Right relationship with the bishop: today's Office of Readings
In today's Office of Readings, the Church gives us a letter from St. Ignatius, bishop of Antioch, to St. Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna. Both Ignatius and Polycarp were disciples of St. John the Evangelist; Ignatius had been arrested and was being taken to Rome for trial and martyrdom. During the journey, he wrote letters to various people and Churches; we still have seven of those letters, including this one to Polycarp. Do we in our local Churches wth our bishops behave this way?
St. Ignatius wrote:
Avoid evil practices; indeed, preach against them. Tell my sisters to love the Lord and be content with their husbands in the flesh and in the spirit, and in the same way bid my brothers in Christ’s name to love their wives as the Lord loves his Church. If anyone can remain chaste in honour of the Saviour’s flesh, then let him do so without boasting. For if he boasts of it, he is lost; and if he thinks himself for this reason better than the bishop, he is lost. Those who marry should be united with the bishop’s approval, so that the marriage may follow God’s will and not merely the prompting of the flesh. Let everything be done for God’s honour.
Hear your bishop, that God may hear you. My life is a sacrifice for those who are obedient to the bishop, the presbyters and the deacons; and may it be my lot to share with them in God. Work together in harmony,: struggle together, run together, suffer together, rest together, rise together, as stewards, advisors and servants of God. Seek to please him whose soldiers you are and from whom you draw your pay; let none of you prove a deserter. Let your baptism be your armour, your faith your helmet, your charity your spear, your patience your panoply. Let your good works be your deposits, so that you may draw out well-earned savings. So be patient and gentle with one another, as God is with you. May I have joy in you for ever!
Since I have heard that the church of Antioch in Syria is in peace through your prayers, I too am more tranquil in my reliance upon God. If only I may find my way to God through my passion and at the resurrection prove to be your disciple! My most blessed Polycarp, you should convene a godly council and appoint someone whom you consider dear and especially diligent to be called God’s courier and to have the honour of going into Syria and advancing God’s glory by speaking of your untiring charity. A Christian is not his own master; his time is God’s. This is God’s work, and it will be yours as well when you have performed it. I have trust in the grace of God that you are ready to act generously when it comes to God’s work. Since I knew so well your zeal for truth, I have limited my appeal to these few words.
I could not write to all the churches because I am sailing at once from Troas to Neapolis as is required of me. I want you, therefore, as one who knows God’s purpose, to write to the churches of the East and bid them to do the same. Those who can should send representatives, while the rest should send letters through your delegates. Thus your community will be honoured for a good work which will be remembered for ever, as their bishop deserves.
I wish all of you well for ever in Jesus Christ; through him may you all remain in God’s unity and in his care. Farewell in the Lord!