In his 1985 Being as Communion, Metropolitan John Zizioulas described two distinct, yet complementary notions of the Church’s Apostolic identity. The first pertains to the unbroken historical succession of bishops from the time of Christ—in other words the preservation of the Church’s identity through the faithful handing over of what was received in the past, which is what the word tradition (traditio in Latin, or paradosis in Greek) means. The second relates to the way the Apostles serve as an icon of what is yet to come—the ordering of the kingdom of God according to the pattern of the Twelve. From this perspective, the focus is not on the apostles as the historical figures per se, but on the image they convey to us of the ever-approaching eternal kingdom, that suggests itself to us in a variety of particular historical events, in a manner similar to how rough drafts foretell a final manuscript, or a sketch foretells a completed painting. This latter way of the Church identifying her apostolic identity can be called eschatological, in that it pertains to the nature of final things—where it is that all of creation is headed. To the extent Christ’s initial choosing of the apostles partakes of what is most-deeply real, it expresses something of the nature of eternity; thus, it is a reflection of what will become more and more evident as we approach the eschatological horizon, entering into the never-ending day of the kingdom. This perspective makes sense out of why the icon of Pentecost does not constrain itself to accurate historical depiction, including the Apostle Paul (who was not present at the historical event of Pentecost) as the twelfth apostle, rather than Matthias, who, according to Acts 1:16-26, would be historically warranted. The icon is governed by a theological purpose, and subordinates historical details to this end.
An analogy from television cooking shows might help us understand these two perspectives. The first part of the show, in which the chef demonstrates the preparation and mixing of the ingredients, corresponds with the approach in which identity is derived from history. The recipe depends on the initial ingredients, in proper proportion and handled in the proper way. If the ingredients or preparation are incorrect, the item being cooked will not be what it is supposed to be. Often, though, after demonstrating these first steps, the chef will pull out from the oven an example of the recipe that has already been completed. Seeing the completed product gives us a vision of our destiny, and informs and inspires our yielding to the process that brings us to this end. Someone who had never seen a completed cake may follow a recipe and procedure with commendable accuracy, yet produce something that looks quite different from a cake. On the other hand, someone who is familiar with what a cake looks like can, at some point, rely less on the directions for the recipe or procedure and aim their efforts towards what they know the final product is supposed to be.Continue reading