“In the Eucharist the episcopal ministry finds its meaning”

Dear readers: I apologize for the long absence, brought on in part by the inability of anyone to comment on postings. I am praying that this gets cleared up soon. However, I have decided to begin posting again, regardless. Perhaps someone else will provide a link for comments? In any case, feel free to e-mail me your thoughts—if there are enough of them, perhaps I’ll post them as a separate entry.I return with a quotation from the late Fr. John Meyendorff. It seems germane both to what I will be writing soon and to Certain Discussions taking place on Another Blog.

UPDATE: Comments are now back! All hail Mike the Tech Elf!)

The aim of the Incarnation of the Son of God and the very purpose of His teaching, death, and resurrection was to establish between God and man a new relation, a new unity: “The glory which Thou hast given Me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and Thou in me, that they may be perfectly one, so that world may know that Thou hast sent me” (John 17:22-23). Unity with God supposes also unity among men, a unity which is described here by Christ Himself as visible to the world and as a wintess concerning His own mission. It is by seeing the unity that Christians have among themselvess that the world “knows” and “believes.” This unity is not, therefore, only a spiritual and invisible reality, but it appears in the concrete, visible life of the Church. Without Christ’s unity, Christians cannot truly fulfill their call, because the world cannot see in them the new life given in Christ.

This is the reason why, at the very origin of the Chruch, “all who believed were together and had all things in common” (Acts 2:44). Christians gathered together regularly for the celebration of the Lord’s Supper and nothing—not even the Roman persecutions—could prevent them from holding their assemblies, because the very nature of their faith implied that God abided not in each of them individually, but in the entire Church, the Body of Christ. Only by being a member of this body could the individual also be a member of Christ. Early Christians considered each church assembly, held in the name of Christ, that is, in unity and love, as witness of Christ’s victory over human egoism, selfishness, and sin. A first-century Father, St. Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, wrote in a letter to the Church of Ephesus: “Be zealous to assemble more frequently to render thanks [eucharistein: “to celebrate the eucharist”] and praise to God. For when you meet together frequently, the powers of Satan are destroyed and danger from him is dissolved in the harmony of your faith.”

No other passage of early Christian literature gives a clearer indication of the very mystery of the Christian Church: by the power of the Holy Spirit, scattered and separated human beings are able to become, when they gather, a powerful and victorious transfigured reality: “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Mt 18:20). This real presence of God in the assembly of the Church makes it possible for various Christians ministries to be really Christ’s mysteries, and this applies, first of all, to the episcopal function. Every Christian community is manifesting the Body of Christ in its fullness since this Body cannot be divided: “Where Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.” (St Ignatius, Letter to the Smyneans 8 ) The function of the bishop is to fulfill in the assembly the ministry of the Head, to sit where Christ sat among His disciples, to teach what He taught, to be the shepherd and the high priest. “Let all follow the bishop,” St. Ignatius writes, “as Jesus Christ did the Father, and priests, as you would the apostles . . . Let that Eucharist be held valid which is offered by the bishop or by one to whom the bishop has committed to this charge. Wherever the bishop appears, there let the people be.” There is no Church without the bishop, but the reverse is also true, there is no bishop outside of the Church, since the head needs a body to fulfill its function. In the views of St. Ignatius, which are confirmed by the entire Tradition of the Church, it is in the Eucharist that the divinely instituted episcopal ministry finds its real meaning. However, the Eucharist is the sacrament of unity with God and of our unity in Christ among ourselves. The bishop stands at the very center of this mystery. His sacramental functions in the eucharistic liturgy are also expressed in his pastoral responsibilities which oblige him to assure, in the practical life of the Church, the unity given sacramentally by God in the Eucharist. His ministry is, therefore, one of reconciliation and unity.

— from “One Bishop in One City” in Catholicity and the Church, Fr. John Meyendorff (SVS 1983)


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