Sunset - Larnaca

Sunset - Larnaca

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Ministry in the Early Church

The apostles received the Gospel for our sakes from the Lord Jesus Christ; Jesus the Christ was sent from God. The Christ therefore is from God, and the apostles from Christ...They were in accordance with the appointed order of God's will. So, preaching in country and city, they appointed their the Spirit, to be bishops and deacons of those who should believe.'
- Clement, First Epistle to the Corinthians (c.96)

Clement stresses God's appointment of the orders of ministry within the Church, for we hear in the Scriptures 'I will establish their bishops in righteousness and their deacons in faith.' (Isaiah 60:17) Clement speaks of πρεσβύτεροι ( presbyters/elders ), επίσκοποι (bishops), and διάκονοι (deacons). In his writing, he explains that the only Christian ministers to be recognised were those appointed by the apostles, or by their successors ( in other words the direct link to the apostles gives the holy orders validity and stability - later to be known as apostolic succession )

The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles on Ministry
 - The Didache ( the documented teaching of the twelve apostles ) cannot be dated accurately , however its constant reference to St Matthew's Gospel suggest around c.90-100, with Syria being the possible area of origin. The didache would probably have contained the first account of the Eucharist, after those found in 1 Cor 11:23-5, and Mark 14:22-5.

The Didache warns us of false apostles and ministers of Christ - telling us that if an apostle tries to gain financially from a visit, or tries to overstay his welcome then he is false. If he were to preach things that he does not live by himself, then again he is false. A true apostle and preacher is one who gives to the needy,  and truly sacrifices himself for others. 'Break bread and give thanks..but whoso hath a dispute with his fellow, let him not come together with you.' This is very significant, as it is still an important teaching of the Church today, that we must 'love one another, that with one mind we may confess..' (Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom) It is important to remember that the Eucharistic Liturgy and celebration was often referred to as the 'meal of Love' in the Early Church. The Liturgy is above all, an act of love in communion. 

'Elect for yourselves bishops and deacons worthy of the Lord, men meek and not covetous, and true and approved: for they also minister unto you the ministry of the prophets and teachers.' 

Again we see the importance of the Bishop within the Church, even in such an early apostolic writing. What is interesting, is the fact that they make no reference to presbyters/priests - however at the same time we should note that to this day, the Eucharistic Liturgy takes place in the name of the Bishop, and on his behalf. In the Early Church, the Liturgy would have often been celebrated in a city by the Bishop and his deacons - however with the Church gradually spreading, the Bishops had to ordain priests who would go out and celebrate the Eucharist in their names and on their behalf's. Saint Ignatius of Antioch makes it very clear that without either the physical presence, or blessing of a bishop, the Eucharist is invalid. It is through the bishop of the Church, that we are directly linked to Christ and His Apostles in the Holy Spirit.

'Let that Eucharist be considered valid which is under the Bishop...whatsoever he approves, that also is well-pleasing to God, that everything which you do may be secure and valid.' 
- Ignatius, to the Smyraeans, VIII

Saint Ignatius is the earliest author who insists on the threefold ministry of the Church:

'Give heed unto the Bishop, and the presbytery, and deacons.. Do nothing without the Bishop.'

It is clear, that from the very foundation of the Early Church, the threefold ministry has been visible. The Bishop is the leading member, the overseer, and the one with the greatest responsibility, authority and service - maintaining and insuring the truth and unity of the Orthodox faith. The priests (presbyters) of the Church, are those who assisted the Bishop when needed in the Early Church - as is the case today in the Orthodox Church. Priests were, and are needed in order to head and lead local congregations. They preside at the celebration of the Liturgy, but do so as a representative of the Bishop, who has the authority and validates each and every service & sacrament. Deacons have always assisted the Bishops in good deeds and works of charity, as well as assisting at the celebration of the Liturgy and other services. In addition to the bishops, priests and deacons who comprise the central ordained ministries in the Church, the Orthodox tradition gives special blessings to particular ministries of sub-deacons and readers (with readers also seen in Early Church writings).

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