The Head of the Church

Translation of the relics of the Hieromartyr Ignatius, the Godbearer and Bishop of Antioch

Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,


PSALM 110[111)

Praise the Lord! I will praise the Lord with my whole heart, in the assembly of the upright and in the congregation. The works of the Lord are great, studied by all who have pleasure in them. His work is honorable and glorious, and His Righteousness endures forever. He has made His wonderful works to be remembered; the Lord is gracious and full of compassion. He has given food to those who fear Him; He will ever be mindful of His Covenant. He has declared to His people the power of His works, in giving them the heritage of the nations. The works of His hands are verity and justice; all His precepts are sure. They stand fast forever and uprightness. He has sent redemption to His people; He has commanded His Covenant forever: Holy and awesome is His Name. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; a good understanding have all those who do His Commandments. His praise endures forever.

[Com. This psalm gives praise to the Lord for His Mighty deeds of salvation. Liturgically this is used as a Christmas psalm. Verse 9a, the Lord "has sent redemption to His people", is the communion hymn on Christmas Day.]



On January 29th Our Holy Orthodox Christian Church commemorates, honors, and entreats the holy intercessions of the following Saints, Forefathers, Fathers, Patriarchs, Prophets, Apostles, Preachers, Martyrs, Confessors, Ascetics, Teachers and every righteous spirit made perfect in Our Holy Orthodox Christian faith: The recovery of the sacred relics of the holy Hieromartyr Ignatius the God-bearer; Holy Seven Martyrs who were perfected in Samosata: Philotheos, Hyperechius, Habib, Julian, Romanos, James, and Paregorios; Holy Martyrs Silvan, Bishop of Emesa, Luke the Deacon, and Mocius the Reader; Holy Martyrs Sarbelus and Vevaia his sister, who suffered in Edessa; and the Holy Confessor Varsimaeus, Bishop of Edessa; our Righteous Father Aphrahat of Persia; Saint Acepsimas; New Holy Martyr Demetrios of Chios, who contested in Constantinople in the year of our Lord 1802; Holy Martyr Ashot the Curopalates, who was slain in the church at Artani in Georgia in the year of our Lord 826; Saints Laurence of the Kiev Caves, who was Bishop of Turov; our Fathers among the Saints Gerasimos, Pitirim and Jonas, Bishops of Perm.

+By the holy intercessions of Your Saints, Holy Martyrs, Holy Confessors, Holy Fathers, Holy Ascetics, Holy Readers, Holy Bishops, O Christ Our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.

THE HIEROMARTYR IGNATIUS. The chief feast of Saint Ignatius is in winter, on December 20th. Today we celebrate the translation (Anacomide) of his holy relics from Rome, where he suffered martyrdom, to Antioch, where he had been Archbishop. When Saint Ignatius was summoned to Rome to answer for his Christian faith before the pagan Roman Emperor Trajan (reigned from 98-117 AD) a number of citizens from Antioch accompanied him on this long journey, prompted by their great love for their chief shepherd. The Saint of God, in no wise willing to deny the faith of Christ and scorning all the flattery and promises of the pagan Emperor, was condemned to death and thrown into the Great Circus before the wild beasts. They tore him to pieces and he gave his soul to God. Then his companions collected his bare bones (holy relics), took them to Antioch and solemnly buried them. When the Persians occupied Antioch in the 6t century, the holy relics of Saint Ignatius were again taken from Antioch to Rome. (Source: The Prologue from Ochrid).


Holy Epistle Lesson: Hebrews 10:32-38

Holy Gospel Lesson: St. Mark 9:33-41


"A brother whom another brother had wronged came to see Abba (Father) Sisoes and said to him, 'My brother has hurt me and I want to avenge myself.' The Geronda (Elder) pleaded with him saying, 'No my child, leave vengeance to God.' He said to him, 'I shall not rest until I have avenged myself.' The Geronda said, 'Brother, let us pray.' Then the Geronda stood up and said, 'God, we no longer need you to care for us, since we do justice for ourselves.' Hearing these words, the brothers fell at the old man's feet, saying, 'I will no longer seek justice from my brother; forgive me, abba (father).'

[For your information: Saint Sisoes was trained as an ascetic with Abba Or in Scetis. He left Scetis after the death of St. Anthony, saying it had become too popular and settled on St. Anthony's mountain for 72 years.]

by Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky (Source: Orthodox Dogmatic Theology)

The Savior, in giving authority to the Apostles before His Ascension, told them very clearly that He Himself would not cease to be the invisible shepherd and pilot of the Church. "I am with you always, even unto the end of the world" (every day constantly and inseparably; St. Matt. 28:20). The Savior taught that He, as the Good Shepherd, had to bring in also those sheep who were not of this fold, so that there might be one flock and one shepherd (St. John 10:16). "All power is given unto Me in heaven and in earth. Go ye, therefore, and teach all nations" (St. Matthew 28:18-19). In all these words there is contained the idea that the highest shepherd of the Church is Christ Himself. We must be aware of this so as not to forget the close bond and the inward unity of the Church on earth with the heavenly Church.

The Lord Jesus Christ is also the Founder of the Church: "I will build My Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" (St. Matthew 16:18).

Christ is also the Foundation of the Church, its cornerstone: "Other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ" (I Corinthians 3:11).

He also is its Head. God the Father "gave Him to be the head over all things to the Church, which is His body, the fullness of Him that filleth all in all" (Ephesians 1:22-23). "The Head is Christ, from Whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love" (Ephesians 4:15-16). As all the members of our body comprise a full and living organism which depends upon its head, so also the Church is a spiritual organism in which there is no place where the powers of Christ do not act. It is "full of Christ"SO ALSO THE CHURCH IS A SPIRITUAL ORGANISM IN WHICH THERE IS NO PLACE WHERE THE POWERS OF CHRIST DO NOT ACT.  IT IS "FULL OF CHRIST" (Bishop and Saint Theophan the Recluse).

Christ is the Good Shepherd of His flock, the Church. We have the "great Shepherd of the sheep", according to the Apostle Paul (Hebrews 13:20). The Lord Jesus Christ is the Chief of Shepherds. "Being examples to the flock," the Apostle Peter entreats those who have been placed as shepherds in the Church, as their co-pastor (Greek: syn-presbyteros), "when the Chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away" (I Peter 5:1-4).

Christ Himself is the invisible Chief Bishop of the Church. The Hieromartyr Ignatius the God-bearer, an Apostolic Father, calls the Lord the "Invisible Bishop" (Greek: Episkopos Aoratos).

Christ is the Eternal High-Priest of His Church, as the Apostle Paul explains in the Epistle to the Hebrews. The Old Testament Chief Priests "were many, because they were not suffered to continue by reason of death. But this One, because He continueth forever, hath an unchangeable Priesthood. Wherefore His is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by Him, seeing He ever liveth to make intercessions for them" (Hebrews 7:23-25).

He is, according to the Apocalypse (Revelation) of Saint John the Theologian, He "that is True, He that hath the key of David, He that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth and no man openeth" (Apoc. 3:7).

The Truth that Christ Himself is the Head of the Church has always, in lively fashion, run through, and continues to run through, the self-awareness of the Church. In our daily prayers also we read, "O Jesus, Good Shepherd of Thy sheep" (the Prayer of Saint Antioch in the Prayers Before Sleep of the Orthodox Prayer Book).

Saint John Chrysostom teaches in his Homilies on the Epistle to the Ephesians as follows: "In Christ, in the flesh, God placed a single Head for everyone, for Angels and men; that is, He gave one principle both to Angels and men: to the one, Christ according to the flesh; and to the other, God the Logos (Word). Just as if someone should say about a house, that one part of it is rotten and the other part strong, and he should restore the house, that is, make it stronger, placing a stronger foundation under it; so also here, He has brought all under a single Head. Only then is union possible; only then will there be that perfect bond, when everything, having a certain indispensable bond with what is above, will be brought under a single head" (Works of St. John Chrysostom in Russian, vol, 11, p. 14).

The Orthodox Church of Christ refuses to recognize yet another head of the Church in the form of a "vicar of Christ on earth," a title given in the Roman Catholic Church to the bishop of Rome. Such a title does not correspond either to the word of God or to the universal Church consciousness and tradition. It tears away the Church on earth from immediate unity with the Heavenly Church. A vicar is assigned during the absence of the one replaced, but Christ is invisibly present in His Church always.

The rejection by the ancient Church of the view of the Bishop of Rome as the Head of the Church and Vicar of Christ upon earth is expressed in the writings of those who were active in the Ecumenical Councils.

The Second Ecumenical Council of bishops, after the completion of their activities, wrote an epistle to Pope Damasus and other bishops of the Roman church, which ended thus: "When in this way the teaching of faith is in agreement, and Christian love is established in us, we will cease to speak the words which were condemned by the Apostle: "I am of Paul, I am of Apollos, I am of Cephas" (I Corinthians 1:12). And when we will all be manifest as of Christ, since Christ is not divided in us, then by God's mercy we will preserve the Body of Christ undivided, and will boldly stand before the Throne of the Lord."

With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George