Wednesday 5 February 2014

Liturgical Worship and Orthodoxy 6

In my last post I considered the Bishop in the writings of Hippolytus from 217 AD and from St Ignatius of Antioch, the second bishop there, from 107 AD. And we also saw that the term Bishop is used in the New Testament and in the King James translation. It is the Greek word episcopus from which we derive the word episcopal, which means a Church under the care and authority of Bishops.

In these few words I want to consider the second office which is mentioned by Hippolytus, and by St Ignatius, and found in the New Testament. It is that of presbyter, a Greek word which became the word priest in English.

Hippolytus refers to the presbyters gathered in silent prayer around their bishop when he is being consecrated by other bishops in the words I have quoted previously. And this was and is the proper ministry of the presbyter, standing in council around the head of the local community and sharing in his ministry. When the presbyter is ordained, as Hippolytus recounts, it is by the hand of his own bishop, with the other presbyters touching him in solidarity but not laying hands on him as if ordaining him themselves. Hippolytus says…

But when a presbyter is ordained, the bishop shall lay his hand upon his head, while the presbyters touch him.

And here is a little of the prayer, already traditional at this time, which the bishop prayed over him…

God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, look upon this thy servant, and grant to him the Spirit of grace and counsel of a presbyter, that he may sustain and govern thy people with a pure heart; as thou didst look upon thy chosen people and didst command Moses that he should choose presbyters, whom thou didst fill with thy Spirit, which thou gavest to thy servant.

This allows us to see that in the early Church the presbyter was to have a ministry with the bishop of SUSTAINING and GOVERNING the people, just as Moses, who represents the bishop in this analogy, also needed those with him to care for the people.

What we can be sure of is that as far as any living memory allowed, when Hippolytus was writing his instructions he knew only the Church of Christ served and guided by Bishops and Priests. And if we turn to the letters of St Ignatius again, written over 100 years earlier and just after the last Apostle had fallen asleep, we find that there is the same continuity back in time to the earliest period. St Ignatius writes…

I am devoted to those who are subject to the bishop, the presbyters, and the deacons.

Elsewhere he says…

It is therefore necessary that, as ye indeed do, so without the bishop ye should do nothing, but should also be subject to the presbytery, as to the apostle of Jesus Christ, who is our hope, in whom, if we live, we shall [at last] be found.

And yet elsewhere he says…

In like manner, let all reverence the deacons as an appointment of Jesus Christ, and the bishop as Jesus Christ, who is the Son of the Father, and the presbyters as the Sanhedrin of God, and assembly of the apostles. Apart from these, there is no Church.

Here is the second Bishop of the important city of Antioch, one of those who knew the Apostles himself, and was one of the community that was first called Christians. He must surely know how the Church was intended to be structured in accordance with the Apostolic teaching? And what does he say?

He insists that without the Bishop and the Presbyters and the Deacons THERE IS NO CHURCH! This surely requires us to consider what this means if we find ourselves in a community that is not structured in such a way.

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