Zizioulas continues his discussion of the sacramental character of ministry by considering the soteriological concept of representation. This has unfortunately come to be seen as representing someone absent, whereas its correct meaning should be seen in the idea of representation by participation as found in the Biblical imagery of corporate personality.
Thus the ordained person becomes a “mediator” between man and God not by presupposing or establishing a distance between these two but by relating himself to both in the context of the community of which he himself is part. (230)
This has particular bearing on our understanding of priesthood.
It is in this way that the gradual application of the term priest was extended from the person of Christ, for whom alone it is used in the New Testament, to the bishop, for whom again alone it was used until about the fourth century. In being the head of the eucharistic community and offering in his hands the eucharist – a task of the episcopate par excellence in the first four centuries – the bishop, and later on the presbyter precisely and significantly enough when he started offering the eucharist himself, acquired the title of priest. But, as the history of the extension of the term “priest” to the presbyter shows, it is the particular place in the eucharistic community and no other reason that accounted for the use of the term “priest” in both cases. The fundamental implication of this is that there is no priesthood as a general and vague term, as it was to become later on in theology under the name of sacerdotium – a term which acquired almost the meaning of a generic principle pre-existing and transmitted in ordination from the ordainer to the ordained or from “all believers” to a particular one. The true and historical original meaning of the term is this: as Christ (the only priest) becomes in the Holy Spirit a community (His body, the Church), His priesthood is realized and portrayed in historical existence here and now as a eucharistic community in which His “image” is the head of this community offering with and on behalf of the community the eucharistic gifts. (230-231)
Thus priesthood is fundamentally relational, for
what happens in the community of the Church, especially in its eucharistic structure, has no meaning in itself apart from its being a reflection – not in a Platonic but a real sense – of the community of the Kingdom of God. This mentality is so fundamental that there is no room for the slightest distinction between the worshipping eucharistic community on earth and the actual worship in front of God’s throne. (232-233)
The question remains as to what this means for the ordained person himself. In the first place, Zizioulas insists that the ordained person realises his ordination in the community and not in himself, and cut off from the community he ceases to be an ordained person. Secondly, and more positively, ordination is not of a temporal nature but of eschatological decisiveness, and the use of the term “perfection” by the Greek Fathers refers to a typological understanding that points to “term” or “end” (pe/rav).
In the understanding of St Maximus, the Ignatian liturgical typology becomes, as is usual with this Church Father, dynamic: ordination (baptism being included) realizes the movement of creation towards its eschatological end; the eucharistic altar expresses here and now the eschatological nature, the ,pe/rav of the community and through and in it, of creation. (234)
It is this eschatological decisiveness that allows for the use of the term “seal” in connection with ordination. While the Greek Fathers’ use of this concept is rather complex, it did not develop in the same ontological direction as it did in the West and
is not to be taken in the sense of a logical abstraction, but means a particular existential state of being (a “mode of existence”) in which being both is itself and at the same time cannot be spoken of in itself, but only as it “relates to.” (235-236)