Christian Leadership

When he had washed their feet, and taken his garments, and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.  (John 13:12-17)

And he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For which is the greater, one who sits at table, or one who serves? Is it not the one who sits at table? But I am among you as one who serves.  (Luke 22:25-27)

Leading by example is the Christian way of leadership.  It is the way of giving a sermon without using words.  However, historically as the Christian Church saw its bishops as hierarchs, primates, prelates and masters rather than as shepherds and pastors it tended to rely less on the difficult way of leading by example.  Leaders were those giving directives and enforcing rules.  Pastors became police.   The shepherd of old walked in front of the sheep and the sheep followed the shepherd – followed the shepherd’s voice to where the shepherd was going.  The pastoral image was one that was more amenable to the notion of leadership by example.  As the Church grew in numbers it was tempted to rely on authority and force to keep people in line.  Besides, leadership by example can be extremely frustrating because people don’t always know what the leader is modeling, nor what part they are to imitate or how to do what they think they are supposed to do.   Any parent of a large family of children who has tried to lead prayer before a meal only by his/her example quickly experiences the downside of not requiring all the children to pay attention.

Early monasticism and the desert fathers had their own ideas about Christian leadership which is sometimes counter-intuitive.  But it recognizes that leadership by example doesn’t always succeed and then the leader has to decide what to do.  St. Mark the Ascetic offers this advice to those in positions of Christian leadership:

If someone does not obey you when you have told him once, do not argue and try to compel him; but take for yourself the profit which he has thrown away. For forbearance will benefit you more than correcting him.

For St Mark, the Christian leader does not try to compel people to obey and does not threaten or argue with others or try to guilt them into doing things.  You tell them once and then it is up to them whether they will act or not.  Exasperation is not Christian leadership.

When the evil conduct of one person begins to affect others, you should not show long-suffering; and instead of your own advantage you should seek that of the others, so that they may be saved. For virtue involving many people is more valuable than virtue involving only one. (The Philokalia, Kindle Loc. 4100-4105)

The only time St Mark thinks a Christian leader should not be overly patient is when one person’s evil conduct begins to badly influence others.  Then one has to consider how many souls may be lost if the evil person is allowed to go unchecked.  So if someone is simply disobeying me, I should ignore that, but if they are trying to lead others in evil, then I have to oppose them.  The issue then is not my authority or position, but concern/love for others.  If I’m being disrespected, that I am to ignore.  Christian leadership is walking a find line – the straight and narrow way of Christ.   We sing two hymns during the Bridegroom Matins for Holy Monday which remind us of Christ’s explicit teachings:

“Let your power over your fellow-men be altogether different from the dominion of the Gentiles: their self-willed pride is not the order that I have appointed, but a tyranny. He therefore who would be the first among you, let him be the last of all. Acknowledge Me as Lord, and praise and exalt Me above all forever.”

O Lord, teaching Your disciples to think perfect thoughts, You said to them: “Be not like the Gentiles, who exercise dominion over those who are less strong.  But it shall not be so among you, My disciples, for I of mine own will am poor.  Let him, then, who is first among you be the minister of all.  Let the ruler be as the ruled, and let the first be as the last.  For I Myself have come to minister to Adam in his poverty, and to give my life as a ransom for the many who cry aloud to Me: Glory to You.

One Lord, One Church, One Eucharist

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all.   (Ephesians 4:4-6)

Bishop Kallistos Ware writes:

As St. Ignatius insisted, “Take care to participate in one Eucharist: for there is one flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ, and one cup for union in His blood, and one altar, just as there is one bishop.” The repetition of the word “one” is deliberate and striking: “one Eucharist…one flesh…one cup…one altar…one bishop.” Such is St. Ignatius’ understanding of the Church and its unity: the Church is local, an assembly of all the faithful in the same place (epi to avto); the Church is Eucharistic, a gathering around the same altar to share in a single loaf and a single cup; and the Church is hierarchicalit is not simply any kind of Eucharistic meeting, but it is that Eucharistic meeting which is convened under the presidency of the one local bishop.

Church unity, as the Bishop of Antioch envisages it, is not merely a theoretical ideal but a practical reality, established and made visible through participation of each local community in the Holy Mysteries. Despite the central role exercised by the bishop, unity is not something imposed from outside by power of jurisdiction, but it is created from within through the act of receiving communion. The Church is above all else a Eucharistic organism which becomes itself when celebrating the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper “until He comes again” (I Cor 11:26).   (The Inner Kingdom, p. 17)

The Bishop and the Diocese

“‘Apart from the bishop, let no one do anything pertaining to the Church. Let that be considered a valid Eucharist which is celebrated by the bishop or by a person appointed by him. Let the people be present wherever the bishop appears, just as the catholic Church is wherever Jesus Christ is. Apart from the bishop it is not lawful either to baptize or to celebrate a Eucharist, but whatever he may approve is also pleasing to God, so that whatever you do may be sure and valid.’ (St. Ignatius of Antioch – d. 107 AD)

It was perhaps in the eucharistic liturgy that the leading role of the bishop could best be discerned. Ordinarily he alone presided. As he prayed aloud at the altar, the presbyters stood silently on either side of him, while the deacons assisted him in such matters as the distribution of the consecrated bread, or saw to it that order was maintained in the church.  From his cathedra, the chair that was the symbol of his teaching authority and that was usually situated at the center of the back wall of the sanctuary, and flanked by the presbyters’ benches, he was accustomed to preach. This was the bishop’s most important task, and, until about the beginning of the sixth century, it was only infrequently that priests and deacons preached.”   (Boniface Ramsey, Beginning to Read the Fathers, p. 115).


The Three Hierarchs

On January 30, we commemorate in the Orthodox Church The Synaxis of the Ecumenical Teachers and Hierarchs: Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, and John Chrysostom.


One of the Matins hymns for the Feast appealed to me because of my interest in our friendly pollinators, the blessed bees.













Love: The Power of Christian Leadership

popeIn Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s “Legend of the Grand Inquisitor” from his book, THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV, we encounter contrasting and conflicting images of religious power.  There is Archbishop who is the Grand Inquisitor, with his majestic robes which inspire terror  in the population.  He and his entourage armed with all the legal power of the state cause the people to cower and kowtow before him because they know he has power over their lives – to rule and to even take life from them.

On the other hand, Jesus comes humbly and unassuming, no threatening retinue around him.  He is almost unrecognizable (at least as God the Lord) and blends into the crowd of the poor and powerless.  He raises to life a little girl who has died.  His power is love and life.  Yet, He submits to the authority of the Inquisitor who casts Him into prison.    There it is the Inquisitor who does all the talking to explain and justify his power on earth.  Jesus remains totally silent in the face of all accusations but reveals His power – that of love.

This contrast played out in Jesus’ own lifetime, as Jesus stood before Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor where Pilate seems to be the one who is trapped and forced to act, while Jesus the condemned man seems to speak with power.

The Jews answered Pilate, “We have a law, and by that law he ought to die, because he has made himself the Son of God.” When Pilate heard these words, he was the more afraid; he entered the praetorium again and said to Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave no answer. Pilate therefore said to him, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?” Jesus answered him, “You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above; therefore he who delivered me to you has the greater sin.” Upon this Pilate sought to release him…”  (John 19:7-12)

Christian leadership involves power, but it should be the power of Christ and the Holy Spirit, not that of Pilate or the Grand Inquisitor.  The Church’s power is not that of an empire’s army or police, but of love.  Henri J.M. Nouwen says:

“I am speaking of a leadership in which power is constantly abandoned in favor of love. It is a true spiritual leadership. Powerless and humility in the spiritual life do not refer to people who have no spine and who let everyone else make decisions for them. They refer to people who are so deeply in love with Jesus that they are ready to follow him wherever he guides them, always trusting that, with him, they will find life and find it abundantly.”

(In the Name of Jesus , pp 63-64)


Bishops: Ordained for the Ministry of Governance

Holy Great Council Photo

Last week the Orthodox churches throughout the world gathered at the Holy and Great Council in Crete, or were at least aware of the gathering and had participated in the preparation for the Council.  The Council had been discussed among Orthodox hierarchs for at least half a century. Being a hierarchical church, bishops in Orthodoxy have a responsibility for making such councils happen and succeed.  Bishop alone however do not constitute the Church, even though sometimes one gets the impression that even conciliarity in the Church is the prerogative of bishops and doesn’t necessarily extend to other clergy let alone the laity which constitutes the vast majority of Church membership.   Fr. Nicholas Afanasiev writes about the essential interdependency of laity and bishops in the church – without which the Body of Christ is dead.  The Holy Spirit differently gifts laity and hierarchy in the Church.

“Not having the gift of administration, the ‘people of the Lord’ have a gift of discernment and examination which is a special kind of ministry not entrusted to particular members of the Church but rather to all the people of God, i.e., to all the members of the Church in their common action. ‘Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others discern what is said’ (1 Cor. 14:29).  ‘Test everything; hold fast what is good’ (1 Thess. 5:21). The people have discernment and examination concerning everything being done in the Church. The bishop together with presbyters does not govern the people of God in his own name. Neither does he govern them on the basis of law as the one who received his power from the people or through the people. Rather he governs the people in God’s name, as the one ordained by God for the ministry of governance.

2016 Holy Synod

Having the charism of discernment and examination the people witness that everything done in the Church under the guidance of the pastors is done in accordance with the will of God revealed by the Holy Spirit. In the early church all ecclesial acts, such as the celebration of the mysteries, the reception of the catechumens and penitents into the Church, excommunication, and so forth, involved the people’s participation. In the early church the people’s testimony concerning the the revelation of God’s will had the character of ‘consensus’ with what was about to happen in the Church and their reception of what was accomplished as corresponding to God’s will. It would be a mistake to suppose that the people gave their consent as a result of a vote, just as it is custom in the popular assemblies of the Greek cities or in the representative institutions nowadays. The consent and reception by the people did not mean that the people expressed their own private opinion or wish concerning one or another ecclesial act. The ecclesial authority in the person of the bishops were not bound by the will of the laics, just as the people were not bound by the will of their presiders. Neither the will of laics nor the will of bishops is per se sufficient for the action in the Church. The Church lives and acts not by the will of man, but by the will of God. Consent and reception were the witness of the Church through the witness of the people that the presiders act and govern in agreement with the will of God.” (Nicholas Afanasiev, The Church of the Holy Spirit, pp 60-61)


The Bishop in History and Tradition

“The saying is sure: If any one aspires to the office of bishop, he desires a noble task. Now a bishop must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, sensible, dignified, hospitable, an apt teacher, no drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, and no lover of money. He must manage his own household well, keeping his children submissive and respectful in every way; for if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how can he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may be puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil; moreover he must be well thought of by outsiders, or he may fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.”  (1 Timothy 3:1-7)

Bishops John Chrysostom & Ignatius of Antioch

“For a bishop, as God’s steward, must be blameless; he must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of goodness, master of himself, upright, holy, and self-controlled; he must hold firm to the sure word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to confute those who contradict it.”   (Titus 1:5-9)

Bishop Gregory of Nyssa

The office of bishop (Greek: episkopos) has changed through the long history of the Orthodox Church.  In the apostolic age, the bishop was the leader of the local, Eucharistic community.  This is the idea found in the Pauline letters referring to the office of the bishop which we read above.  At first, the bishop and elder were probably the same office, but in time the role of the bishop became more clarified as the presiding officer at the Eucharistic assembly.   As the Church grew exponentially, especially after the conversion of Constantine, the position of the bishop changed to reflect the new realities caused by the rapid growth.  Ideas about the bishop’s office also changed to reflect the new realities.  The Church needed leadership in positions to help unite all of the local churches in an area, and the bishop’s office morphed from being the local pastor, to being a supervisor over all the local parishes in a district.  With this change, two other things happened – the idea of “local” changed from meaning a community in one town, to referring to a diocese – a territory with many local Christian communities.

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew

Today, when the Orthodox speak about the heads of “local” churches it refers to patriarchs who preside over many dioceses, or over an entire national church.   And with the changing role of the bishop, the priest emerged as the head of the local Eucharistic community.  Today, the parish priest is really filling the role originally envisioned of the bishop in the Apostolic age.  The priest does not ordain, that has remained the prerogative of the bishop, but the priest functions in the role of the leader of the local Eucharistic community as described in the Pauline letters.  Fr. Thomas Hopko reflects on the original idea of the episkopos (bishop):

“The term episkopos, in the ancient world, actually referred to a slave who oversaw other slaves, who was a caretaker for a property, or who supervised the household as the chief servant. So it is interesting that the term for a chief slave is given to Jesus. He is the Episkopos, the Chief Servant. To be an overseer or a caretaker, one first has to be a servant. He is the Servant of all the servants; He is the Servant set over the other servants, because all the members of the household of God are servants, slaves of God, and the slaves become sons by the grace of God through Jesus. Jesus said to His disciples, ‘No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you’ (John 15:15). In Galatians, St. Paul writes, ‘So through God you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son then an heir’ (Gal. 4:7). The slaves become friends and sons. That is very important, but the servant element still remains. We begin as servants, and we always recognize ourselves as servants. Jesus is the Servant of all servants. He is the Suffering Servant.”   (Thomas Hopko, The Names of Jesus: Discovering the Person of Christ through Scripture, Kindle Location 5346-5355)

All Christians are servants of God, though we also are by God’s grace, His children. However, we always are guided by the spirit of being servants of one another. Among the servants of God, one serves as the overseer among the servants, this is is the office of bishop within the Christian community.

“The episkopos, the chief servant, is not the master, the despotis, nor is he king or vasilevs, nor is he lord or kyrios. He is a servant, a slave, a doulos, but he is in charge of everything that belongs to the master and the lord. He is in charge of all the master’s servants, goods, and property. He has all the master’s power and authority. He has everything that belongs to the master. He functions in persona, ‘in the place of’ the master. When you see him, you see the master. When you hear him, you hear the master. When he commands, you hear the command of the master. When he orders you to do something, you obey him as you would the master. But he is not really the master; the real master is the master.”   (Thomas Hopko, The Names of Jesus: Discovering the Person of Christ through Scripture, Kindle Location 5361-5366)

At least according to Fr. Tom, originally the bishop was thought of as being “one of us”, a servant of God, like the rest of us.  He had a unique role in the community, but he wasn’t “over” the community, but represented the Master from within the community, to remind us that Jesus Christ is Lord, and that we all are brothers and sisters (see Matthew 23:1-12).

However, as the bishop’s role became more that of an administrator over an entire district of local parishes, the bishop became seen as less part of the local community, and more as a distant ruler over the community.   Through the centuries the bishop was understood less as a pastor and shepherd and more as hierarch, a despot.   Fr. Lawrence Farley describes in his book how this transformation took place especially in recent centuries.  Here we can read about three changes in the dress of the bishop which occurred in history and how these changes reflect the changing role of the bishop.

“Canon 27 (14) of that council [of Constantinople IV in 869–870] decreed, ‘Bishops who have been permitted to wear the omophorion at certain times must not abuse so great and honorable a garment through pride, vainglory, human conceit, and self-love, by wearing it unnecessarily throughout the Divine Sacrifice.’ This canonical legislation could not withstand the rising tide of sacralization, and the omophorion was indeed used after the episcopal entrance during the ensuing sacramental celebration.   ( Lawrence Farley, The Empty Throne: Reflections on the History and Future of the Orthodox Episcopacy, Kindle Location 1245-1248)

In the 9th Century, the omophorion was originally to be worn only by certain bishops granted that honor, and even they were not to wear it throughout the liturgy since that practice was thought of as showing “pride, vainglory, human conceit, and self-love.”  Now, the omophorion is worn as a sign of holding the office of bishop.  The concerns of the Church Council are ignored.  The omophorion shows the unique position of the bishop and represents power over the community.  Fr. Lawrence continues:

We note next a number of appropriations of imperial ritual by the bishop. First is the acclamation “Eis polla eti despota,” “Many years, Master!” This was not found in any Greek pontifical before the fourteenth or fifteenth century. It had its origins in the popular acclamations of the emperor at imperial processions and civil festivals. In the earlier form of the episcopal acclamation used in the early fourteenth century, the bishop is hailed with “Many years, Father!” but this later changes to the episcopized form “Master.”   ( Lawrence Farley, The Empty Throne: Reflections on the History and Future of the Orthodox Episcopacy, Kindle Location 1257-1260)

The bishop’s office in later centuries takes on more imperial trappings as he is portrayed and perceived more as power above the church communities.  He is treated more as royalty, than as a pastor.  No longer is the bishop understood as one of the servants, slaves, of the household, but clearly is the master over it.

“Finally we note the wearing of the episcopal miter or crown. Perhaps nothing else suggests and visually embodies the imperial role of the bishop like his crown. The Greek miter now worn by all Orthodox bishops was introduced into the Russian church by Patriarch Nikon in 1653. The wearing of the miter was originally a privilege given to the patriarch of Constantinople and extended to all bishops after the fall of the city in 1453. Indeed, Symeon of Thessalonica writes in the early part of that century that although the patriarch of Alexandria and many others wore miters, “the more binding” custom was for bishops to serve bareheaded.”   (Lawrence Farley, The Empty Throne: Reflections on the History and Future of the Orthodox Episcopacy, Kindle Location 1266-1270)

Some feel we can never go back in time and recapture earlier understandings of the Church.  They feel the “received tradition” has superseded all previous understandings and we can never go back.  It is obvious though if we read history, that in past generations the Church did not have our understanding of the office of the bishop, or of tradition.  The understanding of the bishop’s office has changed as circumstances changed.  Even in the Canons of the Church it is noted that requiring celibacy for the bishops was a change in tradition.  The canons note that celibacy for bishops was not the received tradition, but was being adopted because of the change in historical circumstances.   Thus, our received Tradition is that traditions can be changed as historical circumstances change.

That the Church can change and adapt to historical circumstances is part of the Tradition of the Church, which we should never give up or otherwise the Church is doomed to be petrified, ossified and moribund.  We know the Church has altered, adapted and changed many things through its history.  We have the ability to understand why.  The received Tradition of the Church includes the ability to change practices to meet current needs.   The Church today is in a very different position than it was in Byzantium.  Historical circumstances have changed radically.  God has swept away the Byzantine world into the trash bin of history, but the Orthodox Church has survived, and now needs to again assess its place in the world. The Church is supposed to proclaim the Gospel, not be a museum of Byzantine imperial ideas.   A bishop in imperial robes, being addressed as “Master” – does this help proclaim and witness to the Gospel to 21st Century Westerners, or does it only make the Church a museum of Byzantine practice?    We have the wisdom and authority from God to continually witness to the Gospel in an ever changing world.  The Gospel remains the same as does Jesus Christ, yesterday, today and forever.  We in the Church can follow our Tradition and the way of the Fathers by changing church practices/traditions in order to best reflect the unchanging Gospel to the world.   The early Church did not lament the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, but viewed it as part of an old dispensation which was passing away.    We do not need to lament the disappearance of Byzantium or 19th Century Russia either, for we have before us the world, ripe for harvest and the coming Kingdom of God to which we ought direct our attention.

“Brethren, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”  (Philippians 3:13-14)

Apostolic Succession and Church Hierarchy

Christ and the Apostles

“This idea can be expressed as follows: in the body of Christ, the hierarchy is not so much a power as a function and a ministry which exists alongside other functions and ministries. Therefore, one must first of all accept that, in this sense, the whole church, from top to bottom, is hierarchical, for the chief apostle said: ‘Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ…Ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people’ (1 Pet. 2:5,9).  Only on the basis of the principle of universal royal priesthood, of the hierarchism of the whole Church, can one understand and accept the distinction of the hierarchical functions. and avoid that exaggeration owing to which a clerical absolutism creeps in. This clericalism subverts the very principle of ecclesiastical hierarchism and divides the Church into two parts: the rulers and the ruled, the teachers and the taught, those who command and those who obey. It is to justify such a conception that dogmatic fictions of the vicariate of Christ and of the ‘apostolic succession’ as power and the organization of power arise, contrary to the Lord’s direct testimony:

And there was also a strife among them, which of them should be accounted the greatest. And he said unto them, The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors. But ye shall not be so: but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve. (Luke 22:24-26)

For Scripture it is not the institution of the primacy of Peter, or the apostolic primacy of the episcopate, but service, determined by the place of each member in the Church, that represents the fundamental norm of universal priesthood. This is the authentic ‘apostolic succession’ in the Church, and denies any basis for clerical absolutism or ‘monarchic episcopatism’ as manifestations of ecclesiastical hierarchism.”

(Sergius Bulgakov, The Bride of the Lamb, p 279)

Christ washing the feet of the disciples is a model for Christian leadership.  Christ is the High Priest who we are to imitate in the church.  He did not think equality with God was something to be grasped, but rather became a servant.

St. Silouan: What is a Bishop?

Since the OCA‘s Diocese of the Midwest Special Assembly this past week nominated  Fr. Paul Gassios to become our next bishop, it is a good time to think about what a bishop is or should be.  St. Silouan the Athonite (d. 1938AD) says this about a bishop:

St. John Chrysostom

“The Lord calls His bishops to feed His flock, and gives them freely of the grace of the Holy Spirit. It is said that the Holy Spirit stablished the bishops in the Church, and in the Holy Spirit they have the power to bind and remit sins. And we are the sheep of the Lord’s flock whom He loved unto the end and to whom He gave our holy pastors. They are heirs to the Apostles, and by the grace accorded them they bring us to Christ. They teach us repentance; they teach us to keep the Lord’s commandments. They proclaim the word of God, that we may know the Lord. They guide us along the path of salvation, and help us to climb the heights of the lowly spirit of Christ. They gather the afflicted and straying sheep of Christ into the Church’s fold, that their souls may find rest in God. They pray to God for us, that we may all be saved. As the friends of Christ they are able to entreat and be heard of the Lord, attaining humility and the grace of the Holy Spirit for the living, forgiveness of sins for the dead, and for the Church peace and freedom from bondage. They carry the Holy Spirit within them, and through the Holy Spirit forgive us our sins.

Three Hierarchs

By the Holy Spirit they know the Lord, and like the angels they contemplate God. They are strong to tear our minds from the earth and attach them to the Lord. They grieve when they see us grieving God and preventing the Holy Spirit from dwelling in us. All the troubles of the earth lie on their shoulders, and their souls are carried away with love of God. They pray without cease, beseeching comfort for us in our afflictions, and peace for the whole world. By their ardent prayers they draw us, too, to serve God in a spirit of humility and love. For their own humility and love for the people, the Lord loves them. Inasmuch as they continue in great toil and struggle, they are enriched by the wisdom of the Saints, whose example they seek to follow in their own life. The Lord so loved us the He suffered on the Cross for us; and His sufferings were so great that we are unable to apprehend them because we love the Lord so little. Likewise do our spiritual pastors suffer on our account, although we often do not see their sufferings. And the greater a pastor’s love, the greater are his sufferings; and we who are His sheep should understand this, and love and revere our pastors” (St. Silouan the Athonite, pp 400-401)

The Bishop: Lover of the Poor

As the Diocese of the Midwest prepares to nominate a candidate to become the next diocesan bishop, we can consider what role a bishop is to have in the life of the Church and in the world.

“…In the late antique period, that is, between the years 300 and 600 of the Common Era. […]The Christian bishop was held by contemporaries to owe his position in no small part to his role as the guardian of the poor. He was the ‘lover of the poor’ par excellence: ‘A bishop who loves the poor, the same is rich, and his city and region shall honor him.’ But not only bishops were expected to be ‘lovers of the poor.’ To be a ‘lover of the poor’ became a public virtue. It was a virtue expected of Christian emperors.” (Peter Brown, Poverty and Leadership in the Later Roman Empire, p 1)

In nominating a man to become our bishop we attempt to discern the will of God for our Diocese and Church.   The bishop sits not as judge but to help incarnate the Lord’s love and wisdom in the diocese.   His is not supposed to be the image of secular power.

And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are supposed to rule over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of man also came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  (Mark 10:42-45)

The bishop is called to serve, as described in the Pastoral Epistle to Titus.

For a bishop, as God’s steward, must be blameless; he must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of goodness, master of himself, upright, holy, and self-controlled; he must hold firm to the sure word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to confute those who contradict it.(Titus 1:7-9)

May it be so in our Diocese!