What is the first responsibility of a Bishop? To preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The Apostolic Mission of Bishops: A Short Reflection

By Bradley Nassif, Ph.D.

The purpose of this brief, and incomplete, reflection is to focus on the centrality of the gospel in the ministry of a bishop. It is not intended to promote a partisan perspective on any issue facing the contemporary Orthodox Church – Antiochian, Greek or O.C.A. It simply spotlights what the calling of a bishop is to be.

I want to be clear that this article is not a response to the recent discussions of the Antiochian bishops or the Holy Synod. It is a timeless reflection — a positive statement — of what the primary work of a bishop should be, regardless of his geographical location or the time of history in which he lives. It is vitally important that we understand the bishop’s calling because the gospel of Jesus Christ lies at the very center of his ministry among us.

The Bishop’s Apostolic Mission

The apostolic mission of a bishop in the Eastern Orthodox Church can be summarized in five points.

1. Preach the Gospel. All bishops are to proclaim and interpret the gospel of Christ to the church and to the world.

Bishops should be elected largely on the basis of their knowledge and ability to skillfully communicate the Holy Scriptures. St. John Chrysostom is the prime example of such a bishop.

All bishops are to faithfully keep the gospel clear and central to their ministries.

What is the gospel? The gospel is the “good news” that God became human in Jesus Christ, took upon himself our fallen humanity in order to restore it into communion with God, conquer sin and vanquish death. This he did preeminently through Christ’s life, death, resurrection and ascension into heaven. This “good news” must be at the very core of every life-giving action in the church – the sacraments and throughout every liturgical season of fasting and prayer.

Bishops need to preach and teach this message to all their priests and parishioners. They need to boldly call people to repentance and faith and not make the fatal assumption that everyone is a Christian just because they happen to be inside the walls of an Orthodox Church.

I have said this for the past four decades, and I will continue to say it until I die: The most urgent need in the Orthodox world today is the need for an aggressive internal mission of converting our nominal Orthodox people to personal faith in Jesus Christ. Bishops should be teachers, preachers and evangelists of the gospel first and foremost. That is their main apostolic function (see point 2 below).

This requires that we lay people give them a large degree of freedom from administrative and managerial functions. Managerial duties must be done by them, but whenever those duties occupy more attention than the preaching of the gospel, we the people have committed a great sin against our bishops. It is our duty to support our bishops in their apostolic calling by freeing them to focus on preaching, teaching and evangelizing others with the Word of God.

2. Administer the Sacraments of the Gospel.

Bishops are to oversee the celebration of the Eucharist and ensure the sacramental integrity of its parishes. This is a heavy subject so I will forego an extensive theological commentary on it. Suffice it to say that all Orthodox sacraments are sacraments of the gospel.

We speak much about the Eucharist (and rightly so) but we sometimes forget that the Eucharist is rooted in the gospel. “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes” (1 Cor. 11.26). The death, resurrection and Second Coming of Jesus Christ lies at the very heart of this sacrament, and that is what the bishop is called to preach and to celebrate. He is to be a herald of the good news of God’s love given supremely through his Son, Jesus Christ. Every life-giving sacrament of the Church communicates this good news in one way or another, and it is the duty of the bishop to faithfully make that gospel clear and central to his flock.

The failure to intentionally keep the gospel clear and central is the main reason why so many of our young people are “religious but lost”. They know about God but have seldom been asked to make the Church’s faith their own, even though they have attended Church all their lives. Bishops (as well as priests and lay people) are to do the work of an evangelist.

3. Guard the faith, unity, and discipline of the church.

Maintaining the unity of the church today requires acts of courage and risk taking. Guardianship of the gospel does not mean simply “holding the traditional line.” It also means preventing spiritual decay and ignorance.

Just the other day an Orthodox Christian out of state asked me if the book of Ephesians was in the Bible. I was saddened to have even been asked such a question. All this person needed to do was to open the Bible and look inside the table of contents. But that is the level so many of our people are at in the Orthodox world today. No wonder St. John Chrysostom declared, “The lack of Scriptural knowledge is the source of all evils in the church.”

4. Be a moral example of holiness and wholesomeness.

This implies the usual exemplary personal conduct and spirituality that is the vocation of every baptized Christian — bishops, priests and laity alike.

Another aspect of episcopal modeling would be for bishops to renounce work-a-holism. Compulsive work habits destroy one’s spiritual and mental health and that is simply not a Christian thing to do.

5. Diminish the distance between bishops and their flock.

The worldly values of the Byzantine Empire crept into the episcopal ministry after the Fall of Constantinople (1453). Under the Ottoman Turks, bishops began wearing the literal crown of the fallen Byzantine Emperors as political and spiritual leaders of their millet (Christian sub-cultures). Honorific titles such as “Despot” and “Master” began to be used. The ordination of a cathedral bishop came to be described as an “enthronement”. All this is tied to the legacy of Byzantine politics.

Today we find ourselves in a quandary. We have a strong desire to honor and respect our bishops; yet we do not want to unwittingly perpetuate a worldly and politicized gospel. What would Jesus say about such practices if he were alive today? He once said, “For he that is greatest among you shall be the servant of all” (not an enthroned Despot or Master). Is there a more Christian way to express our desire to hold bishops in high regard?

The true calling of an episcopal ministry requires that the gospel be kept clear and central in the life of the Church. Perhaps we should examine historical accretions that have attached themselves to the office of bishop and which mislead the flock about the servant nature of Christian leadership.

The five points I have outlined above, admittedly incomplete, are shared in order that we might keep our eyes on the ball. That ball is nothing less than the Good News of the gospel of Jesus Christ in the life of the Church. If the goal is the gospel, then a vital means to that end is to keep the gospel clear and central to the apostolic mission of an Orthodox bishop.

Dr. Bradley Nassif is a Professor of Theology, North Park University in Chicago, and a member of Holy Transfiguration Antiochian Orthodox Church in Warrenville, Illinois. This article first appeared on the Antiochian Archdiocese website.


  1. George Michalopulos :

    Dr Nassif, well-said! I would expand your point #5 to include that the concept of “distance” include geography as well. I have said that dioceses should be as compact as possible. Every parish should receive at least two episcopal visits a year. At present, the thirteen OCA bishops, nine GOA bishops, seven AOCNA bishops, three Serbian bishops, etc. cannot possibly accommodate such a schedule. However 40+ bishops theoretically could.

    And every parishioner should feel free to visit the diocesan center as often as he feels like it.

  2. This article is an instant classic. It is focused and full of genuine reflection

  3. “What would Jesus say about such practices if he were alive today?”

    I found this line shocking. If I’m not mistaken Christ is Risen–He is alive today.

    the sinner,
    SubDn. Lucas

  4. Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

    SubDn. Lucas, Dr. Nassif’s question is rhetorical. He is asking if the Byzantine accouterments that seeped into Orthodox self-understanding after the fall of Byzantium have any real authority. He is not making a statement that Christ has not Risen and is thus not alive. The context makes this clear.

  5. Fr. Johannes,

    Certainly I do not doubt that Dr. Nassif believes that our Lord is Risen, but I suppose a better rendering might be: “What would Jesus say about such practices if he were visibly present today?” especially within the context of an article that calls so explicitly for a clear proclamation of the Gospel.

    I do not point this out idly. It has been posited that certain calls for the Church’s return to a previous set of praxes assume no–or little–direct governance and guidance of the Church by her Head, even Christ, and by the Spirit.* His phrasing of the above rhetorical question called this criticism to mind.

    *[One recent example of such a criticism:

    http://logismoitouaaron.blogspot.com/2009/07/on-romantic-orthodoxy.html ]

    Thank you, Father, for your further thoughts.

    the sinner,
    SubDn. Lucas

  6. Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

    So you saying is that it is not the implication that Jesus has not risen from the dead that concerns you, but rather that the idea that challenging the Byzantine accouterments (some might call them accretions) calls into question the guidance of the Holy Spirit over the last five centuries of Church governance. Is this correct?

  7. Fr. Johannes,

    I think that I see them as directly related. I see “…if [Jesus] were alive today” as synonymous with “he is not here, but if he were here…” This may be unfair, but the chosen phrasing does give this impression.

    Because of the above, it raises for me the concern that within the context of these discussions (and I am not opposed to having them! not that it matters overmuch), regarding liturgical development &c., it seems that the guidance of the Holy Spirit of the Church in Liturgical matters is tacitly laid aside. I simply wish this were not so.

    Thank you for the opportunity for clarification.

    the sinner,
    SubDn. Lucas

  8. George Michalopulos :

    For what it’s worth, I understood Dr Nassif’s comment as rhetorical. Even if this phrase was left out, his entire critique is remarkably on-point. I believe the Orthodox Church needs to display some sincere repentance and it must begin with our bishops here in America. Their gamesmanship, servility, and worldliness (to say nothing of turf wars) is the very antithesis of proper ecclesiology.

  9. Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

    It might give the impression but, again, I think the context makes clear Dr. Nassif’s intended meaning. Nevertheless, I don’t think categorizing Dr. Nassif’s criticism of the Byzantine accouterments as a liturgical matter really addresses his point completely either.

    These developments may be primarily cultural/historical, that is, comprehensible (maybe even justifiable) in a certain time and place, but in other contexts might rise to little more than an anomaly. If the practices Dr. Nassif pointed out developed later in response to historical exigencies (and by all accounts they did), and if they were not a part of the practice of the Church for 1500 years previous, then it is time to reexamine some of them.

  10. George,

    But certainly not all our bishops (or even a majority?) could be accused of such things? I think of my own bishop and none of your assessments are appropriate to him. I worry that the concern with externals–sakkos, mitre, orlets–misses the mark. Further, we know of worldly, self-important, God-hating bishops from long before such things came into the praxis of the Church.

    I would suggest that the fostering of a rich monastic tradition in America would go much further in establishing the holiness of American bishops than dressing them differently, not singing ‘Eis polla eti’ and dropping ‘Vladyka’. And our monastic tradition is a full realization of Dr. Nassif’s theme of the episcopacy and the Gospel.

    the sinner,
    SubDn. Lucas

  11. Fr. Johannes,

    “…it is time to reexamine some of them.”

    What would be the nature, and method of this re-examination? What would be the specific antecedent period whose praxis we would try to restore?

    the sinner,
    SubDn. Lucas

  12. I’m afraid the ‘worldly values of the Byzantine Empire’ may have ‘crept into’ the Church much earlier than Dr Nassif thinks. In Rev. 20:11, the Lord is described as seated on a ‘great white throne’, and yet He Himself said that the greatest is to be the ‘servant of all’. What would Christ have said about this Scripture? It clearly ‘misleads the flock about the servant nature of Christian leadership’!

    Seriously, it has been observed more than once that the liturgical pageantry surrounding (especially) the bishop is ‘tied to’ the eschatological nature of Christian worship rather than Byzantine politics. See this post for example.

    A bishop who is a true servant will do far more to ‘diminish the distance’ between himself and his flock than merely removing mitres and thrones from worship. Furthermore, those who call for doing away with liturgical traditions should work on acquiring a little humility of their own. Who are we to pass judgement on the traditions our fathers have handed down to us? Nassif’s ideas in this regard strike me as more in tune with modern egalitarianism, based on the idea that ‘I’m as good as he is!’, than with the true humility of the Gospel.

    Oh, and ‘Despot’ and ‘Master’ are the same title last I checked.

  13. Perhaps in our iconography we should also get rid of all royal attire. The Theotokos in a modest long sleeve t-shirt and jeans?

    The last Metropolitan I saw in person was +LAURUS, of blessed memory. He, well, followed the traditional Orthodox dignities that are associated with a man in his position. In years prior to that I saw the OCA’s +THEODOSIUS in person on a few occasions (both liturgically and at banquets) and +PHILIP of the AOANA. +THEODOSIUS was not given as much to the dignified protocols as +LAURUS was. And as for +Philip, well, there’s no secret as to his position on these things. +LAURUS turned out to have been a man of faith, piety, and sincerity, for all of his Byzantine dignity in attire. The other two Orthodoxy in America would have been better off without (I say this as a member of the AOANA).

    This is not to suggest that there is a rule – certainly a bishop can carry himself with the traditional dignity and be a completely arrogant and corrupt tyrant. It is only to suggest changing the norms for our bishops will not likely result in them being less inclined to arrogance or corruption. If recent instances are any indication, one might expect the opposite.

    I also note with the good subdeacon above that there is nothing in the Dr. Nassif’s list concerning monasticism. It seems that usually one either gets a bishop who is a real monastic or one gets a bishop that is an ecclesiocrat of some sort. This is not always the case, of course (I think of +Job in the OCA – a bishop whose integrity held the OCA from the abyss by his confrontation of evil, but who is not usually noted for his monastic inclinations). There have been plenty of corrupt and arrogant monks, sure. But when one considers those bishops often considered the best bishops in America today, those with genuine monastic lives and disciplines usually top the list. For instance, one thinks of +Basil in the AOANA.

    Was this list first published in Christianity Today? It reads like a text written for Evangelicals. I know that Dr. Nassif is CT’s favorite Orthodox writer.

  14. A good friend of mine who just read this had these insightful words to say: ‘He [Nassif] is simply an ignorant crypto-iconoclast. . . . To remove the elaborate vestments of the bishop would be iconically to remove them from Christ.’ Similarly, to remove the bishop’s mitre, or to refuse to call him ‘Master’, would be to remove the crown from Christ and refuse our Lord his proper title as well.

  15. Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

    This is not to suggest that there is a rule – certainly a bishop can carry himself with the traditional dignity and be a completely arrogant and corrupt tyrant. It is only to suggest changing the norms for our bishops will not likely result in them being less inclined to arrogance or corruption. If recent instances are any indication, one might expect the opposite.

    Nassif isn’t arguing that point. He is saying that in places the Byzantine trappings hide the primary apostolic calling of the Bishop — to preach the Gospel of Christ. The problem here is perceptual — some Bishops and some laity don’t understand this primary calling. It has been replaced instead with an overlay, a kind of monarchical servility that actually hinders the work of the Gospel.

    There is an old Greek saying, the rassa doesn’t make the priest. In the same way, the mitre doesn’t make the Bishop. Removing either rassa or mitre — or getting even fancier ones — doesn’t solve the problem. Discussing it solely in terms of cultural forms misses the point entirely.

    Rather, Nassif’s critique is moral.

    Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. (Philippians 2:5-9).

    He is arguing that this type of leadership — this way of thinking — has been lost in places.


    He [Nassif] is simply an ignorant crypto-iconoclast. . . . To remove the elaborate vestments of the bishop would be iconically to remove them from Christ.

    …might be true if the Bishop fulfilled his apostolic calling, that is, walked in the Spirit and thereby in the grace (the xarismata) given to him and thus fulfill his calling and vocation. But again, Nassif’s point is that a moral failure has occurred; one that can’t be dismissed by an offhanded (and ill-explained) charge of “crypto-iconoclasm.” The problem is more serious and requires more reflection.

  16. Distilling Dr. Nassif’s text, here are his concerns as stated:

    -worldly values
    -titles: Despot, Master

    Major Problem:
    -a worldly and politicized gospel

    -examine historical accretions…which mislead the flock about the servant nature of Christian leadership.

    Some things that need to be established for discussion:

    -Were there worldly values in, and a confusion regarding the nature of, the episcopacy before the 1453 date he proposes?

    -Is there a fundamental and pervasive (near-universal) misunderstanding of the episcopal office?

    -Can we establish that it is these imperial insignia that have led to, or at least perpetuated–in whole or in part–a misunderstanding of the office?

    -Do we know that a revision of these praxes will actually make the servant-leader role of the bishop clearer, and dispel lay ignorance? Will it make bad bishops better Christian leaders?

    Dr. Nassif may be making a moral point, but they are the above accretions that he actually lists in his article, so it is the above that I am trying to engage. I am not yet satisfied that we can assume the answers to the questions I appended. Additionally, I would be interested to know the mechanism and criteria for re-examination. How? By whom? Where does monastic formation fall into this paradigm?

    the sinner,
    SubDn. Lucas

  17. George Michalopulos :

    Fr, agreed. As for myself, those who know me that I am rather an arch-traditionalist in ecclesiology. I attend a church that has neither organs or pews {both are unfortunate inclusions that hinder our ecclesiology). I prefer priests in cassocks and beards. Bishops should be dressed with their traditional accoutrements.

    Bishops should also be preachers and not turf-warriors. Sbdnc Lucas, you took me to task for painting our bishops with such a broad brush –generalizations are always problematic. But if we are honest with ourselves, we would look around and ask: what is the number one issue vexing Orthodox throughout the world today? The answer is turf; who controls the “diaspora,” whether the AOCNA bishops are “auxiliaries” or “assistants,” “metropolitan” Methodius who is in a snit because he was the second bishop of Boston, etc. We will be held to account for this.

    I cannot stress this enough, there is almost NO emphasis on the Gospel going on at present. Among the bishops, only +Jonah is concerned with spreading the Gospel (e.g. going to ACNA). It is primarily laymen such as Charles Ajalat who is doing the Lord’s work re FOCUS.

    The more I think about it, the righter I believe Dr Nassif is.

  18. Fr Jacobse> I thought the characterisation of ‘cryto-iconoclast’ was very well explained (‘crypto-‘ not needing explanation because it was assumed Nassif would claim not to be an iconoclast): he is an iconoclast because by attacking the various aspects of the bishop’s role as a visible icon of Christ, he is attacking an icon of Christ. My friend made this quite clear.

    No one denies that moral failings occur among the bishops, or that many bishops do not adequately present the Gospel or imitate the humility of Christ. What we deny is that these failings are the result of or could be addressed by tampering with the iconic nature of the bishop’s role or by ‘re-examining’ various traditions of the Church so they are more in line with modern or Protestant sensibilities. As the Ochlophobist pointed out, Met. Laurus fully accepted the traditions referred to here, and yet he was still a true monastic, constantly exhibiting a humble spirit and proclaiming the Gospel.

    It seems to me that your claim that the bishop is only an icon of Christ if he personally exhibits the grace of the Holy Spirit ignores the grace that is present in the mystery of episcopal consecration. A bishop is an icon of Christ by virtue of his office and by his celebration of the Eucharist, even though he should be holy and completely fulfill his calling as well.

    Mr Michalopulos> ‘Among the bishops, only +Jonah is concerned with spreading the Gospel’

    What a gross exaggeration! I had a good visit with my bishop, Bishop Peter of Cleveland (ROCOR), just a couple of weeks ago, and I assure you, he is very much concerned with spreading the Gospel. From what I’ve seen and read, many other bishops are too. I’m convinced that Bishop Basil, whom the Ochlophobist mentioned, is another such bishop, as well as Met. Hilarion, Met. Isaiah, Bishop Mark, Archbishop Dmitri (despite his faults in the OCA debacle), Bishop Jerome, and others.

    I happen to think Met. Jonah was a good choice for the OCA, but I don’t understand the claim that he is the only bishop in the entire country fulfilling his calling! It seems like he would be the first to deny this as well!

  19. Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

    You’ll have to take up Mr. Michalopulos’ comments with him.

    The problem I have with your icon apologetic however, is that it is loaded with assumptions that, well, sound deep but actually are static. For example, you mention the “iconic nature of the Bishop’s role.” What does this really mean? What comprises the “iconic nature.”

    Is it sociological? Does it exist even if a Bishop is personally corrupt? It can’t be ontological in any sense because the only icon of God is Christ — according to St. Paul anyway. How a bishop can be an icon of Christ, well, that’s dangerous territory, if you are trying to draw some kind of ontological parallel. I’m not sure if your are trying to do that, although your conclusion implies you might be. I wont know until you clarify your definitions.

    Ecclesiologically the term makes sense, but only if the grace of God is present vivifying the Church, which is to say that the Gospel is being preached since the Gospel constitutes (and reconstitutes the Church (“Peter preached and then the Lord added to the Church those who would be saved…” You seem to say that an element exists by virtue of the office (or is it the man? — you don’t really say) that, what? — supplies the needs of Church by virtue of the office/person alone?

    Regarding your point about monastics, it would probably be a lot better for the American Church if the Bishops selected were true monastics. It is dangerous making rules for this kind of thing, but celibacy in America outside of a monastic community, especially in the first and second decade of adulthood, usually fosters immaturity. Exceptions exist but they are rare.

    Dr. Nassif isn’t really attacking the Bishop’s role in other words. He does challenge however, the static interpretations of it.

  20. George Michalopulos :

    I didn’t mention Arb Dmitri because he is retired (but he was the best Orthodox evangelist of the twentieth century bar none). He took the Diocese of the South from less than 12 parishes to 70 plus two monasteries with two more on the way. Plus as exarch of Mexico, he grew that church and made inroads among certain indigenous non-Spanish speaking tribes there.

    Bishops Basil and Mark are definitely good evangelists, but I’m afraid that the recent debacle in the AOCNA has neutralized them. Why do I say this? Because the role of the bishop is to teach and preach the Gospel. This includes the free and unfettered ability to ordain priests. I’m sorry, but I believe that what the recent debacle will prohibit them from acting as a real holy synod. There’s just too much ill-will floating about that jurisdiction right now (I hope I’m wrong in this regard.)
    Mark himself has four priestly millstones around his neck which are dragging him and his diocese down.

    The reason I don’t mention ROCOR bishops (and again: I TOTALLY RESPECT ROCOR for its fidelity to tradition so don’t lay any of this anti-ROCOR stuff on me) is because it’s not one of the “big three.” And let’s be honest, up until recently, was conducting most of their classes in Russian. In America. Get it? We’re dealing with perceptions here. They matter.

    Metropolitan Isaiah is the standout among the GOA hierarchy. Unfortunately, because of his association with the GOA, he’ll never be given the credit he deserves (nor the resources he needs to evangelize). Read any issue of The Orthodox Observer, it’s so ethnocentric it’s not even funny anymore. Once, a friend of mine took it to the monastery we go to, and the monks got a hold of it and mightily amused. One of them called it “The Orthodox Disturber.”

    Let’s put our cards on the table regarding ethnic jurisdictions (and this now regrettably includes Antioch which has withdrawn into its Arab core), unless the people within them view themselves as Americans and evangelize America on its own terms, then the perception that you can only become Orthodox if you become Greek/Arab/Serb/etc. will remain. Again, this is a perception, it may not be right, but perceptions are based on reality. It’s the old “where there’s smoke, there’s fire” cliche.

    It’s that simple.

    p.s. I’m completely in favor of monasticism in America. The various monasteries (even GOA ones) are beacons of evangelism.

  21. cynthia curran :

    The clothing on Bishops doesn’t bother me one way or another. Take the famous St Viale mosic that has Maximianus which shows a different style for Bishops than today. In fact, during the Byzantine Empire clothing sytles for clergy change. If people like Bishops in clothing from the 15th century, that’s their choice.

  22. Fr Jacobse> Um, I did take it up with Mr Michalopulos. That’s why I prefaced my comment on his remarks by directly addressing him as ‘Mr Michalopulos’. Maybe you read the comment in haste and missed that.

    I don’t think I will try to clarify ‘my’ definitions. I thought they were clear enough already, and if I’m wrong, I’d just be wasting more time spouting ‘deep’-sounding ‘static’.

    Ms Curran> Bishops’ vestments have nothing to do with personal choice or preference. But it is a relief to hear that they don’t ‘bother’ you.

  23. Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

    OK. I didn’t realize the “>” meant answer. I thought it was a typo.

    Nevertheless, you still have to explain what you mean by “iconic nature of the Bishop’s role” though before your critique of Nassif makes any sense.

    Nassif is arguing that the primary role is to preach the Gospel (and by extension to protect the apostolic teaching). If this conflicts with a Bishop’s “iconic…role,” it is necessary to explain what is really meant by the term.

    I agree with much of what Nassif says. Preaching the Gospel is the primary role of an episcopos (overseer or “bishop”). It is his responsibility in and to the Gospel of Christ that sets him apart in the ekklesia (called-out-ones or “church”), and establishes his “iconic” role.

  24. “It is manifest, therefore, that we should look upon the bishop even as we would upon the Lord Himself.”

    -St. Ignatius of Antioch Ep. to the Ephesians

    (I rather thought the bishop as icon of Christ was a given within Orthodox thought. I may be mistaken, but the suggestion that the personal character of the bishop establishes or obliterates the iconographic role of the bishop sounds rather like Donatism.)

    Fr. Johannes, Aaron’s (and my) criticism is of Dr. Nassif’s suggesting–in his point #5–that Byzantine accoutrement have caused problems in the episcopacy, and that their removal will lead to the resolution of those problems. I look forward to your reply to the last several questions I asked in my post #16.

    the sinner,
    SubDn. Lucas

  25. George Michalopulos :

    To all: if I have given the impression that I don’t care how bishops are accoutred, then let me set the record straight. Bishops should be vested in the proper way that the Church has prescribed (although I realize that this has changed over time). My beef, and I believe Nassif’s, is that if that is all bishops are doing and not preaching the Gospel, then they are as “whited sepulchres.” This was Jesus’ admonition against the Pharisees who abided by the stricted standards of the Law but forgot its spirit.

    So what does preaching the Gospel mean? Realizing that it’s not fair to simply point out people for criticism, but that it’s more loving to offer a suggestion, let me offer a few benchmarks which can be culled from the history of the Church:

    1. The diocese was sacrosanct. It was an autonomous ecclesial territory answerable to no one but the bishop who was answerable to God for his actions.

    a. This meant that all Christians within that diocese were equally members of that diocese, regardless of their ethnic or racial makeup. This did not mean that the needs of those who could not speak the dominant language were ignored. When Chrysostom was Archbishop of Constantinople, he took the time to learn Gothic so he could preach to the soldiers stationed there.

    b. The dioceses reflected political reality. One city=one bishop.

    c. The bishops were elected from among the people, usually a respected presbyter, but sometimes a layman (St Spyridon who was a simple shepherd) or even a catechumen (St Ambrose of Milan). They were then consecrated by their brother bishops. In other words, the bishop came from the people and was acclaimed/elected by them. He was not a freebooter or traveling CEO of no fixed address.

    2. The bishop preached the Gospel and enforced (hopefully in a loving way) discipline. This meant he guarded against heresy and remonstrated those who lapsed in the faith.

    3. The bishop met regularly with fellow bishops from nearby dioceses. They recognized one archbishop among them as the metropolitan, or bishop of the “mother-city.” Usually, this gathering of dioceses was coterminous with a political reality.

    4. With the (perhaps unfortunate) gathering of autocephalous archdioceses into the five patriarchates, the above model was not lost.

    5. When a new area was evangelized, or a diocese was split politically, then measures were taken to set up new dioceses.

    a. When a nation was baptized (e.g. Bulgaria), its borders were baptized as well and native bishops were elected in due time. It’s primate became independent (again, in due time).

    These are just starters. I’m sure others can think of more. So what does this mean for America? Can one envision the ethnic dioceses functioning anywhere near this model? No 5a. is perhaps the most crucial benchmark in this analysis as far as North America is concerned. Any attempt to Hellenize/Bulgarize/Russify this continent will end in abject failure.

    I don’t mean to criticize, but the concept of repentance is not merely saying “I’m sorry” or worse, doing the same old stuff over and over, but really turning away from deleterious mindsets. This does not only mean laymen giving up sinful lives but bishops giving up heretical mindsets. Examples of the latter include:

    1. Continuing the present administrative disunity (which will ultimately lead to schism), and

    2. Emphasizing phyletism.

    Both of these problems are symptoms of our dependence upon the foreign patriarchates. Worse, we enable them by our hatred/disdain for the other jurisdictions here in America.

    Is hatred too strong a word? OK, how about the complete absence of love for each other.

  26. George,

    I’m all for Orthodox geographical diocesan structuring. I’m also for much smaller dioceses, which would diminish the distance between bishops and their flock much more effectively than revising our liturgical praxes. I’m heartened to see we agree!

    the sinner,
    SubDn. Lucas

  27. 1. The diocese was sacrosanct. It was an autonomous ecclesial territory answerable to no one but the bishop who was answerable to God for his actions.

    This is not totally true, though it is the position most recently defended by Bps. Tikhon and Nikolai in the OCA.

    A bishops is ‘autonomous’ only as part of a local Synod, either a Metropolis or a local church. He is answerable to his Synod and can be overruled by them, even removed from office, moved or deposed.

    Orthodox theology – especially in its interactions with Rome – is rediscovering a language for its own forms or primacy. Some local churches are highly centralized giving the head of that local church a great deal of power; others are very decentralized where all ‘power’ resides in either the Synod or the local diocese. Either way, though, there are primacies in the Orthodox Church beyond that of the diocesan bishop.

  28. Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

    Note 24. The last questions aren’t relevant until we first determine what “icon” really means.

    IOW, if the Bishop is the “icon” of Christ (which I believe he is) in the ekklesia (the Greek matters here), is it because of his fidelity to the Gospel, or is it because of other reasons?

    What do you really mean when you use the term?

  29. Fr. Johannes,

    I beg your pardon, but I think my questions (post #16) can be answered with or without a discourse on what an icon is, and how a bishop fulfills that role (actively or ontologically).

    I say this because they were asked separate from the conversation that developed around Mr. Taylor’s comment (#14) which started this separate line. I understand if you don’t want to engage them, but would appreciate it if that were acknowledged on other relevant grounds.

    the sinner,
    SubDn. Lucas

  30. George Michalopulos :

    Orrologion, you are correct. Please understand, I did not put all the criterion that defines a bishop, however, point no. 3 above implies your criticism. It’s a local synod that he is responsible to and it is a local synod which can try and remove him from office. (Later, after the Council of Sardica, the pope was given special appellate jurisdiction but he had to remit the case to an ad hoc local synod for final adjudication.)

    What recently transpired within the Antiochian jurisdiction was the exact opposite of the criteria I listed. A foreign synod supposedly demoted the American bishops and the same foreign synod supposedly reversed itself. (I use the words “supposedly” because I cannot read Arabic and I can’t for sure say what really happened back on Feb 24 or in June. And I still don’t understand the different between “auxiliaries” and “assistants”.)

    Same with the GOA’s “Holy Eparchial Synod.” Although they are quite autonomous, they have been overridden at least three times by the Phanar that I know of within the last five years. And of course, the Charter fiasco was imposed from outside and never submitted to the people or the local bishops.

    Sbdnc Lucas, thank you for your kind words.

  31. Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

    Note 29. Lucas, the relationship between subject and prototype can never be ontological. That would violate the distinction between Creator and created.

  32. ‘Ontological’ was meant to indicate the idea of the episcopacy as iconographic according to the nature of the office as opposed to it being iconographic only in certain actions.

    At this point I feel I must ask: should I expect a treatment of my questions (see post #16), or should I merely expect questions about terms ad infinitum? I confess to feeling somewhat insulted–perhaps you do not realize how this comes across: as a deflection, and a refusal to actually engage in discussion. You are not obliged to discuss anything with me, but I do wish we could just be plain about it. Forgive me.

    the sinner,
    SubDn. Lucas

  33. Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

    Yes, in a way it’s a deflection, but only because discussing how roles are administered are worthwhile only if the terms are properly understood. I don’t mean to be insulting here so I apologize if I come across that way.

    Look, terms like ontology, nature, etc. have very specific meanings. When you say for example, “…the nature of the office,” well, offices don’t have natures (an “office” only exists as an abstraction until a person fills it). Distinctions like this are important, very important in fact, when marshaling arguments about “iconic representation” and the like.

    Further, when using terms like “ontological” or “nature” to describe an ecclesiastical role as “iconic”, you are implying a one to one relationship of subject and prototype in terms of being, as if there is no real distinction in substance between them. But this is theologically inaccurate. That’s why the terms matter.

    What makes Christ “present” is the preaching of the Gospel. This is true even of the sacraments, which are always contextually framed within the preaching. That’s what the Liturgy really is. All the words, whether they be petitions, hymns, creed, and most important the reading of Scripture, provides the existential context within which the sacraments are performed (elements transformed).

  34. Thank you for your clarification, and if anything is to be forgiven, God forgives–please forgive me.

    I would contend, that an Icon–a holy Image–is ontologically an icon; that is what it is. By saying that an Icon is ontologically an icon, though is to also say what it ontologically is not. An icon, by definition, is not ontologically the Person depicted; rather, it manifests that Person. Therefore, I conclude that to say that X is ontologically an Icon of Y, is not to say X is ontologically Y.

    Perhaps there was confusion about how I apply this to the bishop. I begin with the assumption that we speak of a man who is Bishop, not an abstract ‘office’. That man, as bishop, is mystically an icon of Christ. The Preaching of the Gospel was present at his Consecration, and he fulfills that in the Liturgy and his work.

    Why then, must we strip away the royal vesture and liturgical praxis from this man who is an icon of Christ? Why is stripping away these accoutrement necessary for the right and clear proclamation of the Gospel? If he is not properly preaching the Gospel, how does stripping all this away restore his proper role? It is presented as self-evident in Dr. Nassif’s essay, I contend that it is not self-evident.

    the sinner,
    SubDn. Lucas

  35. George Michalopulos :

    Sbdcn, again, I must respectfully protest. No one (and I pray that Dr Nassif forgives me here as it appears that I speak for him when I don’t even know him) demands, implies, or in anyway suggests the divestment, or the removal of vestments, from the bishop, whoever he may be.

    To all: The argument as I understand it is the properly vested episcopate which does not preach the Gospel. This is what I take to mean Jesus’ condemnation of the Pharisees as “whited sepulchres.” Jesus it should be remembered did not disdain the Pharisaic sect, the Temple, the Law of Moses, the priestly ritual, etc. He condemned those who upheld the letter of the Law but not the spirit of the Law.

    What do I mean by a bishop who “does not preach the Gospel”? Some examples: When he celebrates the mysteries in a foreign tongue (which he may not understand and the majority of the people certainly don’t), when “outsiders” are not welcomed, when he is hindered from ordaining qualified priests and deacons, when he is moved about willy-nilly as a traveling admnistrator, when he engages in moral transgression, when he consents to an uncanonical situation (such as what we have here in North America) etc.

    All of these are examples of “preaching a different Gospel.” This is what phyletism is at the very least. If we wanted to press this to its logical conclusion, then we would have to say it’s a heresy, after all, that’s what the council of Constantinople in 1872 did.

    And let’s finally put our cards on the table: the contours of the Church in North America are delineated by ethnic considerations, therefore, one can say that outside the boundaries of the local autocephalous church, the Church as such does not exist on this continent. Indeed, it cannot. Admittedly, this is speculative but this is what happens when one follows arguments to their logical conclusion (and I pray this isn’t the logical conclusion).

    forgive me, the sinner

  36. George,

    Maybe I misunderstand Dr. Nassif’s words:

    Perhaps we should examine historical accretions that have attached themselves to the office of bishop and which mislead the flock about the servant nature of Christian leadership.

    The ‘historical accretions’ that he mentions are:

    wearing the literal crown of the fallen Byzantine Emperors … titles such as “Despot” and “Master” … ordination of a cathedral bishop…described as an “enthronement”.

    But, it seems a simple reading of Dr. Nassif’s own words state precisely that he is suggesting we change our received praxis.

    This has been the only part of the essay with which I have publicly made issue. I agree that a bishop should proclaim the Gospel. (Regarding issues of jurisdictional unity, and its implications for legitimate ecclesiology, I would be out of my realm.)

    I am quite sure that you and I agree, George, on this issue. It may be that Fr. Johannes also does not wish to revise our received praxis, I do not know. But I am trying to engage Dr. Nassif’s essay–or, a specific part of it–because this suggestion and others like it have been made by others. I am not sure that we Orthodox in America have been as critical in examining such suggestions as we ought to be.

    I thank you for your kind words.

    the sinner,
    SubDn. Lucas

  37. At this point I would be happy with a bishop who was not a regular at casinos, did not expect rib dinners on Friday night banquets, and did not deride folks who used a prayer rope.

  38. George Michalopulos :

    Ochlophobist: more monks –true monks–would definately be a step in the right direction.

  39. Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

    Note 34. No forgiveness necessary SubDn. Lucas. I wasn’t offended by your words.

    Let me clarify something though:

    I would contend, that an Icon–a holy Image–is ontologically an icon; that is what it is. By saying that an Icon is ontologically an icon, though is to also say what it ontologically is not. An icon, by definition, is not ontologically the Person depicted; rather, it manifests that Person. Therefore, I conclude that to say that X is ontologically an Icon of Y, is not to say X is ontologically Y.

    Forget the term “ontological” when speaking of icons. It does not work.

    What you are trying to say is that the representation of the person in the icon partakes of the grace that person possesses. You are searching for terms that express in some comprehensible way the relationship between subject and prototype. That relationship is entirely one accomplished by the grace of God (through the Holy Spirit), and not one of nature (which the term “ontological” implies).

    Perhaps there was confusion about how I apply this to the bishop. I begin with the assumption that we speak of a man who is Bishop, not an abstract ‘office’. That man, as bishop, is mystically an icon of Christ. The Preaching of the Gospel was present at his Consecration, and he fulfills that in the Liturgy and his work.

    Watch out too for the term “mystical.” It is usually a fuzz word, used to hide sloppy thinking. Yes, I know that is heresy to some Orthodox ears, but sloppiness is sloppiness no matter what you might be talking about.

    The Bishop represents Christ in the assembly of those called out by the Gospel only if He himself preaches that same Gospel. That’s what it comes down to. He represents Christ only if he walks in the grace that given by Spirit at his ordination. It is not the mitre or the robes, or even the laying on of hands that constitutes his calling and vocation as Bishop. It is constituted by his hearing of the Gospel and walking in it, which is to say walking in the Spirit of God as St. Paul instructs. Only in this way is the Body of Christ built up and his calling fulfilled.

    Nassif’s argument is not that the Byzantine regalia should be shelved. Rather, he is arguing that the understanding of how the Church is constituted and how it functions (ecclesiology) has devolved into a model of static monarchism that displaces the dynamic and creative work of the Holy Spirit within the Church.

  40. Fr. Johannes,

    However I might feel about the criticism itself, I rather prefer the way you rephrased Dr. Nassif’s argument (#39, last paragraph) than the way Dr. Nassif himself did. Thank you for taking the time to engage some of my concerns.

    the sinner,
    SubDn. Lucas

  41. George Michalopulos :

    To all: I submitted in point no. 17 above that there was a complete lack of love in American Orthodoxy today, that we are concerned primarily with turf, liturgical minutiae, etc. I stand by that, however, my own intemperate words reflect this reality so I’m just as much to blame as anybody else. I am indeed, the chief of sinners.

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