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.