Patriarch Porfirije: The Essence of Church as an Assembly is Liturgy
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Christ is Risen! Your Eminences and Graces brothers hierarchs, brothers and sisters, the grace of the Holy Spirit gathered us today at the regular Assembly of the Serbian Orthodox Church.
Councils and assemblies are a right, but at the same time an obligation of us bishops. Of course, councils and councils are the right and obligation of all Christians, but at this moment, thanks to the Holy Spirit by which everything happens in the Church of Christ, the Church is constituted by the Holy Spirit. We gathered at the Assembly of Bishops to first of all manifest and show the unity of our local Church. At the same time, we have come together to - meeting in the Spirit of Love, in the Holy Spirit, meditating together on all the temptations facing our Church wherever it is - to bring together solutions that are not simply administrative, but solutions in the Spirit. Holy. Such solutions aim to bear witness to the body of Christ, the crucified and risen Christ, and to build up the body of Christ.
This means that the assemblies of bishops are not like other gatherings and meetings, conferences that are held in the world on various occasions and with different goals. Conciliarity is the very nature of the Church - another name of the Church is the assembly. Hence, from the very essence of the conciliar body of Christ, the Church as the conciliar body of Christ, arises both the right and the need as an expression of that essence of the Church to gather. We have read a prayer in which we call on the Holy Spirit to be with us, which in itself says much more than we can say, about the essence of the Council and holding assembly. We gather around Christ, we gather in Him, we gather as His body and foundation. In essence, the manifestation of the Church as an Assembly- as one organism - is precisely the Holy Liturgy that we served and the Holy Liturgy in which we, at the same time, showed unbreakable unity with Christ, but also unity among ourselves, unity of the Church body, as unity of every other body (emphasis added).
The image that the apostle Paul used to express the essence of the Church springs from the unity of the body with the head. The head of the body of the Church is Christ. We bishops, as I said, are not simply representatives of ordinary human organizations, we were not elected to come to the Assembly on behalf of a group of people to form a corporation or community, conference, central committee, as it used to be called in our area. The bishop, and then the priest, according to the words of the Fathers, is in the place and in the image of Christ. He is not, above all, as one of the Latin fathers says in persona Ecclesiae, in the name of the people and the Church, he is a bishop in persona Christi, in the name of Christ. He is there to serve the Mystery of Christ, and that Mystery of Christ is the Mystery of the body of Christ. The secret served by the bishop is above all the Secret of the unity of the Church.
That is why today, first of all, addressing the brothers and hierarchs, I pray that we all pray for the unity of the Church, which secretly exists and is inviolable. But unity can sometimes be put at risk by some of our own will, by some of our individual views of the world. Councils exist precisely to eliminate every kind of individualism, every kind of arbitrariness, every kind of individuality. The Assembly exists as a space for everyone to be equal, but different in their function, in their gifts, and in the sense that everyone would express their position, their opinion on a topic, which would contribute to the joint solution of each challenge, and few of them today . Today, the whole world, including our Church, is facing the challenge of the Covid virus pandemic. It caused that we did not have a Assembly for two years. It is certain that there are many topics that we need to discuss, but above all, always as a Church that is devout, that is Orthodox, that has the right faith, the right life. We should not communicate the Church to the spirit of this time and the world, but to transform both time and space with Christ unchangeable, which is the same yesterday and today and tomorrow. At the Assembly , we are always filled with joy, the grace of the Holy Spirit, because it is the beginning and the end of our gathering. He fills us, he co-constitutes us as a community, he builds us as a Church.
But, sometimes, the Assemblies also have unpleasant moments. From the last Assembly to this Assemby, we are filled, I will say, with joyful sorrow, because we have lost, above all, the primate of our Church, Patriarch Irinej of blessed repose. First, God called the bishop Milutin of Valjevo, then the Metropolitan Amfilohije of Montenegro and the Littoral, and the retired Bishop Atanasije. It is not known which of them was more important for the life of our Church and which of them is based on the conciliar spirit, ie. on the basis of his personal seals and gifts, his uniqueness but within the conciliar organism of the Church, he contributed to life, the preaching of the Gospel and the witness of Christ in our time and our spaces. We know that the Lord calls everyone when he is most ready and that he has, as St. Gregory the Theologian says, a soteriological logic, a logic that deals with salvation. That is why we pray for the peace of the souls of the mentioned - patriarchs and brothers of hierarchs, but many priests, monks, many of our brothers and sisters called by God, maybe not in accordance with the logic of this world, but in accordance with his logic and when everyone was the most ready. Today we celebrate the equal apostles Cyril and Methodius, brothers and sisters. And they contributed to the Slavic peoples becoming part of the literal flock of Christ. Among us are two archbishops named Cyril and Methodius. In the name of all: to be joyful in Christ and to serve the Church for many years!
For the first time after the election Council, which was extraordinary, we have the Liturgy and the call of the Holy Spirit here, in the temple of Saint Sava, which is the cathedral of our people, our local Church. And so may God allow us to always gather here in the love of Christ, in the Holy Spirit, to build the body of Christ by cooperating with the grace of God. I ask you, gathered faithful people, to pray for us hierarchs. Brother Archbishops, may the Lord grant that the prayerful beginning of the Council and the prayer of the invocation of the Holy Spirit that we have read be the guidelines during our Assembly; that all that we may exchange with one another in the Holy Spirit, in love and in truth, may be for our salvation and for the benefit of the Church of Christ. May the beginning of the Assembly of our local Serbian Orthodox Church be blessed!
(Photo and text courtesy of Serbian Orthodox Church [Official web site spc.rs]. This talk by Patriarch Porfirije was given at the start of the Holy Synod of Bishops on 25 May 2021.)