Dumitru Stăniloae: The Theological Foundations of Hierarchy and Synodality

Romanian original here, first published in Studii Teologice 22.3-4 (1970), 165-178.

Hierarchy and synodality in the Orthodox Church implies in itself three principles: the principle of communion, which is the general principle of the Church’s entire life and from which her leadership cannot deviate; the principle of the transcendental origin of her services, by which she is distinguished within ecclesiastical communion as a distinct communion; and the principle of complementarity between the synodal, hierarchical leadership and the people of the Church. Each of these principles has different dogmatic foundations.

1. We find the principle of communion at all levels of existence, from God to the last creature.

The model and source of all communion is God in Trinity. The communion in God is perfect. It shows us that true knowledge and spirituality only exists in communion. This is because without communion love does not exist and without love there neither exists knowledge nor spirituality. It is only through love that a subject penetrates into another subject or opens itself to it. It is only in love that the heights or depths of the being hidden in the subject are reached and every subject is enriched from the life of the other subjects in harmony with them. Therefore, in perfect Trinitarian communion there is one wisdom, one will, one being and one power. The Holy Trinity as the principle of unity is not a single person, but a communion or principle of love.

Man is also created in communion after the model of the Holy Trinity. Saint Gregory of Nyssa says, “The image of God is not in a part of [human] nature, nor is this grace in any humans seen in themselves, but rather this grace runs throughout the entire human race. So all human nature which goes from the first man to the last is a single image of Him who is above.” (PG XLIV 135)

The philosophy of the past half-century has highlighted the fact that man cannot have consciousness of his own ego except in relation to a “thou.” But it should also be pointed out that we cannot be “I” and “thou” without a content of shared concerns and indeed, the most precious concern is a third subject. And into the category of the third enters all persons who are not in the momentary relationship of “I-thou”. Conjugation necessarily has three persons: I-thou-he/she. No more, no less. Man does not discover himself on his own, but in the measure in which he discovers other humans. We generally speak of the period that began with the Renaissance as of a period of the discovery of man. Until about our own time, however, man has only discovered himself. For this reason, it was possible for some merchants on other continents to only discover the geographical spaces and riches of those continents, not the peoples there. The discovery of man in the period that followed the Renaissance was a discovery of man as an individual, but this is not the whole man. Only in the communion “I-thou-he/she” does man discover himself entirely, because he discovers himself as a subject endowed with the attributes of responsibility, because he discovers the equal value of man in all persons.

No person exists apart from ontological-dialogical bonds with other persons. No person can truly be realized without activating this bond within a real communion. Their person is by definition a subject of communion. It must commune with other persons and it must receive communion from other persons. It cannot intellectually and morally realize itself except in communion. And in true communion a person does not put the other in a position of inferiority. True communion is realized between partners who consider themselves equal. All conflicts between people come about because of the fact that they do not treat each other reciprocally in the bonds between themselves as equal subjects.

The bond of communion, inscribed in human nature through creation by virtue virtue of the fact that it is made according to the image of God, is restored in those who are united by faith in Christ as they become His body. The Holy Apostle Paul insisted on the unity of body enjoyed by those who are in Christ. To the Corinthians, who had split among themselves, the Holy Apostle Paul asked, “Is Christ divided?” (1 Corinthians 1:13)

Unity of faith and Eucharistic communion with Jesus Christ plays an important role in the coming together of believers in Christ. The Holy Apostle Paul connected the coming together of believers in Christ in unity of body to the idea that through this Divine Logos who became incarnate, He began to bring back together in Himself the creatures who had been divided by sin and had departed from the Logos. Christ came to bring all back together, to recapitulate them in Himself (1 Corinthians 16:20). Some Fathers saw the primordial unity of things in the Logos as having a basis in the eternal unity of their intellects in the divine Logos (Maximus the Confessor).

In general, the Eastern Fathers, resuming the idea of the unity of body that Christians constitute in Christ, emphasize the role of the Holy Spirit in realizing this unity. According to them, through the Spirit of Christ, the Church receives being and is sustained as the mystical body of the Lord, communion or ecclesiastical catholicity. Saint Gregory of Nazianzus and Saint Gregory of Nyssa attribute to the Holy Spirit the fact that the basis is laid at at Pentecost for understanding or a common mind among the believers of different tongues who make up the Church. The former says, “For they are all brought together by the same Spirit in a unitary harmony, since He put the same understanding in many.” The Holy Spirit is the “Spirit of communion.” That is, of the unity of the whole, in which the members do not merge into one. Catholicity can also be understood as communion; it is not only a unity as such, but a special form of unity. There exists a unity of the whole in which the different parts can no longer be differentiated, distinguished; then there exists the unity of a group, which is held in place by an exterior command; finally, there exists the unity of some objects of the same type, juxtaposed. Catholicity differs from unity as such, since it is a special form of it: it is a unity of communion. Unity of communion is the only unity that can be reconciled with the personal dignity of those who are united, the only one in which no person is subject to another, and the only one in which the institution is not seen as “extra-personal” or “super-personal” and thus threatening the person. In the unity of communion, the persons are brought together precisely in their equality and freedom; in it, the institution is the expression of communion: in the unity of communion, the structures are simple communions of persons with identical services.

2. But the synodality of the hierarchy is not based only on the principle of communion. If it were only based on this principle, it would not be distinguished as an organ with a distinct ministry in the Church.

The synodality of the hierarchy represents the communion of the persons endowed with a special ministry in the Church. This ministry has a threefold character. It consists of the unchanged proclamation of Christ’s teaching, the sanctification of believers and their pastoral guidance toward perfection in God. These correspond to the three ministries of the Savior. But these three ministries are so integral, so undivided among themselves, that they accomplish a single work. This work is often called by the general name of the sanctification of the believers but it should be understood as being realized by purification and perfection, or by their resembling and uniting with God. That is, by their sharing more and more fully with Him.

The unchanged proclamation of Christ’s dogma and the leading of believers along the path of salvation towards perfection in God are part of this activity of progressively sanctifying them. For dogma is not shared out of theoretical interest and pastoral guidance does not consist of a simple exercise of power without purpose, but rather both serve the progressive perfection or sanctification of believers.

According to the author of the areopagitical writings, the angelic host also fulfills such a ministry of deification with regard to the lower hosts. Into this work comes not only purification, which could be called sanctification in a narrow sense, but also illumination and perfection. Even purification is a purification of ignorance in the angelic world, since it also implies such an effect on the human plane.

In general, knowledge about God is not shared without a connection to the mysteries are not without an illuminating influence on believers. In the Church, knowledge is given before receiving the mysteries, so that people may receive them with faith, and after receiving the mysteries, so that they understand the graces received. One who feels urged by the previous word to receive a mystery does not feel this urge without the work of the Holy Spirit. I have seen that Saint Gregory of Nazianzus says that at Pentecost the crowd gathered around the Apostles was led by the Spirit to the same thought, which was first of all the thought of seeking baptism.

The separation of the work of illumination from the work of sanctification and perfection is the product of a later understanding that separated the intellect from feeling and will, which no longer saw man as a whole.

In the biblical and patristic understanding, ignorance and knowledge have ethical implications. Implicated in ignorance is a will not to seek and admit the truth. Implicated in knowledge is a will to seek it and admit it. Through knowledge, a unity between humans and God is realized. But it is a grace for you to be able to overcome your pride to unite in thought with others. The degree to which illumination is tied to the action of sanctification through sacraments has been shown by the Church since the beginning, by calling what is given at baptism “illumination” or by the name of “the illuminated” given to those baptized. Until today, the Church considers one coming for Baptism to be “coming to holy illumination.” Moreover, the Holy Apostle Paul even says that Christ “sanctifies and cleanses His Church with the washing of water by the word” (Ephesians 5:26). He also says that “every creature is sanctified by the word of God and prayer” (1 Timothy 4:5). Even the Savior tied sanctification to knowledge of the truth: “Sanctify them by Your truth” (John 17:17). This shows that the true activity of illumination cannot be separated from the activity of sanctification or of purification and perfection in God. As a result, hierarchical persons, who have received through ordination the mission of sanctifying the faithful, have also received the ministry of illumination through the word. The ministry of illumination cannot be taken from the persons who have received the ministry of sanctification, nor can it be received by any person separately from the ministry of sanctification.

But apart from this characteristic of the ministry of sanctification to include in itself the other two ministries (that of illumination and that of pastoral guidance), the ministry of sanctification has two further features. The first feature is that the power of sanctification comes from above. Humans cannot be sanctified by their own power. It has its origins in diving transcendence, more precisely in Jesus Christ. Christ gave Himself for His Church, in order to sanctify her (Ephesians 5:26). “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely” (1 Thessalonians 5:23). “Both He who sanctifies and those who are being sanctified are all of one” (Hebrews 2:11). “Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered outside the gate” (Hebrews 13:12).

The fact that the work of sanctification and of resembling God comes from above is realized by the fact that people receive this work through mysteries performed by persons who belong to a hierarchical grade superior to their own grade, while these persons receive this ministry of transmitting power from above through a special mystery. These persons must first have received from above everything that they transmit, in addition to their designation as transmitters of the gifts from above. They must be instituted through a special mystery as transmitting organs of the graces that are not from them, but from above.

The author of the areopagitical writings presents the entire work by which humans are made to more and more resemble God as their partaking in the light and power that spreads from God through the hierarchy “which makes perfect with holiness the mysteries of its own illumination.” But this “own illumination” cannot be given to people belonging to the hierarchy. Since it cannot come from below, from the believing people, it must come to them from above, from God in a special act of consecration. Priests and bishops show that the power of sanctification comes from above, both by the fact that sacramental acts are ordained from above and by the fact that they perform them on the basis of their being designated for this service from above, or from Christ. Priests and bishops do not receive this ministry from the community, nor do they receive it from themselves. “No man takes this honor to himself, but he who is called by God, just as Aaron was,” it says in the Epistle to the Hebrews (5:4). Divine transcendence works through their sanctifying acts. They are ministering organs of divine transcendence. They have the mission of lifting up believers to God. But they cannot do this by human power, but by the power which, communicated from above, makes humans resemble God more. This characteristic of the ministry of sanctification in the Church distinguishes the persons who fulfill it from other persons through an act of dispensation from above for this ministry; it distinguishes them as a tagma of persons with a special consecration.

But the persons who fulfill this ministry are also themselves in a communion. This action of sanctification, and also that of illumination and pastoral guidance, in the Church cannot be performed by a person who is not in communion with the other persons entrusted by God with the same ministry. No one in the Church can escape the law of communion. It is a law of human life and all the more so a law of life in Christ. These persons cannot escape the law of communion, given that they all participate in the same priestly or sanctifying ministries of Christ. Then, because their own ministry is dedicated to bringing all together in the Same Christ and to the strengthening of communion, if they do not have it, they cannot communicate it to any believers. The author of the areopagitical writings emphasizes the unifying purpose of knowledge of God and above all of the work of sanctification and deification of believers.

The unifying power of the hierarchy’s ministry of illumination is explained by the fact that through it, believers are continuously filled with the love of God. From this also comes the sanctifying role of knowledge of God. But if, through its work, the hierarchy must lead believers to ever greater love, to ever more unity or communion with God and among themselves, and if it can only give what it itself first has, then the hierarchy must itself also be full of the spirit of love or communion.

It is true that the priest alone performs his sanctifying ministry in the parish and so the faithful relate to him as to a unique minister of their sanctification. But the priest performs his ministry and the faithful all refer to him because he is in a communion with the other priests of the eparchy, sharing the same priesthood of Christ. It is true that in the eparchy the bishop alone performs the act of consecrating the subordinate priests. But the bishop performs his act of consecrating the priests and the priests refer to him as their unique center because he is in communion with the other bishops, being part of the same high priesthood of Christ. The sanctifying ministry of the priest and the sanctifying ministry of the bishop are performed in solidarity with the sanctifying ministry of all priests, and respectively of all bishops, because in all of them is active the same sanctifying power of Christ the High Priest. No priest or bishop is apart from this communion in his sanctifying activities. Behind them stands the communion of all priests and above the communion of all bishops and, as we shall see, the catholicity of the Church. Even Christ the Head is in communion with the Father and the Holy Spirit and He leads the Church in communion with Them.

The reality of this communion is seen in the bishop’s ordination. Given that above the bishop there is no higher level of ordination, he is ordained by two or more bishops who represent the episcopal synodality within a local or autocephalous Church, as the highest communion in the local Church. The leader of each local or autocephalous Church communicates, after his enthronement, the news of his enthronement to all the leaders of the autocephalous churches, further and concretely extending the communion between the synods of the local Churches. In episcopal synodality are concentrated both the principle of communion and the transcendent origin of sanctifying activity in the Church. Synodality shows that there exists no sanctification or perfection outside communion. Since, however, there does not exist anything higher than episcopal synodality, the sanctification of transcendental origin at the episcopal level can only come through the highest organ of the holy things, which is episcopal communion or synodality itself.

Episcopal synodality itself has two levels. One is that of the local Church, the other that of the universal Church. The local Church’s synodality is manifested in the synod of the respective Church. The universal Church’s synodality is manifested in the ecumenical Council, but also in the communion between the synods of the local Churches. Episcopal communion or synodality, as an essential coordinate of the highest action of sanctification, as well as that of proclaiming the unchanged teaching of Christ, requires that the necessities of the organized activities of synodality be performed by a president (proiestos), who does not depart from the order of communion and does not diminish the supreme sanctifying power of the highest communion in the Church– that is, that of episcopal synodality in one of its components, the formulation of dogma. From the very beginning, the Church protected herself against the danger that such a president might attempt to elevate himself above the universal episcopal communion as the supreme organ of sanctification or of guidance and teaching in the Church through the distinction that she made between the hierarchical levels jure divino [‘by divine law’] and iure ecclesiastico [by ecclesiastical law]. Priests and bishops are levels of ordination jure divino; protopriests, archbpriests, metropolitans and patriarchs are levels jure ecclesiastico. The latter only have a presiding role, which does not remove them from communion with the brothers of the priesthood or episcopacy and, in the special case of universal and episcopal synodality, it does not bring this communion or synodality down from its supreme position, to a level of second rank or total dependence.

The necessity of synodality as the coordinate of the ministry of sanctification at all levels is also shown in the East by the vision of the areopagitical writings with regard to the sanctifying activity of the angelic order, a model of the activity of sanctification in the Church. The angels at higher levels sanctify those of lower levels, remaining in their host. All the way up to the cherubim, the angelic ranks are arranged by host, not according to individual angels. Not even God is apart from the order of communion.

3. We now come to the third principle of episcopal synodality, its complementarity with the communion of the believing people.

The ministry of sanctification distinguishes synodality as hierarchical communion. Namely, it distinguishes synodality from the Church’s general communion, but it does not separate it from it. We are not even dealing with two parallel communions or with one communion that works alone above the other communion. Episcopal communion or synodality is framed as a specific difference within the wider category of ecclesiastical communion. It is like a narrower circle within a wider circle, but at the same time an open circle within the wider circle. It must aid the development of the general communion. It is like a lung in the organism of the Church: necessary for the organism, but sustained by it. Only the inner bond within the communion or the episcopal synodality and the wider communion of the Church causes the Church to be reflected in Synod and for the communion between the local Churches themselves to be reflected in the communion between the local Synods.

The general ecclesiastical communion maintained by the Spirit of Christ fills all the constitutive organs of the Church, including the hierarchy, with its breath of life. The communion of the Church is a spirit of life, of reciprocal love, which also moves within the communion of the hierarchy. And the communion of the hierarchy extends its spirit throughout the entire ecclesiastical communion. The love that is manifested between hierarchs cannot be closed at the boundary of the hierarchy, nor can that between the faithful be closed at its boundary, since it is the same love. It passes from the hierarch to the people and vice versa, as between communicating vessels. The hierarchy is a pars in toto [a part within the whole] and not a pars pro toto [a part representing the whole]. Without love for the people and without the love of the people, priests and hierarchs are spiritually dead, without efficacy in their ministry.

The sanctifying activity of the hierarchy would remain without effect if it did not respond to the faithful’s effort to be sanctified, receiving with joy and using the significant power received from above, through the hierarchy’s sacramental acts, just as air would not be used by the body if the body did not absorb it through its lungs. The hierarchy’s preaching would not succeed in illuminating the faithful if they did not make the effort to understand, personally deepen, and to assimilate the truth proclaimed.

The activity of pastorally guiding the faithful toward perfection cannot be successfully accomplished without the faithful’s effort of self-perfection, in this effort they personally assimilate at the level that is given to each the truth, the counsel and the exhortation that is communicated to them. Priests and bishops help them through their pastoral care to adapt it to their personal conditions each time. But those who make these conditions known in dialogue with priests and bishops, those who live these conditions with all intensity, those who live vividly and fully from the internal illumination of matching counsels to their personal situation with an always personal and new dimension are the faithful.

It follows from all this that the faithful are not passive objects of the hierarchy’s sanctifying work, but rather its active collaborators. Moreover, there exists a reciprocal collaboration between the faithful and members of the hierarchy. The hierarchy not only teaches the faithful, but also learns from them. The general principles of the dogmas reveal their spiritual profundity and inexhaustible richness of senses, their limitless capacity to adapt to the infinitely variable situations of human life through each believer and the members of the hierarchy know it and use this input from the faithful. For a member of the hierarchy has the mission of proclaiming the points of dogma in their form of general principles, illuminated as much as possible by the spiritual experience of his singular person. But these points are filled with the general texture of the infinite blossoms of the personal understandings of all believers. Knowing this, the members of the hierarchy are themselves enriched with new understandings of the dogmas that they proclaim and make use of these new understandings in their subsequent preaching.

This is an example for the sacrifices and prayers of the faithful which are synthesized in the sacrifice of the community offered by the priest. The priest is the sacrificer in whom the faithful come together as sacrificers. He is the community’s sacrificer; he offers the prayers and sacrifices of the community. But the whole episcopate offers the sacrifice and prayers of the entire Church, preserving its character as the community’s sacrifice. The Holy Apostle Paul says in this sense that the Church is the “fullness” of Christ Himself (Ephesians 1:23). It is the fullness of Christ as archpriest and sanctifier. Therefore, if the members of the hierarchy are distinguished by sending what they have from above in order to perform the activity of sanctifying the faithful, concretely and internally, their act of sending is in keeping with the active role of the believing people, or their activity is completed by the activity of the believing people.

The members of the hierarchy have the official mission to proclaim the unchanged dogma, judging what they will say in the light of tradition and in accordance with the general principles of the dogma proclaimed throughout the Church. Lay believers deepen and nuance these principles in light of their individual experience or the experience of a smaller group, especially determined by their geography and history. Taking into account these experiences and understandings, the hierarchy has the mission to seek to articulate them in the general and fundamental principles of the Tradition or of the divine Revelation preserved by the Church until today, and through this to harmonize them among themselves.

From this point of view, the hierarchy is a representative of the one Church and of her Tradition of all times, of Christ’s true salvation, without with the sanctification and salvation of humankind cannot be realized. But this is precisely why the hierarchy is also the guarantor of the Church’s general communion or catholicity.

So it could be said that episcopal communion or synodality completes the communion of the ecclesiastical people and the latter in turn strengthens and sustains episcopal communion or synodality. The believing people gives life to the principles; the hierarchy maintains the unity of this life. There exists between them a reciprocal complementarity. The weakening of synodality weakens the spirit of communion in the believing people; the weakening of the people’s spirit of communion weakens synodality or episcopal communion.

The idea of complementarity between episcopal synodality and the wider ecclesiastical communion is also observed in the early Church in the fact that representatives of the clergy, monks and the believing people also participated in councils and their opinion was sought before adopting conciliar definitions. Moreover, each bishop only signed these definitions after being convinced that they correspond to the faith of his Church, which included both its clergy and believers and was connected to its apostolic Tradition. The definitive adoption of conciliar decisions by the entire Church was only made through what is called reception. The definition of dogma is not made by a bishop broken off from the Church, without taking the Church into account, but rather the Church herself is reflected in the episcopate gathered in council. Of course, the episcopate had the special mission to officially formulate what the Church in her entirety thinks; but the verification of its definitions as conforming to the mind of the Church took place through reception by the Church. The Holy Spirit guided bishops in formulating dogma, but dogma that belonged to the Church, which the same Holy Spirit preserves in the fullness of truth.

We said above that the hierarchy represents the coming down of the power of sanctification from above; it represents the transcendent origin of the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. Now we can add that the people’s effort to assimilate the action of sanctification from above is also due to a presence of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit sanctifies through the hierarchy, but the Holy Spirit also assimilates the sanctifying work by the people. Thus, in the sacrifices and prayers that it lifts up to God, the hierarchy also represents the people. But it represents it without dispensing with it. In the prayers and sacrifices that he offers, the priest also concretely gathers together the prayers and sacrifices of the people; in the general formulation of dogma, guided by the unifying spirit, the episcopate really gathers together the living understandings of the people which it attains under the guidance of the life-giving Spirit.

Thus, on the one hand, the hierarchy represents the Holy Spirit’s work from above and on the other hand, the work of the Spirit of the believing people, which of course is not found in a people without being preceded by a work from above. The hierarchy represents the work of the Spirit of the faithful people with its concrete manifestation through the people present, who pray, offer sacrifice, and strive to receive and assimilate the sanctifying gifts. In this way, the work of the people completes the work of the hierarchy, realizing together a single communion.

This complementarity is made concrete in the liturgy itself, especially in the liturgy of the ordination or enthronement of a bishop, when the communion of hierarchs representing the synod performs the liturgy in communion with the priests and the liturgy is completed by the active participation of the people, which gives the responses and partakes from the same chalice with the hierarchs and priests. In many Orthodox Churches, the quality of the hierarchy as representing on the one hand a divine transcendence and, on the other hand, the people in its real manifestation, is found in the fact that priests are chosen by the people and then ordained by the bishop and bishops are first chosen for ordination  by an electoral college whose members are not only bishops, but also representatives of the priesthood and people. The very ordination of a priest and of a bishop, although it is accomplished respectively by the laying on of hands and prayer of the bishop or a communion of bishops, takes place within the liturgy which cannot be performed without the participation and prayers of the believing people.

But the hierarchy also represents the people not only because the Holy Spirit is also at work in the people, but because the members of the hierarchy themselves also receive the gifts that the people receives, since they are a part of the organism of the Church. Saint John Chrysostom stressed the fact that in the Church, just as in a body, the different organs carry out special works, but these works are at the same time carried out with the help of the whole organism and for the benefit of the whole organism. The different organs thus communicate between themselves and with the same honor, with all the distinction between them. It must  be considered as paradoxical that the members are equal within organic unity precisely through their distinction. Saint John Chrysostom illustrates this fact with a concrete application, as he addresses precisely the least gifted and tells them not to envy the most gifted: “If you are troubled by this, think of the fact that your work cannot be carried out by that one. Even if you are smaller than him, you surpass him precisely in your smallness; if the other is greater than you, he is subordinate to you precisely in this; and through this equality is born.”

After the simple indication of this paradox, Saint John Chrysostom provides the following explanation: “The members’ equality of honor comes from the fact that they carry out a common work, that thus the little ones take part in the accomplishment of great things; equality in honor comes from the fact that the unitary value of the common work, which is carried out in common, radiates like a glow above all who have taken part in carrying it out, for in a body it is not possible to say that the smallest members carry out small things, if these contributions were missing, the great ones would be harmed. In truth, what is smaller in the whole body than hair? If, however, the hair of the eyebrows or the eyelashes is plucked out, the face’s whole beauty would be destroyed and the eye would no longer look as beautiful as before. Even though the damage would be small, it would still destroy the whole beauty; and not only the beauty, but also the right use of the eye.” This means that the unity of the organism is found in all the members and is sustained by all the members.

Then comes the conclusion, which crows St John Chrysostom’s explanation: “Because each of our members has both its own work and a common work; that is why there exists in us a beauty proper to out members and a common beauty.” Here lies the mystery of the whole and here also lies the mystery of the Church as a whole: in the common which binds all the members to each other, which radiates over all and which is served by all. Saint John Chrysostom speaks both about the particular function and about the role that each member plays within the whole, treating these two topics distinctly. This can be explained by the fact that the individual member itself can carry out its job only with the help of the whole; or, to put it better, the entire organism does its job through the respective member. In the Church, the work is performed by the one and the same Spirit, namely by every single believer. For precisely this reason, all the members are of the same worth, because whether a greater or lesser work is carried out by a particular member, this work is the work of the very same Spirit and of the whole organism and, in any case, it is of the same importance for the maintenance and flourishing of the organism. Therefore, do not say that a particular activity would be meaningless, but consider that it is fulfilled by a member of the same body; and just as the eyes contribute to it, so too does the other member, so that the body may truly be a body. For where the body is built, this is not due to one more than to the other, and the body is not put together on the basis of one being greater than the other, but because of the fact that there exist many different members. For as you participate in the building up of the body, because you are great, so too does the other because he is small. Thus his modest contribution to the building up of the body is just as valuable as your great contribution within this beautiful collaboration, since in both cases equal work is performed.”

Given that the whole is present and active in each member, “it seems that they would be separated; in fact, they are intertwined and by destroying one all the others are destroyed. For it appears: the eyes shine, the face laughs, the lips are red, the nose straight and the eyebrows arched; if, however, one of these members is destroyed, the whole beauty would be harmed and the other members would look sad, since everything that once looked beautiful looks ugly.”

The functions of the different members are also undivided. By this it is shown that the particular function of a member is in fact a function of the entire organism, a common function, which in a certain sense belongs to all the other members, since they sustain the function proper to it. “And if you want to see how the same thing happens with the functions, remove a finger and you will see that all the others are less quick at their work and they will not carry it out as before. If, then, the injury of one member leads to general ugliness and if its good state conditions the general beauty, then we should not be upset at our neighbor, since through every small member the great one is kept beautiful and comely and the small eyelashes make the great eye beautiful. So if someone fights against his brother, he fights against himself and the damage does not stop at the brother, but he himself will suffer no little damage… We want to apply this image of the body to the Church and take care for each of her members.”

The general content of these explanations of Saint John Chrysostom is therefore the presence and work of the whole in every single member. This whole (“olon”) is in our case the Church. It is this that causes each member to carry out his work, particularly so that this work also represents a common work; thus, a work of the Church for the good of the Church. This feature of the Church’s unity is the consequence of Holy Spirit’s presence so that in the end, it is He who, by distributing different gifts , makes sure that these gifts are in the service of the whole and only because of this whole do they become actualized, such that they in fact appear as common gifts.

In this unity of gifts and services in the Church, explained by the unity of the Church’s organism and by the unity of the Spirit within her, are also included the gifts of the hierarchy. But only in part. That is, only because they do not remain external to the other services and they cannot be be exercised without their being whole through the activation of all the gifts in the Church. But from another point of the the gifts and services of the hierarchy are distinct from all the other gifts and services because they represent the basis of the transcendent origin of all the others and thus active all the other gifts and services. If in the other gifts and services the Church is active by the Spirit which she has within her from before, in the gifts and services of the hierarchy the Spirit who continually comes to the Church is active; Who comes, of course, through the prayers of the Church, the hierarchy representing both the Church that asks for them and the coming down from above of these gifts in response to the request.

The complimentarity between the services of the hierarchy and all the other services in the Church is of a special character. This does not mean that the service of the hierarchy is a lesser service than that of the laity. From one point of view it must be a more accentuated service than the services of the latter; from it the services of the latter receive power. This is what the Savior says: “he who desires to be first, let him be the servant of all.” Christ is an example in this regard: “For the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve.” The image of the shepherd who carries the weak sheep on his back must not remain only a figure of speech. If people are led by the members of the hierarchy to resemble Christ who serves, the members of the hierarchy must be the greatest models of serving, organs through which Christ’s power of service is communicated. This also shows the communion that is realized between the members of the hierarchy and the laity.

The author of the areopagitical writings says that the host of the Dominions does not tyrannically dominate the lower host of the Powers, but rather the divine force by which it is drawn toward God becomes a force that draws the lower host to God. This is also applicable to the ecclesiastical hierarchy.

The hierarchy must be a transparent medium through which the Church’s members experience the power of God. It will be all the more transparent for the divine power the more it humbles itself, the more it is attenuated as a distinct experience of the divine. “For when I am weak, then I am strong,” says the Holy Apostle Paul (2 Corinthians 12:10). “For the power of God is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). It is not the weakness of sin, but of recognizing one’s own powerlessness and God’s immeasurable power at work through this powerlessness.

But the members of the hierarchy are part of the general communion of the Church not only by virtue of this special sort of complementarity with the lay members of the Church, but also by virtue of the fact that they themselves are members of the Church who are in need of salvation, who make efforts for their own sanctification and perfection. Even through this they draw the others toward God. They do not perform the Eucharist only for the other believers, but rather they themselves partake; they not only receive the confession of sins and give absolution for sins, but they also confess themselves to other priests or bishops and receive absolution for sins.

Gathering together at the liturgy the sacrifices of the believers alongside Christ’s sacrifice, he also adds to theirs. He not only prays for the faithful, but does so for them in the first person plural: “and for all of us who share in one bread and one cup, may we be united to one another by sharing in the same Holy Spirit” (Prayers after Holy Communion).

The priest and bishop preach not only to the faithful exhort not only the faithful, but also preach to and exhort themselves. But they especially listen to the preaching and exhortation of other priests and bishops. They also speak about God to the believers as to brothers, not only as to spiritual children. “I will declare Your name to My brethren; In the midst of the assembly I will praise You” (Psalm 22:22). These words are also said by the Savior.

In general, the Savior, by becoming human, also offered sacrifice for Himself to God the Father and sat among those listening and praying: “in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and was heard because of His godly fear” (Hebrews 5:7). Jesus is an example for the members of the hierarchy in this regard.

Thus, in the person of the members of the hierarchy, the representation of the divine transcendence and the representation of the ecclesiastical people are combined. They work for the salvation of the faithful, but just like the faithful and in communion with the faithful, they also work for their own salvation. The hierarchy is the lung of the organism, which receives heavenly air for the entire organism, but also for itself.

%d bloggers like this:
search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close