Fitted to the Bishop as to Strings of the Harp …

Ignatius of Antioch, martyred in Rome around the year 110  A.D. was among the Apostolic Fathers, served as the third Bishop of Antioch [St. Peter being recognized as the first], and was a student of John the Apostle. En route to his martyrdom in Rome, Ignatius wrote a series of letters which have been preserved as an example of very early Christian theology. Important topics addressed in these letters include ecclesiology, the sacraments, and the role of bishops.

These letters, dating only a few decades from the deaths of the apostles themselves and prior to the establishment of the New Testament canon, are among the wealth of writings available from the earliest presbyters of the Church. They help reveal the continuity of today’s Orthodox Church with that received from the faith and practice of the apostles.

From The Epistle of Ignatius to the Ephesians:

“Wherefore it is fitting that you should run together in accordance with the will of your bishop, which thing also you do. For your justly renowned presbytery, worthy of God, is fitted as exactly to the bishop as the strings are to the harp. Therefore in your concord and harmonious love, Jesus Christ is sung. And do you, man by man, become a choir, that being harmonious in love, and taking up the song of God in unison, you may with one voice sing to the Father through Jesus Christ, so that He may both hear you, and perceive by your works that you are indeed the members of His Son. It is profitable, therefore, that you should live in an unblameable unity, that thus you may always enjoy communion with God. Continue reading

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The Bishop, the Eucharist, and Unity of the Faith

From the blog of Sr. Macrina,  A Vow of Conversation:

“Just as unus christianus nulla christianus, to remember the old Latin saying, in the same way a eucharistic community which deliberately lives in isolation from the rest of the communities is not an ecclesial community. This is what renders the Church ‘catholic’ not only on the level of ‘here and now’ but also on that of ‘everywhere and always.’ The ministry of the Church must reflect this catholicity by being a unifying ministry both in time and space. The eucharistic nature of the ecclesial community points inevitably in this direction by opening up a particular community so that it relates to all other communities in spite of divisions caused by space and time. Thus the eucharist is offered not just on earth but before the very throne of God and with the company of all the saints, living and departed, as well as in the name of “the catholic Church in the world.”  – John D. Zizioulas. Being as Communion. Studies in Personhood and the Church. London, DLT, 1985 (2004). 236-237.

In this fourth subsection of chapter six, the Metropolitan of Pergamon turns his attention to the ministry of unity in the Church and especially the importance of the bishop in this regard. While the local Church must necessarily be open to the universal, the unity of the universal Church cannot come from the unity of its individual members, for these members are not individuals but members of a local eucharistic community. The local Church must therefore have priority over the universal, and this leads to the importance of the role of the bishop as the visible centre of unity. His role has been expressed through both the understandings of apostolic succession and of conciliarity. Here Zizioulas returns to themes that he dealt with in the previous chapter, highlighting the importance of a proper understanding of these concepts.

With regard to apostolic succession, he states: “Apostolic succession has again become a problem in theology because of an approach to the ministry in terms of causality and objectified ontology. The bishop having acquired the status of an office, regardless of his position in the community, became in the theology of apostolic succession an individual who is linked with the apostles through a chain of individual ordinations, and who is thus transmitting to the other ministers below him grace and authority out of what he has received and possesses. This view was found by the Reformation tradition to involve a formalization of the ministry which was incompatible with the freedom of the Spirit. Thus either the “baby was thrown away with the bath-water” and the issue became one of “having” or “not having” apostolic succession, or else it was given meaning by making apostolic succession a matter of faithfulness to the truth.” (238)

In contrast to such a view, Zizioulas sees apostolic succession as a succession of communities of which the bishops are the head. As evidence he cites the importance of naming this community in the very prayer of ordination so that this assignment is inherent in the ordination itself. This explains, also, the East’s refusal to distinguish between jurisdiction and ordination itself. Moreover, the fact that apostolic succession involved episcopal lists, whereas it was originally the presbyters who were considered as teachers, suggests that it was the bishop’s role as head of the community that was important.

In the same way, the development of the notion of conciliarity was rooted in the local community and in the relations between the different local communities which was orientated towards communion.

“Most of the early councils, if not all or them, were concerned with eucharistic communion, mainly in the form of the problem of admitting persons excommunicated by one Church to communion in another, or with the restoration of broken eucharistic fellowship. All this shows that no local Church could be a Church unless it was open to communion with the rest of the Churches. Schism between two or more Churches was as intolerable as divisions within one community, and conciliarity was concerned with that more than anything else. “(240-241)

Moreover, as he points out in a footnote:

“All doctrinal decisions of the ancient Church ended with anathemas, i.e. excommunication from the eucharist. Eucharistic communion was the ultimate aim of doctrine, and not doctrine itself.” (241, fn 102)

This involvement of the local community in the understanding of conciliarity is illustrated by the fact that only diocesan bishops, precisely because they are heads of communities, are allowed to vote synods, a practice that has been retained in the Orthodox Churches. It is also seen in the notion of reception by which a council only comes to be seen as authoritative when it is received by the communities.

This is “not a juridical thing but a matter of charismatic recognition. It is for this reason that a true council becomes such only a posteriori; it is not an institution but an event in which the entire community participates and which shows whether or not its bishop has acted according to the charisma veritatis.” (242)

-Posted on A Vow of Conversation on 17 March 2009 and used here by permission.

Are you a “Cafeteria Christian”?

Paul, writing to the Church in Ephesus: 

Christ chose some of us to be apostles, prophets, missionaries, pastors, and teachers, so that his people would learn to serve and his body would grow strong. This will continue until we are united by our faith and by our understanding of the Son of God. Then we will be mature, just as Christ is, and we will be completely like him. We must stop acting like children. We must not let deceitful people trick us by their false teachings, which are like winds that toss us around from place to place.  Love should always make us tell the truth. Then we will grow in every way and be more like Christ, the head of the body. Christ holds it together and makes all of its parts work perfectly, as it grows and becomes strong because of love. (Eph 4:11-16, CEV)

Ambrosiaster, from his fourth century commentary on Ephesians:

Considering the love of Christ by which he loved us and gave himself up for us, we should make everything subject to him as members of the body are to the head. Others, either through error or through malice, may not confess that Christ is the head of everything or that everything is created from him by the Father’s will. But we who adhere to the wholeness of faith ought nonetheless to take pains with all care and devotion that we bring no harm to this faith but rather to uphold it. We do this by remaining steadfast in this affirmation, so as to constrain the talk of depraved minds armed against the truth.

The prayer of a servant:

My Lord God, I confess that I often do not follow the teachings of the Church and I dispute my Bishop over matters that I claim to be conscience. I overlook the foundation of the Church’s teaching in Christ, in Peter and the Apostles, and in the blood of faithful martyrs and confessors. I do not live as I am taught and know in my heart to be right; I compromise so that I can pursue the things I want and avoid the sacrifice and suffering that Jesus lived with as he remained faithful to you.

Father God, grant me strength and wisdom in humility. In the light of your Spirit, help me to cooperate with your grace in rooting out the willfulness that is displeasing to you and ruinous for me.

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, the sinner. Amen.