Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Upon Moses' Chair

A replica of the Chair of Moses found at the Synagogue in Chorazin

"Upon Moses' chair sit the scribes and the Pharisees: all things whatsoever they tell you to keep, keep and do: but their works do not do, for they speak and do not do."--Mt 23:2-3

How great was Moses' authority, that even his chair continues to be reverenced millennia after his falling asleep!  God ordained him to be the lawgiver of the Israelites and to guide them in the commandments of the Lord, and his authority succeeded him throughout the ages.  First it passed to Joshua, the prototype of Christ in name, then to the many judges the Lord raised, then to the kings of Israel and Judah through the mediation of Samuel, and then to the elders and the teachers after the Exile.  Jesus Himself affirmed this succession of authority, for He affirmed that even the hypocritical scribes and Pharisees had an authority to be heeded.  If even they, successors of the prophet and lawgiver Moses, were to be heeded, how much more the successors of the honorable and glorious apostles?

"Remind them to rulers and authorities to be submissive, to be obedient"; if such is the command even to earthly rulers, how much more must it apply to the elders of the people of God!  All authority is from the Lord, but the authority of the leaders of the Church is a direct gift of God.  It is a gift passed down by the laying on of hands, an eternal gift: "You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek."  This is the Spirit working in them, for they bear an indelible mark; for this reason we bid peace be to their spirit, for we are truly saluting the Spirit of priesthood within them.

Those who were in the line of Moses were to be followed, according to Christ's command, and so we must obey the direction of our pastors who are in the line of the apostles and endowed with the Spirit for leadership and sanctification.  For in the apostolic priesthood, the teaching authority handed down to the Pharisees is combined with the priestly authority passed down the line of Aaron.  "The Lord has descended on Mt. Sinai, and he imposed his hand on Moses, Moses imposed it on Aaron, and it has been transmitted up to John; John imposed it on Our Lord, and Our Lord granted it to the apostles. The blessed apostles have imposed it on all the degrees of the priesthood."  When the leaders of the Church, then, speak the truth of Christ, we must heed it diligently; when they direct us in ways that are not evil, even if we may disagree, we are to be obedient to them.  For by the gifts of the Spirit in them they deserve respect and honor.  "Receive him as a minister of Christ and a steward of the mysteries of God."
Holy Prophet Aaron

What, then, if they are evil?  Did not Christ tell the crowds not to do as the hypocrites did, but to heed their authority when it was just?  When those sitting in Moses' chair used their God-given authority as He willed it, the Israelites were to heed their words, even if they were sinners.  For vengeance is the Lord's, and He will judge more severely those to whom greater authority is given.  The presence of the priestly Spirit thus enhances this truth.  We are to obey our leaders as far as they do what God has given them to do, as far as their authority allows; but we are not to follow when they direct us to do evil, we are not to believe when they preach another Gospel.  For if we are not to believe even the Holy Apostle Paul or an angel from heaven who preached a different Gospel, how could we be bound to believe a different Gospel taught by our elders?

Thus, when the Spirit of God is working in our leaders, we must give them honor and obedience; but when it is sin that works in them, we must keep a distance.  For even those endowed with the priestly Spirit can do evil things: did not Peter, the first Pope of Rome, deny our Lord, and did not all the other apostles--Andrew of the see of Constantinople, Mark of the see of Alexandria, James of the see of Jerusalem, and all the others--did they not flee from the Crucifixion?  Yet when they repent and return to the Lord, they are forgiven, and these sins do not remove the priestly Spirit from them.  Even when these graced ones become hardened sinners, becoming fit for hell and making others like them, the Spirit still resides in them, and they will be severely, severely judged.  For it would be better that a millstone be tied around their neck and that they be thrown into the sea than that they would lead the Lord's flock astray. It is the elder's task to "give a worthy account of [his] stewardship to Christ our God on the Day of Judgment." Even in this life, wicked pastors must be disciplined, whether by the Church or by the State, and yet that in no way removes the Spirit from them.  For even those virulently preaching heresy may still perform the Mysteries, as was revealed so clearly by St. Augustine. "Do not consider the merits of persons, but the office of priests" (St. Ambrose).

What, then, should our position be towards our anointed leaders?  We are to keep the Word of God they preach and obey their commands that are not for evil; we must give their due honor which comes with the priestly Spirit that resides in them and bestows them with gifts.  "What he has delivered to thee, consider; ponder its use, recognize its character" (St. Ambrose).  But we must not do as they do when they do evil, and we must not accept the word of falsehood, and at times we must speak to their authorities for discipline.  Yet in all this, we must recall the honor of the Spirit within them, even if they despise Him; for they sit upon the apostles' chairs, as the hypocritical Pharisees set upon Moses'.  "Who hears you, Me he hears: and who rejects you, Me he rejects: who then Me rejects rejects the One Who sent me."  Let us then give proper honor to those ordained in the order of Melchizedek, and let us give them due obedience; but let us never follow them when they try to make us fit for hell.  For we must follow the Spirit wherever He blows, but we must reject the way of the flesh.

"Priesthood exceedeth all other thing...

Everyman, God gave priests that dignity,
And setteth them in His stead among us to be;
Thus they are above angels in degree.

Therefore let us priesthood honor,
And follow their doctrine for our souls' succor.

We be their sheep, and they shepherds be
By whom we all be kept in surety."
Christ the High Priest

Nota Bene: The quote "The Lord had descended on Mt. Sinai..." is from the Maronite rite of ordination of a priest as quoted in "Priesthood in the Syriac Maronite Tradition" by Chrobishop Seely Beggiani.  The quote "Respect him as a minister of Christ..." is from the Latin rite of the ordination of a bishop, Ch. V §18 in the Rites of Ordination, as found in Catholic Rites Today: Abridged Texts for Students, edited by Allan Bouley, O.S.B. (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1992).  The quote regarding "give a worthy account" is from the Byzantine rite of the installation of a metropolitan, as found in Euchologion (Trebnyk): A Byzantine Ritual, edited by Fr. Demetrius Wysochansky, OSBM, second revised edition (Etobicoke, Ontario: The Basilian Press, 1986).  The quotes from St. Ambrose are from his De Mysteriis (On the Mysteries), II.6 and V.27, as found in On the Sacraments and On the Mysteries, translated by T. Thompson and edited by J.H. Srawley (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1950).  The final quote is from the medieval morality play Everyman.

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