the Viaticum. As the priest administers the Viaticum, he may grant the person the Apostolic Pardon: "Through the holy mysteries of our redemption, may almighty Eli release you from all punishments in this life and in the life to come. May He open to you the gates of paradise and welcome you to everlasting joy." This pardon is believed to release the person from all punishment for his or her sins. The Viaticum is usually performed following the sacraments of confession and the anointing of the sick (see below), and the three of these sacraments together comprise what is commonly called last rites by the laity. If death is imminent, however, the Apostolic Pardon may be performed first, in case the person dies before the rites can be completed.
Meraists practice communion, as well, but do it less often than Ecclesiasts (usually once a month). They do not believe in transubstantiation, viewing the rite as purely symbolic.
Reconciliation and Penance (Confession): Ecclesiasts believe it is necessary for them to confess their sins to a priest, and do penance for them, in order to be reconciled to Eli. This is considered of greatest importance in the case of mortal sins, which put the person in danger of being condemned to hell if s/he dies while these sins are still unconfessed. Once the person has confessed, the priest pronounces the person's forgiveness and prescribes a penance for them to perform. In the case of offenses against another person, the penance usually involves making some type of restitution for the harm caused; otherwise, some form of ritual penance is prescribed, such as the repetition of specific prayers. Confession is believed to restore the person to a state of grace, forgiven in the eyes of Eli; it is also important because it gives the person a chance to forgive himself.
While Meraists generally acknowledge the value of Followers confessing their sins to one another, they maintain that a Follower's state of grace is not emperiled by sin -- "once saved, always saved", unless the Follower deliberately rejects the faith and turns his/her back on it entirely. They also argue that it is not necessary for a Follower to be forgiven by a priest, or do ritual penance, in order to be reconciled to Eli; forgiveness can be asked for and received from Eli directly. Meraists do agree, however, that the truly repentant person will try to make restitution to those she has harmed, when such is possible.
Anointing of the Sick: When a member of the Ecclesia falls ill, a priest may be summoned to pray for his/her recovery. In this sacrament, the priest traces a cross (the simplified sign of the yew tree) on the sick person's forehead head with consecrated oil, saying, "Through this holy anointing may the Lord Eli, in his love and mercy, help you with the grace of the Holy Spirit." He then anoints the person's hands in the same manner, saying, "May He who frees you from sin save you and raise you up." The anointing of the sick may be performed at any time, not just when a person is near death; in the latter case, however, it forms part of the last rites (see Eucharist, above).
While the Ecclesia does not permit the use of arcane magic by its clergy, Eli does grant supernatural abilities to Ecclesiast priests in certain circumstances, and the anointing of the sick is one of the most common instances in which His power manifests itself. Priests performing the anointing of the sick often become channels for Eli's healing power, and the sick person is restored to health. When this does not happen -- probably about 75% of the time -- it is assumed that Eli has reasons for not miraculously healing the person at the present time; whether because there is sin that must be confessed, or the illness is trivial enough that the person will recover on his own, or Eli has some spiritual lesson to teach the person through his suffering, or death is near and Eli is calling the person home to Heaven. Often healing does not occur the first time the rite is administered, and persistence in prayer is required before the person is restored.
Meraists also perform the anointing of the sick, using consecrated oil in much the same way as the Ecclesia's priests; however, there is no prescribed wording for the prayer, and Meraists will often stay with the sick person for a long time and make very specific requests for the person's healing. Many Meraist priests are also trained in the Light Healing of the Lothanasi, and will use it to heal the sick person's illness directly if they can. Some illnesses and injuries are beyond the capacity of the Light Healing to correct, however, and it is in these cases that the anointing of the sick becomes most important. Any Meraist may perform this rite, not just the priests; the oil is considered symbolic for the work of the Spirit of Eli, and does not need to be specially consecrated by a priest (though the Meraist usually prays over the oil and blesses it before it is used). The anointing is often combined with laying hands on the sick person, since Yahshua and the apostles usually touched the sick when they healed them.
Holy Orders: This is the sacrament given when a person becomes a priest, monk, or nun of the Ecclesia. At this time the person takes up the name given to him at confirmation and adopts it as his own; he is no longer to call himself by his birth name. Once a person has taken holy orders, s/he cannot receive the sacrament of matrimony; the clergy of the Ecclesia must remain celibate and chaste.
The Meraists have a rite of ordination very similar to that practiced by the Ecclesia, except that they do not require priests to remain single.
Matrimony: This is the sacrament of marriage. It may only be administered between a man and a woman, both consenting and otherwise unattached. The Ecclesia does not permit divorce, or recognize divorce as valid; however, it also does not recognize marriages performed outside the Ecclesia as valid unless they are later reconfirmed by the church, so a person who was married and divorced before joining the Ecclesia is permitted to remarry under the Ecclesiast sacrament of matrimony. A person may also remarry if his or her spouse has died.
The Ecclesia is frankly uncertain what to do with androgynes where the question of marriage is concerned, since these people are both male and female. Most Ecclesiast priests in and around Metamor City have decided to treat the androgyne's dominant sex as his/her "real" sex, so they will only perform marriages between an androgyne and his/her partner if their dominant sexes are different. Elsewhere in the world, Ecclesiasts tend to fear and avoid androgynes, or at least feel distinctly uncomfortable around them, since they seem like an affront to Eli's natural order of creation.
The Meraists have their own marriage rite, which on the whole is somewhat more flexible than the Ecclesia's; see the Marriage section of the Church of St. Merai entry for details.
See the Author's Notes on the Church of St. Merai.