The Law By Which The Authority Of Christ Is Transmitted Inalienably Within The Church Through The Bishops

The law by which Christ received the priesthood from God the Father, after being anointed by the Holy Spirit, and the law by which all men who have been summoned to the priesthood by God and by the people receive it, have been examined. Such men are called both by God and by the people, for the calling of God is in harmony with the demand of the faithful, while the demand of the faithful concurs with the calling of God.

Therefore, in the sacred ordination of true bishops and priests who are acceptable to Christ, two wills are united – the will of God and the will of the faithful believers. Almighty God calls to the priesthood the man who:

  1. Is saved and redeemed, who has received remission of his sins;
  2. Lives a godly, wise, and righteous life in Christ;
  3. Is well instructed in the mystery of salvation and the work of the priesthood.

Such a candidate God marks with His seal, anointing him with the Holy Spirit. He makes him the shepherd of His sheep, which are endowed with reason. He entrusts His flock to him so that he may tend it faithfully. The true shepherd then tends the faithful not according to the dictates of his own will, but in strict obedience to the will of the chief shepherd, Christ, for he is Christ’s servant and priest. He owes complete obedience to the will of Christ, presented clearly in and through the Church by the Holy Spirit.

Now the law must be studied by which Christ imparts His authority in the Church through the bishops whom He chooses, so that it cannot be annulled.

Christ, the great high priest and chief shepherd of the sheep which are endowed with reason, summons worthy men to the service of His flock. To these men He entrusts His flock in order for them to feed the faithful eternal food and drink through His Body and Blood, and the nourishment of His teaching. He also expects them to protect the flock from the plots and depredations of wolves, to heal the badly injured sheep and set the fallen on their feet again, to separate the diseased and incurable from the flock, and to preserve the remaining members of the reasonable flock of Christ.

In the Church these men are recognized as bishops, for they oversee the organization and progress of the Church in obedience to the laws of her founder, Jesus Christ. They are men whom God invests with the right to hold authority so that they may oversee the Church, be vigilant guardians and defenders of the salvation of souls, and be obedient to the law of God in everything they do.

Their every action and decision which is consonant with the law, is held in honour as a decision in the Holy Spirit. But every one that is contrary to the law, or outside the law, is unworthy of respect, and should be resisted by the Church, and declared invalid.

A decision which is harmonious with the law, formulated by the shepherds and bishops of the Church, is law within the Church. It is honoured and recognized as ecclesiastical law. Into this category are placed the decisions of the seven holy ecumenical councils which agree in every respect with the revealed will of God and Christ. For this reason they are regarded with reverence as law within the Church.

Jesus Christ, as absolute high priest, not having any other high priest above Him in the Church, possesses the supreme authority, consisting of:

  1. Enacting the best, wisest, and most just law in the Church, a law capable of saving the sinner and reconciling him with sinless God;
  2. Applying the law, putting it into effect, and implementing it within the Church for the benefit of believers;
  3. Trying and judging the conduct of the entire Church, and of each individual member, in conformity with the law which Christ Himself established.

The first point is the legislative aspect of the redemptive work of Christ, and presupposes His legislative authority, which in the Church is absolute, for there exists no higher authority. The second point is the executive aspect of the work of Christ; it bears witness to the executive authority of Christ which is absolute, inasmuch as there is no higher authority. The third point is the judicial aspect of the work of Christ which reveals His judicial authority, and in the Church, as in the two previous cases, it is absolute, for there exists no higher authority.

Thus these three absolute prerogatives – the legislative, the executive, and the judicial – flow from the office of Christ as absolute high priest, and from the perfect religious nature of Christ. Jesus Christ is firstly, the absolute lawgiver in the Orthodox Christian faith and in the Church; secondly, He is the absolute administrator of the laws which He formulates in the Church; and thirdly, He is the absolute judge. Hence He ordains laws with unrestricted and unchallenged authority; He places the laws that He makes into effect with unrestricted and unchallenged authority; and He passes judgment with unrestricted and unchallenged authority.

In the matter of law, anything contrary to Christ’s legislation is invalid and unacceptable to the Church. Anything carried out contrary to the laws of Christ is likewise invalid and is rejected from the fold of the Church. Whatever decision is given without a lawful judgment is in the same way invalid and unacceptable to the Church. Therefore, if the Church makes a law, she must make the law in harmony with Christ’s legislation. If she governs and administers her affairs, the government and administration must be in accordance with the laws of Christ. If she gives judgment against anyone, she must make trial of his conduct and render her decision by the law of Christ, so that the decision may be recognized as valid.

Christ grants to the Church a share of these three branches of His authority which He as her head possesses in the Church absolutely, but which the Church possesses only relatively, and never absolutely. Just as no co-existence is possible where there are two or more absolute high priests, or two or more final sacrifices, so too it is impossible in the Christian religion and in the Church, for two legislative authorities in the absolute sense to co-exist, or for two judicial authorities in the absolute sense, or likewise for two executive authorities in the absolute sense.

Consequently, the authority of Jesus Christ is absolute, but the authority which He shares with the Church is secondary and subordinate, even as the priesthood in the Church is secondary and subordinate to that of Christ. The office and right to make laws, to pass judgment, and to implement that which has been resolved, also is possessed by the Church, by the body of true bishops acting jointly with the body of the faithful believers.

The bishops and the faithful recognize a single supreme, great high priest – Jesus Christ; a single absolute lawgiver in the Church – Jesus Christ; one and only absolute bishop in the Church – Jesus Christ; and one and only absolute judge in the Church-Jesus Christ. In every sphere of His authority, Christ is both wisest and most just, just as God the Father, with whom He is united through the Holy Spirit-a truth previously demonstrated.

The true bishops and believers recognize many bishops and priests in the Church, but they are subordinate to the one and only absolute bishop – even Jesus Christ. They recognize the absolute in the one – in Christ, but the relative and subordinate in the many. This is the mind of the Church concerning the subject of the one absolute high priest or bishop, and of the many bishops and priests.

The Church possesses the right to formulate laws, for she received this from Christ, and she exercises this right through the oecumenical councils. The standard by which their decisions are tested is the revealed will of God, together with the revealed will of Christ. Thus, if they are in harmony with the manifest will of God as revealed through Holy Scripture, the decisions are in the Holy Spirit, worthy of respect and consideration as being the intentions and decisions of God. If, however, they are in opposition to or in conflict directly or indirectly with the manifest will of God in the Church, then the decisions are in the spirit of Satan, unworthy of respect or consideration, because they are expressions of opinion alien to the will and language of the Holy Spirit.

In order that we may distinguish between true councils and false councils, and may determine which council is truthful in its decisions and which is false, we shall accept neither the unanimous voting of the council over the decrees – for this is an accidental and not an essential characteristic of truth, nor the fact that the council is convened at the request of the four patriarchs, which is similar to the first. No, we shall take into consideration the manifest will of God revealed historically through Holy Scripture and the authentic instruments of the Holy Spirit. Then we shall compare the council’s decision with this, whether it was composed of many members or of few, and we shall see its agreement or its disagreement with the fundamental law.

If it is found to be in harmony with the manifest will of God either directly or indirectly, this is declared by the entire Church to be God’s will, a decision in the Holy Spirit. If, antithetically, it is found either directly or indirectly to disagree with or contradict the fundamental law of the Church, then it is denounced by the Church and is expelled from her precincts as false.

Just as there have been true councils in the Church which have issued decrees in the Holy Spirit, so too there have been false councils which have promulgated decisions in a selfish spirit. Because the Church possesses the standard for judging the truth. and for this very reason is stable and unerring – just as Jesus Christ her head, she adopts the decisions of the true councils as her own, but repudiates and utterly renounces the decisions of the false councils as alien to her and the Holy Spirit.

The Church also possesses the right to implement legitimate decisions and the right to administer her affairs, for she is governed by her true bishops according to laws which Christ established in and for the Church. She exercises these rights through her truthful bishops when they are in council discussing the canonical and lawful administration of the Church. The councils through which they legislate in the Holy Spirit, govern the Church and guide her toward her goal in obedience to the will of Christ, the chief shepherd, for the bishops are her servants and deacons.

Additionally, the right to judge and to pass sentence also is possessed by the Church, for she received this right from her founder, and exercises it through the truthful councils. A council judges and passes sentence according to the law laid down in the Church, and its decision is valid because it conforms to Gospel and ecclesiastical law.

Anyone who opposes the lawful decision of the Church, opposes not only the law, but also Christ Himself. This is the power to bind and to loose in the Holy Spirit which Christ bestowed upon the Church through the apostles, when He declared, “. . . Whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in Heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in Heaven” (Matthew 16:19). To keep in chains what has been bound and to preserve the freedom of what has been loosed, is the right of the Church, and the Church makes use of this right.

However,, this right is not entirely without control; its use is subject to the law and to the manifest will of God. To bind according to that law and to loose according to that law, is equivalent to hearing a case and giving judgment according to the law. then condemning the guilty party and exonerating the innocent. The binding and the loosing are in the Holy Spirit. Those bishops who administer the Church of Christ in the Holy Spirit, and in the Holy Spirit bind and loose, neither say nor do anything that is contrary to the fundamental law of the Church and her equally cogent regulations. Rather, all their actions and words are in accordance with the will of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit; they obey the established laws of God by which the Church of Christ is governed and ruled.

Moreover, to bind and loose in the Holy Spirit means forbidding and preventing whatever is opposed to the laws laid down by Christ, and allowing freedom to do whatever does not oppose or run contrary to the laws. Likewise, to retain or to remit sins in the Holy Spirit means reproving sinners in proportion to their wrongdoing, though pardoning them according to God’s will if they are regretful and repent, because the law of God has mercy upon the repentant.

Consequently, the power to bind or to loose, to retain or to remit sins in the Holy Spirit, is not an absolute and uncontrolled power – as the popes and the simoniac members of the synod in Greece practice it – but a power to administer the Church in accordance with the will of God, and to act in obedience to the law laid down in the Church. Clearly, this is the kind of authority that belongs to the rulers of the Church, even from the acts of the apostles who administered the Church in the early period.

According to this concept of binding and loosing, the Church prevented and forbade what was contrary to her laws, and permitted what was not contrary to them. She tried and condemned the heresies, censured the heretics, barred them from her sanctuaries, and strengthened faith in the true and correct doctrines.

By what she did, the Church showed that she truly received from Christ and the apostles, her first bishops, and still possesses, firstly, the right to make laws through councils, to hold trials and judge between true doctrine and heretical doctrine, and to pronounce judgment for the truth; secondly, the right to put into practice and apply the laws against the heretics and all others who oppose her wholesome teaching, for she is its vigilant guardian; and thirdly, the right of government and administration according to the established laws, by means of councils and bishops, without which the flock of Christ is tom to pieces and ravaged by grievous wolves. Therefore, the Church possesses legislative, judicial, and administrative authority, and she transmits this to each of her bishops and priests, but only in accordance with a well defined and very special concept.

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