Chapter 17 -
Congregating the scattered ones
1. The salvific unity of the faithful
Just prior to Christ's
crucifixional sacrifice, in that agonized prayer of His
for all those who would believe in His name, the Lord
asked the Father to safeguard them in a divine unity: «that
they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in
You; that they also may be one in Us, so that the world
may believe that You sent Me... that they may be one
just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they
may be made perfect, into one...» (John 17:21-23).
With these words, Christ
did not invite the faithful to an external unity but an
inner one - an absolute one, similar to the unity
between the three Persons of the Holy Trinity, from
which Man had fallen away through his fall. One
unity, whose basis and whose goal are the three Persons
of the Holy Trinity, which signifies man's redemption
and his perfecting: «I in them, and You in
Me; that they may be made perfect, into one...» (John 17:23).
The unity therefore which Christ speaks of,
is not "the road to salvation"; it is salvation itself.
2. The divine Eucharist : the realization of one's union in
In what manner can we attain that unity?
Undoubtedly, the completion of this unity is linked to the triumph of the
Church in the end of Time, during the Coming of the Lord and the final
Judgment. However, even in this life there is a foretaste of that
perfect unity for the faithful. It is the event of the divine Eucharist.
The Apostle Paul characteristically says: «For we, though many, are
one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread» (1
Cor.10:17). The Lord Himself - when referring to the divine Eucharist -
links man's participation to it with that very event of salvation and life,
whereas He links man's abstention from the Eucharist, to a spiritual death: «“Most
assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and
drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks
My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day".» (John 6:53-54)
After the Fall, people lost the unity between
each other, which was dependent on God's love; they became internally
alienated and so they dispersed. With His incarnation, Christ assumed
the whole of mankind which was necrotized with Christ's death and was
resurrected with Him into a new life, united once again within God's love.
This is how Christ restored man to his former unity with God.
When the faithful congregate to perform the
divine Liturgy, when they partake of the divine Eucharist, that is when they
are once again reunited into one body - the resurrected and deified Body of
Christ. That is when they «come together as a Church» (1
Cor.11:18) - when they comprise and reveal once again the Body of the Lord,
that is, the Church. That is when the basic and essential Mission of the
Incarnation and the Sacrifice of Christ is fulfilled, by which the Lord
sought to «He would gather together in one the children of God who
were scattered abroad.» (John 11:52).
This event of "gathering into one" all the
scattered children of God is an excellent portrayal of the liturgical texts
of our Church. One of the beautiful blessings of the Divine Liturgy of the
first Christians expresses this with the following words: «Just as this
portion was scattered over the mountains and being gathered became one, thus
may Your Church be gathered from the ends of the earth, into Your kingdom"...
In other words, "just as this piece of bread (which is used for the divine
Eucharist) used to be wheat that was spread over the mountains and after
being gathered became one, likewise during the performance of the divine
Eucharist, may Your entire Church be gathered into one, from the ends of the
earth, into Your kingdom."
And in the divine Liturgy of Basil the Great,
the priest prays that: «...join all of us, who commune from the one
bread and the one chalice, to each other, in the communion with the one
Spirit... so that we might find mercy and grace together with all the Saints
who had pleased You from the beginning».
In this manner, holy Communion gathers the
scattered members of Christ which - together with Him, Who is the Head -
comprise His Body and are an organic unity. This is the reason we can
unreservedly relate the Church to the event of the gathering of the
faithful, to the performance of the divine Eucharist and to the event of
consuming the Body of the Lord and the drinking of His Precious Blood.
No-one can be a Christian outside of the
divine Eucharist (that is, on his own), for a direct union with God.
Christ had said that whosoever did not eat of His Body and drink of His
Blood would have no life within him (John 6:53). Outside of the divine
Eucharist, man can have the Holy Bible, the kerygma, prayer, and a moral
life. But outside of the divine Liturgy, he cannot have the Body and the
Blood of the Lord, which would grant him salvation and the true life.
This is necessary for us to be aware of, because there are some who
incorrectly believe that they are supposedly Christians, without
participating in the Eucharistic gathering of the faithful - that is, in the
Apart from the above, we need to underline
that in the divine Liturgy, it is not possible to have mere spectators among
the faithful; that is, people who have not come for the sacred mystery.
This however does not signify that any one can come unprepared (1 Cor.
11:27-29). Saint Ambrose says on this matter very characteristically: «Receive
on each day that which is useful for that day. Live in a manner that makes
you worthy of it».
"Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father…"
"Liturgy" in the Greek language implies "the
function of the people". And from what we have mentioned, it now becomes
obvious what the divine function is, which takes place in the Eucharistic
gatherings of the faithful.
In the divine Liturgy, the faithful comprise
the Church and they reveal to the world the Body of Christ. They proclaim
that with Christ's death and resurrection, the scattered ones have once
again reassembled "into one" and that they are now participating in this
synaxis of God's children (John
11:52; 1 Cor.10:16, 11:26).
«Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father and of
the Son and of the Holy Spirit»,
the Priest announces at the beginning of the divine Liturgy. Thus, the
kingdom is no longer an event that belongs exclusively to the future, and
which mankind cannot have any foretaste of. The kingdom of the Father
and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit has already commenced, from this life,
and it is the divine Liturgy and our participation in it (Matth.12:28; Luke 17:21;
Mark 9:1; Luke 9:27). It is the event of man's communion in the life
of the Triadic God, which is realized with the consuming of the Lord's Body
and the drinking of His Blood, as well as the event of the unity of all the
children of the Kingdom within the one Body of the Lord.
4. The external characteristics of the Orthodox synaxis
If the principal significance of the divine
Liturgy is our salvation, then it is imperative that we underline the
characteristic features of the true divine Liturgy so that we can
distinguish it from the congregations of heretics, which do not contribute
towards the unity, but rather the division of the Lord's Body and are a
threat to the event of our salvation (cmp.1 Cor.1:13; 11:18-34). This is a
necessity that we must be familiar with, when travelling to foreign lands
and are not familiar with the details of the life of the Christian
communities that exist there.
As mentioned earlier, the Bishop of a region
represents the image of Christ and is the guarantor of the unity of the
faithful in the One Body of the Church. In the ancient Church, the
divine Eucharist was performed only by the Bishop or by a Presbyter (Elder)
who belonged to the "presbyterium" of that Bishop and had received the
bishop's authorization to perform that function. This was the way that
the Bishop constituted the guarantee of Christ's presence, which is
necessary for the performance of the divine Eucharist, given that Christ is
"the offerer and the offered" (cmp.Hebr.7:23-28). "Wherever Christ is,
there the Church is", according to Saint Ignatius, who also notes that where
the Church is, there the Bishop also is. It is not a portion of the
Church there, but the "catholic" (=entire) Church, in whole - that is, the
Orthodox Church. The presence therefore of the Bishop constitutes a
guarantee of the genuineness of the Orthodox Liturgy.
The Bishop is not a self-titled personage.
He ascribes his Priesthood - through Apostolic succession - to the Apostles
and from there to Christ Himself. The canonical, therefore, and
genuine Bishop of the Orthodox Church must be found in that succession,
otherwise, he does not have the Priesthood that Christ had instituted.
This Priesthood is conferred by the Bishop to all the remaining clergymen -
to the Presbyters and the Deacons whom he himself has ordained. With
this practice, the dependence of the Presbyters and the deacons on the
Bishop as the centre of the unity among the faithful is revealed, with the
performance of the divine Eucharist as the basis.
We are aware of course that in various
parishes today the divine Liturgy is not performed by the Bishop but by the
Priests, who are assisted in this ritual by the Deacons as well.
However, these Priests belong to the "presbyterium" of one Bishop. They
furthermore necessarily commemorate the name of the Bishop during each
divine Liturgy that they perform. In fact, not only the name of the Bishop
who had ordained them, but also of the Bishop in whose jurisdiction the
divine Liturgy is performed. In the Orthodox Church there is no priest
who does not come under a canonical Orthodox Bishop, nor without belonging
to the "presbyterium" of a Bishop. Nor is an Orthodox divine Liturgy
ever performed without the commemoration of the Bishop's name.
Thus, it is a basic matter to note which
Bishop is commemorated in a divine Liturgy, and whether he is a canonical
Bishop of the Orthodox Church in that region. Just as every Presbyter
needs to belong to the "presbyterium" of the local Bishop, likewise, the
canonical Bishop must belong to the order of Bishops of the Orthodox Church.
But, how can we determine if a Bishop is
canonical? That is, if he belongs to the Orthodox Church?
For a Bishop to be Orthodox, he must be in
communion with the other Bishops in the same land, who, together with the
Orthodox pleroma (fold) comprise the Orthodox Church of that land (for
example, the Church of Greece, the Church of Cyprus, etc.).
We should know that in order to be an
Orthodox Church, every autonomous Church must also be in communion with the
other Orthodox Churches in all the world. All the Orthodox Churches
combined comprise the one body of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic
Church. And all of the Bishops "appointed far and wide, are of the mind of
In this way, while we may have many parishes
in one place, and while we may perform the divine Liturgy in many places,
the Bishopric is one. While the Bishoprics may be many in one land,
they together comprise one, autonomous Church. Finally, while the
autonomous Churches may be more than one, they are allunited in the Faith
and in the divine Eucharist, and they all comprise the One, Orthodox Church
- the One Body of Christ, and they all reveal "the mind of Christ" (1 Cor.2:16;
This Church may be scattered throughout the
world, but She is congregated in a mystical way with the performance of the
divine Liturgy, just as the grains of wheat are gathered to comprise the one
bread of the divine Eucharist, which is transformed into the Body of Christ.
What, then, should we look out for in order
to ensure that a synaxis - a divine Liturgy - belongs to the Orthodox Church
and guarantees us salvation?
As mentioned earlier, we must find out to
which Bishop the officiating priest of the divine Liturgy belongs. Then, it
is imperative that we find out to which Church that Bishop belongs. If that
Church is united with our Orthodox Church - where we have been incorporated
through our Baptism - then we can be sure that divine Liturgy is a synaxis
of the Orthodox Church and can guarantee our salvation.
As to how basic this matter is, Saint Cyril
of Jerusalem reveals it to us. When addressing travellers and migrants, he
says that they must be careful to not enter a congregation, nor participate
in a liturgy, if they have not previously ascertained that the synaxis is
not a conventicle of heretics and people who have seceded from the canonical
Bishop. «And should you perchance migrate», he says, «do not only seek where
the Temple is, because the heresies of the impious dare to name their
(predatory) caverns Temples. Do not seek only where the Church is, but
rather, where the Orthodox Church is» (Catech.16:26).
How misled indeed are those people who
abandon the Orthodox Church - that is, the Orthodox worship - and resort to
other congregations! They risk losing that which Christ was sacrificed
for: the salvation of their souls. Because salvation is possible, only
through unity with the Church - that is, with the Eucharistic synaxis of the
Church. And the criterion for that synaxis is its union with the canonical
Orthodox Bishop of that region.
All of the above prove just how far we must
flee from the congregations that do not belong to our Church and that are
not taking place with the knowledge and the approval of the Bishop to which
we belong, and who is for us the guarantor of unity with Christ and a
guarantee of His presence there.