Discerning God’s Will: Electing Bishops

On November 13, the OCA will assemble at the All American Council to elect a new metropolitan.

Theologian Nicholas Afanasiev says that it is not the church nor the bishops who pass on or give the gifts of the Holy Spirit to its members and leaders. All the church or bishops can do is recognize that a person possesses the gifts of the Spirit and then they (the bishops) ask God to bless or confirm this person. What the church prays is that God will show that the person elected for office indeed possesses the gifts of the Spirit and that we have discerned correctly. Obviously, sometimes the discerning process fails, but that is our fault, not the fault of the Holy Spirit.   Afanasiev writes:

“The divine will cannot depend on the human will or be subject to it. God sends the gifts of the Holy Spirit not upon those chosen by the bishops or the people of the Church but upon those whom He himself chooses. The bishop has the grace to celebrate the sacrament of ordination, but this does not mean he manages the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Even to a lesser extent does it mean, as scholastic theology claims, that at the ordination of the presbyters and other clerics the bishop passes on to them the gifts of the Holy Spirit… Grace is not something to be passed from one to another and the bishop is not the one who has a depository of grace in order to distribute it to anyone he wills. Grace is a living gift of the Spirit who dwells in the Church…

In the Church God himself ordains people for particular ministries just as God ordains everyone called into the Church to his ministry of king and priest. ‘And God has appointed (etheto) in the church’… (1Cor. 12:28), ‘and he ordained some to be apostles…’ (Eph. 4:11). Neither a bishop nor a council of bishops nor the people of the Church, but God himself, ordains apostles, prophets, teachers, and pastors. God ordains these individuals for the ministry in and not outside of the Church, and for this reason the ordination which is from God is accomplished within the Church and with the participation of the Church…

God chooses every one of his ministers in the Church. The ancient church testifies to this its conviction through the words of the ordination prayer: ‘You who know our hearts, Father, grant that your servant, whom you have chosen for oversight, should shepherd your holy flock and should serve before you as your high priest…’ The Epitome uses the expression hon exelexô, ‘ whom you have chosen’ – just as in Acts 1:24: ‘and they prayed and said, “Lord, who knowest the hearts of all men, show which one of these two thou hast chosen (hon exelexô)…

The election by God, manifest through the ordination of the bishop, presbyter, and deacon, does not exclude a possibility of their election by the Church itself. ‘Let the bishop be ordained, having been elected by all the people.’ Election by the local church is one of the ways to discover God’s will, for it is not the one who is pleasing to the people that is elected but the one who was already appointed by God for ministry. The election was the people’s testimony concerning the will of God revealed in the Church and at the same time the expression of their consent to the ordination of this particular person who was elected, in fulfillment of God’s will, for this ministry.”

(Nicholas Afanasiev in The Church of the Holy Spirit, pgs. 94-96)