Growing up in a small village, I was able to take part in many special events which created memories I now cherish. One such event was our annual Bishop’s Visitation. As a boy, I was always excited and at the same time terrified to see my eparchial bishop on our parish Feast Day. The excitement was based on the fact that we only had a chance to see our bishop once a year when he came to church to pray with us. His presence seemed to unite all parishioners, even though we all came from different financial, educational, and political backgrounds. It was precisely the presence of our bishop that brought peace and the realization that each one of us had an important role in our community and especially at the Divine Liturgy. Every member of the parish participated and celebrated in the Divine Liturgy by singing, assisting the priest, taking care of the candles, or simply standing and praying humbly in front of the iconostas in the presence of the bishop. For a young boy whose mother always taught him to be well-mannered, respectful, and polite to others, and to always be dressed in his Sunday best, the Bishop’s Visitation was a spectacular and meaningful event. All the children were very anxious for many weeks ahead as we waited to meet our bishop, who was “someone very special” with the ability to somehow instil in us an acceptance of who we were as Ukrainian Orthodox Christians. The bishop received much respect and admiration from the members of the community feelings that were also cultivated in our hearts by our parents, not out of fear, but out of love. He was special in that we were never forgotten as individuals within a community.
The presence of a bishop on our Feast Day was also a terrifying time as he was in charge of the entire church. To this day I remember my parish priest who would do everything possible to make this day memorable for his parishioners and his bishop. The Feast Day was a culmination of many days of preparation and tremendous anticipation. For a young boy, the most impressive moment was to see the bishop entering the church and having everyone witness his arrival in preparation of the forthcoming Divine Liturgy. With one smile he would discharge the nerves of everybody around him and stabilize the environment with his expressive stillness. With his loving and humble presence he would set the tone for the service and the rest of our community festivities. It was also incredibly important for me to see my bishop dressed in his vestments in the centre of the church. At this moment all the people praised God in unison, singing and thanking Him for all His blessings. It was a sweet joy for us to exalt the presence of a bishop by proclaiming this meaningful phrase: “Na mnohyi lita Vladyko”. It was a loud and joyful voice of all those present, which would internally move even the most resistant heart of an unbeliever. It might be that in unison we created within us tears of joy and a feeling of hope that all of us yearned for. The next couple of hours spent with our bishop in prayer would be enough for us to move forward for the entire year. For me, he was a walking source of a spiritual flame that would enlighten and strengthen our daily life. The central point of this anticipation was always his first blessing when the entire congregation would humbly bow their heads and concur his words with praising the Lord. It was the presence of the Holy Spirit that carried us with his gifts (charisma) beyond anything known and experienced among people. The various images of our bishop that I witnessed as a small boy have shaped my present identity and permanently changed my life as an Orthodox Christian.
The experience described above could be similar to the many encounters of the generations of Orthodox Christians since Pentecost. Although we may witness a similar event at each Bishop’s Visitation, our point of view may have changed or may be slightly different. In our present-day life we should ask ourselves about the importance of the function and role of a bishop/presbyter in the Orthodox Church. Although we might be mystified by a similar Bishop’s Visitation in our parishes, we have to consider the importance of having a bishop among us and our validation of his function. We should not be afraid to ask these questions. There is a tremendous amount of importance and theological content. In order to make this experience more comprehensible, the purpose of this presentation is to lead us toward an understanding where we can strive to become united together as the same “Body of Christ”.
This presentation is not exhaustive in itself, as certain parameters of Orthodox ecclesiology (teaching about the nature of the Church) are not discussed. This presentation could be classified as contextual or unique in our Church’s situation although it might be applied to the situations of various Local Orthodox Churches in the World. The analysis embraces only the most immediate concerns of the contemporary life of the Orthodox Church, which need to be urgently addressed. It does not deal in any way with the relationship of the Church with the state that is elaborated in the by-laws of a particular Local Church. The external relationship of the Church with society is subsequent to the inner nature of her life and as such needs to be elaborated in another analysis. I humbly hope the analysis presented here will lead us into an intensive discussion which is so urgently required to expand our understanding of the ministry in the Orthodox Church.
CHARISMATA OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
The Sacrament of Priesthood, as it is understood in Orthodox theology, contains various fields of charismata (1 Cor. 12:4-11). All Christians are charismatic and they are blessed with the gifts of the Holy Spirit. According to Orthodox theology, a charisma is essentially a gift of the Holy Spirit, which every member of the particular parish possesses. The gift of the Holy Spirit is given to everyone who is baptized and chrismated and eucharistically united to the local Church. In other words, there is no such person in the Eucharistic assembly who is baptized, chrismated, and deprived of the charismata. We can’t discard anyone from the life of a parish, as essentially everyone is indispensable for a proper functioning of the eucharistic Body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:21-22). Be it a farmer, mechanic, lawyer, janitor or physician, each one contains something valuable and unique which can be seen only in the prism of the Holy Spirit. We should never undermine anyone in our parishes, even our enemies, but treat them with the same love and compassion as anyone else. Because every charisma is a gift of the Holy Spirit, every person, in his or her own way, completes the gifts of the others for the salvation of all.
The gifts-charismata, as they are offered to Christians, are the gifts of rendering service. Christians are called to a ministry-diakonia (2 Cor. 3:6; 8:4). There is no Christian that is not called to diakonia-service. It is our Lord Jesus Christ Himself Who “…came not to be ministered to, but to minister” (Mt. 20.28). The only model of the Orthodox Church, based in the Gospel of St. Matthew, is: “Jesus washing the disciples’ feet at the Last Supper”. The gifts that are offered are for the purpose of edifying the Church. It was St. Clement of Rome who, at the end of the first century, had already identified these gifts in the following way:
“In Christ Jesus, then, let this corporate body of ours be likewise maintained intact, with each of us giving way to his neighbour in proportion to our spiritual gifts. The strong are not to ignore the weak, and the weak are to respect the strong…”
The gifts of charismata draw us constantly in the Holy Spirit to Jesus Christ, Who acts in us and sanctifies us and our service. The existence of the Church and ministries depends totally on Jesus Christ. Our Lord Saviour cannot be substituted with any image of human ideology. It is Christ who draws us to Himself and transfigures us internally as an Author of charismata. It is essential to underline that those gifts-charismata do not draw us to anything else. They do not draw us to any political party or personal agenda. The charisma draws us essentially to everything that is beyond our human speculation. In the spectrum of charismata, we are essentially Christ-like in order for the Kingdom of God to be established in the world.
As we observe in the New Testament, the Church, in the expectation of the Second Coming of Christ, begins to settle down to wait for the parousia (Second Coming of Christ). The Church establishes herself eschatologically, not to compromise itself to the world, but to witness to the world by sustaining the Christian community. In this context, the charismata or gifts of the Holy Spirit are the means by which the parousia is being incarnated in our reality. The witness to the parousia is extremely important on account of the presence of God in the world and the negation of God’s indifference to the life of his people.
The Spirit is expressed in us through the charismata – various gifts the community possesses. The gifts of the Spirit do not belong to us. They are not our property, but are the gifts given to us from above. They are a gift from Christ. We can’t use them according to our own perception or abuse them in a way they were not destined to be used. Because of this, we are enabled to perform acts-service, especially the faithful. We are the distributors of the gifts of the Holy Spirit and as such we proclaim the Kingdom of God.
Within the Charismatic community, there are also patterns of leadership as gifts. In the context of charismata, the gift of leadership is of special importance to the discussion of eucharistic communities. These patterns of leadership and authority are especially significant for the maintenance of the doctrine of the Church and the celebration of the mystery of faith, teaching, and the proper function of the Body of Christ. The gifts of Charismata of leadership correspond directly to the goals established by our Lord. In the opinion of St. John Chrysostom, the priest/bishop is the assignee and instrument of Christ.
Great attention is given to pastoral leadership. There is a need to develop an internal revelation of the community and its members to transmit the authentic faith in order to prevent distortions in that faith. If we do not transmit the authentic faith to our communities and parishes we are compromising and distorting the foundations of our Orthodox Church. There is a necessity to be faithful custodians of the faith. This is done through correct doctrine and worship. In a sense, it is an exercise of orthodoxia (correct faith) and orthopraxia (correct worship).
The charisma of leadership is exercised in the eucharistic community for a specific reason. This charismata is sanctioned and defined by the community for the purpose of faith, sanctification, and unified activity of a eucharistic assembly. The parameters of leadership in the eucharistic community are strict and precisely defined. They are contained and guarded by the eucharistic assembly, and as such they belong only to the Church. From another perspective, we have to emphasize that the charismata of leadership in the eucharistic assembly is a permanent reality of priests and bishops. As Jesus Christ is constantly present in His Body, the gift of leadership is inseparable from the daily life of priests and bishops who are constantly seen as members of a eucharistic community in whatever situation they find themselves. Wherever they are present, bishops/presbyters never cease to be priests. The priesthood is not a matter of personal opinion or preference, but a function to be performed on behalf of the community.
The basic authority of the Church from the very beginning is recognized to be the Holy Spirit.
Because of the Body of Christ, the Church is a Divine reality and the leaders of the Church are only custodians of the faith. The only authority we accept is the Holy Spirit. He is the One who directs us and gives us whole truth. As a result, we may conclude that the election of authority is based on the participation of the whole Church and ordination is being carried out as the responsibility of those who have authority. The laying of the hands concludes everything.
In the Orthodox Church we have not only the laying on of hands but also the laying on of the Book of Gospels. The Bishop’s authority comes from the Gospel. In a way, we must submit ourselves to the Gospel. The role and the function of the Apostles are unique and unrepeatable. There are no successors to the Apostles but there is a succession of apostleship: ministry and authority. The Apostles are those who have been witness to Jesus Christ: especially to His Resurrection (Book of Acts 1). In the Book of Acts, there is a discussion about the witness to the Resurrection. Because of this witness, the role of the Apostles and their function is unique. Nevertheless, the same Apostles appointed others within the Church to continue their work as a continuation of the proclamation of Jesus’ Resurrection. Those appointed ones are also given the authority of service. The succession to the first Apostles is primarily functional as servants of God (communities) to His people. This authority is exercised in the Holy Spirit as this is indicated in the Gospel of St. John chapters 14-16. In the New Testament we have a few references to these people: their identity and their role in the ministry of the community. Based on those few references we can conclude that they were Apostles and prophets. Also referred to are those who have the power and gifts of healing and speaking in tongues. Those groups of individuals, also called orders, are being called to lead and to worship in the community. All the orders in the Church are relational. The bishop is related to the eparchy and to his flock and his clergy. In the aspect of the liturgical assembly, he is especially related to the presbyters. In addition, the presbyter is related to the flock, which has been entrusted to him by his bishop. Everyone is related to the other and accountable to each other. The priests and bishops are accountable to the very end. The accountability presupposes our dependency on the existence of the other orders. The priests are dependent on the presence of the bishop, which is related to having the antimension on our altars. Consequently, the presence of a bishop in the local parish is authenticated only through the relational presence of a priest-presbyter in the eucharistic community. Without relational accountability, the function of the Body of Christ would be inconceivable. In a way, a priest is an extension of the bishop’s hands and his ministry. It is the bishop who is ultimately responsible for the particular parish or district. It is his prerogative and responsibility to visit and oversee the function of every parish of his eparchy. It is a false assumption to think that a bishop needs an invitation to come to a parish for a visitation. Not only is the bishop present in our parishes through the priests, but his signature is preserved on every altar on every antimension.
THE CONCILIARITY OF GOVERNANCE OF THE CHURCH
The fundamental governance of the Orthodox Church is conciliar. The term “conciliarity” means collegiality, responsibility, and accountability. Everyone has a role and a function to perform in our Church. In the Orthodox Church, worship takes place in the presence of both clergy and laity. Because of this interdependency, no presbyter or bishop can celebrate the Eucharist without the presence of laity. In a similar fashion, no action in the Church can be made without the consent of the other orders of the Church. The confirmation of the relationship between bishop/presbyter and the laity during the Divine Liturgy is conveyed by the word “Amen” – Let it be so”.
In a similar fashion, the conciliarity is expressed in other aspects and ministries of the Church. Every member has a role and participates in the life of the Local Church, although the roles may not seem to have equal importance. In the context of the above-said we can conclude that the fundamental matrix of the ministry is functional. The Church empowers the bishop-presbyter to act sacramentally in relation to the entire Body of Christ. According to St. Gregory the Theologian, the priesthood has a transcending reality and as a Divine institution exists only in the Church. The priest is essentially a man of prayer and sacramental action. The most important goal in the life of a bishop/priest is to focus not the organization of social clubs, but on the salvation of souls. It is damaging to consider any other arrangement in the Eucharistic community. We have to recognize the damage that can be done to this unique relationship when there is an emphasis on the rights and privileges of a specific group. Permanent damage is done placing too much importance on specific groups of people in our communities. By doing so, we rob the Church of its eschatological character. We have to note that the discussion here is not how the by-laws regulate the relation of the Orthodox Church as an organizational entity within society, but how the by-laws enter into the sacramental life. We need by-laws in order to function as a recognized body, but there is a line where the by-laws become a medium for other non-eucharistic agendas. More damage is done when we bring “democracy” into the Divine order. The element of “democracy” damages a sensitive balance within the Body of Christ. Any attempt to correct this state in a democratic or any ideological way will only deepen the rift between those who stand before the altar and the laity. The pattern of authority of the secular world is “utterly inapplicable” in the Eucharistic assembly:
“All authority has been given to Me. I am with you always”.
The relational aspect of this very sensitive balance can’t be achieved unless we recognize our proper place in the order of the Divine institution. The Eucharistic assembly is not a democracy, but man’s participation in God Himself. Ekklesia includes all living members of the Body of Christ, but not ideas or beliefs of certain individuals or groups. The Church reflects the Triune God and as such there is a demand on behalf of the members to become like God (Luke 6:36). The Body of Christ, established by Christ Himself, lives according to its own organic life that constantly relates to God as the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The nature of the Church is constant and related to the Triune God. The relationship is accomplished in the Second Person of the Holy Trinity: Jesus Christ. The Eucharist is the place where this economy is constantly present for the restoration of the Kingdom of God. The epiclesis (invocation of the Holy Spirit) is always an affirmative act of the Holy Spirit in the presiding bishop, regardless of man’s sanctity. Without the Eucharist, the Church cannot exist as the Body of Christ. In the epiclesis, there is no internal or external authority, as even God is not an authority, but the Truth. In the presence of God, authority is something external. Without the Eucharist, we, as members of humanity, become another human organization, where the elements of democracy fall and rise again depending on the condition of the human mind. Without Christ, theology becomes an “empty dialectics” without any consequences on our life. If democracy is a constantly developing phenomenon, then how can the Body of Christ be compared to democracy if the Body of Christ is constant and totally independent from the human mind:
“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and today, and forever” (Heb. 13:8)?
The Church constantly strives to model herself on the Kingdom of God and as such she never ceases to do so. The incorporation of codes and by-laws in the context of the eucharistic life of the Church is a strong indication of the weakness of the particular eucharistic Body. In order to protect its own rights and privileges we create clauses in the by-laws that in effect corrupt the essentials of trust among the members of the Church. In opposition to some of the trends in the Orthodox Church, the “eucharistic ecclesiology” is not congregationalism. Lack of trust presupposes self-defence and prejudice that is actualized in the by-law. The lack of trust on the part of the laity creates a need for clarification and a need for more by-laws. A lack of recognition of the role of the bishop/priest by the laity in the Church forms an ecclesiological rift between the laity and the leaders of the Church that leads to despotism and a lack of responsibility and accountability on behalf of the hierarchy. The implications of this rift are quite devastating. The lack of recognition of the position of one of the ministries is embodied with the establishment of difference. In effect, if the difference prevails in the eucharistic assembly, we divide ourselves and organize according to this difference to the point of peaceful coexistence that is safeguarded in our by-laws. In effect, it is not one of the parties suffering at this point, but the eucharistic Body that is marginalized and destabilized. As a result, people leave the Church where instead of God they find themselves living with criticism, distrust, and loneliness. It is of special importance among our youth that upon seeing this defragmentation in the Church, they turn away from the Church as a rebellion against “organized religion”. People need stability in our Churches in order to grow spiritually. It is the stability of faith, trust, love, relationship, and compassion that brings people back home to Church. As long as there is no stability and trust among the orders of the Church, we will be unable to gain the trust among the members of the Church that is needed for the stability of our Church.
From another perspective, we can’t negate or undermine the qualities of the political ideologies and contemporary social movements that contain in themselves certain elements for the betterment of the human race. This last sentence is fundamental for our understanding of the presence of Christ in the pluralistic world. Although these elements are integral in our social and political sphere of daily life, we must point continually to the eschatological character of the Eucharist, where the human contemporary condition is being continually transformed. The eucharistic assembly is a mystery, the Body of Christ, that is rooted in the “inexhaustible, infinite depths of God”. In other words, we have to act in the context of the present local situation preserving the right to look into the future of the Kingdom of God.
The above said has additional consequences for our discussion. The transfer of priests for a particular parish is not a privilege of individual members of the Board. In the Eucharistic assembly, it is ultimately the bishop who makes these transfers as it is he who is responsible for the Eucharist. The change of a priest affects the Eucharistic assembly and is done by the bishop alone. The transfers of priests in the parishes are changes strictly sacramentally oriented.
The function of a bishop can’t be limited or defined by the by-laws of the Church. The sacramental function of a bishop supersedes any by-law or restrictions. The idea of certain privileges and rights assigned to a bishop has its roots in Medieval sacramentalism, where a bishop was understood as an individual who possesses his rights including the one belonging to a Synod. In addition, the creation of an auxiliary bishop destroys the essential principle of the equality of the bishops. The existence of a so-called auxiliary bishop defined by the by-laws is an ecclesiological anomaly. If the function of bishops is sacramental and identical for all of them, then all have the right to participate and vote on the issues discussed by the Synod of Bishops. They are the same in the eyes of Christ. In order to re-establish the conciliarity on the level of the entire Church, we have to bring back and analyse, first of all, the conciliarity of the episcopacy. There is a tremendous need in the Church to redefine and evaluate once again the basic principles of ecclesiology. A consistent repetition of the past (universal ecclesiology of the Roman Catholic Church) is not and cannot be the basis of the restoration of our ecclesiology and proper function of the eucharistic assembly. We need to restore genuine Orthodox ecclesiology that gives us a proper balance within the Church governance.
THE MINISTRY OF A BISHOP-PRESBYTER
The office of the priesthood belongs to the very essence and structures of the Church from the very beginning. This ministry of service was established by the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. It essentially belongs to Christ Jesus. The ministry of the Church is extended to the entire Body of Christ: the Church and all members of this Body who are the royal priesthood, are the consecrated people: the holy nation. The priesthood is ecclesial in nature and it belongs to the Church, even though individual persons exercise the ministry. The Church selects, ordains, and empowers persons on behalf of the community. Only those who are in canonical order in the Church have the authority to act on behalf of the Church. As an example: a computer will not function if it is not plugged into a power source. Unless a priest is not “plugged” into the ministry of the Church, the priesthood bestowed upon him is not functional. The priesthood is always “diakonia” (service). The only authority is the authority of diakonia. It is not powered in and of itself, but is an authority of a service.
One of the characteristics of priesthood, since early Christianity, was holiness. According to the Book of Leviticus 21, holiness was demanded for priests. It was the holiness of God that was bestowed relationally upon the chosen people. This characteristic is also part of a chosen people and priesthood in the New Testament. A special holiness was demanded for priests, who handled “holy things”. The priest was set apart in order to function for the holiness, especially for the time of his service, when he wore special clothing. He was separated from society and provided with a salary in order to fulfill his priestly duties and responsibilities. It was not a popularity contest or a concert. The quest for personal holiness is not the popularity contest. A priest was called to a unique service and behaviour in order to achieve holiness. The clothing he wore was the clothing of service and not a fashion show of different kinds of priestly “attire”.
There are some other characteristics for the priesthood as we identify them in the New Testament. They include discipleship, apostleship, residence in the local Church, and presidency over the Eucharist. All Christians are called to become disciples, and it is especially seen in the Gospel of St. John and Matthew 28:
“…go out and make disciples of all the nations…”
During His ministry, Jesus Christ called 12 disciples who had a special relationship with Him. They accepted the call from Him and followed Him. In retrospect, to respond to Christ and to accept His call is to become a learner and at the same time a listener. According to St. Basil, a good shepherd is the one who listens to his flock as a great and compassionate doctor with the potential to become a loving father. A disciple knows how to listen to his people and how to learn from the experience with the community. The ministry of discipleship is a continually developing life-vocation that embraces all the elements of community life. The elements of listening and learning are of special importance. As a disciple, a bishop/presbyter knows how to listen. He is able to listen to any individual, concern, or ideology where he engages in the life of the members of the eucharistic community. It is not a passive attitude, but a constantly developing mechanism on the part of the leader of the Christian community to place himself in a position of attention. Active listening absorbs all the pains and concerns of those who are being led towards final fulfilment. Careful listening requires from a priest/bishop a long-lasting patience and vigilance. The post of presbyter/bishop also requires a direct action and personal responsibility for the benefit of the community. A presbyter/bishop gives much attention to the tolerance of the flock by his personal meekness. He instructs the members of his community in anticipation of repentance.
The priesthood is a consuming and life-long vocation. It is a vocation patterned after the Life of Christ. This also assumes a life of hardship. The discipleship also means the acceptance of the demands of the Gospel: a call of acceptance, trust, and vulnerability. A life of hardship also assumes an element of self-sacrifice for his flock: martyrdom. In his calling of priesthood, there is even an element of suffering. St. Clement of Rome characterizes the discipleship as a humble, peaceable, and disinterested way of life. The priesthood is the acceptance of hardship in any capacity. It is not only the hardship of vulnerability, but also the hardship of a lack of time, the hardship of our families, the hardship of a lack of comfort. We are ready to be sent anywhere and to proclaim the Kingdom of God. I would be quite careful to define our vocation as a profession in the modern way of thinking. The only priestly profession is the profession of the cross that calls for pain and total sacrifice. If there is no Christianity without the cross, then there is no priesthood in the Church that is accredited with power and privileges. Because of the ascetic living tradition in the Orthodox Church, there is a continual negation of an easy and comfortable life for Christianity. This applies especially to the priesthood that exemplifies and verifies the life of Christ. It is “martyria” as identification with Him, Who died on the cross.
Those qualities are not extra attributes of priesthood, they are demanded of him. A compromise with comforts of a societal way of life contributes to the misconceptions of the priesthood that in reality pays lip service to the cross, eventually hating and avoiding the cross at all (Phil. 3:18). It is a sort of duplicity of the personality of priesthood between a superficial/ceremonial type of religiousness and the life that is disengaged from the one portrayed.
The priesthood is a mystery of correction. The bishop-presbyter corrects abuses and the priest is responsible for teaching by example, guidance, and counselling. But the correction is done in the spirit of love. A priest corrects as a father because he loves his children. He corrects out of love. The correction is applied not only to the members of the community, but also in reverse to himself, as laity also speak the truth. He protects the faith and the community, and seeks to bring a correct relationship. From the other perspective, even the bishop/priest has limitations. But if we understand the fact that what we give is in relation with Christ, then his giving is inexhaustible – because Jesus Christ is inexhaustible. It is not the priest’s ministry, but the divine ministry of Christ. The source of his power and strength is the one of Christ.
We should not forget that the bishop/priest is in a position to correct and to protect the eucharistic assembly. In order to defend the doctrine and for the proper function of the parish, he is called to act in a manner that will bring peace and stability to the eparchy and the parish. St. Ignatius of Antioch, in order to express the stability and harmony among different orders of the Church, uses an analogy of a lyre:
“… for your reverend presbytery, which is worthy of God, is tuned to the bishop, as strings are to the lyre: and thus, in your concord and harmonious love, Jesus Christ is sung”.
The call to act, even if it is connected with hardship, must be decisive, wise, and thoughtful. We can’t forget that we are being sent to our parishes to be inclusive, unifying all the members of the Body. We have to be in a position to respect the identity of the individuals in order for them to become truly themselves. This requires on behalf of bishops/priests spiritual courage and wisdom when dealing with the daily problems of contemporary man, especially our youth. We have to be aware of constant changes in the societal life, that being overwhelmed by the sciences brings so many positive and negative messages to our families, parishes, and eparchies. It is the responsibility of the leaders of our Church to evaluate the messages and utilize them in order to transmit the message of Orthodoxy. This requires pastoral considerations and more, going as far as an intellectual discussion with our members. There needs to be a continual increase of our knowledge not only in the theological sphere, but also in the philosophical or scientific disciplines. People are searching for God in their own personal ways of life that embrace educational, philosophical, and ideological speculation, and cultural creationism. In order to respond to their search for God in their ways of life, we have to use the right methodological tools and ways of thinking of the modern man. The way to achieve this goal is always Christ-centred orientation where the Holy Scripture is being actualized. At the same time we have to state that the world is not “compatible with Christ or the Church”. Because of the complexity of obstacles facing the spiritual worker, the task is very complex. This is the way of the Apostolic Fathers who adapted the ancient philosophy of the life of the primitive Church in order to bring the message of God. It is St. Basil who insists upon the spiritual shepherd being “watchful in present affairs, able to foresee the future…”. In other words, a bishop/priest must possess a ministry of art that enables him to direct his parish towards the future by acquiring spontaneity, skills, and appropriate attitude or disposition. His spiritual weapon is the apostolic fire and zeal to those who may become witnesses of Christ. In the post-Constantine world we are no different from the Church Fathers in bringing Christ using the tools of contemporary society. As long as we are critical to the contemporary scientific goals, Christ will be in the hearts of those who are searching for the truth in their own sophisticated ways of life. Because we are in no position to accuse our members of the Church of their sophisticated way of thinking, we have to be critical in our methodology, mechanical tools, and way of thinking when discussing the ecclesiological nature of our Church.
The presbyter-bishop is also seen as a missionary figure. The presbyter-bishop is a residential figure. He is localized and lives among the people about whom he cares. He belongs to a locality. Whether it is a parish or an eparchy, a bishop/presbyter belongs to them. As a residential and local figure, he is in charge of organizing the ordinary life of a local Church. Here is the charisma of administration. He organizes and stabilizes the community in danger of innovations. This might be applied to any aspect of the parish life: liturgical, pastoral, or doctrinal. In a way, the bishop-presbyter has to be vigilant. It is very important in our daily life, when syncretism is a daily phenomenon. One of the qualities is also the fact that he leads a virtuous life that is expressed in the apostolic literature as “endearing kindliness” and “sainthood”. The bishop/presbyter is known based on the fact that he is the one who gives sound instruction. These are the personal and skilled traits. He must know the tradition of the Church. He is a pastor, a shepherd, and a teacher (1 Peter 5) who humbly ministers his flock. In the Apostolic tradition the bishop/presbyter is also the one who visits the sick. But all the essential elements of virtue of a bishop are embraced by his love for Christ and his flock. In the words of St. Isaac the Syrian:
“What is a loving heart? It is a heart burning with love for the whole of creation, for man, for the beasts, for the demons and all creatures. He who has such a heart cannot see or call to mind a creature without his eyes becoming filled with tears, by reason of the immense compassion which is his heart…”
A fundamental characteristic of a presbyter-bishop is the ability to maintain the unity of the Church: the unity of itself and the unity of the faith. He maintains the unity of the Body of Christ in order to avoid division and anarchy. His authority is the authority of service but not of domination. The development of a “despotic episcopate” or a “spiritual elitism” goes against the very basic fabric of the Church. There is the authority of authority, but at the very end, it is an authority of service and accountability. In the words of St. Gregory the Theologian, the use of force in order to discipline his flock is not worthy of man and as such “it is frustrating”. Dominance in the context of the eucharistic body excludes the essential element of service. In effect, the Church is deprived of the fundamental presence of Christ in its midst. Those patterns, including bishop/presbyter, are interdependent and necessary for the existence of the Church. There is no ministry in the Church independent of the other ministries. There is no ministry that is above and beyond the Church. There is no ministry in the Church that is self-sufficient (1 Cor. 12). The ecclesiological theory of independence created by a bishop/presbyter creates a very dangerous precedent that leads to indifference and irresponsibility in the life of the Church. The laity, being excluded from the matters of ecclesiastical life as co-workers of Christ, revolt by becoming spectators, critics, and enthusiasts of indifference. The traumatic loss of ecclesiastical balance that coordinated the entire Body of Christ into a Divine symphonic organism evaporates into oblivion. This statement is fundamental in the discussion of the ministry in the Orthodox Church. We can also look at this from the other perspective, where a priest is subservient not to the Gospel but to the dominance of the parish executive or the job description in the by-laws. In both cases, the sensitive balance of service is ultimately lost at the expense of the truth of Body of Christ. Any parish emerged in this kind of loss of balance between priest/bishop and laity will have to face difficulties of its true being as a Body of Christ. The defragmentation of the symbiotic coexistence of the ministries of Christ and continual power struggle within the ministry of Christ pushes us into a “falsification of Christianity and schizophrenic tendencies”.
A Bishop has a greater role in administration. We have to state very clearly that the bishop of today is not the bishop of the early Church. This is one of the reasons why we have the college of presbyters. But we also have to understand the relational character of all ministries. The Church of Rome was governed by the College of presbyters. The idea of having one bishop came out of the necessity to keep the doctrine of the Church intact and to maintain the unity of the Church. One of the main characteristics of a bishop is that he sustains and protects the unity of the Church and maintains its relationship to the other local Churches. This must be done in a collegial order with other orders of the Church. Although there is a selection of other orders, the bishop is the one who ordains and maintains the unity.
An iconic language presents bishop-presbyter in a relational way. He is a typos (the icon that always points to that which is beyond). The bishop-priest points to Christ as a Type or a Pattern. According to St. Ignatius:
“…and therefore it is clear that we must regard a bishop as the Lord Himself” (Ephesians 1:6).
This idea will be further elaborated by St. Cyprian who strictly defined the necessity of the presence of a bishop for the existence of the Local Church:
“… is the people united to the bishop, the flock clinging to its shepherd. The bishop is in the Church, and the Church in the bishop”.
It is correct to understand the priesthood as an icon under the principle that St. Basil articulated:
“The honour showed to the icon is referred to the prototype. Therefore the priest as an icon of Christ is not honoured in and of himself. The honour is referred to Jesus Christ. There is no intrinsic personal sanctity in the priesthood”.
As an icon he is in a relational existence. This means that every ordained person is placed in a particular concept of a relationship. He does not act by virtue of personal qualities, but allows Christ to act through his actions. His personal qualities are not essential and his behaviour does not validate the office. The projection is not one’s ability and virtues, but in all humility to release one’s self of these private ways, so that the Lord may act. The most important fact is the aspect of emptying oneself for Christ in order to become an agent of Christ. We don’t select some individual because he is apparently holy by nature. The Priest is the one who represents Christ. The priest acquires holiness as every Christian acquires holiness through ascesis (spiritual and identity struggle). Holiness is a gift that is being acquired by every Christian and given to him by God. The bishop’s function is to make present the spiritual reality that surpasses him. The person who stands as “alter Christus” does not represent Christ as an individual, but as part of a community. It is the Church that is the Body of Christ. It is the Church that empowers, ordains, and assigns the bishops to the Church. Christ himself is part of a community and the Holy Spirit creates community.
TOWARDS THE MINISTRY OF BALANCE
The first premise underlines the fact that no bishop acts alone. He has a relational existence. He is unique in the fact that he has a relational aspect with the College of presbyters and is assisted by deacons and people. Every prayer of the Orthodox Church ends with “Amen”. The term “Amen” is the most powerful word that gives ascent and initiates action in the Church. The people confirm the action of the leadership of the Church by ascending the “amen”. We also need the responsibility of the laity as the laity is called the general and “indispensable conscience of the Church”. The bishop is the head of the community and a part of the community. He needs the “Amen” of the people and the recommendations of the presbyters. This has implications on the aspect of the conciliarity of the Church. This means that there is a conciliarity between the bishop and presbyters, presbyters and laity. The Bishop is enabled by the faith community to act as priest. This priest-bishop doesn’t possess the identity on his own. It is a gift that he exercises on behalf of the Church. The priesthood exists solely to make Christ present. The priest-bishop is the concrete presence of the Lord in the midst of His people. He is a sign and an icon of the presence of Christ. He is Christ’s ambassador and he takes the place of God in the midst of the Congregation. According to St. Ignatius: “…he stands in a place of God”. As the one who stands in the place of God, he is an example of imitation to the eucharistic assembly.
The priesthood is relational as the identity of the Church is relational. The priest is not only related to the priesthood of Christ, but he is related as well to the people of God. He comes out of the people of God. He himself is a member of the royal priesthood as well as the one who is set apart from the rest: the clergyman. As such he is an icon and embodiment. In his ministry he becomes a harmony that exists only on the basis of the function of the others. He speaks of the Church as the Body of Christ (St. Paul’s phrase). It is exactly in the eucharistic assembly that the Church is realizing itself as the Body of Christ. The members of the Church are becoming the members of the Body of Christ continuously. The ordained minister acts as an icon of the Church commissioned by the Church. This is the only distinction that separates him from those who seal his action with their “Amen”. In the congregation the priest sees his priestly function and ministry as his vocation. In his calling, the bishop will always be supportive of priests, deacons, and laity, and will communicate with them in his wisdom and fatherly love: “…lay down his life” (Jn. 10:11, 15). The communication/conciliarity between bishop and laity is a constant process that is embraced by spiritual hesychia, humility, love, and freedom. It is a constant struggle that is embraced by metanoia.
The awareness of the necessary presence of the laity in the eucharistic assembly and the recognition of the position of the bishop in the sacramental life of the Church is a dynamic movement of spiritual struggle that never ends. An appropriate placement of those ministries in the eucharistic body and profound understanding of their position and function safeguards the ecclesiastical balance so badly needed in our Orthodox Church. We need each other in order for Jesus Christ to be a transforming presence in His Church, to be a new “way of being”. The very sensitive ecclesiastical balance that defines the relationship in the Church is fundamental for us to act as the Body of Christ. The ecclesiastical balance necessitates not power, egoism, and privilege, but personal humility, respect, and recognition on the part of the entire Body of Christ. It is crucial to understand the balance between one and many: the eucharistic assembly cannot exist without bishop/presbyter, but at the same time the same bishop/presbyter should be a part of the community, never excluded or above. Ministerial balance necessitates the presence of a bishop/presbyter who acts on behalf of a eucharistic community, although never separated or negated by the community. He acts on behalf of the community to make the community a Body of Christ that authenticates him as a presiding minister only because the community empowers him to act. It is a eucharistic balance of ministry that presupposes the presence of one on behalf of all, as only all give ascent to the sound of one. At this point, a balance confirms a eucharistic arrangement of presidency that qualifies us to ascend towards the Divine. This Eucharistic balance between one and many eliminates any ideological or stereotypical segregation or distinction. The balance presupposes that all the members of the eucharistic community will become the same Body of Christ. This is not man’s ability to function, but God’s descent to the created. Although we have diversified charisma (gifts) in this arrangement, the difference is not exclusion, but a unifying block that recognizes the uniqueness and necessity of each other. Eucharist has to be understood as an event that brings dispersed people together in order to become the one Body of Christ. In the eucharistic setting all the ministries are mutually transforming. They are never self-absorbed or exclusive. We need each other in order to be co-responsible and co-accountable to each other (Rom. 12:5). In other words, we are a communion, a sisterhood, and a brotherhood (koinonia), and in that communion we are responsible to each other. It is in the communion that we look for the highest authority in the Church. Koinonia is a responsibility of life and joy as well as a transition from dissolution and dissatisfaction into a dynamic process of seeing each other as a potential icon of God. We need a spiritual uplifting of all the people of God in order to act and transmit the message of God to the world. In the eucharistic context, we need to retrieve the genuine love in order to perfect each other. Because God is love and everything in the Body of Christ exists because of God’s love, the discussed ecclesiastical balance will prevail, as this is not our but God’s will.
In the contemporary Western world where there is much sensitivity to the aspect of power, it is essential to affirm the proper balance in the Orthodox Church between all the levels of the eucharistic assembly. This is not a new way of looking at the governance of the Orthodox Church, but an affirmation of its fundamental existence since Pentecost. The original idea of conciliarity was never lost in the liturgical consciousness and spectrum of life of the worshiping body. We still profess the same ecclesiological foundation of St. Paul and St. Ignatius of Antioch regardless of the change of time or conditions of life. We are professing this ecclesiastical truth, as the stability of the Church is never preconditioned by human endeavour. The eucharistic-conciliar leadership in the Orthodox Church constantly leads us towards its final fulfilment, which is never obstructed or changed. Recent events in the life of the Orthodox Church in the World bring us to the point of authenticating again what was lost in the external life of the governance of the Orthodox Church. We have to be perfectly clear that this authentication of ecclesiastical balance in the eucharistic community is not a new development or change of the ecclesial governance itself. Bringing back the essential elements of ecclesiastical life of the Body of Christ is a challenging process that requires us to rethink our approach to the leadership in the Church. With the complexity of contemporary life, we need to re-evaluate ourselves with humility on all levels of Church governance. This process is continually found in the celebration of the Eucharist as the destination point of our life. It is exactly here that we find the assurance of the presence of God that preconditions peace, stability, and sensitive balance. It is necessary to question and challenge ourselves in front of the entire spectrum of Church life. When this comes to the point of responsibility and accountability in front of the entire Local Church, Jesus Christ is the ultimate authority. The presence of God in our midst becomes our foundation and assurance of our equality and responsibility for each other. Living the ecclesiastical balance of the Local Church gives us assurance that the voice of every member counts. Even the most obscure personality in the Church will have his/her role to play. It is only on the basis of personal humility that the sensitive balance in the ministry of the Orthodox Church will be achieved regardless of the role or the age of the members of a particular Local Church. The ecclesiastical power will cease to exist in order to give its place to brotherly love. At this point, we will be fully aware of the Heavenly origin of the Church that all of us love so dearly.