Thursday, April 13, 2006

The Defender of Orthodoxy

In His great goodness, God the Father has given us a Church to be the “Sacrament of Salvation” through which Christ continues His saving mission of sanctification. In this plan of salvation He has made this Church visible with a Head and a Body and Shepherds to govern His Church. The Bishop, being a successor of the Apostles is given this vocation and it is by this vocation that he is judged.

I have often asked myself the question; what does it mean to be a Bishop? When thinking about this question I had to investigate the very meaning of the word Bishop in the Christian sense. In the New Testament the word used for Bishop is Episkopoi which means Overseer in Greek. But what does he oversee? The name implies leadership or rather that he has a certain authority over something or someone. I believe that to understand this idea of Overseer that it is necessary to see the position in the same way that the early Christians would have understood it in perspective of the teachings of Christ.

Christ taught his Apostles that to lead is to serve. He taught this by His actions and his teachings to the twelve. However, most clearly, He presented the image of the Good Shepherd to his Apostles to teach them how to govern His flock rightly. It is in this image that Christ gives us the image of what it is to be a servant and a leader at the same time.

The Shepherd was charged with the care of a flock that was both his and not his at the same time. Usually the shepherd would serve a master to whom the flock truly belonged but also it was his own flock in a practical sense because he cared for it day in and day out. The Shepherd was charged with feeding the flock and caring for it and most importantly he was charged with protecting the sheep from their own faults or from predatory adversaries. He had to protect the sheep from eating the wrong food and insuring that they did not become the food of wolves. This, for Christ was the image of divine governance.

What do we learn from the shepherd? We learn that the Bishop is charged with the care of a flock that truly belongs to Christ the Chief Shepherd. Because of this the Bishop must be diligent in his work to please his Master and not necessarily the flock. It is from the authority of the Bishop that we find the Sacraments; in particular the Eucharist that feeds us and makes us strong. The Bishop must keep order among the flock and he must lead them through the world into their eternal home in God's Pasture. However, on the way the Bishop must wield his staff with authority to combat the dangers who desire to separate or devour the flock. This is perhaps the most important role of the Bishop. The Bishop must stand and fight to defend his flock even if it costs him his own life.

In our modern day we find that the vast majority of Bishops exercise their pastoral role as care givers well. Every Bishop works hard to comfort his people and provide them the Sacraments for the benefit of souls. However, it is in defending the flock that our modern shepherds have been lacking. It is not enough that we are fed but that we do not become feed to the enemy through heterodoxy. The great saintly bishops such as St. John Chrysostom and St. Ambrose have not been remembered by the kind words that they said or conciliatory attitudes that they held but rather for the faith that they defended with their lives. The good Bishop does not shrink from pressure but relying on Christ stands for truth no matter what the cost. To Bishops such as these every wolf was slain and every poison mended because they knew that in the pursuit of radical orthodoxy lay their true vocation. A Bishop worth his salt knows that in order to provide he must first defend his flock so that the enemies of orthodoxy both inside and outside of the flock may be dispersed and the ray of truth shine down upon his flock.

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