Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Episcopacy and Conciliarity

This was published unsigned in al-Karma, the weekly bulletin of the Archdiocese of Tripoli. Arabic original here.

Episcopacy and Synodality

On the Feast of the Apostles Peter and Paul and all the Apostles, the Church celebrates an important stage of her holy life.

In Christianity, an apostle is someone whom God has entrusted with a divine message or a holy task. The Lord chose His apostles, loved them and taught them. He was a model for them in everything, so that they would become other christs, able to make apostles of all the nations, to baptize them, and to bring them to love of His commandments. The Lord entrusted them with the mystery of man's salvation, with the dogma of the kingdom of heaven. He gave them the authority to loosen and to bind, the authority to heal illnesses and expel demons, to perform the divine mysteries, and, also important, the authority to raise up successors to themselves: "Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands" (2 Timothy 1:6).

The gift of apostleship that the Lord Jesus Christ established naturally had to continue after the apostles' death. It was transmitted to their successors whom they themselves chose. This is clear in the epistles of the New Testament, which talk about presbyters, bishops and shepherds, and the early Church was profoundly conscious of this reality.

In his Epistle to the Corinthians, Clement, bishop of Rome at the end of the first century, speaks clearly about how the apostles established successors for themselves to lead the Church. In Orthodoxy, the bishops are direct successors to the apostles. They are the continuation of the apostleship that our Lord chose, through whom He guides the world to the sole truth.

This is what the words of the Lord Jesus mean to them: "Behold I am with you all the days until the end of the age." He is with them through their successors the bishops. These bishops have become not only apostles of Christ, but also prophets of the new covenant. After prophecy stopped as a special gift in the Church in the early second century, the bishops of the new covenant received prophecy along with apostleship.

They are apostles who preach the good news of Jesus Christ. Their role as prophets is to declare His will for the Church and for the people of God. Thus the Church, whose head is the Lord Jesus Christ, is built "on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone" (Ephesians 2:20). These gifts are transmitted to the priests, the bishops' assistants, through the obedience of these priests to the bishops, when this obedience does not go against the Church's faith, tradition, and canons.

Conciliarity and consultation were an attribute of the early Church of the apostles and the apostles governed the church through councils. The Apostle Paul did not make his own opinion or decision. Rather, he said that he went up to Jerusalem to present his gospel to those held in regard, lest his striving be in vain. The first apostolic Council of Jerusalem realized the perfection of the image of conciliarity for the Church. It revealed that conciliarity is part of the Church's nature. Thus over the centuries, following the model of this council, the Church had held her councils and strives to preserve the spirit of conciliarity.

Councils continued after the age of the apostles, constituting the apostolic form that expresses the gathering of the entire Church. Local and ecumenical councils were held and the bishops who gathered in them represented the people of God with whom they were entrusted. This conciliar spirit is reflected in the whole life of the Church and indeed, in the Church's very faith.

The conciliar spirit is that which allows the Church to grow freely and charismatically, without being ruled by fear of a single head that monopolizes power, who is usually himself dominated by many passions and who is unable to accept those who oppose his style and manner.

It was in this charismatic spirit of conciliarity that the holy dogmas were defined and the Church's theology developed in an upright, Orthodox manner, just as the Church's liturgical life developed in a spiritual and ascetical manner.

It was in this spirit that the canons were formulated, not to frighten the faithful but to protect their path from the weakness of nature and to ease passage to the kingdom. There is no freedom outside of conciliarity, nor is there charismatic theology outside of conciliarity, because the movement of grace is then transformed into the spirit of institutionalized worldliness in the service of the orientation of the domineering head, either fearing him or flattering him.

In true conciliarity, the one Spirit works through the gifts of the many to build up the one body of Christ. It is not possible for this Spirit to be active outside the conciliar life. For this reason, Christ said, "For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them" (Matthew 18:20).

All manifestations of the life of the Orthodox Church are conciliar, from the parish to the ecumenical council. Everything that contributes to nourishing domineering individualism among the priests or bishops (or patriarchs at the level of the local church) constitutes a real danger for the entire movement of the Spirit in the holy Church. It disables the gifts of the Holy Spirit among the faithful.

When a bishop is domineering in the Church, it is evidence of the domination of the spirit of pride, of abominable egoism, and of the passion of vainglory in his soul.

Christ first taught His apostles the virtue of self-denial when they were competing for the first places and He said to them, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you" (Matthew 20:25-26).

These are the factors that led to the fall of the Church in the West and turned it from truth into a papist church, where they reduced the entire church to the person of the pope and placed him above the councils, denying the ecclesiological understanding that the Church had followed for a thousand years.

The pope became the church and when he fell with regard to the faith, the entire church over which he was head fell with him and came to be outside the body of Christ. Therefore, where there is no conciliarity, there is no Church.

In Orthodoxy, the local councils have the primary practical role in facing the contemporary challenges that never cease.

The local council of bishops works in the spirit of the holy ecumenical councils, preserving Orthodoxy in its dogmas and canons from twisted teachings and falsely-named theology.

The ecumenical councils are the highest authority in the Orthodox Church and a local council cannot contradict any of their teachings or canons.  It can only apply economy where necessary.

The other role of the local council is to teach this faith to the people of God, how to live it in the spirit of repentance, confession, living participation in the holy mysteries, and to resist the worldly spirit that is spreading in the life of the Church, destroying the spirit of piety within her.

The Church lives this conciliarity in every Eucharistic gathering and from this gathering, the Church extends the foundation of building up her conciliarity.

There, where there is confession of the one Orthodox faith, the Lord is present and the people around Him with the bishop constitute, by the power of the Holy Spirit, a Eucharistic council, in which all the ecumenical dimensions of the conciliarity of the one Church are made manifest. 

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