Wherever the bishop appears, there let the congregation be

ὅπου ἂν φανῇ ὁ ἐπίσκοπος, ἐκεῖ τὸ πλῆθος ἤτω, ὥσπερ ὅπου ἂν ῇ Ἰησοῦς Χριστός, ἐκεῖ ἡ καθολικὴ ἐκκλησία. (Ignatius to the Smyrneans, 8:2. Full Greek text can be found here, or here as a pdf; there’s also a nice new edition of The Apostolic Fathers by Michael W. Holmes that has Greek-English facing pages and a very useful apparatus and set of notes.)

“Wherever the bishop is, there let the congregation be, just as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the whole/universal/general/complete/according to the whole/lacking nothing/catholic church.” (Add whatever doctrinally-influenced translation of καθολικὴ you wish if I’ve left one out that’s particularly near and dear to you.)

(By the way, anybody want to tell me something about that sentence that demonstrates the limitations of a book like Hansen & Quinn when it comes to reading early Christian writings?)bishopmark.jpg

His Grace Bishop MARK visited All Saints over the weekend. I missed his last visit because, scheduled at the last minute as it was, it coincided with my dad’s (already rescheduled due to heart attack) wedding. So, it’s been a couple of years since I’ve seen him. We were originally supposed to have him present for Friday’s Akathist, Saturday Great Vespers, and then Matins and Divine Liturgy on Sunday, but he ended up attending the funeral services for Metropolitian Laurus of ROCOR (memory eternal) and thus couldn’t be there on Friday. (Or rather, I should say, he attended most of the services. He left, as he said, nine hours into it because he had to catch a plane; they still had about three hours to go.)

(Nine hours into it.)

(With three to go.)

(Sheesh. I can’t imagine anything more fitting for a man such as Metropolitan Laurus, but sheesh.)

Anyway,  every time I meet Bp. MARK, it strikes me that we are very lucky to have him. He is an imposing physical presence, but he is warm and gentle in a way that belies his size. He is completely unassuming — one gets the impression that he’d be just as happy as a reader or a subdeacon. (Imagine a world where all bishops were like this. Perhaps let’s also imagine, as part of this world, that we are also free of readers and subdeacons who would be just as happy being bishops.)

(But I digress.)

He had some interesting remarks; among other things, he expressed some reservations regarding the Triumph of Orthodoxy Vespers that gets celebrated as the “Pan-Orthodox Show of Unity” in many places. Among is comments were, “If we want to have a service that shows our unity, why not make it Forgiveness Vespers?” When asked about the Ecumenical Patriarch, he said, “Well, let’s hope he doesn’t mean everything he says. But let’s also remember that his circumstances are not ours, and that the way we in the free world behave can have a negative impact on those who are not as free as we are.”

The big thing I’m trying to get to, however, is the services. Hierarchical services are a bit of a headache for the choir director and cantor; for my own part, I was sweating bullets over this weekend because I have made major mistakes the last two visits, and they were mistakes made because I either wasn’t told what I needed to know, or I was told the wrong thing. The hierarchical Trisagion in particular is one of those things which, if you’re not told exactly what’s going to happen, you will get lost very fast. And when the poor guy waving his arms in front of the choir doesn’t know what he doesn’t know… yeah. When he doesn’t know what he doesn’t know, and no matter who he asks nobody can seem to tell him what it should look like except to say, “Just read the Liturgikon, but prepare for it to be wrong,” well… what can you do? (I remember the time I thought he was going to be here for the Exaltation of the Cross, and, realizing I didn’t have a hierarchical “Before Thy Cross,” I cooked one up on Sibelius two days before. Then it turned out he was going to be here, but not celebrating.)

Thankfully, everything went off without a hitch this weekend, and it really struck me (not for the first time) that the bishop being present for the Divine Liturgy is in fact intended to be normative. That is, during episcopal visits, the bishop is not celebrating in the place of the priest with extra stuff added; rather, on ordinary Sundays, the priest is celebrating in the place of the bishop and stuff has been taken out. As St. Ignatius describes, we are at our fullest when we, the local church, can gather around our bishop to celebrate the Eucharist. When all four orders — episcopate, presbytery, diaconate, and laity — are present for a Liturgy, it is more clear what our individual roles are. It is truly the bishop, the icon of Christ in our midst, who stands in persona Christi during the Liturgy — the presbyter, if the bishop isn’t there, stands in persona episcopi.

That said, on a practical level, I’m just fine with it only happening once a year. It’s quite a blessing to have him here, but it’s a stressful blessing nonetheless.


1 Response to “Wherever the bishop appears, there let the congregation be”

  1. 1 A visit from His Grace Bishop MARK « Leitourgeia kai Qurbana: Contra den Zeitgeist Trackback on 8 June 2010 at 3:02 pm

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