Ïðåï. Ñåðãèé / Ê íà÷àëó

Êàðòà ñàéòà

Development of the Early Church Administration
During the First Three Centuries.


Sources and traditional methods of historical science do not allow us to draw a clear picture of the organization of early church and to clear the issue about development of church ministries. Addressing to these questions is possible only with the help of historico-theological analysis[1]. In middle of XX century, due to the works of the theologian – historian, protopresbyter Nikolai Afanas'ev, it became possible to get together isolated historic facts and build a complete picture of development of the church organization in the first - the third centuries. As Afanas’ev noticed, "In historical research it is quite permissible to proceed from a nature of the organism at issue… it does not mean to start with aprioristic preconditions. And in many such cases the method is unique when there are no positive data, but it is lawful and when these data are available because it enables us to use the material which we have more correctly”[2]. Certainly, Afanas'ev did not insist on full reliability of the reconstruction of the early Church history offered to him since at such lack of the facts the scientific theory may be formulated only in the form of an assumption, greatest probability. The purpose of our work is to summarize the conclusions of Afanas'ev. Therefore we avoid a conditional inclination which Fr. Nikolai uses , and do not consider  any alternative hypotheses, which though have their own right to exist, but with less probability from the point of view of the image of Church, revealing in Afanas'ev’s eucharistic ecclesiology.

The present work is based on Afanas'ev's doctoral dissertation «Ecclesia Spiritus Sancti». Books of such authors, as Chadwick, Rowland, Walker were also used.

Chapter 1. The foundation of the Church. The first period of a history of Apostolic century (29-35)

Data on the foundation of the Church and the first century of its history can be found almost exclusively in books of the New Testament. All other sources, both apocryphal, and paganic, contain very little information, which can be considered as reliable by historical science[3].

The Gospel contains a promise about the foundation of the Church, given by Christ: «And I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of the Hades shall not overpower it» (Mt. 16,18). Fulfillment of this promise begins when Christ on the Last Supper establishes the Eucharist. The Church also is founded by the establishment of the Eucharist. Last Supper was the last meal of the Christ during His life on the earth. «And He said to them: «I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I say to you, I shall never again eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.» (Lk. 22,15-16). Saturday’s and feast   meals gathered all members of pious Hebrew families or community ("chaburah"[4]). Twelve disciples called by the Christ, made such a community of the disciples, who were following their rabbi (teacher). This community of Christ and of the Twelve exceeded usual communities for the disciples of Christ have left everything: «Peter began to say to Him, «Behold, we have left everything and followed You. Jesus said, «Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms, for My sake and for the gospel’s sake…» (Mk. 10,28-29). The head (president) of a community ("chaburah")  was “giving thanks over the bread and the cup.

The further events – the execution of Christ, His Resurrection and Ascension have prepared the disciples for the apostolic ministry in the Church. In the day of Pentecost after the Descent of the Spirit the meal of the disciples became the Eucharistic assembly and the Church was born. «For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes» (I Cor. 11,26). In the Eucharist Christ remains in fullness and in unity of the body: «This is My body… This cup is new covenant in My blood». (I Cor. 11, 24-25). The church as the body of Christ is manifested in its fullness in a Eucharistic assembly.

The eldest member and the head of the community that become the Church was Peter prepared for this by Christ and who was told: «Shepherd My sheep» (Jn. 21, 16). In the Eucharistic assembly Peter has occupied a place of a “giving thanks” which was occupied by Christ on the Last Supper. The first Eucharistic assembly has defined the church organization. The senior member gives thanks in Eucharistic assembly of community and heads the local church. Near to Peter in Eucharistic assembly of Jerusalem church there were other apostles, sharing with him the ministry of a president (proestos)[5]. Due to this the ministry of administration in the beginning of the existence of the Jerusalem church belonged to all apostles.

Position of apostle Peter and other apostles in the Jerusalem church was defined not by human will, but by the fact that it was established by the Lord, who had selected the Twelve. This order became standard[6]. In the Church of God in Christ a “giving thanks” should be one, but "presidents in the Lord" are a few – «as in all the churches of the saints» (I Cor. 14, 33). Apostles from the very beginning were not only presidents, but also servants to tables on Eucharistic assembly, following a commandment and the example of the Teacher shown on the Last Supper: «whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant» (diakonoj) (Mk. 10,43); «I among you as the one who serves» (o diakonwn) (Lk. 22, 27; compare Mk. 10, 46). Service to tables has soon become complicated by distribution of gifts to widows and deprived members of church, since Eucharistic assembly was also a brotherly meal of love - agape.

Chapter 2. Development of church administration in the apostolic century

 The purpose of ministry of apostles was to establish not just the  Jerusalem church, but the multitude of local churches worldwide. “Jesus… spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Mt. 28, 18-20). When the formation of the Jerusalem church was finished, apostles should leave the service of administration and presidency in it. On behalf of the Twelve Peter has told: “It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables” (Acts 6, 2).

 Due to apostles’ suggestion the Jerusalem church has selected “seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom.” (Acts 6, 3). "Seven" were appointed "to serve tables" including "daily service" of a relief aid. Its content  closely reminds us the ministry of deacons. In the beginning apostles have transferred to “seven” a part of the service in the Jerusalem church, but later they needed those to whom one could trust this whole service. Such persons might be the same "seven" and that is why originally they were not only the future deacons, but also the future presbyters[7]. Since that the strengthened activity of apostles outside of Jerusalem begins. All activity in Jerusalem, including, the sermon, is transferred to "seven". "Seven", in opinion of Afanas'ev, should become presidents of the Jerusalem church. Establishments of "seven" was the beginning of the genuine church organization.

In Jerusalem presidents (presbyters) have received the name "hgoumenoi". Luke named Judas and Silas "leading men among the brethren - hgoumenouj en toij adelfoij" (Acts 15, 22). The term "presbyter" appeared later, maybe, in Antioch. The only person in Jerusalem who at this time might be “giving thanks, was Stephen. Activity of Stephen after his election among "seven", his sermon, his arrest and his speech in Sanhedrim reminds the first steps of activity of apostle Peter. Murder of Stephen and dispersion of the others "seven" have created a task for the apostles to restore the broken organization of the Jerusalem church. Probably, like "seven", new hegumens were elected by the whole church because of the apostles’ suggestion. James, brother of the Lord, was elected as the first among them, and therefore, as “giving thanks. When apostle Peter after marvelous escape from a dungeon, charges to inform about his release “to James and the brethren” (12, 17) it points, that James at this time already was the first president of the church. Mentioned with James brothers might be "hegumens" of the Jerusalem church. Peter probably, has gone to the Antioch, but maybe through the Antioch to Rome.

The establishment of presbyters (hegumens) in Jerusalem has taken place before the beginning of Paul's missionary activity and before of foundation of the Antiochian church. While creating of local churches, Paul and Barnabas reproduced precisely the order established in the Jerusalem church by apostles. Having founded the churches, Paul and Barnabas ordained presbyters (“And when they had appointed elders for them in every church” Acts 14,23). The evidence of Luke about ordination of presbyters by them is related to their way back. Originally Paul and Barnabas ordained only a “giving thanks because of small number of members in the churches founded by them. Then, after churches got a little stronger, they ordained other presbyters. They preferred the term "presbyters" to the term "hegumens", since the latter might cause misunderstanding in the medium of former pagans[8]. The Epistle to Titus talks about ordination of presidents except for the first of them, i.e. a “giving thankswhich was ordained by apostle Paul himself: “For this reason I left you in Crete, that you might set in order what remains, and appoint elders in every city as I directed you.” (1,5). Order of a Eucharistic assembly which had been established in Jerusalem was transferred to the pagan world and rooted easily, because the conditions of life of the Greek-Roman world did not only interfere with this, but even favored.

A service of presidents in Eucharistic assembly "was created" at once with "creation" of local churches by apostles. Apostles, celebrating the first Eucharist, were the first presidents of the first local church. Presbyters have occupied places of apostles in Eucharistic assembly, and not only in Eucharistic assembly of the Jerusalem church, but in every Eucharistic assembly presbyters continue to occupy their places[9]. The distinction between apostle Peter and other apostles as well as the further distinction between the first presbyter and others presbyters, was only that the eldest ones occupied the central place in Eucharistic assembly. For this reason in the apostolic period no visible distinctions in use of terms “bishop” and “presbyter» are seen. Attaching the name of bishop to the first presbyter was occurring gradually in II century. At the same time, absence of the special term should not mislead - from the very beginning, from apostle Peter, the certain person, the eldest apostle, and later, bishop–presbyter, gave thanks in Eucharistic assembly and simultaneously headed church. On the basis of one evidence (Acts 20, 11) we know, that in Troada apostle Paul has headed Eucharistic assembly.

Each of mentions of “Acts of the Apostles” about James, brother of the Lord, displays him as the superior person in the Jerusalem church, and everywhere he acts not one, but together with presbyters, or with all the church. He acts as the chairman of “the Apostolic Council”. James at the end of session summarized the debates and has offered the resolution. His statement has solved the problem concerning mandatory observation of the Law for Christians from pagans. In the Epistle to the Galatians apostle Paul says, that at the first visiting Jerusalem he met with apostle Peter and nobody else, except for James, brother of the Lord (1,19), i.e. he saw two persons from whom one was the head of apostles, and another - the head of the local church in Jerusalem. During his last visit of Jerusalem before chains on the next day after the arrival Paul went to James place where all presbyters had gathered . All of them together offered him to clean according to the Law (Acts 21, 18-26). In the same Epistle to the Galatians apostle Paul tells us about the arrival of envoys (messengers) from James (2, 12).

III Epistle according to John testifies about the existence of the first or the eldest presbyters in churches outside Palestine. Diotrephes is named in the Epistle "who loves to be first". It means, that Diotrephes was really taking priority in church. His authority in the church which he headed, was so great, that he might act against Elder and criticize his instructions. His orders were executed by all or almost all members of the church. It is not necessary to think, that Diotrephes operated independently: he acted at the church assembly and with his consent. It is seen that Elder didn’t have any power to undertake anything against Diotrephes, being outside the church in which he was ruling but when he would visit his church he would remind him in the same church assembly "to his deeds which he does, unjustly accusing us with wicked words" (verse 10; compare I Cor. 5,3-5). The reason for this powerlessness of Elder was that he has the power on the local churches only when he is really inside the church. Note, that the statement saying that above local church there is no external authority is one of key statements of Afanas’ev’s eucharistic ecclesiology, which he oppose to the universal ecclesiology. The majority of historians and the theologians who are supporters of the universal ecclesiology,  argue that in the Church there are centers of authority, pointing thus on the institute of apostles, institute of prophets, a council, or especially authoritative Jerusalem, and later - the Roman church.

 Another person who acts in III Epistle of John, - Gaius. Elder praised him for what he makes for brothers and wanderers, and for staying faithful to him. The duty of hospitality laid on presbyters[10]. Probably, Gaius was presbyter and, most likely was taking priority in some neighbor church. The third person mentioned in the Epistle, namely Demetrius, was either a presbyter in the church of Diotref, having courage to go against him, or a president of any other church. In apostolic time there existed much more uniformity, than later. Bases of the church organization were the same in all churches, as following from the essence of Church. Irenaeus of Lyons wrote that in all churches, differing from each other by language and nationality, one faith, one tradition and one organization were kept intact (Adversus haereses I, X, 2).

In the Epistle of Clement of Rome there are terms: "episkopoj", "presbuteroj", "hgoumenoj", "prohgoumenoj" and "diakonoj". Clement points that because of one or two persons in Corinth a revolt against presbyters occurred[11]. Speaking about that apostles delivered in bishops and deacons from the first believers, Clement adds, that they have established the law, that others accept service after death of the persons put by them. He considers inadmissible to discharge of service those, who have “blamelessly offered the gifts” in the holy rite of eucharist[12]. This term "offered the gifts", is identical with the term “giving thanks, i.e. a president. Clement distinguishes "offered the gifts" one from others presbyters. About presbyters he says that those who were appointed with the consent of the whole Church cannot be justly dismissed from the ministry, and about presidents - that it will be a great sin will, if those who have blamelessly and piously fulfilled its duties lose their “episcopacy”. This distinction Clement makes between presbyters, confirms that among discharged of ministry there was the first (the eldest) presbyter. Seriousness of this event forced Clement whom the church tradition considers a bishop of Rome, to convict the Corinthian church.

Clement and Ignatius Theophorus are separated by a small time interval. For Ignatius bishop is the only and a constant president of Eucharistic assembly. Special function of the eldest presbyter, offering gifts, is designated by Clement, as episcopacy (episkoph). In Chapter XLII Clement spoke, that apostles appointed the first-fruits of believers to be bishops and deacons. According to Ignatius deacons act as "concelebrants" of bishop, but not presbyters. Undoubtedly, the same order was kept in apostolic time. Therefore application of the term "episkopoj" to the eldest presbyter is quite possible in the lips of Clement. In the Roman church, apparently, the terms "hegumen", "prohegumen" and "presbyters", were used but, Clement probably knew, that in other churches, may be in Antioch church, the eldest presbyter had the name of "bishop" by privilege.

One of the most important places of the New Testament for definition of ministry of presbyters is in 1 Epistle of Peter: “I exhort the elders among you (presbuterouj en umin), as your fellow elder (sumpresbuteroj) and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.” (5, 1-4). Apostle Peter simultaneously unites himself and distinguishes from presbyters. He executes ministry of apostleship which presbyters do not have. Its essence is that he is "the witness (martuj)" of Christ’s sufferings and the participant of glory which should reveal. Being an apostle, he performs the ministry of presbyter, therefore he is «fellow elder (sumpresbuteroj)» of those to whom he addresses. Ministry of presbyters as it manifests itself from the above mentioned verses, is pastorship: they shepherd their flock of God under the domination of Chief Shepherd. Pastorship is leadership in local church which includes ministry of a president in a Eucharistic assembly. At the moment when Peter was writing his Epistle, he executed the ministry of pastorship, and, therefore, was a "fellow-presbyter" (fellow elder) for the other presbyters who like him, were, doing the ministry of pastorship. Naming himself a fellow-presbyter, Peter united himself with presbyters, first of all, with the eldest ones, of those churches which he addressed. A church mind of the first two or three centuries perceived a word "fellow-presbyter" in the same way. The eldest or the first presbyter began to apply the name "fellow-presbyter" to himself. This name really suited him, because , uniting him with the others presbyters, it specified his special position in local church. "Antimontanist" testifies about it: "The presbyters in the place, our fellow-presbyter Zoticus of Otrous also being present, requested us to leave a record of what had been said against the opposers of the truth." Only Zoticus which was a bishop, is "fellow-presbyter" of Antimontanist, but not all others presbyters. In the third century this expression is applied to bishops that testifies about its vitality, since bishop of III century is far from corresponding to the eldest presbyter in apostolic time and to the bishop of Ignatius Theophorus. Expression "fellow-presbyter" is used by Dionysius of Alexandria: "to beloved our brothers and fellow-presbyters Dionysius and Philemon..." Cyprian expression "fellow-presbyter" is used in two senses: on the one hand, he continues to apply it to bishops alongside with expression "coepiscopus", and on the other hand, he applies it to presbyters, included in the presbyterium of bishop.

The eldest presbyter together with other presbyters who formed a council already in apostolic time, performed the ministry of administration and eucharistic presidency in the Church. Ignatius designated presbyterium, as sanhedrin. Religious rites of Church were not limited by "giving thanks". The Eucharist included all religious rites made by Church since it was a centre of the whole church life. Yet apostolic church, except for "giving thanks", performed the sacrament of admission in the Church, including appointment of laics, appointment on special ministries of prophets, teachers, presbyters-bishops and deacons. The eldest presbyter did not act separately, but always and everywhere together with people and presbyters. He was "the lips of the Church".  Acts of the Apostles mention about the appointment of bishops-presbyters: «And when they had appointed elders for them in every church (ceirotonhsantej de autoij kat' ekklhsian presbuterouj), having prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed.» (Acts 14, 23). About presbyters who were appointed by Paul, it is said, that they are appointed by the God: «Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers (en w umaj to Pneuma to 'Agion eqeto episkopouj), to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood» (20, 28). Appointment of presbyters-bishops is made by Spirit according to the will of God. Probably, usually appointment of presbyters occurred in assembly of all church like it was at appointment of “seven” in the Jerusalem church when apostles called "the congregation of the disciples" to whom they offered to select from among themselves seven persons[13]. Using later terminology, it would be possible to designate appointment of the eldest presbyter by "probolh". This term is used in 2-nd canon of council of Chalcedon. "Probolh" there is a church act by virtue of which any person "should nominate" in special position or on a special place to which some certain actions or activity are connected. The presbyter or deacon can been nominated, according to this canon of council of Chalcedon, in ekdikos (defensor, an official advocate or counsel for the church) or oiconomos (manager of a household, steward of church property). In "The Apostolic Tradition" of Hippolytus of Rome there are orders of appointment in bishops, presbyters and deacons. In all these orders there is the laying of hands accompanied by a prayer about sending down the grace. Besides this in "The Apostolic Tradition" there are orders of "appointment" of the reader and sub-deacon. Both these appointments - of the reader and sub-deacon - do not contain the laying on hand (ceiroqesia) and prayers. In the appointment of reader it is said, that he is appointed when the bishop gives the book to him, and appointments of sub-deacon is made through declaration of his name. And in both cases it is directly underlined, that hands are not laid on them. Likewise the eldest presbyter "was nominated" in a special place among presbyters. The presbyter or deacon, who had been nominated, according to 2-nd canon of council of Chalcedon, in ekdikos or oiconomos, remained the presbyter or deacon. The layman who had been nominated, according to "The Apostolic Tradition", in the reader or sub-deacon, remained the layman and did not receive any degree of priesthood. And also the eldest presbyter who had been nominated on the central place in Eucharistic assembly, remained the same presbyter, as well as all other presbyters. The selection of the eldest presbyter by any means, is directly followed by the testimony of people. It was expressed in the permission to occupy the central place in Eucharistic assembly for giving thanks. Thus, the appointment of the eldest presbyter comprised two moments of sacrament of appointment: selection and testimony. Absence of the moment of the laying of hands did not make appointment defective and incomplete, since the most essential and certainly necessary moment in the appointment is the testimony of Church that appointment has been accomplished according to the will of God.

The order of church life following from the nature of Church was protected by the ministry of administration. Therefore it might not be anarchical: "alias hodie episcopus, cras alias; hodie diaconus, qui cras lector; hodie presbyter, qui cras laicus" (Tertullian, "De praescriptione haereticorum, XLI"). Presbyters, and among them the eldest presbyter, are appointed by apostles or by other eminent men, with the consent of the whole Church, that is why it is a great sin to deprive from the episcopate those who have blamelessly and piously fulfilled their duties.

Chapter 3. Division of ministry of bishop and presbyters in the second century. Revealing the value of apostolic succession. Mutual relations between local churches: formation of superior churches, the meaning of councils.

Bishop of Epistles of Ignatius stands separately from presbyters. The eldest presbyter became a bishop when his service of president among people of priests has transformed into a special ministry of a high priest. At the following stage the priest service of presbyters became the second degree of priesthood. Presbyters have received the second degree not only with respect to bishop, but also with respect to the people of priests (laics). When deacons attained the ministry of priests the third degree of priesthood has appeared. In such a manner the priesthood of bishops, presbyters and deacons may be considered as a special priesthood, defined as not a certain alien priesthood, but as higher degrees of the same priesthood of the people. Isolation of the  higher degrees of priesthood from the common ministry of the people has taken place under the influence of the doctrine of initiation though in its liturgical life the Church continues to profess the common priesthood which belongs to the whole people of God, the highest degree being the special priesthood of member of the church hierarchy. In Epistles of Ignatius the term "bishop" loses the former uncertainty and is applied only to the person who heads a local church.

"The Spirit proclaimed these words: Do nothing without the bishop"[14]. "Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop. Let that be deemed a proper Eucharist, which is [administered] either by the bishop, or by one to whom he has entrusted it. Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude [of the people] also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. It is not lawful without the bishop either to baptize or to celebrate a love-feast... "[15] "Be ye careful therefore to observe one Eucharist (for there is one flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ and one cup unto union in His blood; there is one altar, as there is one bishop, together with the presbytery and the deacons my fellow-servants)... "[16] “…be ye zealous to do all things in godly concord, the bishop presiding after the likeness of God... ". "For even Jesus Christ, our inseparable life, is the [manifested] will of the Father; as also bishops, settled everywhere to the utmost bounds [of the earth], are so by the will of Jesus Christ."[17] "It is manifest, therefore, that we should look upon the bishop even as we would upon the Lord Himself"[18] "…[they (i.e. presbyters)] submitting… not to him, but to the Father of Jesus Christ, the bishop of us all."[19] "…ye all follow the bishop, even as Jesus Christ does the Father..."[20].

The ministry of bishop according to Epistles of Ignatius is quite clear. As the writings of Irinaeus of Lyons show even at the end of the second century a bishop still continues to be called presbyter though at this time a bishop already quite clearly differs by its ministry from presbyters. Epistles of Ignatius reflect the first stage of the process of transformation of the eldest presbyter into a bishop. Justin’s "president (proestwj)" acts with such liturgical functions which make him similar to a bishop of Epistles of Ignatius. The developing doctrine about apostolic succession begins to incorporate the doctrine about the succession of bishops’ high priesthood which, in turn, finally formulates the doctrine about apostolic succession. Through apostles the high priesthood of Christ is passed to bishops. Hegesippus writes: "James, the brother of the Lord, succeeded to the government of the Church in conjunction with the apostles... He alone was permitted to enter into the Holy place; for he wore not woolen but linen garments."[21] An idea, that apostles had the high priesthood’s ministry appears in the mind of the church. The Roman eldest presbyter actually became a bishop, probably earlier, than in others churches. This was promoted by a feeling of discipline which found its bright expression in Epistle of Clement of Rome. The value of the eldest presbyter grew, both inside the Roman church, and outside of her. Succession of her eldest presbyters was considered with a great significance. The question when the process of transformation of the eldest presbyter in bishop was finished in the Roman church, certainly, can be answered only approximately. Most likely, that it took place under the pope Victor. He was a true bishop, not the eldest presbyter in the Roman church. In the eyes of Irinaeus he was "ab apostolis institutus episcopus" (Ad. haereses, III, 3,1). Victor operates on its own behalf, as the head of the Roman church, instead of doing on behalf of the church, like Clement who identified himself with her presbyters. During his papacy or immediately after him a special appointment of the bishop appears in the Roman church, saved for us by Hippolytus of Rome. "Grant, Father who knows the heart, to your servant whom you chose for the episcopate, that he will feed your holy flock, that he will wear your high priesthood without reproach, serving night and day... "[22]. The Roman eldest presbyter became a bishop on a basis of high priesthood’s ministry. Rome has finished the transformation of an eldest presbyter into a bishop. Ignatius was frightened by the term "high priest" because of its affinity to the cult of emperors, and he preferred to take the usual term "bishop" instead of it. It corresponded to another basic function of bishop’s ministry, which consisted of the protection of the right doctrine and the struggle against heresies.

Ignatius found the doctrine about high priesthood’s service of the Christ complete and only transposed it on to the eldest presbyter. It is expressed by Ignatius in his well-known formula: "Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude [of the people] also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church." (Smyrn. VIII, 2). Two-degrees priesthood  ministry was assumed by the Church from apostolic time. The first degree is the high priesthood ministry of Christ, and the second - priesthood service of all the people, including here all presbyters, has transformed into the church two-degrees hierarchy in which the first degree is a bishop as an image of Christ in the Eucharistic assembly, and the second is all the people. "The unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Eph. 4,3) there is an idea of Paul: a unity of all in the Church and, certainly, first of all, a unity with the president. Bishop governs the church as the head of the family: the Church is the household of God (1 Tim. 3,15), and bishop is a God’s steward (Tit. 1,7). For the ancient mind the authority of the head of the family (paterfamilias) was so indisputable that to prove its necessity was needless.

Ignatius appeal to the full submission to the bishop suggests that the process, threatening the unity of members of the church with its bishop, appeared in the church life.[23] Alongside with unique Eucharistic assembly some particular assemblies appear. "It is fitting, then, not only to be called Christians, but to be so in reality: as some indeed give one the title of bishop, but do all things without him. Now such persons seem to me to be not possessed of a good conscience, seeing they are not steadfastly gathered together according to the commandment." (Magn. IV). Tendencies to organize separate Eucharistic assemblies intensify  with the numerical growth of local churches. Ignatius basic argument against the multitude of Eucharistic assemblies within the limits of a city was the doctrine about the high priesthood’s ministry of a bishop. There may be only one high priest for all Christians living in the same place, that is why there may be only one altar and one assembly. The one who had a charisma of high priesthood might occupy in Eucharistic assembly a place with which occupied by Christ during the Last Supper. As high priest, a bishop was a president of local church. Receiving in special appointment a charisma of high priesthood, a bishop thus got a service of a president in that church for which he was appointed as a bishop[24]. Limits of a local church are moved apart and defined by limits of authority of a bishop, as a high priest. The Eucharistic principle of unity of a local church is getting converted into a Episcopal one.

Having ceased to be presidents, presbyters have kept the places of honor in a Eucharistic assembly on both sides of a bishop as the only high priest and a president of a local church. When Ignatius Theophorus names a presbyterium - “sanhedrin” it means not exactly what became presbyterium in the end of second or in the beginning of the third century. “Take ye heed, then, to have but one Eucharist… as there is one bishop, along with the presbytery”[25]. According to Ignatius a bishop integrally is still connected to a presbyterium. This formula almost reminds the formula of Polycarp: «Polukarpoj kai oi sun autw presbuteroi»[26]. The Polycarp quite identifies himself with presbyterium, but Ignatius distinguishes himself from presbyterium though yet does not separate himself from him. “…should also be subject to the presbytery, as to the apostle”[27] “…to do all things with a divine harmony, while your bishop presides in the place of God, and your presbyters in the place of the assembly of the apostles”[28]. Presbyters form, according to Ignatius, a sanhedrin of apostles, in which bishop enters, and where he occupies a special place. He cannot help enter into him since there may not be a sanhedrin of church without bishop. They are co-ministers of him in the field of administration, but are not co-ministers in the field of celebration; more exactly they are his concelebrants in this field in that degree, in which each member of Church is the priest to God and Father. “God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, look upon your servant here, and impart the spirit of grace and counsel that he might sit in presbyterium and guide your people with a pure heart”[29]. In this pray of presbyters appointment which we find at Hippolytus of Rome, he asks for “the spirit of grace and counsel” that they might guide the people. “The spirit of counsel” becomes a charisma of presbyters, because the whole ministry of presbyters when the eldest presbyter became a bishop, was to be collaborators and counsels of bishop together with whom they carried out administration of a church. Nevertheless, for all ante-Nicene period presbyterium remained a council of the local church, and not a bishop’s council. As in the ministry of pastorship a bishop has collaborators he may also have them in the field of celebration. It is quite natural, that presbyters became such collaborators. This expressed once again in a history the old position of presbyters as presidents of the church . A bishop remained a celebrant of the eucharist of the central assembly, and sent presbyters in the additional liturgical centers. They became  “giving thanks” ones, but not independent of their bishop. Celebration of the Eucharist was the main content of special priesthood service of bishop, and that is why it had to be naturally extended on presbyters when they began to head additional Eucharistic assemblies. When presbyters adopted special priesthood they might receive only the second degree, because high priesthood  is unique by nature in each church.

The doctrine about apostolic succession has finally shaped the doctrine about high priesthood of bishops. The basis of life of the early church was tradition. «For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you.» (1 Cor. 11, 23). The idea about tradition succession includes the idea about succession of persons who are keepers of tradition. For Paul the carriers of the earliest tradition were the Twelve, in particular Peter. Most clearly the idea of succession of persons, carriers of tradition, manifests in Pastoral Epistles. «And the things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witness, these entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also» (II Tim. 2,2). The doctrine of faith is transferred by the apostle to churches, and by them it should be kept undamaged through succession continuity and continuity (diadoch) of persons who are in charge for the protection of the doctrine . «Diadoch» was for Clement one of the arguments that one should not replace presbyters-bishops, who have blamelessly fulfilled their ministry. The succession of «diadoch» should not interrupt in Church. After passed away deceased bishops, appointed by apostles, other persons should accept their service. «Diadoch» protects not only the succession of bishops’ service, but also its charismatic character. The first presidents were tested in Spirit. Their successors also should be tested and are appointed with consent of the whole church. Apostles were appointed on their ministry in Spirit and by Spirit, apostles have appointed the first bishops in Spirit and by Spirit, also their successors should be appointed in Spirit and by Spirit with the consent of all church. Clement of Rome obviously emphasizes the charismatic character of not only apostolic ministry, but also the episcopal ministry. Bishops were appointed by apostles, but the purpose of the appointment was to send down the gifts of Spirit on those who had been selected by God. In Church the order which lays in the will of God should be kept, and this order should be saved in «diadoch» of bishops. It is expressed in that on a place of bishops, who passed away, others enter. The need for drawing up of lists of succession sooner or later should appear. Hegesippus has made such a list for the Roman church. “…when I had come to Rome I remained there until Anicetus, whose deacon was Eleutherus. And Anicetus was succeeded by Soter, and he by Eleutherus. In every succession, and in every city that is held which is preached by the law and the prophets and the Lord.”[30] A second half of second century was a turning point for the doctrine of succession of bishops, due to the connection of the doctrine about succession of bishops with the doctrine about their high priesthood. Apostles, founding churches, were for them the first high priests that is why they could be put in the beginning of lists of succession of bishops. Each bishop in the local church is the particular successor of the apostles. According to Irenaeus bishops «ab apostolis institute»[31] and «successionem habent ab apostolis»[32]. “Treasure of faith” is entrusted to the churches, but it is protected by bishops as they at appointment receive «charisma veritatis certum»[33]. They are witnesses and guardians of the tradition descending from the apostles, since each bishop consistently through apostles receives the charisma of fidelity to the apostolic tradition. This charisma makes the basic contents of the succession of bishops from apostles. Therefore the succession of bishops from apostles is a guarantee of the validity of belief, kept by the churches governed by bishops, because in these churches the «charisma veritatis» hasn’t ceased. By virtue of it the lists of bishops acquire a huge value for Irinaeus. Irinaeus asserted that for each local church he might prepare such a list, but it was not necessary[34]. The list of one Roman church, «maximae, et antiquissimae, et omnibus cognitae, a glorissimis duobus apostolis Petro et Paulo Romae fundatae et constitutae ecclesiae»[35] suffices. By virtue of this special position of the Roman church, each church should coordinate its doctrine to her: «necesse est ad hanc ecclesiam convenire omnem ecclesiam»[36]. The Roman church has accepted the Irenaeus doctrine about succession, as it actually existed in it, and finally formulated it on a basis of bishops’ high priesthood including teaching and safeguarding of faith. In such form we find the doctrine about succession in the writings of Hippolytus of Rome. Apostles were the first who received the gifts of Spirit, which are possessed by the bishops, as their successors apprehending from them high priesthood and teaching (arcierateiaj te kai didaskaliaj)[37]. Hippolytus formulated that he has found in the Roman church and that pope Victor, and then opponent of Hippolytus, pope Kallistos in practice carried out. From now on in the dogmatic doctrine high priesthood bishop includes his apostolic succession, and the last assumes the first. It quite corresponds to the historical development of the doctrine about apostolic succession and about the high priesthood ministry of a bishop.

Though the church administration in each local church was focused in hands of a president-bishop, in Church there was always an opinion, that the authority in her belongs not to persons, but to the God opening His will by the Holy Spirit. Due to this local churches solved the most difficult and important questions of their life at church assemblies, and besides that, frequently resorted to counsel and the coordination with other local churches. Already the council in Jerusalem, described in the book of Acts of Apostles specifies this fact of church life: "For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us" (Act. 15:28). Both events of the Jerusalem council, and Epistles of Clement and Ignatius testify that the largest and historically significant local churches (such as Jerusalem, Rome, Antioch ones), not having formal authority, nevertheless had in eyes of other churches the greatest spiritual authority[38]. At the same time, as N. Afanas'ev shows, in this period the church councils, including anti-montanistic councils of the end of II century, were in essence assemblies of separate local churches[39].

4. The further development of church administration in III century: country-bishops, metropolitan districts.

First the Christianity was established in cities where there were the local churches headed by bishops (paroikia). In middle of II century there were already country-churches[40]. In the initial, transitive, period inhabitants of suburban places were included in the city church: “And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place...”[41]. Inhabitants of the countryside removed from city needed a separate Eucharistic assembly though the number of members of the church was usually very insignificant. “Canones Ecclesiastici” says that 12 adult members of the church might participate in elections of bishop, and in the beginning of episcopacy of Gregory the Wonderworker in Neocaesarea in his church there were 17 persons. The earliest testimony about a country-bishop (Zoticus from the village Comana) is dated the second half of the II century[42]. The country-church was usually weaker then city’s mother church both spiritually and financially. Country-church received christianity and the future help from city church. Although each church was independent, the major events in the life of churches (especial elections of a bishop) were accompanied by the address to neighbor, more authoritative and old churches for receiving their approval (reception). Initial associations of churches occur on a basis of reception, but not as an imitation of the state administrative division. However this division had influence, especially on the association of city church with country ones. As a result result the reception of the city bishop becomes compulsorily obligatory for country-churches. The association of country-churches becomes a church district with the city bishop in the head. In the second half of the III centuries after persecutions of Valerian the city bishops subordinate to themselves country-bishops which begin to name  cwrepiskopoj.

Metropolitan districts begin to develop after city districts. When metropolitan districts began to develop, a metropolitan differed from other bishops of the province only by a place occupied among them, mainly, on provincial councils. He was the same bishop as all other bishops were, and his ministry was completely identical to the ministry of any other city bishop. Gradually he begins to be put forward among other bishops of a province not only by the honor following from a place occupied with him, but also by his ministry. He reserves the right to appoint bishops within the limits of a province. However, this right continued to belong to all bishops. Therefore the right of episcopal chirotony fulfillments was not allocated with metropolitan in the special function belonging only to one metropolitan, and that is why the place, occupied by him, didn’t have time to proceed in the special service which is distinct from the ministry of other city bishops. Metropolitan might win the greater authority than what usual bishops and even had some authority above them, but in essence the ministry of metropolitan remained a usual ministry of bishop.

The first data on metropolitans known from the IV century - these are rules of the I Ecumenical council speaking about the ancient custom by which Alexandria, Rome, Antioch and the Jerusalem bishops had authority above all bishops of their province. Other metropolitans, in particular, of Neocaesarea[43], are mentioned also.


In the present work it is shown, that the primary organization of church administration as paroikia (the local church headed by president, named bishop, the hegumen or presbyter) was determined by the fact that the Eucharist on which president is in a surroundings of presbyterium had the central value in life of Church. During the first three centuries paroikia (local church) kept their independence and completeness (catholicity). Gradually increasing changes of the organization of church (formation of several parishes’ Eucharistic assemblies inside paroikia, adoption of high priesthood to the president, growth of influence of bishops of the big centres on provincial bishops[44]) have resulted in the serious changes of the church organization shaped in the IV century. A legal submission of one bishops to another arises, and then autocephalous churches arises, and the independence of local churches disappear. These tendencies in the high degree have prevailed due to the acceptance of Christianity as the state religion of the Roman empire, and a recognition of emperor Constantine the Great as a external bishop of the Church.


1.      New Testament // New American Standard Bible. 1977.

2.      Afanas'ev N., protopr. Cerkov Duha Svatogo. Riga 1994.

3.      Afanas'ev N., protopr. Cerkovnye sobory i ih proishozhdenie. M., 2003.

4.      Afanas'ev N., protopr. Neudavshijsja tsekovnyj okrug // Pravoslavnaja mysl. 1953. ¹ 9.

5.      Bolotov V.V. Lekcii po istorii drevnej Cerkvi. M., 2003.

6.      Chadwick, H. The Early Church. London 1993.

7.      The primacy of Peter. Essays in Ecclesiology and the Early Church /Ed. by John Meyendorff. NY, 1992.

8.      Posnov M.E. Istorija Hristianskoj Tserkvi. Brussels, 1994.

9.      Rowland, C. Christian Origins: an account of the setting and character of the most important sect of Judaism. London 1993.

10.  Sventsitskaja I. S. Rannee hristianstvo: stranitsy istorii. M., 1989.

11.  Metropolitan Emilianos Timiadis. The orthodox understanding of the ministry. Joensuu 1990.

12.  Walker, W. et al. A History of the Christian Church. New York 1985.

Andrei Platonov

[1] See: Metropolitan Emilianos Timiadis. The orthodox understanding of the ministry. Joensuu 1990, p. 2: “The history of ordained ministry in the ancient Church cannot be studied, however, without looking at the same time at what is behind the laconic style of early sources”. Also: Walker, W. et al. A History of the Christian Church. New York 1985: “No question in church history has been more darkened by controversy than that of the origins of the church's official ministry. Owing to the scantiness of the evidence which has survived, few questions are more difficult to answer in detail.”

[2] Afanas'ev N. Cerkov’ Duha Svjatogo. Riga, 1994. P. 208.

[3] See: Sventsitskaja I.S. Rannee hristianstvo: stranicy istorii. Moscow, 1989. Pp. 56-65.

[4] From "chaber"- the friend.

[5] See Afanas'ev N. Op.cit. P. 190.

[6] “The unity of the scattered Christian communities depended on two things - on a common faith and on a common way of ordering their life and worship. (Chadwick, H. The Early Church. London 1993. P. 32).

[7] See Afanas'ev N. Op.cit. P. 201.

[8] Compare Clement of Rome, "I Epist. to Cor. ", V, 7; XXXVII, 2,3; LI, 5; LV, 1; LX, 4 where the term "hegumen" designates the persons having secular service.

[9] Ignatius Theophorus wrote, that presbyters in Eucharistic assembly represent "the college of Apostles": "all follow the bishop, even as Jesus Christ does the Father, and the presbytery as ye would the apostles; and reverence the deacons, as being the institution of God" . (Smyrn. VIII, I.) be ye zealous to do all things in godly concord, the bishop presiding after the likeness of God and the presbyters after the likeness of the council of the Apostles, with the deacons also who are most dear to me, having been entrusted with the diaconate of Jesus Christ... " (Magn. VI, 1). "let all men respect the deacons as Jesus Christ, even as they should respect the bishop as being a type of the Father and the presbyters as the council of God and as the college of Apostles. " (Trall. III, 1).

[10] “An overseer, then, must be… hospitable” (1 Tim. 3,2).

[11] XLVII, 6.

[12] See: Chadwick. Op.cit., p. 42.

[13] “The process of electing a new bishop could be sharply divisive. Unanimity of choice was sufficiently unusual to be regarded as a special grace. In a few cases the people’s choice was settled by special considerations. In the middle of the third century Fabian of Rome owed his election to the fact that a dove alighted on his head, and was taken to symbolize the choice of the Spirit.” (Chadwick. Op.cit. P. 50).

[14] Phil. VII, 2.

[15] Smyrn. VIII, 1-2.

[16] Phil., IV.

[17] Eph. III, 2.

[18] Ibid., VI, 1.

[19] Magn. III, 1.

[20] Smyrn. VIII, l.

[21] Eusebius, "Hist. eccl." II, 23,4-5.

[22] The Apostolic Trad. III, 4.

[23] “Ignatius of Antioch sought to answer the problem of centrifugal movements by insisting upon the local bishop as the focus of unity; without him the lifegiving sacraments could not be administrated.” (Chadwick. Op.cit. P. 41).

[24] It completely clearly acts from a pray of bishop appointment, which we find at Hippolytus of Rome: “God and father of our Lord Jesus Christ… Grant… to your servant whom you chose for the episcopate, that he will feed your holy flock, that he will wear your high priesthood without reproach, serving night and day, incessantly making your face favorable, and offering the gifts of your holy church; in the spirit of high priesthood having the power to forgive sins according to your command; to assign lots according to your command; to loose any bond according to the authority which you gave to the apostles (the Apostolic Trad. III).

[25] Phil. IV.

[26] Philip.

[27] Trall. II, 2.

[28] Magn. VI, 1.

[29] The Apostolic Trad. VII.

[30] Eusebius, "Hist. eccl.", IV, 22,3.

[31] Advers. haereses III, 3,1.

[32] Ibid. IV, 26,2.

[33] Ibid.

[34] Advers. haereses III, 3,1.

[35] Advers. haereses III, 3,2.

[36] Ibid.

[37] Philosoph. I, 1.

[38] See: Afanassieff N. The Church Which Presides In Love // The primacy of Peter. Essays in Ecclesiology and the Early Church /Ed. by John Meyendorff. Translated by Katharine Farrer. NY, 1992. Pp. 91-143. «We find the first direct evidence about the priority of the Roman Church in the writings of Ignatius of Antioch. “Ignatius also named Theophorus. . .to the church which presides in the land of the Romans.. .which presides in love (agape)” (Romans. Salutation. Ignatius of Antioch, Letters, tr. P. T. Camelot in Sources chrétiennes 10 (Paris, 1951), P. 125). The term “which presides” needs no discussion; used in the masculine it means the bishop, for he, as head of the local church, sits in the “first place” at the eucharistic assembly, that is, in the central seat. Because a local church was by nature identical with the concord of all the churches in love, an image came naturally to Ignatius’ mind: he pictured the local churches grouped, as it were, in a eucharistic assembly, with every church in its special place, and the Church of Rome in the chair, sitting in the “first place.” So, says Ignatius, the Church of Rome indeed has the priority in the whole company of churches united by concord. Nevertheless, in the epistle to the Church of Rome, we find no reference to its power over the other churches. Ignatius, in another saying even harder to explain, says that the Church of Rome “presides in the region of the Romans”. His words justify our supposing some kind of union between various Italian local churches; among them the Roman Church possessed the priority. If so, a further conclusion may be drawn: in the period of Ignatius of Antioch, besides the one great union of all local churches, more limited unions had come into being, groups of churches round one particular church which had the most authority. Such unions had arisen through the force of events. The church-in-priority certainly had authority, but this did not prevent a daughter-church from also having an authoritative position among churches lesser than itself; only, of course, its authority could not be so great. Ignatius regards Rome as the church-in-priority, and his witness on this point agrees with the Roman Church’s self-witness, as we find it in the Epistle of Clement».

[39] Afanas'ev N. Tserkovnye sobory I ih proishozhdenie. Moscow., 2003. P.97.

[40] Afanas'ev N. Neudavshijsja tserkovnyj okrug// Pravoslavnaya mysl’. 1953. #9.

[41] Justin Martyr. Apologia, ch. 67. Russian translation, Moscow, 1864, pp. 107-108.

[42] Eusebius, "Hist. eccl.", V, XVI.

[43] Posnov M.E. Istorija hristianskoj cerkvi. Brussels, 1994. P. 124.

[44] “The three-tired system of one bishop in one city, with presbyters and deacons, was attained in the second century without controversy. A further natural development was the provincial system by which in the third century special dignity came to be accorded to the bishop of the metropolis of the imperial province, and yet more transcendent honor to the bishops of the three greatest cities of the empire, Rome, Alexandria, Antioch” (Chadwick. Op.cit. P. 51).

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