Ministry


“Even so let your light shine before other, in order that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” That is to say, so shine and teach, not only that people may hear your words but also that they may see your good works. Let those you illumine by the light of your words be seasoned by the salt of your works. For the one who teaches and practices what he teaches, teaches truly. But one who does not practice what he teaches does not teach anyone but casts a bad light on himself. And it is better to practice and not to teach than to teach and not to practice. Because one who practices, though he may keep silent, corrects some people by his example. But one who teaches and does not practice not only corrects no one but even scandalizes many. For who is not tempted to sin when he sees the teachers of goodness committing sins? Therefore the Lord is magnified through those teachers who teach and practice. He is blasphemed through those who teach and do not practice. …

The church leader should be equipped with all the virtues. He should be poor, so that he can chastise greed with a free voice. He should always be someone who sighs at inordinate pleasure, whether in himself or in others. He is ready to confront those who do not hesitate before they sin and those who do not feel sorry for having sinned after they sin. So let him sigh and lament. Let him show thereby that this world is difficult and dangerous for the faithful. He should be somebody who hungers and thirsts for justice, so that he might have the strength confidently to arouse by God’s Word those who are lazy in good works. He knows how to use the whip of rebuke, but more by his example than by his voice. He should be gentle. He rules the church more by mercy than by punishment. He desires more to be loved than feared. He should be merciful to others but severe with himself. He sets on the scales a heavy weight of justice for himself but for others a light weight. He should be pure of heart. He does not entangle himself in earthly affairs, but more so he does not even think of them.

Anonymous, Incomplete Work on Matthew, Homily 10, quoted in Manlio Simonetti (ed), Matthew 1-13 (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture), 95.

This is probably stating the obvious, but I was suddenly struck today by the realisation that the true mark of maturity is a genuine humility. The humble person is not necessarily “right” in every instance, but he or she is fundamentally trustworthy.

Needless to say, I am talking about true humility, of people who are secure enough in who they are before God that they are able to admit to their own failures, ignorance and weakness. And then I wonder whether the expectations that we have of religious leaders do not militate against a growth in such humility – perhaps that is why the desert fathers counselled their monks to flee bishops (i.e. ordination) – thereby undermining their ability to radiate a true authority. For the authority of the truly humble is somehow self-authenticating and, at least in my experience, also enables others to begin to grasp something of the truth about themselves.

And I also wonder whether, at least for most of us, growth in such humility only comes with age and hard experience? It is probably not for nothing that Orthodoxy ascribes a particular role to the elders, however much I may dislike the romanticism with which that term is sometimes used!

In a recent post Joe Koczera discussed some of the issues involved in wearing clerical dress. That – and the related subject of religious or monastic dress – is a subject that I don’t intend getting into now, except to say that it is a complex issue and that I found Joe’s treatment of it provided a balanced and nuanced approach that is often lacking from online discussions. I may as well admit that if there is one thing that irritates me about some online discussions between Orthodox and Catholics, it is when both unite in demonising Catholic religious who do not wear habits!

But this post is not about whether clergy or religious should wear a distinctive dress. Rather, what struck me was my own response to the photo on his post of a priest (okay, I suppose that it could have been a brother or Jesuit scholastic) in black with a clerical collar. And I must confess that that image triggered all sort of negative anti-clerical associations in me. I know that that is what Jesuits wear if they’re going to wear something distinctive, but my own reactions clearly came from somewhere less than entirely rational. It’s rather strange: I suspect that I would react negatively to images of Benedictines who were not in habit, whereas I tend to react negatively to an image of Jesuits in clerics. That no doubt has something to do both with my experience of Catholic monasticism and dress, but also with my (positive) experience of Jesuits whom I very rarely saw in clerics, and with the assoication of the collar not with religious life but rather with priesthood. When it comes to Orthodox priests, I would probably not respond strongly one way or another, although I suspect that I’d prefer a cassock to a Roman collar and think that I’d be rather shocked to find Orthodox monastics who are not in monastic dress. But this is all rather subjective and fed by multiple factors.

Underlying this, of course, and here I am getting to the point of this post, is a sort of residual anti-clericalism in which clerical dress carries certain connotations, at least for me but I suspect also for some others, of a clerical caste that is set apart and viewed as ontologically distinct (in current Catholic teaching) from the rest of the Church. And I suspect that many of us in the West react to this, but in so reacting we tend to get things rather confused.

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He who ministers to many wounded persons, wiping away the matter from their wounds and applying mendicants appropriate to the particular injury involved, does not find a motive for pride in his ministrations, but rather for humility, anxiety, and energetic action. Far more thoughtful and solicitous ought he be who, as the servant of all and as being himself liable to an account on their behalf, performs the office of curing the spiritual weakness of his brethren. In this manner he will fulfil the aim which the Lord had in mind when He said: ‘If any man desire to be first, he shall be the last of all and the minister of all.’

Saint Basil the Great, “The Long Rules,” 30, in Saint Basil. Ascetical Works. Translated by Sister M. Monica Wagner, C.S.C. (New York: Fathers of the Church, Inc., 1950), 293-294.

Father Alexander Schmemann continues this sixth chapter of The Eucharist Sacrament of the Kingdom: Sacrament of the Kingdomby arguing that it is not the order of the proskomidē that stands in need of cleansing, but rather our understanding of it, and in particular, our understanding of commemoration. Far from being something individual or utilitarian, its meaning is to be found

in referring all of us together and each of us individually to the sacrifice of Christ, in the gathering and formation of the new creation around the Lamb of God. In this is the power and joy of this commemoration, that in it is overcome the partition between the living and the dead, between the earthly and the heavenly Church … in taking out particles and pronouncing names, we are caring not simply for the “health” of ourselves or certain of our neighbours, nor for the fate of the dead “beyond the grave”; we offer and return them to God as a “living and well-pleasing” sacrifice in order to make them participants in the “inexhaustible life” of the kingdom of God. (112)

This offering is real because Christ has already made it his own and it therefore ends with a joyful confession and affirmation.

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In the fifth and last subsection of this sixth chapter of Being as Communion, Zizioulas turns his attention to whether we can speak of the validity of ministry and the implications that this has for the relations between Christian communities, and especially for the relations between those who have an episcopate and those who do not. He points out that “validity” is a juridical term that suggests that ministry can be isolated from the rest of ecclesiology and that it appeals to “objective criteria” such as “faith” or “historical apostolic succession” that originally formed part of an organic community, and that

Their meaning, therefore, depends constantly on their natural context, which is the community. We have seen, for example, how this is the case with apostolic succession. The same must be remembered with regard to “faith”:  the “symbols” or “confessions” of faith were not in the early Church autonomous statements, as they are today in dogmatic manuals, but integral parts of the life and especially the worship of the community; they started as baptismal creeds and were adopted and used again as confessions for baptismal and eucharistic use. The great methodological error in the classical theories of “validity” therefore is that they tend to go to the unity of the community via these criteria, as if the latter could be conceived before and regardless of the community itself. (243)

Instead of seeing a ministry as validated by isolated and objectified “norms” we should rather see the community as validating this ministry. While this will eventually lead to “criteria,” these should be seen as arising out of the community. This means that the question becomes one of the recognition of communities and “the way in which a community relates itself to God, to the world and to other communities.” (244) While the forms of ministry may vary, the structure of the community implies something permament.

Just as the baptismal structure of the community is not basically changed by this conditioning, so in the same way the eucharistic structure must be understood as implying something permanent, its permanence being dictated precisely by its existential and eschatological nature. Similarly, it is not possible to avoid structures that express in a relational existential and eschatological way the identity of each community with those of the past, especially with the original apostolic communities, and with those of the present, implying a constant openness to the future. To take an example, the real issue between the episcopally and the non-episcopally structured communities of today would become in this approach whether or not episcopacy is essential to the Church’s proper relation with God and the world, i.e. whether or not a community with episcopacy can feel and existential identity with a community which has no episcopacy. It is in this sense that recognizing a ministry is a matter of recognizing a community. (245)

Seen in this context, the recognition of orders cannot be seen as a matter of “economy” as is often done by Orthodox theologians, for “‘validity’ is not something to be graciously, as it were, granted by one who ‘has’ to one who ‘has not.'” (245) The Church cannot recognise a sacramental reality that does not exists, for the validity of ministry involves an existential rather than a juridical matter and is concerned with the fundamental relational nature of the Church rather than simply an arrangement.

Just as unus christianus nulla christianus, to remember the old Latin saying, in the same way a eucharistic community which deliberately lives in isolation from the rest of the communities is not an ecclesial community. This is what renders the Church “catholic” not only on the level of “here and now” but also on that of “everywhere and always.” The ministry of the Church must reflect this catholicity by being a unifying ministry both in time and space. The eucharistic nature of the ecclesial community points inevitably in this direction by opening up a particular community so that it relates to all other communities in spite of divisions caused by space and time. Thus the eucharist is offered not just on earth but before the very throne of God and with the company of all the saints, living and departed, as well as in the name of “the catholic Church in the world.”

John D. Zizioulas. Being as Communion. Studies in Personhood and the Church. London, DLT, 1985 (2004). 236-237.

In this fourth subsection of chapter six, the Metropolitan of Pergamon turns his attention to the ministry of unity in the Church and especially the importance of the bishop in this regard. While the local Church must necessarily be open to the universal, the unity of the universal Church cannot come from the unity of its individual members, for these members are not individuals but members of a local eucharistic community. The local Church must therefore have priority over the universal, and this leads to the importance of the role of the bishop as the visible centre of unity. His role has been expressed through both the understandings of apostolic succession and of conciliarity. Here Zizioulas returns to themes that he dealt with in the previous chapter, highlighting the importance of a proper understanding of these concepts.

With regard to apostolic succession, he states:

Apostolic succession has again become a problem in theology because of an approach to the ministry in terms of causality and objectified ontology. The bishop having acquired the status of an office, regardless of his position in the community, became in the theology of apostolic succession an individual who is linked with the apostles through a chain of individual ordinations, and who is thus transmitting to the other ministers below him grace and authority out of what he has received and possesses. This view was found by the Reformation tradition to involve a formalization of the ministry which was incompatible with the freedom of the Spirit. Thus either the “baby was thrown away with the bath-water” and the issue became one of “having” or “not having” apostolic succession, or else it was given meaning by making apostolic succession a matter of faithfulness to the truth. (238)

In contrast to such a view, Zizioulas sees apostolic succession as a succession of communities of which the bishops are the head. As evidence he cites the importance of naming this community in the very prayer of ordination so that this assignment is inherent in the ordination itself. This explains, also, the East’s refusal to distinguish between jurisdiction and ordination itself. Moreover, the fact that apostolic succession involved episcopal lists, whereas it was originally the presbyters who were considered as teachers, suggests that it was the bishop’s role as head of the community that was important.

In the same way, the development of the notion of conciliarity was rooted in the local community and in the relations between the different local communities which was orientated towards communion.

Most of the early councils, if not all or them, were concerned with eucharistic communion, mainly in the form of the problem of admitting persons excommunicated by one Church to communion in another, or with the restoration of broken eucharistic fellowship. All this shows that no local Church could be a Church unless it was open to communion with the rest of the Churches. Schism between two or more Churches was as intolerable as divisions within one community, and conciliarity was concerned with that more than anything else. (240-241)

Moreover, as he points out in a footnote,

All doctrinal decisions of the ancient Church ended with anathemas, i.e. excommunication from the eucharist. Eucharistic communion was the ultimate aim of doctrine, and not doctrine itself. (241, fn 102)

This involvement of the local community in the understanding of conciliarity is illustrated by the fact that only diocesan bishops, precisely because they are heads of communities, are allowed to vote synods, a practice that has been retained in the Orthodox Churches. It is also seen in the notion of reception by which a council only comes to be seen as authoritative when it is received by the communities. This is

not a juridical thing but a matter of charismatic recognition. It is for this reason that a true council becomes such only a posteriori; it is not an institution but an event in which the entire community participates and which shows whether or not its bishop has acted according to the charisma veritatis. (242)

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)

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…

… being a continuation of the second subsection of the sixth chapter of Being as Communion.

In insisting on the relational character of ministry, Zizioulas points out that this is not something abstract and logical, but has a deeply ontological and soteriological meaning. This means both that the act of dividing the community into ministries actually unites it and also that it is

an act by which the Church and, through her, mankind and creation are brought into the reconciling and saving relationship with God which has been realized in Christ. (220)

Thus the ministry renders the Church a relational reality. However, because this reality is realised within fallen existence and the presence of evil,

this relational nature of the Church is constantly revealed by way of a double movement: (i) as a baptismal movement which renders the Church a community existentially “dead to the world” and separated from it, and (ii) as a eucharistic movement which relates the world to God by “referring” it to God as anaphora and by bringing to it the blessings of God’s life and the taste of the Kingdom to come. It is this double movement of the Church’s relational nature that makes the ministry realize its relational character as a movement of the Church both ad intra and ad extra. (221)

Nevertheless it is the Church’s ministries ad intra that received priority and came to be seen as decisive very early on in the Church’s history and Zizioulas argues that we should view this development as positive rather than negative. However,

The tragedy with regard to this development lies in the fact that theology soon lost the proper perspective which is suggested by the organic like of these ministries [of laity, deacons, presbyters and bishop] within the structure of the eucharistic assembly, and thus, given other historical and theological factors, the view of these orders as relational realities making sense only in their interdependence in the community was replaced by an approach to them as individual offices, with all the well-known consequences for the history of the Church and of theology. (221-222)

If the relational character of these orders is recaptured, then this will affect two areas of theology:

(a) The distinctiveness and indispensability of each of the orders will become apparent.

The laity will thus become the laos who is gathered from the world to realize in the community of the Church the eschatological unity and salvation of the world in Christ. The deacons, whose existence causes so much embarrassment to the theology of the ministry precisely because their eucharistic role has been lost, will regain their profound significance as bearers of the world (in the form of the gifts and petitions of the faithful) to the head of the eucharistic community in order to bring them back again to the world (in the form of the Holy Communion) as a sign of the new creation which is realized in the communion with God’s life. The presbyters will become again the synedrion of the community portraying in liturgical as well as in actual terms the important and lost dimension of judgment with which the Church relates both ad intra and with the world. Finally, the bishop will cease to be everything and become the head of the community that unites it in itself and with other communities in time and space – a prerogative important enough to give him the place of the unique ordainer and all the high honor it implies,  yet always and only because of his relation to the community and in interdependence with the rest of the orders. (222-223)

(b) Such a relational view of ministry makes any resistance to an “institution” pointless.

Authority being tied up with a ministry understood as an objectified office and as potestas naturally becomes oppressive and provokes revolutionary reactions. On the other hand, in a relational view of the ministry, authority establishes itself as a demand of the relationship itself. Thus the Church becomes hierarchical in the sense in which the Holy Trinity is itself hierarchical: by reason of the specificity of relationship. (223)

Zizioulas then proceeds to consider the Church’s ministry ad extra. This existentially conditions the Church’s ontology and means that:

(a) There cannot be a separation between Church and world in the sense of a dichotomy, for

As it is revealed in the eucharistic nature of the Church, the world is assumed by the community and referred back to the Creator. In a eucharistic approach it is by being assumed that the world is judged, and not otherwise. (224)

(b) The only acceptable method of mission is an incarnational one in which the Church is existentially involved in the world.

The nature of mission is not to be found in the Church’s addressing the world but in its being fully in com-passion with it. (224)

(c) This ministry must be an organic part of a concrete local community and not vague ideas about mission, for

no form of such a ministry can exist without being organically related to the concrete eucharistic community. (225)

(d) The Church must always have a variety of ministries ad extra which correspond to the needs of time and place in which she exists, and for this reason they cannot become permanent ministries, unlike the ministries ad intra.

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