Monday 3 February 2014

Liturgical Worship and Orthodoxy 5

The Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus is a very interesting little work. Let me remind you that it dates from about 217 AD and records the practices which could be traced back at least to the end of the Apostolic Age. There are prayers in this manual for the consecration and ordination of three categories of ministry that I want to focus on in this short post. They are Bishops, Priests and Deacons. There are also instructions about other categories, but for now we will consider just these three and in this post especially turn to the first.

Please forgive me for printing much of the prayer for consecrating a bishop, which occurred with the laying on hands by other bishops while the presbyters stand round in silent prayer. It was said by one of the bishops gathered for the consecration…

Pour forth now that power, which is thine, of thy royal Spirit, which thou gavest to thy beloved Servant Jesus Christ, which he bestowed on his holy apostles, who established the church in every place, the church which thou hast sanctified unto unceasing glory and praise of thy name. Thou who knowest the hearts of all, grant to this thy servant, whom thou hast chosen to be bishop, [to feed thy holy flock] and to serve as thy high priest without blame, ministering night and day, to propitiate thy countenance without ceasing and to offer thee the gifts of thy holy church. And by the Spirit of high-priesthood to have authority to remit sins according to thy commandment, to assign the lots according to thy precept, to loose every bond according to the authority which thou gavest to thy apostles, and to please thee in meekness and purity of heart, offering to thee an odour of sweet savour.

We can see from this prayer that he bishop is the HIGH-PRIEST, and he is TO FEED THE HOLY FLOCK, and he is to OFFER THE GIFTS OF THE HOLY CHURCH, and he has authority TO REMIT SINS.

As a priest of the Orthodox Church it is interesting to see that the aspects of the Orthodox episcopate which I recognise in my own bishop are just these same ideas which Hippolytus records for us in the prayers which he knew and considered to be Apostolic.

Indeed over one hundred years earlier, in about 107 AD, the correspondence of the famous bishop St Ignatius of Antioch describes a similarly central role for the bishop of each local Church. Before we consider a passage or two from these letters, we should note that he was himself the second bishop of Antioch, and succeeded Evodius in 67 AD. He would certainly have personally known St Peter and St Paul. It is almost impossible to doubt that his writings on the office of the bishop were of Apostolic inspiration.

Very briefly indeed, in writing to the bishops of Asia Minor he says to St Polycarp…
Give ye heed to the bishop, that God also may give heed to you. I am devoted to those who are subject to the bishop, the presbyters, and the deacons.

And to the Church of Smyrna he says…

See that ye all follow the bishop, even as Jesus Christ does the Father, and the presbytery as ye would the apostles; and reverence the deacons, as being the institution of God. Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop. Let that be deemed a proper Eucharist, which is [administered] either by the bishop, or by one to whom he has entrusted it. Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude [of the people] also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. It is not lawful without the bishop either to baptize or to celebrate a love-feast; but whatsoever he shall approve of, that is also pleasing to God, so that everything that is done may be secure and valid.

To the Trallians he says…

For, since ye are subject to the bishop as to Jesus Christ, ye appear to me to live not after the manner of men, but according to Jesus Christ, who died for us, in order, by believing in His death, ye may escape from death. It is therefore necessary that, as ye indeed do, so without the bishop ye should do nothing.

And here he writes to the Ephesians saying…

Now the more any one sees the bishop keeping silence, the more ought he to revere him. For we ought to receive every one whom the Master of the house sends to be over His household, as we would do Him that sent him. It is manifest, therefore, that we should look upon the bishop even as we would upon the Lord Himself.

What a very high view of the Bishop then, no less distinguished than that in Hippolytus, but from letters written by one who was just such a Bishop, and who had known the Apostles himself. Written indeed just a decade after the last Apostle passed away.

And what does the New Testament say about bishops?

In the letter to Titus it is written…

For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God; not self-willed, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre; But a lover of hospitality, a lover of good men, sober, just, holy, temperate; Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers.

And to Timothy it is written…

This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work.
The Church is episcopal, that is led and governed by bishops, even from the earliest times and when we look for the Church in continuity with the Apostles it must surely be one which has bishops.

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