The Place of the Bishop in the Orthodox Church
by Archimandrite Cyprian
Our Most Reverend Metropolitan and Much-Revered Spiritual Father; Holy
Hierarchs; Reverend Fathers and Brothers; Honored Company of Monastics; Beloved
Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
I call upon your blessings and prayers, that I may fulfill this task of
obediencea service which was assigned to me, in my unworthiness, by our
The meagre thoughts that will be expressed this evening have as their basis the
well-known Patristic teaching that Angels are the light of monastics, and
monastics are the light of the laity: Angels are a light for monks; the
monastic way of life is a light for all people.1 [Note
painting at right] Monastics are a
light, first and foremost, because they struggle to become a good example
for all, an example and a model of virtue.
They are also a light when, with prayer, love, and humility, they encourage
and guide the Faithful in acquiring a genuine ecclesiastical ethos.
This service of brotherly love that characterizes monastics is especially
valuable in our days, because our brothers and sisters in the world are exposed
to a variety of influences, with the result thatusually out of ignorancethey
think and act in a manner at odds with the Church.
Permit me this evening, therefore, to contributewith the help, to be sure,
of our Panagia and our Saints Cyprian and Justina, whom we are honoringto
this service of love, by dealing with a fundamental characteristic of the true
ecclesiastical ethos, which is: a profound recognition of the central place of
the Bishop in the Church and a deep reverence for his person.
At this years convocation we would like to approach this subject, which
for every pious Christian literally constitutes an essential determining factor
in his Church life, with brevity and simplicity.
2. But this subject, specifically, incites fear in us. What do I mean?
The Thirty-Sixth Canon of the Holy Apostles prescribes that the clergy of a
diocese be punished very severely for one very serious sin, an ecclesiastical
What is this transgression?
If the people of a diocese, on account of their own insubordination and
malice,2 are not obedient to
their Bishop and do not accept him as their Shepherd, then the clergy of this
diocese are to be excommunicated, because they have not corrected such an
insubordinate people;3 inasmuch
as, according to the interpretation of St. Nicodemos the Hagiorite, they
did not instruct such an insubordinate people by their teaching and good example
(see note 2).
We clergy, therefore, are obliged to provide our people with teaching
and a good example, if we are to avoid the very heavy penalty of
We are constantly impressed by the great reverence shown by Russians,
Romanians, and other Orthodox peoples towards their Hierarchs. In the lands of
these folk, even after subjugation under atheism and the severe blows that the
Orthodox Church thereby sustained, there has been preserved a popular dedication
to, and honor for, the person of the Bishop which is probably without parallel.
1. This is how a clergyman who took part in a tour made by a Hierarch to
Russia describes some of its highlights:
In the cities through which we passed, the Faithful spread out their garments
in the Bishops path and then kissed the place where the Bishop had
In one small city..., the street along which the Bishop was going to pass was
completely covered with flowers....The Archbishop was welcomed by the light of
hundreds of candles held by the Faithful. In one parish of the diocese...,
almost all of the residents of the street leading to the Church cleaned the
doorsteps of their houses and took tables spread with white tablecloths out of
their dwellings. After a short while, a zig-zag of white and multi-colored clothon
which icons, bread, and salt (traditional symbols of hospitality) had been
placedand flowers showed the Bishop which course he was to follow. The
Bishop...approached one of the tables, blessed it, and greeted the inhabitants.4
2. But the peoples dedication to the person of their Bishop reaches a
climax at his repose.
In one Russian city, two or three hours after the announcement of the repose
of the elderly Metropolitan, it was already difficult to make ones way
through to his residence.... For many nights, the people filed past the remains
of their Shepherd. During the funeral, the large Cathedral was able to contain
only a small portion of the Faithful, the majority of whom were forced to remain
in the courtyard of the Church and in the neighboring streets. Many thousands of
believers came to bow before the venerable remains of the deceased (see note 4).
And in another instance tens of thousands of Faithful escorted in
procession the remains of their Metropolitan from the Cathedral to the
cemetery, which is seven kilometers away (see note 4).
Someone may ask: Is this behavior on the part of the people not a bit
hyperbolic? Is not the focus of devotion, here, shifted from Christ to the
The Holy Fathers clearly answer, No!
The Bishop in his diocese is, says St. John of Kronstadt, after God
and the Theotokos, the source of sanctification for all the Christians of
his flock, and this is why they should all have great esteem and love for him as
the most perfect celebrant of the Holy Mysteries.5
This teaching, which is correct in every way, is not recent in Orthodoxy, but
is a fundamental idea of the Apostolic Church.
1. St. Ignatios the God-Bearer, Bishop of Antioch, links the Bishop and Jesus
Christ together to such a degree that everything which happens to a visible
Bishop of the Church is attributed and ascribed to the invisible Bishop, Christ
The following is precisely what the Saint says:
For the honor, therefore, of Him Who desired us, it is right that we obey
(the Bishop) without any hypocrisy; for a man does not merely mislead this
Bishop who is seen, but seeks to deceive Him Who is invisible. 6
2. In another instance, St. Ignatios urges us to see the Bishop as the Lord
Himself: Therefore, it is obvious that we must look upon the Bishop as we
would the Lord Himself.7
3. The Saint goes on to exalt the place of the Bishop in the Church so highly
as to teach that all who wish to be with God must be with the Bishop: For as
many as belong to God and Jesus Christthese are with the Bishop.8
4. And so significant is the issue of our unity with the Bishop, and through
him with God, according to St. Ignatios, that this unity demarcates two
completely different worlds: the world of God and the world of the Devil: See
to it that you all follow the Bishop, as Jesus Christ follows the Father...;
It is good to know God and the Bishop; he who does anything without the
knowledge of the Bishop is serving the Devil.9
St. John Chrysostomos was a true exponent of this Apostolic Tradition.
From the many instances which testify to the profound reverence and obedience
of Chrysostomos towards the Episcopacy, we will cite only three, which pertain
to the period of his activity in Antioch.
1. Once, while the Saint was still a Presbyter, at a gathering of the
Faithful he did not see Flavian, the Bishop of Antioch, present, as he usually
was; this grieved the Saint, and he said tearfully: When I look upon that
Throne, deserted and bereft of our teacher, ...I weep; I weep, because I do not
see our Father with us!10
2. At another time, the holy Bishop Flavian was absent again, since he was
ill at home; so, Chrysostomos began his sermon with an expression of fervent
love for his Bishop:
Just as a choir misses its leader and a crew of sailors its helmsman, so also
this company of Priests is missing its Hierarch and common Father, today.... But
even if he is not present in the flesh, he is, nonetheless, here in spirit, and
he is with us now as he sits at home, just as we are with him as we stand here;
for such is the power of love that it habitually gathers together and unites
those who are separated by a great distance.11
3. In another instance, the most holy Flavian was present, and Chrysostomos
shortened his sermon, offering the following justification:
So I must bring my discourse to an end, since I want to hear the voice of
my Father (and Bishop). For welike shepherd boys under the shade of some
oak tree or poplarplay reed pipes as we sit under the shade of these sacred
foundations; whereas he (our Father and Bishop), in the way that an
accomplished musician who plays a golden lyre and with the harmony of its
notes elevates the entire audience to a higher realmso he, not with a
harmony of notes, but with the harmony of his words and actions, greatly
It is clear, then, in what way the Holy Chrysostomos guided the People of
God and helped them to acquire a true ecclesiastical ethos: The absence of his
Hierarch would be a matter of indifference to a Presbyter who did not recognize
the importance of the Bishop in the Church; whereas Chrysostomos suffers and
weeps. The presence of the Bishop, on the other hand, would not act as a brake
for a garrulous preacher, whereas Chrysostomos cuts his sermon short, so as to
allow his Bishop to speak, while he praises him appropriately, humbling himself
and exalting the nobility of the Hierarch.
On the basis of this comparison that St. John Chrysostomos makes between a
Presbyter (a shepherd boy with his pipe) and a Bishop (an excellent musician
with his lyre), permit me to encapsulate in just a few sentencesin order not
to tire youthe purely theological and ecclesiological outlook of our Most
Holy Orthodoxy concerning the place of the Bishop in the Church.
What is the Church?
1. The Church is the Assembly of the People of God for the celebration of the
Mystery of the Divine Eucharist, wherein the local Church actually becomes and
is revealed as the Body of Christ, as a Theandric organism, in which the Holy
2. The visible center and head of the Eucharistic Assembly is the Bishop: It
is he who leads the Assembly and preaches the word of God; it is he who offers
the Eucharist, as an Icon of Christ, the Great High Priest, and as the one
who presides in the place of God,14 according
to St. Ignatios of Antioch.
3. In the early Church, only the Bishop offered the Divine Eucharist in each
local Church; that is, there was only one Eucharist, and this was centered on
4. The Bishop, when he offers the Divine Eucharist, offers Christ in His
wholeness, imparting the Holy Mysteries to the Faithful with his own hands; in
ancient times, the People of God partook of Christ only from the living Icon of
Christ, the Bishop.15
5. Therefore, the Bishop not only embodies the local Church, but also
expresses in time and space the Catholic Church, that is, the whole Church; for
that which embodies Christ in His wholeness, and wherein one receives Christ in
His wholeness, is that which embodies the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic
Church. Wherever Jesus Christ is, says St. Ignatios, there is the
6. For precisely this reason, when one is united with the Bishop in the
Mystery of the Divine Eucharist, then he is also united with the Catholic
Church. St. Cyprian of Carthage emphasizes this ecclesiological truth in the
following striking terms: The Bishop is in the Church and the Church in the
Bishop; and if one is not in communion with the Bishop, he is not in the Church.17
Beloved Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
I hope that all to which we have thus far referred will suffice to help us
understand why the People of God, whenever a Bishop Liturgizes, yearn to receive
communion from his hands; why there is a veritable festival in villages,
whenever the Bishop visits; why the Faithful welcome him with the pealing of
bells, with palms and branches; why they spread carpets for him to step
upon; and why girls present their dowries to him to be blessedwhy, in short,
the Faithful have such love for, and dedication to, their Bishop.
Elder Silouan of Athos, in his endeavor to present to us the Orthodox
teaching about the Episcopacy, relates the following amazing incident:
A humble and meek man was walking with his wife and their three children. On
the road, they met a Hierarch, who was passing by in his carriage; and when the
peasant had bowed piously to him, he saw that the Hierarch who was blessing him
was enveloped by the fire of Grace.18
I think that this instructive miracle, together with the aforementioned
Patristic testimonies, suffice to make us, clergy and laity alike, aware of our
obligation before a Bishop. Orthodox Tradition has always assigned the Bishop to
such a central place in the Church, that it proclaims through the Holy Patriarch
Dositheos of Jerusalem ( 1707) the following great truth: What God is in
the heavenly Church of the firstborn, and the sun in the world, such is each
Bishop in the local Church.19
1. Is it possible, then, given these assumptions, for us to treat a
Bishop with disrespect, when, indeed, we take into account that the Thirty-Fifth
Apostolic Canon appoints that a clergyman who insults a Bishop be deposed,20
while the Third Canon of the Synod at Hagia Sophia
anathematizes a layman who dares to strike a Bishop?21
2. Is it possible for us to do anything connected with the Church
clandestinely, without the Bishops knowledge and blessing, seeing that the
Saints instruct us: Do nothing without the Bishop?22
3. Is it possible for anyoneespecially, to be sure, the clergyto
be independent and to follow their own pastoral agendas, when the Thirty-Ninth
Apostolic Canon enjoins: Let Presbyters and Deacons not carry out anything
without the knowledge of the Bishop?23
4. Is it possible for us who have the rank of disciples to be
impertinent, daring to teach the Bishop, the Teacher of the Church, when
the Apostolic Constitutions admonish us in the following way:
The Bishop, he is the minister of the word, the guardian of knowledge, the
mediator between God and you in your worship of Him. He is the teacher of piety;
and, next after God, he is your Father...; he is your ruler and governor; he is
your king and potentate; he is, next after God, your earthly god, who ought to
enjoy honor from you...; for let the Bishop preside over you as one honored with
the dignity of God, which he is to exercise over the clergy, and by which he is
to govern all the people.24
5. Is it possible for us to assemble illicitly without the
knowledge of the Bishop and to act schismatically, when the Saints teach us:
Just as the Lord did nothing without the Father..., so must you do nothing
without the Bishop...?25
6. Is it possible, finally, for us to judge and to condemn a Bishop,
when the Holy Chrysostomos forbids this in the strictest terms, ...even if
his (the spiritual Fathers) life is extremely corrupt?26
...And when the same Saint, in posing questions to those
who accuse Priests, forbids them even to enter a church?
When you accuse your spiritual Father, how do you consider yourself worthy to
step over the sacred threshold [of the Church]? ...And does not such a one (an
accuser of Priests) fear, lest the earth open up and cause him to disappear
completely, or a thunderbolt fall from on high and burn up his accusing tongue?27
Beloved Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
I hope that you will forgive me for keeping you. I was carried away by the
seriousness of the subject and by my desire for your edification in Christ.
1. The damage done to the Orthodox ethos by extra-ecclesiastical factors has
touched on one of the most fundamental characteristics of this ethos: a profound
awareness of the central place of the Bishop in the Church.
May this meagre attempt of ours be regarded as a small contribution to the
amelioration of this evil, of this damage.
I am profoundly convinced that, only when our relationship with the Bishop in
the Church is brought to life in an Orthodox, Patristic manner, will the Lord
have mercy on us and grant us to behold good Shepherds and, as a result, better
2. Likewise, in conclusion, we would also like you to receive our treatment,
this evening, of the correct attitude that one should have towards the Bishop as
a necessary response to those unfortunate brethren of ours who distorted the
spiritual meaning of a gift that we presented to our Most Reverend Metropolitan
In that gifta painting from the Icon studio of the Holy Convent of the
Holy Angels in Aphidnai, Attika, done with my own guidance and with my adviceour
local Church was symbolically portrayed as the Body of Christ, with Her Bishop
and the Divine Eucharist at the center. This, for us, is the Patristic
understanding of the Church; it was natural that all those who do not know this
aspect of the Church or experience it in their own lives, should malign that
symbolic gift, in order to damage the reputation of our honored Chief Shepherd.
May our Lord forgive them and lead them to repentance!
Our Most Reverend Spiritual Father, Divinely-Chosen Shepherd of Our Little
On the occasion of your Name Day, accept our humble but heartfelt wishes that
you might be preserved, by the Grace of the Lord, for many long years in safety,
honor, and health, teaching aright the word of Evangelical Truth.
May the Most Blessed Mother of our Savior strengthen you and grant you
forbearance, and especially when we, your spiritual children, relax our
vigilance and behave improperly towards you.
As our Bishop, as a living Icon of Christ, the Great High Priest, continuewe
beseech youto pray all the more fervently before the dread Altar for your
reason-endowed Flock, that no sheep thereof might stray and be caught by wild
beasts, cut off from unity with you, unity with the Church, and unity with
* We should make it clear at the outset that the Faithful are obligated to
revere and obey Hierarchs as long as they are truly Orthodox and teach
aright the word of Truth.
St. John Chrysostomos, in dealing with the exhortation of the Apostle
Paul says, Obey them that have the rule over you (Bishops, Teachers, and
Spiritual Leaders), and submit yourselves (Hebrews 13:17), faces a legitimate
question: But what if...he is wicked; should we obey? His reply is as
follows: Wicked? In what sense? If indeed with regard to the Faith, flee and
avoid him; not only if he be a man, but even if he be an Angel come down from
Heaven; but if in regard to his life, be not overly curious (Patrologia
Græca, Vol. LXIII, col. 231 [Homilies on the Epistle to the Hebrews, XXXIV, 1]).
**We wish to acknowledge that we have been especially aided in the present
work by material from the periodical Thymiama (No. 13 [May 1993]).
1. St. John of Sinai, The Ladder, Step 26.1, 23.
2. St. Nicodemos the Hagiorite, Interpretation of the Thirty-Sixth
Apostolic Canon (Pedalion [Rudder], p. 40).
3. Apostolic Canon XXXVI.
4. Solon G. Ninikas, The Spiritual Resiliency of the Russian People [in
Greek] (Athens: 1991), pp. 21-22.
5. Bishop Alexander (Semenoff-Tian-Sansky), Father John of Kronstadt [in
Greek] (Oropos, Attika: Parakletos Monastery Publications, 1976), p. 113.
6. St. Ignatios, Patrologia Græca, Vol. V, col. 665A (Epistle to
the Magnesians, III.2).
7. St. Ignatios, Patrologia Græca, Vol. V, col. 649AB (Epistle to
the Ephesians, VI.1).
8. St. Ignatios, Patrologia Græca, Vol. V, col. 700A (Epistle to
the Philadelphians, III.2).
9. St. Ignatios, Patrologia Græca, Vol. V, cols. 713A, 713C, 716A (Epistle
to the Smyrnans, VIII.1-IX.1).
10. St. John Chrysostomos, Patrologia Græca, Vol. XLIX, col. 47 (Homilies
on the Statues, III.1).
11. St. John Chrysostomos, Patrologia Græca, Vol. XLVIII, col. 953 (Homily
on the Kalends, When Bishop Flavian of Antioch Did Not Arrive, 1).
12. St. John Chrysostomos, Patrologia Græca, Vol. XLIX, col. 314 (Homilies
on Fasting, V.5).
13. Cf. Ephesians 4:5-6 and I Corinthians 10:15-16, concerning the
ecclesiastical and sacramental Assembly and the meaning of the Body of
14. St. Ignatios, Patrologia Græca, Vol. V, col. 668A (Epistle to
the Magnesians, VI.1).
In the extended form of the Epistle to the Smyrnans, he writes the
following: Honor...the Bishop as the Hierarch, who bears the image of
God...[,] of Christ, in his capacity as a Priest (Patrologia Græca, Vol.
V, col. 853A [Epistle to the Smyrnans, IX]).
14a. Cf. St. Ignatios, Patrologia Græca, Vol. V, col. 668C (Epistle
to the Magnesians, VII.2) and col. 700B (Epistle to the Philadelphians,
IV): One Father, one Jesus Christ, one Church, one Altar,
one Eucharist, one Flesh of the Lord, one Cup, and one
15. St. Hippolytos of Rome, The Apostolic Tradition, 22 (Sources
Chrtiennes, No. 11 bis [Paris: Cerf, 1968]), pp. 96-97.
16. St. Ignatios, Patrologia Græca, Vol. V, col. 713B (Epistle to
the Smyrnans, VIII.2).
17. St. Cyprian, Epistle 66.
18. Archimandrite Sophrony, Elder Silouan of Athos (1866-1938) [in
Greek] (Thessaloniki: Orthodoxos Kypsele Publications, n.d.), p. 392.
19. Dositheos of Jerusalem, Confession of Faith (1672), Definition 10,
in J. N. Karmiris, Dogmatic and Credal Monuments of the Orthodox Catholic
Church [in Greek], Vol. II (Graz, Austria: Akademische Druck u.
Verlagsanstalt, 1968), p. 753 .
20. If any clergyman should insult the Bishop, let him be deposed; for thou
shalt not speak ill of the ruler of thy people [Exodus 22:28].
See also the Interpretation of St. Nicodemos, as well as the notes,
which conclude as follows:
The laws of the Emperors, which promote piety, stipulate that
anyone who enters a church when the Mysteries or other holy services are being
celebrated and insults the Bishop, or prevents the services from being
celebrated, should be subjected to capital punishment. This same principle
should be maintained also when litanies and services of supplication are being
celebrated and Bishops and clergy are present; that is, whoever insults the
clergy should be exiled and whoever disturbs a litany or a service of
supplication should be put to death.
From this Canon one may infer that whoever insults his father
in the flesh or his spiritual Elder ought to be given an epitimia; for
Scripture says, He that curseth father or mother, whoever he may be,
whether a clergyman, a layman, or a monk, let him die the death [St.
Matthew 15:4; cf. Leviticus 20:9]. Death in these cases is the deprivation of
Divine Communion, which among those endowed with understanding is reckoned truly
to be death, as we see in the Fifty-Fifth Canon of St. Basil the Great (Pedalion,
p. 72, n. 1).
21. If any layman in authority, despising the Divine and Imperial
ordinances and mocking the dread statutes and laws of the Church, should dare to
harm or imprison any Bishop without cause, or having fabricated a cause, let him
See the Interpretation of St. Nicodemos, as well as his notes (Pedalion,
p. 366). [The Synod in Hagia Sophia was the Eighth cumenical Synod, under
St. Photios the Great, convened in 879].
St. Ignatios of Antioch says the following: He who honors a Bishop
will be honored by God; just as he who dishonors him will be punished by God
(Patrologia Græca, Vol. V, col. 853A [Epistle to the Smyrnans,
Longer Version, VII.2]).
22. St. Ignatios, Patrologia Græca, Vol. V, col. 668A (Epistle to
the Philadelphians, VII.2).
St. Ignatios emphatically insists on this point: Let no one do any of
the things pertaining to the Church without the Bishop (Patrologia Græca,
Vol. V, col. 713B (Epistle to the Smyrnans, VIII.1).
See footnotes 9 and 25.
23. See the Interpretation of St. Nicodemos, as well as the Concord
(Pedalion, pp. 43-45).
According to the Apostolic Constitutions, the Deacon does
nothing without the Bishop, and it is enjoined that all things that
he is to do with anyone be made known to the Bishop, and be ultimately ordered
by him (Book II, ch. 30); ...Let him not do anything at all without his
Bishop, nor give anything to anyone without his consent (Book II, ch. 31);
...Do nothing in a clandestine way, so as may tend to his reproach (Book
II, ch. 32) (Patrologia Græca, Vol. I, col. 677BCD).
24. Apostolic Constitutions, Patrologia Græca, Vol. I, cols.
665B-668A (Book II, ch. 26).
25. St. Ignatios, Patrologia Græca, Vol. V, col. 668B (Epistle to
the Magnesians, VII.1).
Especially applicable is the following related view of the Saint: It
is right, then, that we should not merely be called Christians, but also be
such; even as there are some who recognize the Bishop in their words, but in
everything act apart from him. Such people seem to me not to act in good
conscience, since they are not validly acting in consort (ibid., IV).
26. St. John Chrysostomos, Patrologia Græca, Vol. LIX, col. 472 (Homilies
on the Gospel of St. John, LXXXVI, 4).
27. St. John Chrysostomos, Patrologia Græca, Vol. LI, col. 201 (On
Aquila and Priscilla, Discourse II, 5).
From Orthodox Tradition, Vol. XVI, No. 3&4, pp.
8-17. Translated from the Greek and originally taken from an address delivered by Father (now Bishop) Cyprian of the Holy Monastery of
Sts. Cyprian and Justina in Fili, Greece, on October 6, 1997 (Old Style), at the
annual convocation (held that year at the Novotel Convention Center in Athens)
in honor of the Name Day of Metropolitan Cyprian of Oropos and Fili.