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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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.

A Calendar of Saints Revered Throughout Christendom

 

The hope included in these posts is that through our prayer and interior reflection, a true spirit of unity might manifest itself in our lives and therefore in the life of the Church. 

 The Saints of the Church pray along with us as the “great cloud of witnesses” that we read of in the book of Hebrews. An excellent calendar is available for a small charge through the Fellowship of St. James that identifies the blessed ones that are shared among all Christians. Many, if not most, are from the First Thousand Years of the undivided Church. You can find more information on the calendar at http://www.fsj.org/pages/fsjcalendar.php

 It is my hope that you will remember these mutually revered saints them in your daily prayers with a special request for the unity of the faith and the reconciliation of our churches. St. James Ecumenical Calendar of the Christian Year 

Other on-line sources to find the common saints of the day is to compare such databases as on the website http://www.ecatholichub.net/study/saints,whichis a database taken from the most recent Roman Martyrology of the Roman Catholic Church, the Vatican’s official list of saints and blesseds; and as a secondary source, http://www.catholic.org/saints On the Eastern Orthodox side, I have found “The Lives of the Saints” complied by the Orthodox Church of America at  http://www.oca.org/FSIndex.asp?SID=4  to be fairly comprehensive.

 This blog is not connected with the Fellowship of St. James and in no way benefits from calendar sales.

 

First of Two Reflections on the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 13, Verses 14-16

Our Lord said:

 “And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah which said, “By hearing you shall hear and shall not understand; and seeing you shall see and shall not perceive;  for this people’s heart has become gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and they have closed their eyes, lest at any time they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.” But blessed are your eyes, for they see; and your ears, for they hear.”

Matthew recorded these sayings in Greek. They recount the words of a man whose native tongue was Aramaic and who himself was quoting a writer who used Hebrew. This Babel of language complicates things, but also enriches.

Lent is the time to renew our vigilance over our hearts, to sharpen our sight, and reinvigorate our hearing. One way to do this is to depart for a while from the translation of the Bible that our hand most often falls to. English has developed to the point that most words have the singular beauty of an individual red rose, clear and crisp. Other languages, as do the Hebrew of the Old Testament and the Greek of the New Testament, more often resemble a single branch of an ancient azalea. While the impression of the branch may be white or pink, a closer look reveals shadings in tint, streaks of color, and a richness in vibrancy that defies easy description.

Translations of the Bible into English use the precision of a single stem to describe the swirls of color within the original words. Ask your priest or a trusted elder to recommend a translation unfamiliar to you. Read it through Lent and beyond if you wish, comparing it with your old favorite. Hear the words fresh, as if for the first time, and pray to God for the grace to ever be more fully converted.

From a prayer of St. Antioch:

O Lord, enlighten my mind with the understanding of Your Holy Gospel. Enlighten my heart with the purity of Your Word. Enlighten my body with Your passionless Passion. Keep my thoughts in Your humility. Amen.Christ the True Vine

Reflections on the Sunday of Orthodoxy

For most Eastern Christians, this past Sunday was celebrated as the Sunday of Orthodoxy. Parishioners processed through the Church carrying an icon, an act of living history from the First Thousand Years. The Orthodox remembered the day in 843 A.D. when the heretical suppression and bloodshed mounted against the proper veneration of icons and the Christology behind them was finally laid to rest within the Apostolic Churches.

Throughout the century and a half of this persecution, the Roman church of the West had steadfastly rejected the arguments and methods of the iconoclasts (those who rejected icons) within the Eastern church and the Byzantine royal courts. In doing so, the unity with Rome anchored the faith and helped prevent the Eastern church from being consumed by false teaching and blinded by too close an alignment with political power.

However, the episode also sowed seeds of schism as Rome began the development of its own base of political power in the West, crystallizing in the crowning of Charlemagne as Holy Roman Emperor. As the Roman church began to align itself more and more with the royal courts and dynastic families over the next few centuries, the now official break between the Eastern and Western churches meant that the church of the West had lost an anchoring strength from the East. Rome itself fell into dubious practices and troublesome attitudes that eventually crystallized in the Reformation, from which point the splintering of the Christian witness in the West has accelerated through present day.

The faith that we received from the Apostles was preserved through the First Thousand Years precisely because the Church was united. The house was not divided against itself. As we move forward in this age, threatened as we are by secularism, false teachers, and the atomization of faith, we must push the Catholic and Orthodox churches from the bottom up to work earnestly for the recovery of our united strength.

Lord Jesus Christ, physician of our souls and bodies, abide with us and heal us of every stain. Strengten us in every good work and raise in us a spirit of love and forgiveness. Icon of the Sunday of OrthodoxyAmen

The Four “Marks” of the Church

As we struggle to follow Christ as love, then we must do what he asks. Our sin divides us, one from another, and Church from Church. Our toleration of that division will be evidence against us at our Judgement. These are not my words; a clear-headed reading of the New Testament in toto makes it plain.

Metropolitan Jonah, newly-installed hierarch of the Orthodox Church in America, puts the personal standard before us:

The Church’s four characteristic “marks” – unity, holiness, catholicity, and apostolicity – are at once the Church’s content and identity, constituting both her vocation and mission. They are our goal; it is our challenge to actualize them in our lives, both personally and corporately, in order for us to be the Church.

Before anything else, these characteristics are marks of Christ Himself. Jesus Christ is one with the Father and the Holy Spirit; He is the focal point of our unity, and the very context of our relationship with God and one another as His Body. Jesus is the ultimate criterion of holiness: the man transparent to God, revealing God, incarnating God, and imparting that holiness which is participation in God’s very life, which lifts us up from the world of sin and corruption. Christ is the essence of catholicity or wholeness, in that “all things were created through Him and for Him… and in Him all things hold together” [Colossians 1:16-17]. He is also the source of universality because He embraces all things and permeates all things, and all things exist in Him. And He is the foundation of apostleship, the apostle and high priest from God [Hebrews 3:1], Whose obedience reveals Him as transparent to God, speaking only the words of Him Who sent Him [John 3:34], and doing whatever He sees the Father do [John 5:19], transforming and redeeming the world.

Our vision as Orthodox Christians is always first and foremost Jesus Christ. His message is our message: the coming of the Kingdom. His life is our life. His mission is our mission: the salvation of all mankind and its union with the Father in Christ by the Holy Spirit. Our task in the midst of this is constantly to repent, to have this vision renewed in us, and to purge our lives of everything contrary to the vision and incarnation of Christ in our lives. These are the marks of Christ; and if we share His life, we also share these marks.*

May God grant such a sharing within our lives, beginning with me, the first among sinners. Amen

 * from the Winter 2009 edition of the Orthodox Church Newspaper, available on-line at http://www.oca.org/DOC-PUB-TOC.asp?SearchYear=2009&SID=34