In introducing the fifth chapter of Being as Communion, Metropolitan Zizioulas points out that Orthodoxy is known for its emphasis on both tradition and worship.

On the one hand, Orthodoxy is known for its devotion to tradition. This makes history acquire decisiveness in the consciousness of the Orthodox Churches, which is thus orientated towards the past with respect and devotion. On the other hand, Orthodoxy is known for the centrality and importance which it attributes to worship in its life and theology, and this leads it to a “theophanic” and in a sense “meta-historical” view of the Church. Deep in these two aspects of Orthodox consciousness lie the seeds of a duality which could easily be turned into a dichotomy. (171)

This duality has been present since the beginning of the Church and is also of relevance to other Churches. And it has particular bearing on our understanding of apostolicity and succession which will be further explored in this chapter.

Being a continuation of points made in the fourth and last subsection of the fourth chapter of Being as Communion.

Fourthly, the question arises as to how we are to reconcile such a view of catholicity with the fact that the eucharistic community is itself divided into orders, i.e. categories and classes of people. In this Zizioulas is addressing problems of clericalism and anti-clericalism which he sees as more of a problem in the West than in the East. The East has traditionally been spared such problems due to its eucharistic ecclesiology, but in some places it is now threatened by them due to the replacement of this vision by later ecclesiological ideas.

Metropolitan Zizioulas argues that it is of fundamental importance that ordination occurs within the eucharistic liturgy, thus identifying all ministry as identical with that of Christ and not simply as parallel to it.

It is not an accident that the early Church applied to Christ all forms of ministries that existed. He was the apostle, the prophet, the priest, the bishop, the deacon, etc. A Christologically understood ministry transcends all categories of priority and separation that may be created by the act of ordination and “setting apart.” (163)

In such a perspective, it is impossible to understand any ministry outside the community. This does not mean that the ordained represent the community for this could still place them outside it. Moreover, it overcomes the dilemma of whether to view ministry in functional or ontological terms, for its terms of reference are basically existential.

There is no charisma that can be possessed individually and yet there is no charisma which can be conceived or operated but by individuals. (164)

However, the distinction between the individual and the community finds its proper solution in the category of personal existence.

… the paradox of the incorporation of the “many” into the “one” on which the eucharistic community, as we have seen, and perhaps the entire mystery of the Church are based can only be understood and explained in the categories of personal existence. The individual represents a category that presupposes separation and division. “Individuality makes its appearance by its differentiation from other individualities.” [Buber] The person represents a category that presupposes unity with other persons. The eucharistic community, and the Church in general, as a communion (koinonia) can only be understood in the categories of personal existence. (164-165)

This means that the “seal of the Holy Spirit” given at ordination can only exist in the context of the receiver’s existential relationship with the community. It is a “bond of love” and outside of the community it is destined to die.

It is in this light, also, that we must see the exclusive right of the bishop to ordain:

His exclusive right to ordain, in fact his whole existence as a bishop, makes no sense apart from his role as the one through whom all divisions, including those of orders, are transcended. His primary function is always to make the catholicity of the Church reveal itself in a certain place. For this he must himself be existentially related to a community. There is no ministry in the catholic Church that can exist in absoluto. (165-166)

Fifthly, this has implications for our understanding of apostolic succession which must necessarily be seen as involving not only a succession of bishops but also of their communities. The early Church not only insisted episcopal ordination occur within the eucharistic context, but also that it should state the place to which the bishop would be attached.

Moreover, the development of lists of bishops, and exclusively of bishops, in order to trace apostolic succession, together with the emergence of councils as an episcopal phenomenon, suggests

… that the idea behind them was grounded on a reality broader than the concern for proving the survival of orthodoxy, or to put it in other terms, that the concern for the survival of orthodoxy was not isolated from the broader reality of the Church’s life as a community headed by the bishop. The bishops as successors of the apostles were not perpetuators of ideas like the heads of philosophical schools, nor teacher in the same sense that presbyters were, but heads of communities whose entire life and thought they were supposed by their office to express. Their apostolic succession, therefore, should be viewed neither as a chain of individual acts of ordination nor as a transmission of truths but as a sign and an expression of the continuity of the Church’s historical life in its entirety, as was realized in each community. (167-168)

Apostolic succession therefore represents a sign of the historical dimension of the Church’s catholicity in which the charismatic and the historical are combined to transcend the divisions caused by time.

Thus the Church is revealed to be in time what she is eschatologically, namely a catholic Church which stands in history as a transcendence of all divisions into the unity of all in Christ through the Holy Spirit to the glory of God the Father. (169)

In this fourth and last subsection of chapter four of Being as Communion Metropolitan Zizioulas makes the following points that he suggests may be relevant to ecumenical discussions on catholicity.


The primary content of “catholicity” is not a moral but a Christological one. The Church is catholic, not because she is obedient to Christ, i.e. because she does certain things or behaves in a certain way. She is catholic first of all because she is the Body of Christ. Her catholicity depends not on herself but on Him. She is catholic because she is where Christ is. We cannot understand catholicity as an ecclesiological notion unless we understand it as a Christological reality. (158)

Such an understanding overcomes the problem of whether to view catholicity as a given reality or as a demand. Instead a eucharistic vision sees catholicity as a presence here and now, “so fully incarnate in history that the ontological and the ethical cease to claim priority over each other.” (159)

The Christological character of catholicity lies in the fact that the Church is catholic not as a community which aims at a certain ethical achievement (being open, serving the world, etc.) but as a community which experiences and reveals the unity of all creation insofar as this unity constitutes a reality in the person of Christ. To be sure, this experience and this revelation involve a certain catholic ethos. But there is no autonomous catholicity, no catholic ethos that can be understood in itself. It is Christ’s unity and it is His catholicity that the Church reveals in her being catholic. (159)

Secondly, revealing Christ’s whole Body in history involves encountering the demonic powers of division operative in history. Catholicity is not static but dynamic in its engagement with the anti-catholic powers of the world and requires a pneumatological dimension.

In the celebration of the eucharist, the Church very early realized that in order for the eucharistic community to become or reveal in itself the wholeness of the Body of Christ (a wholeness that would include not only humanity but the entire creation), the descent of the Holy Spirit upon this creation would be necessary. The offering up of the gifts and the whole community to the throne of God, the realization of the unity of the Body of Christ, was therefore preceded by the invocation of the Holy Spirit. (160)

The appearance of the Body of Christ in both the incarnational and ecclesiological senses is dependent on the action of the Holy Spirit. The eucharistic anamnesis that re-presents the Body of Christ depends constantly on the Holy Spirit.

This means not only that human attempts at “togetherness,” “openness,” etc., cannot constitute the catholicity of the Church, but that no plan for a progressive movement towards catholicity can be achieved on a purely historical and sociological level. The eucharistic community constitutes a sign of the fact that the eschaton can only break through history but never be identified with it. Its call to catholicity is a call not to a progressive conquest of the world but to a “kenotic” experience of the fight with the anticatholic demonic powers and a continuous dependence upon the Lord and His Spirit. A catholic Church in the world, cognizant as she may be of Christ’s victory over Satan, lives in humility and service and above all in constant prayer and worship. (161-162)

Thirdly, the ultimate essence of catholicity lies in transcending all divisions in Christ, including the dichotomies that have become part of Christian tradition but which are a betrayal of a catholic outlook, such as dichotomies between secular and sacred, and body and soul.

In such a catholic outlook the entire problem of the relationship of the Church to the world receives a different perspective. The separation and juxtaposition of the two can have no essential meaning because there is no point where the limits of the Church can be objectively and finally drawn. There is a constant interrelation between the Church and the world, the world being God’s creation and never ceasing to belong to Him and the Church being the community which through the descent of the Holy Spirit transcends in herself the world and offers it to God in the eucharist. (162)

To be continued…

The various local Churches had to wrestle – perhaps unconsciously – with the problem of the relationship between the “catholic Church” in the Episcopal community and the catholic Church in the world. The moment they would admit a supra-local structure over the local eucharistic community, be it a synod or another office, the eucharistic community would cease to be in itself and by virtue of its eucharistic nature a “catholic Church.” The moment, on the other hand, that they would allow each eucharistic community to close itself to the other communities either entirely (i.e. by creating a schism) or partially (i.e. by not allowing certain individual faithful from one community to communicate in another or by accepting to communion faithful excluded from it by their own community) they would betray the very eucharistic nature of their catholicity and the catholic character of the eucharist. The council was, therefore, an inevitable answer to this dilemma, and its genesis must be seen in the light of this situation. (156-157)

In this third subsection of chapter four of Being as Communion Zizioulas addresses the relationship between the local and the universal and argues that a eucharistic ecclesiology enabled the early Church to transcend the antithesis between the local and the universal, so that the term “catholic” could apply to both the local and the universal at the same time.

Each eucharistic community revealed the whole Christ and the whole Church in a particular concretisation. It revealed the eschatological unity of all in Christ. However, this necessarily applied to all the eucharistic communities and so “no mutual exclusion between the local and the universal was possible in a eucharistic context, but the one was automatically involved in the other.” (155) This relationship between the different eucharistic communities was expressed through the bishops who represented their own local Churches and who also shared in the episcopacy of their brother bishops.

The fact that in each episcopal ordination at least two or three bishops from the neighbouring churches ought to take part tied the episcopal office and with it the local eucharistic community in which the ordination to it took place with the rest of the eucharistic communities in the world in a fundamental way. This fact not only made it possible for each bishop to allow a visiting fellow-bishop to preside over his eucharistic community but must have been also one of the basic factors in the appearance of episcopal conciliarity. (155)

While the origins of conciliarity are obscure, they are clearly rooted in the search to explicate the implications of eucharistic communion. They represent “the most official negation of the division between local and universal, a negation which must be taken in all its implications.” (157)

The whole Christ, the catholic Church, was present and incarnate in each eucharistic community. Each eucharistic community was, therefore, in full unity with the rest by virtue not of an extended superimposed structure but of the whole Christ represented in each of them. The bishops as heads of these communities coming together in synods only expressed what Ignatius, in spite of – or perhaps because of – his eucharistic ecclesiology wrote once: “the bishops who are in the extremes of the earth are in the mind of Christ.” [Eph. 3,2] Thanks to a eucharistic vision of the “catholic Church” the problem of the relationship between the “one catholic Church in the world” and the “catholic Churches” in the various places was resolved apart from any consideration of the local Church as being incomplete or any scheme of priority of the one over the other, in the sense of a unity of identity. (157)

Certainly there was a basic difference in faith that distinguished Christians from their environment. But there was also a certain distinctiveness in the manner of their gathering together, which should not pass unnoticed. This distinctiveness lay in the composition of these gatherings. Whereas the Jews based the unity of their gatherings on race (or, in the later years, on a broader religious community based on this race) and the pagans with their collegia on profession, the Christians declared that in Christ “there is neither Jew nor Greek,” “male or female,” adult or child, rich or poor, master or slave, etc. To be sure the Christians themselves soon came to believe that they constituted a third race, but this was only to show that in fact it was a “non-racial race,” a people who, while claiming to be the true Israel, declared at the same time that they did not care about the difference between a Greek and a Jew once these were members of the Christian Church. (151)

In this second subsection of chapter four of Being as Communion Zizioulas addresses how the early Church’s understanding of catholicity was reflected in her structures. He notes that coming together in “brotherly love” was not a Christian innovation and was already found among both pagans and Jews. For the Christians, however, the Sunday synaxis would be the only one in a particular place and would thus include the “whole Church,” which transcended not only social but also natural divisions.

It is very significant that, unlike what the Churches do today in an age marked by a tragic loss of the primitive ecclesiology, there was never a celebration of the eucharist specially for children or for students, etc., nor a eucharist that could take place privately and individually. Such a thing would destroy precisely the catholic character of the eucharist which was leitourgia, i.e. a “public work” for all Christians of the same city… (151-152)

This catholicity was also reflected in the Church’s structure. The ordering of the Church in which the bishop occupies a central place and in which the different orders are given particular places is intended not to create division but rather to enable the “many” to be expressed through the “one”.

A fundamental function of this “one bishop” was to express in himself the “multitude” (poluplhqei/a) of the faithful in that place. He was the one who would offer the eucharist to God in the name of the Church, thus bringing up to the throne of God the whole Body of Christ. He was the one in whom the “many” united would become “one,” being brought back to him who had made them… (153)

However, both the bishop and the various orders in the Church were dependent on and emerged from the Eucharistic gathering and it is this that prevents them from becoming sources of division.

By restricting all such ordinations to the eucharistic community and making it an exclusive right of the bishop, not as an individual but as the head of this eucharistic community, to ordain, the early Church saved the catholic character of its entire structure. The bishop with his exclusive right of ordination and with the indispensable restriction of ordaining only in the eucharistic context took it upon himself to express the catholicity of his Church. But it was the eucharistic community and the place he occupied in its structure that justified this. (154)

In the first section of this fourth chapter of Being as Communion Zizioulas traces the relationship between the “one” and the “many” in the eucharistic consciousness of the early Church. This idea of the incorporation of the “many” into the “one” is developed by the Apostle Paul (especially in 1 Corinthians 10:16-17) but can be traced back to earlier ideas of the figure of the “Servant of God” and the “Son of Man”.

But what is significant for us here is that this idea was from the beginning connected with the eucharistic consciousness of the Church. Paul in writing these words to the Corinthians, was simply echoing a conviction apparently widely spread in the primitive Church. (146)

The connection between the Servant of God imagery and the Eucharist continues in I Clement and in the Didache, while the imagery of the Son of Man is further developed in the eucharistic consciousness of John’s gospel.

It is significant that Christ appears here as the Son of Man, and not in another capacity, as he identifies himself with “the true bread.” Hence the eating of this bread is called specifically the eating of “the flesh of the Son of Man” who takes into himself every one who eats this bread, thus fulfilling his role as the corporate Son of Man. (146-147)

The ecclesiological consequences of this can be seen in the sources of the first three centuries. The fact that the Church comes to be called an ecclesia indicates a gathering together in a dynamic sense. Moreover, this gathering constitutes it as the whole Church.

… in the literature of the first three centuries at least, the local Church, starting again with Paul, was called the e0kklhsi/a tou= qeou or the “whole Church” or even the kaqolikh\ e0kklhsi/a and this not unrelated to the concrete eucharistic community. As the ecclesiology of Ignatius of Antioch makes clear, even the context in which the term kaqolikh\ e0kklhsi/a appears is a eucharistic one, in which Ignatius’ main concern was the unity of the eucharistic community. Instead of trying, therefore, to find the meaning of the “catholic Church” in this Ignatian text in a contrast between the “local” and the “universal,” we would be more faithful to the sources if we saw it in the light of the entire Ignatian ecclesiology, according to which the eucharistic community is “exactly the same as” (this is the meaning I would give to w3sper  which connects the two in the Ignatian text) the whole Church united in Christ. (148-149)

In this context, then, catholicity simply means the whole, fullness and totality of the Body of Christ as portrayed in the eucharistic community.

… although the catholicity of the Church is ultimately an eschatological reality, its nature is revealed and realistically apprehended here and now in the eucharist. The eucharist understood primarily not as a thing and an objectified means of grace but as an act and a synaxis of the local Church, a “catholic” act of a “catholic Church”, can therefore be of importance in any attempt to understand the catholicity of the Church. (144-145)

Zizioulas opens the fourth chapter of Being as Communion, entitled “Eucharist and Catholicity”, by attempting to understand the catholicity of the Church in the light of the eucharistic community. For the early Christians, “catholicity” was not concerned with universality as it later came to be understood in the West (and in some ways also in the East), but was rather concerned with the catholicity of the local Church. They spoke of “catholic Churches” in the plural. This had to do with a concrete gathering together which identifies the whole Christ and the whole Church with the local episcopal community.

There was recently some rather stimulating discussion at Koinonia on the different place that asceticism has in Orthodox and Catholic life. A guest post by Chrys (see also the follow-up post by Father Gregory) argued that asceticism is a foundational element in Orthodox discipleship and that since “this understanding tends to be absent, forgotten, misunderstood or diminished in the West” it can therefore be difficult for Catholics and Protestants to understand. Ascetical discipline is “an integral part of the path to theosis” and the means by which we come to the self-knowledge that is necessary for “the ever-deepening conversion necessary for theosis.”

While I would like to think that the older monastic traditions in the West have more in common with the Orthodox perspective here, I could not help thinking that Chrys’ analysis was incisive and that it had important implications. This touches on various themes that I keep thinking that I want to come back to, some of which I hope to post more on although this will probably be in a less than entirely systematic way. As I stated in a comment,  while the reasons for this falling apart of the ascetical tradition in the West are complex, they include the loss of the body’s role as bearer of meaning, a juridically orientated understanding of salvation, the divorce between “mysticism” and ecclesial life and an increasingly institutional understanding of the Church, and probably also others. In any case, I have the impression that the penitential practices of the last few centuries had lost their connection with transformation and theosis, leading to a reaction that has made asceticism a dirty word in many Catholic circles. This is obviously wide-ranging terrain that requires further reflection.

For now I thought that it might be worth highlighting the foundational role that asceticism plays in the ontology of personhood that Zizioulas developed in the first chapter of  Being as Communion.  (See here for a detailed summary). This implies a radical denial of the tragic nature of death which must of necessity be rooted in God. While biological offspring can ensure the survival of the species they cannot ensure the continuation of the concrete person. This eternal survival of the person as a unique, unrepeatable ‘hypostasis’ constitutes the quintessence of salvation and theosis means coming to participate in God’s personal existence.

The goal of salvation is that the personal life which is realized in God should also be realized on the level of human existence. (50)

Zizioulas sees Christian life as conditioned by both the biological and the ecclesial hypostasis. The biological hypostasis is constituted by conception and birth. While not unrelated to love, eros and the body have a tragic aspect because they are interwoven with individuality and death and are therefore tied to an ontological necessity implied by natural instinct. To be freed from such necessity means not the destruction of eros and the body, but rather that they should be freed by receiving a new hypostasis, namely, the new birth of baptism. It is precisely this possibility that is offered to us in Christ, namely the realization in history of the very reality of the person.

Christology consequently is the proclamation to man that his nature can be ‘assumed’ and hypostasized in a manner free from the ontological necessity of his biological hypostasis… (56)

While it is precisely this new reality that is brought to birth in the Church and in the new relationships that it implies, the biological hypostasis does not cease to exist but continues to exist in a paradoxical relationship with the ecclesial hypostasis. The ecclesial hypostasis has a certain eschatological nature and this is seen especially in the celebration of the Eucharist “which has as its object man’s transcendence of his biological hypostasis and his becoming an authentic person.” (61)

This ecclesial hypostasis is therefore necessarily ascetical. This means that eros and the body are not to be denied, but rather to be hypostasised in such a way that they become freed from ontological necessity. While taking the tragic aspect of the biological hypostasis seriously, the eucharistic hypostasis is rooted ontologically in the future and receives its pledge from the resurrection of Christ.

In such a perspective asceticism is not simply a matter of spiritual discipline or individual penitential practice, but has a much more foundational role. It is the dynamic link, as it were, between what is and what is yet to come, a necessary ingredient in that which constitutes us as Church. And to disregard it raises questions not only about individual spiritual practice, but more fundamentally about our very understanding of life in Christ.

Zizioulas concludes chapter three of Being as Communion by making the following points:

1. Orthodox theology needs to work on the synthesis between Christology and Pneumatology, without which it is impossible to understand the Orthodox tradition itself or to be of help in ecumenical discussions.

2. Pneumatology needs to be constitutive of Christology and of ecclesiology. For this to happen the two ingredients of eschatology and communion are needed.

3. If the Church is constituted by these two aspects, then pyramidal notions disappear and the “one” and the “many” co-exist as two aspects of the same thing. This applies to both the universal and the local levels.

4. A “pneumatological conditioning of the being of the Church” can open ecclesial institutions to their eschatological perspective and prevent the danger of the “historization of its ecclesial institutions”. (139-140)

5. A pneumatological perspective sees the Church as constituted by the Spirit rather than simply instituted by Christ, something with profound implications:

The “institution” is something presented to us as a fact, more or less a fait-accomplit. As such, it is a provocation to our freedom. The “con-stitution” is something that involves us in its very being, something we accept freely, because we take part in its very emergence. Authority in the first case is something imposed on us, whereas in the latter it is something that springs from amongst us. If Pneumatology is assigned a constitutive role in ecclesiology, the entire issue of Amt und Geist, or of “institutionalism,” is affected. The notion of communion must be made to apply to the very ontology of the ecclesial institutions, not to their dynamism and efficacy alone. (140)

The question naturally arises as to what extent this is actually a reality in Orthodoxy. Zizioulas suggests that the fact that Orthodoxy has not experienced problems such as the clericalism, anti-institutionalism and Pentecostalism found in the West means that Pneumatology has for the most part saved the life of Orthodoxy. However, the actual situation does not do justice to the tradition: the synodical institutions no longer reflect the true balance between the “one” and the “many” and the number of titular bishops is increasing. The only level on which the proper balance is maintained is the liturgical, and it is perhaps this that has saved Orthodoxy. The question, however, is how long this will continue as Orthodoxy increasingly faces the problems common in the West.

He then turns to Vatican II and suggests that the Council’s rediscovery of the importance of the people of God and of the local Church was a hopeful sign for introducing the notion of communion into ecclesiology but that it did not go far enough.

What an Orthodox sharing the views of this exposé would like to be done – perhaps by a “Vatican III” – is to push the notion of communion to its ontological conclusions. We need an ontology of communion. We need to make communion condition the very being of the Church, not the well-being but the being of it. On the theological level this would mean assigning a constitutive role to Pneumatology, not one dependent on Christology. This Vatican II has not done, but its notion of communion can do. Perhaps it will transform the ecclesial institutions automatically. It will remove any pyramidal structure that may remain in the Church. And it may even place the stumbling block of ecclesial unity, the ministry of the Pope, in a more positive light. (141-142)

Being a continuation of the third section of chapter three of Being as Communion.

The third implication of the synthesis between Christology and Pneumatology for ecclesiology is seen at the local level in the relationship between the Bishop and the community. Here too communion is ontologically constitutive and the correct relationship between the “one” and the “many” must be maintained. It is a fundamental principle of Orthodox ecclesiology that the bishop cannot exist without the community and the community cannot exist without the bishop.

This principle is expressed in various ways. There is no ordination to the episcopate outside the community which makes the community constitutive of the Church. Likewise, there is no episcopacy without a community attached to it.

Here a detail must be stressed because it points to a peculiarity of Orthodoxy compared with Roman Catholic theology: the mention of the name of the community takes place in the prayer of ordination of a bishop. Since in the Orthodox Church there is no missio canonica or a distinction between potestas ordinis and potestas iurisdictionis, the fact that the community is mentioned in the prayer of ordination means that the community forms part of the ontology of episcopacy: there is no bishop, not even for a moment or theoretically, who is not conditioned by some community. The “many” condition ontologically the “one”. (137)

However, the opposite is also true, namely, that the “many” cannot exist without the “one”. This means that there is no baptism or ordination of any kind without the bishop, for “the bishop is the condition for the existence of the community and its charismatic life.” (137)

This mutual independence between the “one” and the “many” are dependent on the Eucharist, and the fourth implication of the synthesis is therefore the “iconic” character of the ecclesial institutions. Here communion is placed within the context of eschatology.

The eucharist, in the Orthodox understanding at least, is an eschatological event. In it, not only the “one” and the “many” co-exist and condition each other, but something more is indicated: the ecclesial institutions are reflections of the Kingdom … all ecclesial institutions must have some justification by reference to something ultimate and not simply to historical expedience. (138)

While there are ministries arising out of concrete historical situations, “History is never a sufficient justification for the existence of a certain ecclesial institution”, for

The Holy Spirit points beyond history – not, of course, against it, though it can and must often point against history as it actually is, through a prophetic function of the ministry. The ecclesial institutions by being eschatologically conditioned become sacramental in the sense of being placed in the dialectic between history and eschatology, between the already and the not yet. They lose therefore their self-sufficiency, their individualistic ontology, and exist epicletically, i.e. they depend for their efficacy constantly on prayer, the prayer of the community. It is not in history that the ecclesial institutions find their certainty (their validity) but in constant dependence on the Holy Spirit. This is what makes them “sacramental,” which in the language of Orthodox theology may be called “iconic.” (138)

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