The unity and continuity of the Church is found in Her bishops
Gathering together for the celebration of the Church’s Divine Services is that great moment in the life of the People of God that brings together both heaven and earth. In these services we are mystically taken to a place where time and space cease to exist as we know it, and we are transported into the Heavenly Realm. In these services we are mystically standing with the saints and all the Heavenly Powers before the Throne of God.
These services bring us all together, from the smallest chapel, to the largest cathedral. Patriarchs, metropolitans, archbishops, bishops, and clergy of every rank, stand as one before the Noetic Altar, worshiping the Holy Trinity.
The Unity of the Church is no where more defined than during her services, and the unity of the people of God around their bishop is clearly that defining moment. Whether the Divine Services are celebrated in the tiny monastic cave chapel of hermits, or in the bishop’s own cathedral, all are united together as if in one liturgical celebration.
It is important to note that in Orthodoxy, Christ is the only priest, pastor, and teacher. Christ is the living Head of His Church, and alone guides and rules his people. He alone offers communion with God, His Father. He, alone, forgives sins. Christ remains with His Church as its living and unique Head, and is present and active in the Church through the Holy Spirit.
The Mystery of Holy Orders is the sacrament by which the bishop brings order to the Church, guaranteeing the continuity and unity of the Church from age to age and from place to place. It is the bishop who keeps the continuity of worship and doctrine, from the time of Christ and the Apostles until the establishment of God’s Kingdom in eternity.
Bishops receive the gift of the Holy Spirit to manifest Christ in the Holy Spirit to men and women everywhere. Bishops are neither vicars, substitutes, nor representatives of Christ. It is Christ, through his chosen ministers, Who acts as teacher, good shepherd, forgiver, and healer. It is Christ remitting sins, and curing the physical, mental, and spiritual ills of humanity. There is reluctance to try to explain it in Orthodoxy, for it remains a great mystery of the Church.
According to Saint John of Kronstadt, the bishop is the source of sanctification for all the Christians of his flock, after God and the Holy Virgin. Thus, the great esteem and love shown to the bishop reflects in the faithful the view that the bishop is, by his office, the most perfect celebrant of the Holy Mysteries. Every priest, regardless of rank, shares in his bishop’s priesthood, and represents his bishop among the people.
The bishop, as the Father of the Diocese, is father to all of us. We must therefore include our bishop in our daily prayers, and show him the respect and love that is due his office. The unity and well being of the diocese requires that we never judge our bishop, but only love and respect him. He is the icon of Christ in our midst, is pivotal to the whole of our Orthodox Faith, and is central to what it means to be an Orthodox Christian. Without the office of bishop, the Catholic and Apostolic Church would cease to exist.