In the third subsection of the sixth chapter of Being as Communion, Zizioulas turns his attention to how we understand the sacramental nature of ordination. Discussions on this have tended to focus on whether ordination involves something “ontological” or simply something “functional”, thus focussing on what ordination does to the ordained individual. However, in the light of the relational character of the ministry outlined earlier, Zizioulas sees such a dilemma as being based on false premises.

Just as the Church becomes through the ministry a relational entity both in itself and in its relation to the world, so also the ordained man becomes, through his ordination, a relational entity. In this context, looking at the ordained person as an individual defeats the very end of ordination. For ordination, to use a most valuable distinction offered by modern philosophy, aims precisely at making man not an individual but a person, i.e. an ek-static being, that can be looked upon not from the angle of his “limits” but of his overcoming his “selfhood” and becoming a related being. This shows that the very question of whether ordination is to be understood in “ontological” or in “functional” terms is not only misleading but absolutely impossible to raise in the light of our theological perspective in this study. In the light of the koinonia of the Holy Spirit, ordination relates the ordained man so profoundly and so existentially to the community that in his new state after ordination he cannot be any longer, as a minister, conceived in himself. In this state, existence is determined by communion which qualifies and defines both “ontology” and “function.” Thus it becomes impossible in this state to say that one simply “functions” without implying that his being is deeply and decisively affected by what he does. In the same way, it becomes impossible to imply in this state that one “possesses” anything as an individual. (226-227)

In seeking to overcome this “ontological” versus “functional” dilemma, Zizioulas highlights the following relational categories used by the Greek Fathers:

(a) The Antiochene understanding of ministry in terms of “ambassadorship.” This points beyond any objectification of the charisma of ordination, for the grace received by the minister is “for those who need it” and the minister receives it precisely as a member of the community. Such a category,

is so loaded with soteriological and existential connotations that leaves no room either for the objectification of the charisma or for its reduction to the level of mere “function.” (228)

(b) The Cappadocian and Alexandrian of transfiguration and transmutation. Such language could be misunderstood in an “ontologistic” way were it not for the fact that it is always used in the sense of participation:

the priest receives grace “as part of” the eucharistic community and the change that takes place is described in terms of honor, glory, dignity etc., i.e. in terms of an anthropology of theosis, typical to the Alexandrian tradition, which implies no “natural” change although it affects man in his being. As St Maximus the Confessor, in his remarkable perception of the dynamism of being, puts it, ordination to the ministry is to be seen as part of the broader christological movement between the Creator and creation – a movement which affects being, yet not statically but precisely as a movement and in the framework of a “cosmic liturgy.” (229)

(c) The typological language used in early patristic literature in which the various orders, as in Saint Ignatius of Antioch, refer to the type or place of something else. Such language occurs in the context eucharistic community and ordination becomes thus

an assignment to a particular “place” in the community which in its eucharistic nature portrays the very Kingdom of God here and now. (229)

To be continued…