Episco-Fact #143
June 6, 2019

What are bishops for?

As outlined in some of this blog's initial questions and answers, when it comes to liturgy, and this case ecclesiology, it may be better to ask what does something do? That concept includes bishops.

Before this blog continues, it should be noted that there is symbolism to Bishops as well as practicality. Bishops symbolize the unity of the diocese (this is sincerely meant even when it appears that some bishops do a better job of dividing). They also symbolize continuity to the earliest days of the people of the way (that is what Christians were called before they were called Christians). Bishops are historically, if not necessarily factually, connected to the Apostles. Apostle means one who is sent off. So, the early Apostles were sent off by Jesus to feed his sheep, proclaim the Gospel, to witness to Jesus' resurrection, and to bear God's love.

It is, therefore, fitting that these men and women (Mary Magdalene was, at a minimum, the Apostle to the Apostles), have successors. As the people of the way became the Church, the first two offices developed to carry out this mission were deacon (literally, waiter or server) and episcopos (overseer). The deacons served their communities in food distribution to those in need and as the go between for the overseer in Church gatherings, especially for baptisms and eucharists. Presbyters, Priests, are elders with appointed duties of baptizing, distributing the Eucharist, blessing marriages, offering absolution, and distributing healing oils when the bishop had to tend to the increasing number of fellowships under his care.

What does the Bishop do? He baptizes, blesses the Eucharist, Confirms (chrismation-applying Holy Oils at Baptism), reconciles penitents, blesses and applies healing oils, blesses the vows of marriage, ordains deacons and presbyters, evaluates priests for priesthood, and delegates authority to the priests to carry out sacramental ministry in the proclaiming of the Gospel. The Bishop also is the chief pastor and teacher of the Diocese. It is up to her to see that postulants and priests fulfill their duties and care for their churches, and she guides and helps select appropriate presbyters for care in churches.

As the reader can see, this is a full calling. And, in order to make certain things are going well in all the parishes the Bishop is required to visit each parish regularly. Regularly is defined in the Diocese of Virginia as every two years. At that visitation, an official term in our tradition, the Bishop reviews the books and records of the parish, making certain that worship is regular and that the duties of Christians for one another are carried out. And while the Bishop is on a visitation, tradition holds that churches will baptize, confirm, and receive.  The tradition of the Bishop is that she is the chief celebrant, preacher, and teacher of the day.

What do bishops do? They love God's people, they extend the reach of God's people, they welcome new people to the fellowship, and they affirm the people of the local community in God's gracious care.