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.

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Have Christians become deaf to joy?

[Jesus said] I am on my way to You. But I say these things while I am still in the world, so that my followers will have the same complete joy that I do.         John 17:13

Christ in GloryIt is the Lord’s Day, the Eighth Day, the day beyond the Sabbath’s rest, where we enter the Messianic Feast of the New Jerusalem and are united with our Lord, God, and Savior, Jesus Christ as we receive the True Food and Drink, the Body and Blood of Jesus. Rejoice!

From St. Simeon the New Theologian, Saint of the Eastern Church, We Awaken in Christ’s Body:

“For if we genuinely love Him, we wake up inside Christ’s body where all our body, all over, every most hidden part of it, is realized in joy as Him, and He makes us utterly real, and everything that is hurt, everything that seemed to us dark, harsh, shameful, maimed, ugly, irreparably damaged, is in Him transformed and recognized as whole, as lovely, and radiant in His light he awakens as the Beloved in every last part of our body.”

FromThe Journals of Fr. Alexander Schmemann:

“The source of false religion is the inability to rejoice or, rather, the refusal of joy, whereas joy is absolutely essential because it is without any doubt the fruit of God’s presence. One cannot know that God exists and not rejoice. Only in relation to joy are the fear of God and humility correct, genuine, fruitful… The first, the main source of everything is ‘my soul rejoices in the Lord…’ The fear of sin does not save from sin. Joy in the Lord saves. A feeling of guilt or moralism does not liberate from the world and its temptations. Joy is the foundation of freedom, where we are called to stand. Where, how, when has this tonality of Christianity become distorted, dull—or rather, where, how, why have Christians become deaf to joy? … People continually come and ask for advice… And some weakness or false shame keeps me from telling each of them, ‘I don’t have any advice to give you.I have only weak, shaky, but, for me, unremitting joy. Do you want it?” No, they do not. They want to talk about ‘problems’ and chat about ‘solutions.’ No, there was no greater victory of the devil in the world than this ‘psychologized’ religion. There is anything and everything in psychology. One thing is unthinkable, impossible: Joy!…

“I think God will forgive everything except lack of joy; when we forget that God created the world and saved it. Joy is not one of the ‘components’ of Christianity, it’s the tonality of Christianity that penetrates everything—faith and vision. Where there is no joy, Christianity becomes fear and therefore torture. We know about the fallen state of the world only because we know about its glorious creation and its salvation by Christ… This world is having fun; nevertheless it’s joyless because joy (different from what is called ‘fun’) can be only from God, only from on high—not only joy of salvation, but salvation as joy. To think—every Sunday we have a banquet with Christ, at His table, in His Kingdom; then we sink into our problems, into fear and suffering. God saved the world through joy: ‘…you will have pain, but your pain will turn into joy…’

A Prayer of St. Symeon the New Theologian:

You, O Christ, are the Kingdom of Heaven; You, O Christ, are the Kingdom of Heaven; You, the land promised to the meek; You, the meadowland of paradise; You, the hall of the celestial banquet; You, the ineffable bridal chamber; You, the table set for all, You, the bread of life; You, the unheard-of drink; You, both the urn for the water and the life-giving water; You, moreover, the inextinguishable lamp for each one of the saints; You, the garment and the crown and the One who bestows the crowns; You, the joy and rest; You, the delight and glory; You, the gladness and mirth.

And Your grace, the grace of the Spirit of all sanctity, will shine like the sun in all the saints; And You, the unapproachable Sun, will shine in their midst; and all will shine brightly, according to the measure of their faith, their asceticism, their hope and their love, their purification, and their illumination by Your Spirit. Amen.

Listen to a broadcast/podcast about St. Symeon entitled “That your Joy May Be Full…” at http://www.myocn.net/index.php/CRTL/That-Your-Joy-May-Be-Full.html

Salvation outside the Church?

Quite often in debates on Christianity, we hear the argument regarding whether or not there is salvation outside the Church. For the apostolic Christian, those holding the Catholic and Orthodox faiths, the debater means precisely those Churches. He is then villified by heterodox Christians, secularists, and those adhering to other beliefs for holding that stance, especially in today’s “I’m OK, you’re OK” world.

In a very real sense, however, such a statement by an apostolic Christian should be rejected. We are told throughout the New Testament, in the words of Christ, Paul, James and others, that judgement belongs to God alone, that God shows mercy to and blesses whomever he wishes, that what we cannot lovingly forgive in others we will not be forgiven of ourselves. In light of these revealed teachings, it seems clear that I am wrong whenever I judge another’s prospects for salvation before God; in fact, I endanger my own soul.

We are called to discernment, however, and we are called to preach the Faith as received into the Church through Jesus Christ and His Apostles. There are things we need to shout out from the rooftops and be willing to die for (as did the martyrs of the Church,) namely:

THERE IS SALVATION WITHIN THE CHURCH, WHICH CONTAINS THE FULLNESS OF THE LIFE OF CHRIST…THROUGH THE GRACE OF GOD, THE CHURCH RECOGNIZES AND DISTRIBUTES THE MEDICINE OF IMMORTALITY THAT IS THE EUCHARIST. 

The Medicine of ImmortalityWe live by keeping the commandments of Christ to draw life from His Body and Blood. Compare the words of Christ in John Chapter 6 and the actions of Christ at the Last Supper, the Eucharistic meal of Mark Chapter 14. Christ did not reveal the Eucharist as a symbolic act only.

Those who deny the presence of Christ in the Eucharist as faithfully maintained in the Apostolic Churches are either ignorant of or willfully in denial of the earliest teachings of the churchmen who immediately followed the Apostles. 

One example among many is from Justin Martyr. He was born not long after the composition of the Gospel of John and the time of that Apostle’s death. Justin lived until around 165 AD. His writings form one of the largest deposit of early records of the Church. From his work, The Apologies:

This food we call the Eucharist, of which none are allowed to be partakers but such only as are true believers, and have been baptized in the Laver of Regeneration for the remission of sins, and live according to Christ’s precepts; for we do not take this as common bread, and common wine. But as Jesus Christ our Saviour was made flesh by the Logos of God, and had real flesh and blood for our salvation, so are we taught that this food, which the very same Logos blessed by prayer and thanksgiving, is turned into the nourishment and substance of our flesh and blood; and is in some sense the flesh and blood of the incarnate Jesus. For the Apostles, in their commentaries called the Gospels, have left this command upon record, “That Jesus took bread, and when He had given thanks, He said, Do this in commemoration of Me, for this is My body; And in like manner He took the cup, and when He had given thanks, He said, This is My blood,” and delivered it to them only… After this sacrament is over, we remind each other of the obligations to his duty, and the rich relieve the poor; and upon such charitable accounts we visit some or other every day.

So it was from the very earliest points of faith in our Lord, God, and Savior, Jesus Christ, through the undivided First Thousand Years of the Church, and up until the falling away of the past few hundred years due to the teachings of Protestant extremists. Salvation was known to come to us through living out our baptism: keeping faith with Christ by uniting ourselves with His Altar and receiving the Eucharist and the Real Presence, while we imitated Him in all things and lived with everyone in love, peace, and self-sacrifice. 

I risk judgment on myself if I dare to ask who outside the apostolic Churches can be saved, especially as I abuse Christ and deny God every day in my own sinful life. If there is such a question to be asked, however, this is it: “Except through His abundant mercy and compassion, how does God save where the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist is denied?” 

The prayer of the Eastern Church just prior to the faithful’s receipt of the Eucharist:

I believe and confess, Lord, that You are truly the Christ, the Son of the living God, who came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the first. I also believe that this is truly Your pure Body and that this is truly Your precious Blood. Therefore, I pray to You, have mercy upon me, and forgive my transgressions, voluntary and involuntary, in word and deed, known and unknown. And make me worthy without condemnation to partake of Your pure Mysteries for the forgiveness of sins and for eternal life. Amen 

How shall I, who am unworthy, enter into the splendor of Your saints? If I dare to enter into the bridal chamber, my clothing will accuse me, since it is not a wedding garment; and being bound up, I shall be cast out by the angels. In Your love, Lord, cleanse my soul and save me. 

Loving Master, Lord Jesus Christ, my God, let not these holy Gifts be to my condemnation because of my unworthiness, but for the cleansing and sanctification of soul and body and the pledge of the future life and kingdom. It is good for me to cling to God and to place in Him the hope of my salvation. 

Receive me today, Son of God, as a partaker of Your mystical Supper. I will not reveal Your mystery to Your adversaries. Nor will I give You a kiss as did Judas. But as the thief I confess to You: Lord, remember me in Your Kingdom.