Eucharist, Bishop, Church (1)

In the introduction, Zizioulas states his broad project:  “… our theology can no longer fall back on the sources of its own confessional riches.  The gradual abandonment of the confessional mentality of past generations and the recognition of the need for our theology to be an expression not of one confession but of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church herself, now directs the course of theological study towards the sources of the ancient undivided Church (1).”

This is something Protestants should be able to agree with.  The first generation of Reformers constantly appealed to the church fathers and early councils as authoritative sources.  Only the most ingrown and cloistered Reformed fundamentalists would say that the Reformed tradition is sufficient by itself.  In fact, we cannot do this when the majority of major Reformed confessions all appeal to the 3 Creeds (Apostles’, Nicea, and Athanasian) either explicitly and implicitly.  (The Westminster Confession is a notable departure from this Reformed consensus.)

Zizioulas continues: “A Church which, in spite of all the disputes and conflicts by which she was often shaken, was always well aware of what is meant by the catholic consciousness of the Church.  This holds true, most especially for the study of the unity of the Church which aims to provide our divided Christian world with that supra-confessional thread which will help it to rediscover and actualize its unity through the midst of its various divisions” (1).

Zizioulas hopes that his study will provide a fragmented Christian world with a vision of ancient catholicity.  [I’ll give the ending away here and say that this unity is found in the role of the bishop as the representative of Christ in the Eucharist.  You may have guessed as much from the title of the book … Also, there are quite a few sentence fragments in this work–probably the work of the translator.]

Zizioulas is an Greek Orthodox Bishop, and so he obviously thinks that his tradition has preserved this ancient catholicty faithfully:  “For those coming from the Orthodox position, a reliable method of turning towards the sources of the ancient undivided Church is through study of the liturgical life of our Church.  The reproach leveled at our Church that she has remained through the centuries a ‘community of worship’ today, proves to be the best guarantee of a sure route back to the consciousness of the ancient undivided Church.  For the liturgical life of our Church which is characterized by its conservatism and traditional character has not succumbed to overloading with non-essential later elements, but continues to reflect in a changing world the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church of every age, worshipping in one body” (1-2, emphasis mine).

Here’s the million dollar question–who defines these “non-essential later elements”?  Alexander Schmemann, in his Introduction to Liturgical Theology, certainly disagrees.  His whole thesis seems to be that the ancient Ordo was obscured by the all the elements added later.  I know Schmemann is too “Westernized” for many Orthodox, but it is undeniable that the Divine Liturgy has changed over the years.  For instance, a full iconostasis (the screen which hides the altar from the laity), was added only gradually.  And, as far as I know, we don’t find prayers to Mary or the saints in the earliest liturgies.

What is an essential element, and what is an un-essential element?   



  1. Excellent question. I am curious how you view “Primitivism”, and whether your paradigm currently holds that peeling the church back to our ancient roots is the surest way to the pure or right Gospel (that’s an honest question, I promise you I’m not gearing up for the attack). I presently believe that Primitivism has problems; my limited perception is that the Reformational churches are growing increasingly fond of ancient church studies and will become more primitivist in inclination.

    It’s an odd fit for an Orthodox to make primitivist suggestions, as they seemed to develop as much as Catholics until the 7th, 8th, or 9th century (at what century they stopped depends on how one defines “essential elements”).

    My understanding of Orthodoxy was that they aren’t concerned with practicing non-essential elements, but more with defining theology to a non-essentially precise degree. This is their discontent with scholasticism. If my understanding here is right, then what is essential is what is necessary to work out conflicts, but going further may be to tear up mystery (?).

    Peace in Christ,

  2. Thos:

    Thanks for the helpful comments. It’s a breath of fresh air to hear honest questions in the blogosphere!

    My studies lead me to distinguish the “primitive church” from the “ancient church”. This is a distinction you can find in many of the Reformers. The “primitive” church was the Apostolic church, and the “ancient” church was the church of the first five centuries. This wasn’t merely a rhetorical ploy. I believe the Reformers were really trying to re-form the Church, not re-invent it.

    In our time, we know vastly more about the early church than the Reformers did. For instance, the Reformers didn’t know about the Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus.

    My overall approach is basically that of Thomas Oden’s. I’m trying to be faithful to “paleo-orthodoxy” and not to the quirks of the personality-driven Reformed world. Most every Reformed person I’ve met appeals to their Reformed “fathers,” whether they be Calvin, Edwards, Spurgeon, or Wilson. I’d rather trust the fathers who gave us the Canon of Scripture (another big issue I need to wade carefully through).

    Zizioulas is an interesting debate partner, precisely because he appeals to the first three centuries of the church. Calvin would have been comfortable with that. I”m hoping to find some common ground there.

  3. I’ll see your million dolla question and raise you. Is the task at hand to define or to set boundaries on what consistutes “essential” elements for the Orthodox?

  4. Hi, Perry:

    I’m not sure what the difference is between “define” and “set boundaries”. I’m just trying to understand what “essential elements” are for the Orthodox.

    It seems paradoxical that the Orthodox make so much of the fact that they “haven’t changed,” when, in fact, there has been great development. When did that development stop? Is it still occurring?

  5. I am poking you to think about what constitutes a definition. Then to think about what constitutes theology. Is it constructing concepts? If so, definition will be quite handy to distinguish this thing as something other than or a negation of, or consisting of opposite properties from other thing. If theology isn’t about definition, then things like essences and definitions have a significantly limited role.

    Development. It depends on what constitutes that word. Certainly I’d argue that no development in terms of drawing out hidden and implicit meanings in old terms that their initial users were unaware of has taken place in Orthodoxy. That idea is more the provence of Newman and McGrath.

    Has the liturgy developed? Sure as shootin’ it has but then we aren’t using the term development in its Newmanesque way anymore.

  6. His Eminence being a philosopher is really shooting from the hip regarding the Greek Orthodox Divine Liturgy. The Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom used by the Byzantine Orthodox was in full development until the sack of Constantinople by the Muslim Turks in 1453. This Imperial liturgy also affected the Divine Liturgies of the other Eastern Orthodox Patriarchates. The enforced hellenization of Antioch, Alexandria and Jerusalem continues to this day (and is a source of tension, as well). Remember, the hierarchies of these Churches were exiled in Constantinople after the initial Muslim conquest of the Middle East. It was during this period that the initial process of hellenization took place. After the Islamic sack of Constantinople, the Patriarch of Constantinople was made religious and civil governor of all Christians within the Ottoman Empire. In this second period, Greeks dominated the other patriarchates, making them vassalages of the Ecumenical Patriarch. It is only within the last century that Antioch, Alexandria and Jerusalem have begun the process of de-hellenization to recover their own local and regional traditions.

    There are many forces that have driven the development of the Greek Divine Liturgy. Living language, Imperial instrument, lack of codification and monastic influence were the most dominant centrifugal forces. Ironically, the codifications of the Roman Liturgy by Damasus in the 4th century, Gelasius in the 5th century and by Gregory in the 6th century preserved the Roman Liturgy from the forces of development that so profoundly affected the Greek Liturgy. The reforms of Trent culled away recent and regional changes to the Roman Liturgy preserving this form as the earliest form of Christian worship.

  7. Gil,

    Not to be polemical, but I think you confuse speaking Greek with being Hellenized. Second, I think your characterization of the liturgical relation between sees is overly simplified as is the rather rosey picture you paint of Roman liturgical development. By the 8th century Roman liturgical customs were replacing, practically by force, local traditions across western Europe. The Scots are a sufficient example.

  8. Perhaps it would be good to give a concrete example of the hellenization of the Byzantine Patriarchates that I discussed in an earlier post.

    After Muslims conquered Antioch in August of 638, the Patriarchate of this ancient city was left either vacant or occupied by a Greek in Constantinople. Byzantines regained possession of the city in 969. For the next 100 years, the original West Syrian Liturgy of Antioch was completely replaced by the Imperial Byzantine Liturgy of Constantinople. This process of replacement was complete by the 12th century.

    Greeks would rule the Church of Antioch until 1724, when the Arab Christian population elected an Arab Patriarch named Cyril VI who opposed Muslim domination and was pro-union. The Ottoman Caliph naturally deposed Cyril and directed the Patriarch of Constantinople to elect a Greek Cypriot to lead the Antiochians who would support Ottoman rule. Cyril would seek union with Rome from exile in Lebanon and the Antiochians who followed him would form the Melkite Catholic Church.

    Greeks would continue to lead the Patriarchate of Antioch until 1898, when the last Greek Patriarch was deposed by the largely Arab faithful of the Church. When an Arab successor was chosen in 1899, the Patriarchate of Antioch became fully independent and autonomous for the first time since the 7th century.

    A similar process of hellenization of the Eastern Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem took place, as well. The faithful of this Church did not become fully independent of Constantinople until 2007 when local Arabs deposed the last Greek Patriarch.

  9. QVD,

    Sorry I didn’t check back sooner. I liked this from your reply, “I’m trying to be faithful to “paleo-orthodoxy” and not to the quirks of the personality-driven Reformed world. Most every Reformed person I’ve met appeals to their Reformed “fathers,” whether they be Calvin, Edwards, Spurgeon, or Wilson. I’d rather trust the fathers who gave us the Canon of Scripture (another big issue I need to wade carefully through). ”

    It strikes me that adhering to paleo-orthodoxy would be far more logically consistent for those of our stripe than is adhering to Reformed “fathers”. Again, I see many problems with paleo-orthodoxy, but it still makes more sense than having Luther’s or Calvin’s works on your shelf next to scripture, and using that (effectively, even if you don’t admit it) as the proper, authentic articulate of biblical systematic theology. The logical conclusion of asserting that the church fell into near-total apostasy leading up to the Reformation is, in my opinion, that the church is never trustworthy whenever viewed removed from it’s primitive days. *Hence, primitivism seems more logical than fallible developmentalism.*

    I will reserve my concerns about paleo-orthodoxy for now. I think anyone looking back to the earliest generation of the church will benefit from it, no matter what their intent. I also look forward to your thoughts as you work through canon. That’s been hugely influential on me. Remember the paleo- or primitive church delivered no canon, and no doctrine about the Bible. The ancient church (as you have distinguished the two) did that. The ancient church also gave us our Creeds and the dogma they embody.

    Oops, I guess I didn’t withhold my concerns about paleo-orthodoxy after all…

    Peace in Christ,

  10. Good thoughts. Thanks!

  11. It seems to me that a major distinction that should be made is between the post-imperial church and the pre-imperial Church. When I hear debates betwean Catholic and Protestants, or Orthodox and protestants, both Catholic and Orthodox make appeal to the “Early” Church as proof of orthodoxy. But from the protestant perspective, merely appealing to church fathers and such from the third and fourth century (this is usually what is meant by “early Church” by orthodox and catholic) isn’t enough. I believe what protestants try to do is discover the condition of the Church from the apostles on into that mysterious, unaccounted for gap before the time which we call the patristic era. At the time of Constantine the Church certainly took a huge turn in appearance and form, and the question is, was it a good thing?,or is there anything which may be abandoned now? I think certain aspects of the Eucharist may be a good example. The celebration of the Eucharist certainly began to develope more after Constantine, and I wonder if it was ever a curse rather than a blessing on the Church to do away with the eucharist in the context of the agape feast, turning it into some corporate ritual and divorcing it from the intimate setting of a family meal which, more appropriately, fosters a greater sense of community and unity and love for one another. The large scale worship services(e.g. 2,000 some attendees in Hagia Sophia liturgy), I believe, may have stripped away a huge element to primitive Christian worship.

    In Christ,

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