The one who views himself as nothing exists, whenever spiritual ones tell him so. No one approaches Divine glory by his own power. Divine glory draws the human being and whenever the person approaches it, he feels that he is nothing and he remains effaced in his own eyes until the Day of Reckoning. Indeed, each one of us needs to know his own talents because in this there is an admission about the divine gift, while the one who thinks that his talents are his own, will perish. Those talents exist through divine gratification, which He might remove whenever He wills so.
Thus, we accept every responsibility in the Church of God as a delegation. This is the meaning of service and service descends upon you from on high. If you are charged with a responsibility, it does not give you the feeling that you deserve it. This is the meaning of divine creativeness, i.e. your Lord makes you every day a “new creation”. And whenever you think that you have become a vessel for God, do not forget that “we have this treasure in earthen vessels”. Blissful are you if you can keep the treasure which you have been entrusted with, and woe to you if you think of yourself that you are more than earthly clay.
In the light of what has been said I read the words of Paul: “If a man desires the office of a bishop, he desires a good work. A bishop then must be blameless”. (1Timothy 3: 1-2) At the moment I am not discussing the position of what today we call “bishop” [̓usquf]. At the time of the writing of the epistle, the distinction between the bishop and the priest did not exist, and the arrangement of orders was not yet the same in all the churches. Nevertheless, in our reading today of the “office of the bishop” we must understand that it also means the position that we call in colloquial Arabic the muṭrān, which comes from the Greek metropolite, meaning the bishop of the capital city.
Be that as it may, this does not mean that Paul was praising the desire to the office of the bishop, encouraging the people to want it. Rather the bishop’s office is a gift from God and desire as such is contrary to any divine giving. The meaning, as it seems, is that if you desire it, then know that you desire something great. Thus, you must be without blame. And the spiritual ones-not you-will discover if you are blameless.
It is not admissible to anyone to claim his worthiness of any position, since then he would consider himself to be something, and would consequently become nothing. While the one who was “clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet” (Revelation 12: 1) is viewed by the highly spiritual ones as they view the sun. Those who pursue the concerns of election for high positions within the people of God, or in the world, they testify whether the person is without blame.
As for the one who has been witnessed committing a filthy act, of the work of the devil, it is not permitted to pause at his name for a single moment, since the one who pauses for a moment has entered into filthiness. The one who is afflicted with filthiness leads in filthy things, because a corrupt person is necessarily himself corrupting. The one who comes from a corrupter has benefit with the corrupter, similar to the relationship between the one who calls and the one called.
Among the patterns of blamelessness, Paul mentions that a candidate for spiritual leadership must be “vigilant, sober, of good behavior, given to hospitality, apt to teach; not given to wine, no striker … but patient, not a brawler”. The one in whom these virtues do not abound is subject to blame. There is not space here to discuss every virtue in detail. The bishop must be vigilant, watchful of himself, possessing self-control; this is a condition to awaken others to choose the path of the Lord. There is no place for those who sleep in the Church, rather alertness is essential in prayer and attentiveness to it, also love for all people and bringing the holy community together in repentance and constant sacrifice for the brothers. But as for those asleep, the Church is not their bed.
Further, the person should be apt to teach. Christianity is about knowledge and teaching, since “[i]n the beginning was the Word.” The church that is satisfied with rituals of which no one understands anything is worthless. And the one who is not given the gift of teaching and preaching is not worthy to be thought of for the offices of a priest or a bishop. Such one should be content to be a cantor or a silent monk or a servant in the temple, and these are blessed responsibilities, and those appointed to them could be content. Christianity, however, explains the divine Book, the worships and the tradition. It is a school with all different classes which last a lifetime. If an ordinary believer is demanded to confess with his tongue, as the Apostle says, then it is appropriate for a servant of the Word, as we call him during ordination, to testify to this Word. For this reason, our Church of Antioch requires that one who advances to the episcopate must have completed his theological knowledge and have kept company with scholars. A mute person has no vocation in the Church, even if his holiness is loftier than all those who hold positions. When some faithful brought a man to John Chrysostom in order for him to make the man a priest, he asked them what they knew about him. They said that he was pious. He replied that this is not enough, since all Christians must be pious. He must be knowledgeable.
“[N]o striker … but patient, not a brawler”, since the Lord said: “learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart.” Why did the blessed Lord choose these two virtues to describe himself? Because they are the loftiest. Only if you are lowly God will raise you, and you will raise others by your lowliness. Only if you have desired meekness and have lived it you will be ready to face the destiny of being sacrificed as the Savior did.
I do not know the denotational difference between gentleness and meekness. In the epistle to the Galatians, the apostle mentions both virtues as belonging to the fruits of the Holy Spirit in us. And if we relate this to the previous words of the apostle, we understand that the Spirit of God incorporates in us a spiritual way of life.
Paul said that the bishop should not be a brawler, i.e. a fighter. Throughout the decades of my ministry I have discovered that the sharpest rebuke for a believer is one that is not accompanied with anger, and that even a better way would be simply to remind the person. Resentment is usually accompanied by domination, while by reminding another, both your and the other’s souls return to God.
When the Bible says that the bishop should be blameless, it means that such a person exists and that there are some issues that are not open for raillery. The ones who are in charge should search for this person with immense light and study in detail the lives of those nominated and elected. They must set up barriers to advancement to high positions. Barriers would mean that you do not make a blameworthy man a deacon, and if you make a mistake in ordaining him, he should not advance to the priesthood, and if you make a mistake, he should not then advance to the episcopacy. A worthless bishop subjects the church, which he watches over, to worthlessness. And the money-lover makes bribers approach the leader, and likewise robbers, and so the temple becomes a den of thieves.
Since the Ecclesial Law perceived the possibility of such mistakes, it referred to priests’ and bishops’ trial, as result of which defrocking, i.e. expulsion, could occur. To me, the Church which does have the possibility of trial cannot be ruled by virtue. The Church is the place in which we are purified. Jesus wanted us to be purified through the apostles and their successors, while the corrupt one is the inheritor of his own sins, not of the saints.
Church reformation should start from its leaders. The Church does not wait long for its priests and bishops to repent. It does not allow the aggravation of the sins of those who had great fall. Those would end up with expulsion.
Once, Saint Basil the Great defrocked a priest for his committing adultery. After many years, this priest attended a funeral. He approached the coffer and touched the dead man and the dead man rose. The defrocked priest went to Basil and said to him, “Do you need a greater proof than this for the holiness that I have acquired in order to send me back to my flock?” The Saint replied, “Your holiness is between you and God, however I cannot bring you back to your flock because you caused it to stumble. Thus, you do not deserve to be its pastor again”.
Who gives us exemplars like Basil the Great so that we might feel that the body we are a part of is truly the Church of Christ?
Translated by Sylvie Avakian-Maamarbashi
Original Text: “أن يكون الأسقف بلا لوم” –An Nahar- 17.10.2009Continue reading