Friday, February 26, 2016

Hierarchal Visit – What does that mean to us?

“If they are not with the Bishop, they are not in the Church.” - St. Cyprian of Carthage

This is the first quote from a little pamphlet written by New Martyr Patriarch Tikhon entitled “What is a Bishop?” St. Cyprian may be the least known most important saint in our Orthodox Church. His writings were crucial in his time in keeping the Church from falling into extremism, and we may rightly say that New Martyr Bishop Hilarion (Troitsky) is a true and very important successor of St. Cyprian's teachings. This post is not about either of these important saints – perhaps posts later will be. Especially if our readers would like to discuss their lives and their application to us today.

We are truly privileged to have Metropolitan Jonah visit us this weekend. We all know that the hierarchal services are a bit longer than the services headed by a priest. This is why we start at 9:00 a.m. when a hierarch visits rather than 10:00 a.m. But I think it is important that we understand this on a much deeper level than just “I have to get up earlier this weekend!” Or perhaps even worse: “I don't care if we start at 9:00 a.m. - I will show up at 10:00 a.m. as usual!”. First, if you are on time every week thank you! :) But – the hierarchal services, with the vesting of the bishop in the middle of the church, the small additions to the Liturgy, the Subdeacons exercising their ministry, etc., are important in that they help us to understand liturgically just what St. Cyprian writes above: the bishop is theologically an important part of our Orthodox Church. In fact, the bishops are the successors to the Apostles. Only the bishop can ordain new clergyman, and this act – this action of the Holy Spirit in changing a man from something he was to something new (and with an appointed, God-given ministry) – this is one of the most important aspects of the episcopal ministry. We won't have an ordination this weekend, but we have recently, and God-willing we will have many more in the future!

I would like to also remind our parish family that the bishop has an important ministry of leadership in the Church. In another place St. Cyprian talks about the Church (that is, the diocese, with each diocese being itself the fullness of The Church) being the bishop, his council of presbyters, and the faithful, all gathered around the holy altar and living as a liturgical eucharistic community. And this is why it is so good for us to partake of Holy Communion when a hierarch serves in our parish church – it is the image of The Church according to the holy fathers. But it is important to remember too that the bishop has the greatest and most fearful obedience in the Church, for he will answer for each and every soul for which he has been given responsibility. In other words, he will answer for every soul in his diocese! Can you imagine the weight of this responsibility!? I can say from first hand experience that it is a very scary thought for a priest to understand that he must answer for each soul in his community – those saved and those lost. But for the bishop to answer for every soul in every community in his diocese – this is a heavy burden indeed. And St. Paul understood this perfectly, and thus instructed us, via his epistle to the Hebrews, with these words:

“Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.” (Hebrews 13:17)

Please discuss – questions and comments are welcome.

Fr. Gregory

1 comment:

  1. I think these services are important because not only do they connect US with the Bishop, but they connect the Bishop with US as well. In the short time I've been Orthodox, I've had the pleasure to attend a few hierarchical services, both in ROCOR and in OCA. In all occasions, it was special to have that connection with the one who is watching over us in the Church.

    That being said, what I find interesting is that though I am far away from my home in Michigan, I am still in close connection with the Orthodox throughout N. America. Though we come from many backgrounds and locations, we make a small community. Thus, though my particular overseeing bishop is based in Ottawa, and I'm over in Edmonton, Alberta, I still feel that he is "close" to me, and that though distant, still near. If I was up worshipping up in Atlantic Mine, I would still feel that Bishop Peter were "near," and would see myself as still very connected.

    Perhaps this is how it should be. And when a Bishop comes to visit, we are greeted in a special way, and we greet in a special way. We see an old friend, a mentor, a spiritual guide and help. We know he prays for us, and we pray for him.