As I mentioned in my previous post, it’s very important to step back from issues. Especially hot issues. Issues that can cause Christians to become “un-Christian”. To step back from me saying what I want to say. From you saying what you want to say. And from all of us thinking that “our side” is right and the other side is wrong.
We must always step back, become silent and listen.
Breathe. Reflect. Ponder.
Where Western culture gets it wrong 100% of the time is that she doesn’t often listen – just too busy. She doesn’t often listen to the voices of the past, of ancient tradition, to the Fathers and Mothers of the historic Church; because, well, we know better than they do. We are modern, they are ancient. They are old, we are new. They were wrong, we are right. In fact, Western culture by and large isn’t even aware that these saints exist, let alone, know that they lived and died for the faith within the first years after Christ’s ascension. But who better than these saints to guide us in what constitutes “the church?” What the church is and what it means? And more importantly how the Church must function in this age as it has functioned in every age? What Western Christians fail to confess is the WE are the ” Johnny-Come- Lately’s” to this whole party, the early church saints lived the faith when it was first given, and brand new. Before amplified praise bands, and long monologue messages, before “kid’s church”, and Hollywood film clips in sermons, there was Liturgy, Word, Sacrament, and Parish community, a small group of believers living out the faith in their homes, and coming to worship together, at first in the Temple, and later still in the Churches they built.
So here is a novel idea. What if we actually listened to what the early Christians and the Bishops in the apostolic times said constituted “the Church”? On the one hand, we have modern pastors and leaders defining church in lieu of the thinking of the Church since 1517 and the so- called Reformation, and most notably now in a culture of an “emerging” American individualized experiences. But what if we began with the beginning and looked at how the earliest Christians defined “church”? Let’s have enough courage to consider the writings of one of the Church’s earliest bishops, Ignatius of Antioch who wrote the below comments in 107 AD – only a few short decades after the death of Christ. And a few short months before his death. Who better than he to describe what constitutes the real church?
Perhaps we can learn today what is “church” and what it means to “belong” to church, by listening to the wisdom of yesterday? How can anyone ignore the first centuries of apostolic witness? How can anyone ignore the fact that the Church was, and is, “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic”, in full unity from the upper room at Pentecost – until 1054 with the breakaway of the Bishop of Rome, and the subsequent splintering of the church in 15th century until today we exist with over 20,000 different “flavors”?
How does this teaching from Ignatius, Bishop in the 1st century, compare with a “sim/virtual/cyber” church definitions of the present century?
From the writings of blessed St. Ignatius Bishop of Antioch – 90’s – 107 AD
1. The Necessity of Everyone Physically attending the Divine Liturgy
…Let no man deceive himself: if anyone be not within the altar, he is deprived of the bread of God. For if the prayer of one or two possesses Matthew 18:19 such power, how much more that of the bishop and the whole Church! He, therefore, that does not assemble with the Church, has even by this manifested his pride, and condemned himself. For it is written, God resists the proud. Let us be careful, then, not to set ourselves in opposition to the bishop, in order that we may be subject to God….” (Ignatius to the Church at Ephesus 5)
2. The Power of the Eucharist and Unity found in the Liturgy
…Take heed, then, often to come together to give thanks to God, and show forth His praise. For when you assemble frequently in the same place, the powers of Satan are destroyed, and the destruction at which he aims is prevented by the unity of your faith…obey the bishop and the presbytery with an undivided mind, breaking one and the same bread, which is the medicine of immortality, and the antidote to prevent us from dying, but [which causes] that we should live for ever in Jesus Christ… (Ignatius to the Church at Ephesus 13 & 20)
3. The True Presence in the Eucharist and the fate of those who deny this truth.
They [heretics and schismatics] abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins, and which the Father, of His goodness, raised up again. Those, therefore, who speak against this gift of God, incur death in the midst of their disputes. But it were better for them to treat it with respect, that they also might rise again. It is fitting, therefore, that you should keep aloof from such persons, and not to speak of them either in private or in public, but to give heed to the prophets, and above all, to the Gospel, in which the passion [of Christ] has been revealed to us, and the resurrection has been fully proved. But avoid all divisions, as the beginning of evils. (Ignatius to the Church at Smyrna, 7)
4. The Liturgy is only properly celebrated once a Sunday in union with the Bishop.
Take heed, then, to have but one Eucharist. For there is one flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ, and one cup to [show forth ] the unity of His blood; one altar; as there is one bishop, along with the presbytery and deacons, my fellow-servants: that so, whatsoever you do, you may do it according to [the will of] God. (Ignatius to the Church at Philadelphia, 4)
5. Necessity of respecting authority in the Church; preserving union with the Bishop.
Now it becomes you also not to treat your bishop too familiarly on account of his youth, but to yield him all reverence, having respect to the power of God the Father, as I have known even holy presbyters [i.e. priests] do, not judging rashly, from the manifest youthful appearance [of their bishop], but as being themselves prudent in God, submitting to him, or rather not to him, but to the Father of Jesus Christ, the bishop of us all. It is therefore fitting that you should, after no hypocritical fashion, obey [your bishop], in honour of Him who has willed us [so to do], since he that does not so deceives not [by such conduct] the bishop that is visible, but seeks to mock Him that is invisible….I exhort you to study to do all things with a divine harmony, while your bishop presides in the place of God, and your presbyters in the place of the assembly of the apostles, along with your deacons, who are most dear to me, and are entrusted with the ministry of Jesus Christ,… As therefore the Lord did nothing without the Father, being united to Him, neither by Himself nor by the apostles, so neither do anything without the bishop and presbyters. Neither endeavour that anything appear reasonable and proper to yourselves apart; but being come together into the same place, let there be one prayer, one supplication, one mind, one hope, in love and in joy undefiled. (Ignatius to the Church at Magnesia 3,6-7)
6. Without Bishops, Priests and Deacons there is no Church.
In like manner, let all reverence the deacons as an appointment of Jesus Christ, and the bishop as Jesus Christ, who is the Son of the Father, and the presbyters as the Sanhedrin of God, and assembly of the apostles. Apart from these, there is no Church…”(Ignatius to the Church at Tralles, 3)
7. Obedience to the Bishop is essential to one who claims to be obedient to God.
See that you all follow the bishop, even as Jesus Christ does the Father, and the presbytery as you would the apostles; and reverence the deacons, as being the institution of God. Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop. Let that be deemed a proper Eucharist, which is [administered] either by the bishop, or by one to whom he has entrusted it. Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude [of the people] also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. It is not lawful without the bishop either to baptize or to celebrate a love-feast; but whatsoever he shall approve of, that is also pleasing to God, so that everything that is done may be secure and valid. (Ignatius to the Church at Smyrna, 8)
As can be seen by the writings of Ignatius, Church Father and Bishop of Antioch, what passes as “church” today is far from what it was in the first century, and from the ensuing centuries, leading up to this very day. The Orthodox Church has not added to, or taken from, this Great Tradition of faith and practice handed down to us. For the Orthodox, the Liturgy and Church exists to change us. Not for us to change them.
My small efforts, and weak at that, will do very little I suppose to sway people’s opinions on this matter of “what is church?”. Satan is a powerful enemy, and he uses our own egos, pride and selfishness, to convince us that all of our “new” inventions, and “cool” “relevant” innovations for the church are wonderful and helpful. And yet, all the innovation & creativity seemingly leads to is more confusion, clutter, and division?
Get to the bottom of this, if f not for me, certainly for yourself. Read the story of our Faith from the very beginning. Listen to the voices of the apostles, of Acts chapter 2, and of the Fathers of the church through the centuries. You will discover that the church of Jesus Christ begun on Pentecost 2,000 years ago, is still alive and very well today, in fact in North America She is growing slowly but surely… it is the Orthodox Church. Orthodox is not a noun, for she is not a denomination, but rather Orthodox is an adjective… Orthodox describes The Church: one, holy, catholic, apostolic – and faithful to the Tradition.
Ortho = straight and true Doxa = teaching and worship.
What do you think about Ignatius’ and the early churches understanding of the church versus the understanding of Sim-Church?