Daily Meditations

Thursday before the Holy Feast of Pentecost

The Sacrament of Pentecost, by George Florovsky

THE CHURCH IS ONE. This does not merely mean that there is only one Church, but that the Church is a unity. In it mankind is translated into a new plane of existence so that it may perfect itself in unity in the image of the life of the Trinity.

The Church is one in the Holy Spirit and the Spirit “construes” it into the complete and perfect Body of Christ. The Church is predominantly one in the fellowship of the sacraments. Putting it in another way, the Church is one in Pentecost, which was the day of the mysterious foundation and consecration of the Church when all the prophecies about her were fulfilled. In that “terrible and unknown celebration” the Spirit-Comforter descends and enters the world in which He was never present before in the same way as He now begins to dwell. Now He enters the world to abide in it and to become the all-powerful source of transfiguration and deification. The bestowal and the descent of the Spirit was a unique and unrepeatable Revelation. On that day, in a moment, an inexhaustible source of living water and Life Eternal was disclosed here on earth.

Pentecost, therefore, is the fullness and the source of all sacraments and sacramental actions, the one and inexhaustible spring of all the mysterious and spiritual life of the Church. To abide or “to live in the Church implies a participation in Pentecost. Moreover, Pentecost becomes eternal in the Apostolic Succession, that is in the uninterruptibility of hierarchical ordinations in which every part of the Church is at every moment organically united with the primary source. The lines of power proceed from the Upper Room.

Apostolic Succession is not merely, as it were, the canonical skeleton of the Church. Generally speaking, the hierarchy is primarily a charismatic principle, that is—a “ministry of the sacraments” or “a divine economy.’ And in this capacity precisely the hierarchy is an organ of the Сatholic unity of the Church. It is the unity of grace. It is to the Church what the circulation of the blood is to the human body.

Apostolic Succession is not so much the canonical as the mystical foundation of Church unity. It is associated with the divine rather than with the human side of the Church. Historically the Church remains actually one in its priesthood. It is precisely by this Apostolic uninterrüptibility of successive ordinations that the whole Church is bound into a unity of the body from a unity of the Spirit. And there is only one way and one approach: to draw near and to drink from the one spring of life, once revealed.

The peculiar function of bishops is to be the organ of Apostolic Succession. The bishop differs from the priest in his power to ordain, and in this alone. Nor is this only a canonical privilege and only a power of jurisdiction. It is a power of sacramental action beyond that possessed by the priest.

In the celebration of the Eucharist the bishop has no precedence over the priest and can never have it, for the priest has full power to celebrate, every priest being primarily appointed for the purpose of offering the Eucharistic Sacrifice. It is as the celebrator of the divine Eucharist that the priest is the minister and the builder of Church unity. The unity of the Body of Christ springs from unity in the Eucharistic meal.

But in addition to this the bishop has his own particular duty in the building up of Church unity, not as the offerer of the Bloodless Sacrifice but as the ordainer. The Last Supper and Pentecost are inseparably bound up with one another. The Comforter descends when the Son has been glorified in His death on the Cross.

It is through the episcopate that Pentecost becomes universal and eternal. Moreover, every particular Church through its bishop, or, to put it more exactly, in its bishop, is included in the Catholic fullness of the Church as a whole. Through its bishop it is linked up with the past and with antiquity. Through its bishop it forms a part of the living organism of the Body of the Church Universal. For every bishop is ordained by many bishops in the name of the undivided episcopate. In its bishop every single Church outgrows and transcends its own limits, and comes into contact with and merges into other Churches, not in the order of brotherly love and remembrance alone, but in the unity of mysterious and gracious life.

~George Florovsky, Creation and Redemption


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