Eucharist, Bishop, Church (Preface, 1)

In his “Preface to the 2nd Edition,” Zizioulas states part of his objective in republishing his dissertation–he wants to help restore the ancient authority of the bishop in the Eucharistic assembly.  He writes:

“Unfortunately, many Orthodox have it firmly entrenched in their mind that the bishop is in essence an administrator, and that in his liturgical function, including indeed the Divine Eucharist, he is not a person constitutive of the Mystery but more or less decorative someone who is invited to ’embellish’ the whole service by his presence and his vestments.  Precisely because of the weakening of the ancient conception which this work demonstrates in such detail, namely, that the bishop is in essence the only president of the Divine Eucharist and that no Divine Liturgy is thinkable without reference to the bishop in whose name it is celebrated, ordination as priest has come to be regarded by many as sufficient for someone to celebrate the Divine Eucharist and transmit grace to the people without any clear dependence on his bishop.  This idea can be seen at its ultimate extreme in cases where the Divine Liturgy is celebrated without the commemoration of a bishop!  When this ‘presbyterianism’ is permitted (a ‘presbyterianism’ which, thanks to the influence of Orthodox theology, is starting to be questioned even by Protestants today), it threatens the doctrinal foundations of the Church as they were laid down during the first centuries.  In her attempt to avoid the Scylla of ‘despotism’, the Church is in danger of falling into the Charybdis of a sort of ‘presbyterianism’ if the proper place of the bishop in the Church is not brought to the people’s awareness,” (Eucharist, Bishop, Church, 6).

I quote this at length in order to highlight Zizioulas’s overall argument.  Many Orthodox, according to him, are losing sight of the ancient importance of the bishop in presiding over the Eucharist.  For Zizioulas, recovering the ancient church’s understanding of the bishop is essential to recovering the true meaning of Eucharist, Unity, and Catholicity. 

Zizioulas concludes his Preface:  “The scholarly grounding of its [his study’s] conclusions seeks to persuade any sincere reader, Orthodox or not, that Orthodoxy, not as ideology but as Church, as founded upon the teaching and the blood of a St. Ignatius of Antioch, an Irenaeus or a Cyprian, is the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church because it possesses the truth not only in its teaching but also in its structure,” (7).

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