The Empty Throne, by Fr. Lawrence Farley, traces the Orthodox Episcopacy from the time of the Apostles to today. Published by Ancient Faith Ministries, the book is a time-appropriate exploration of how the Episcopacy developed, what it looks like today, and how, in Fr. Lawrence’s opinion, Orthodox parishes and Bishops should take steps to develop a (more) personal relationship with each other. The book is a fascinating read and provides a helpful bridge in understanding the answers to common questions asked about the Episcopacy. At only 150 or so pages, the book is a great diving board for the subject.
Following a brief introductory note, Fr. Lawrence begins in the book of Acts. The entire first century Church, Fr. Lawrence notes, used the terms “bishop and presbyter interchangeably” (27). By the time Ignatius arrives on the scene in the second century, bishop and presbyter seem to take slightly different roles. Fr. Lawrence adds that some individuals like to see this difference as the first signs of “the Great Apostasy.” In addition to a few other thoughts on the subject, he combats this argument by mentioning that there is virtually no opposition to the shift in terms.
A large part of the formation of the Episcopacy is due to the necessity of the times. In the time of the Apostles, the Bishop was essentially a presbyter among presbyters—notably, an elder presbyter who was elected “president” of the assembly in the Apostles absence. And here we find significant the laying on of hands. The Bishop was elected as one who stood in the place of the Apostles and served the Eucharist. As time moved forward, the role of the Bishop became more and more prominent—and this prominence motivated crafty, fame-seeking persons to seek the office of Bishop. Fr. Lawrence traces this, and the eventual celibacy of Bishops (not always the case), through time, explaining major points of interest throughout.
It’s a complicated issue, but Fr. Lawrence does it justice (so I don’t want to ruin it too much by attempting to regurgitate it here). One thing I would like to note, however, that Fr. Lawrence disagrees with His Eminence Metropolitan John Zizioulas in how we are to understand the office of the Bishop (see: Being as Communion). I am unsure if Fr. Lawrence’s critique can be considered substantial in its current form; it functions more as an aside, in my opinion. But beyond this (I happen to appreciate Zizioulas’s work), The Empty Throne is a succinct history of the Episcopacy that is a great introduction to the subject.