Audio length: 48:54 minutes
Transcript published: February 18, 2011
Fr. Tom begins a series of talks on the role of bishops in the Church and their relationships to each other, to the priests, the deacons, and to us. He begins by identifying what is common to all of us in creation. Please also listen to a special encouragement at the very beginning of today's episode.
An extremely important and urgent issue among Christians of all churches and denominations is how the Church is structured, how the Church should be organized, how it should be led and governed. These are burning questions, and I remember years ago when I was working in the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches—I was a representative there from The Orthodox Church in America—we had a huge long study for years on baptism, Eucharist, and ministry, and what I discovered—and anyone who would like to check this could just read the seven volumes of the replies of the various churches to the Faith and Order paper, a booklet called “Baptism, Eucharist, Ministry”—“B.E.M.” it was called, “BEM,”—and you’ll see that, when it came to baptism, and when it came to Eucharist, even though there were so many different ways of baptizing and different ways of celebrating the Lord’s supper—and you had Roman Catholics who were there as official members and all the Orthodox Churches and all the various kinds of Protestants that believed in the divinity of Christ and the Holy Trinity and Christ as Lord and Savior—for example, Adventists were not there, Quakers were not there, Salvation Army was not there—but, you know, the churches that did at least allegedly believe in the Holy Trinity and the lordship of Jesus, they were there—and when it came to baptism and Eucharist, with all the differences among the various churches, the theologians, so to speak, the thinkers, the teachers, were pretty— didn’t have too hard of a time coming together at least to agree on the essential points of baptism and the essential meaning of the Eucharist and the Lord’s Supper. There are plenty of differences. I don’t want to say there weren’t; there were. But still, basically coming to a kind of a consensus of what we agreed upon and what we disagreed upon was pretty easy.
But in the ministry it was really hard. The ministry, where the rubber hits the road and where things get very—how can you say?—specific and practical and deal with power and everything else: position, power, possessions, property, privilege, and all that, boy, it became not easy at all. And the ministry part of that document is, I think, longer than the other two put together, because there was just more to discuss and more pretty radical disagreements.
So the issue of ministry, the issue of church structure, church order, is something that is constantly, has to be constantly on the mind and the heart and before the attention of Christians. So what I’d like to do now, and I may do it in a series of talks—I will see how this works out—but in any case, what I would like to do is just make some reflections, I hope that they are a little bit more, how can you say, focused and clear than what one person called my stream-of-consciousness “musings” about natural science and theology. I hope this is more than a stream-of-consciousness musing. But I hope that I will be able to be much more specific and much more direct about Church structure: how Orthodox Christians understand Church structure.
But here I’ve got to say right now from the get-go, from the start: there are plenty of disagreements within Orthodoxy about how to understand the place and the ministry of the bishop; the place, the relationship of bishops and priests, presbyters; the relationship, generally, of clergy to laity; how the various churches in the world relate to each other; issues like primacy of regions and primacy in the whole world, like which church kind of holds the first place when it comes to meetings and discussions and presidencies and so on. And then there’s the whole problem of how we understand holy orders as a sacrament, one of the sacramental mysteries of the Church. And then there’s just a lot of interrelationship with Western Christians.
In fact, when I was young people used to say that when it came to the ministry, people used to think that Orthodox are kind of a mixture of Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. Like the Catholics we had bishops and priests, we had apostolic order, we had apostolic succession, we had a priestly understanding of the priesthood as a sacrament, or at least sacramental; unlike Protestants who generally did not have the same order, did not have, you know, in the same way, bishops and priests and deacons, did not understand them the same way, certainly, generally didn’t understand holy orders as one of the sacraments of the Church. There was that whole debate of how many sacraments there are and what is a sacrament, you know, generally speaking the Catholics had seven, the Protestants had two, the Orthodox mostly had seven but couldn’t even decide on that because we never counted them and did’t think that sacraments were a thing to be counted, you know. So there were lots of problems.
And then you had, you know, among the non-Roman Catholic westerners everything from Quakers on one extreme, or Anabaptists—left-wing Reformation—who had no church structure whatsoever, practically, just local communities; sometimes with charismatic leadership, sometimes even without particular leadership, although you have to have some form of leadership, even the Quakers, do, Friends. But then you had Lutherans, who had bishops and who had pastors who were ordained but even how they understood that was different from the Roman Catholics and from us. Then you had the Episcopalians that had the high church, low church, broad church. You know, some were very high, almost like Roman Catholics without the Pope, and then there were others who were Evangelicals, you know, and then were the Methodists who originally were in the Church of England and then came out, and Wesley himself was a presbyter in the Church of England, and then there was the question of ordaining bishops and so on.
So this is a huge problem, and if you throw into the pot the Pope of Rome and the Papacy and the cardinals and the Curia and everything that you have in the Roman Catholic Church, you have a very, very difficult issue, very, very complicated, very complex. And then the Orthodox would somehow be considered to be, as I said earlier, some people think it’s a kind of a mixture of the two. Like the Catholics we have bishops and priests and sacraments, but unlike the Roman Catholics we don’t have the Pope, we’re against the Papacy, we don’t think it’s right, it’s not according to the Gospel. You know, we have priests who are married, like Protestants. On the other hand, our bishops have to be celibate, like the Roman Catholics. And then nowadays, even with the women, with the Catholics, we are opposed to ordaining most men and all women to priestly orders, to be a presbyter or a bishop or a deacon. They have to be, you know, the husband of one wife or a celibate, and they have to be male and so on, we have these, we still hold all these things whereas the Roman Catholics pretty much hold the same thing except they have celibacy for all the clergy. We don’t.
So, but then you have the Protestants who have women priests, women bishops. Then there’s the whole issue of sexuality. Can you be a gay man, or be a lesbian? Do you have to be married, do you have to restrict your sexual activity to a marital covenant, or can you just have sex generally and still serve as a minister in the Church? You know all of these are incredibly broad, complex, and multiple, highly-debated and very impassioned issues.
So what I want to do now is I’m going to start some reflections right now on how I think, again—and I have to stress this always on the radio: this is what I think. This is my opinion, you know, having studied this all my life. I’m 71 years old and worked in a seminary and listened and read lots of scholars and taught a few scholars—not being one myself, I’m more of a microphone than a scholar—but I’ve read lots of scholars, I’ve read lots of stuff. I was involved in lot of dialogue and lot of debates. I was a member of the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches. You know, so I was a member of the debating team with the UFMCC, the gay advocacy church that was trying to become a member of the National Council in the ‘70s. You know, I have some experience. As the saying goes, I’ve been around the block a few times.
But what I’d like to tell you now, and in the next few talks, is how I understand this issue. Now if somebody would ask me—let’s pretend you are asking me—“Fr. Tom, how would you explain the structure of the Orthodox Church? How would you explain it positively, according to the scriptures and the Tradition of the Church, the canons and everything. And then how would you explain it, relative to the non-Orthodox Churches: Roman Catholics and Protestants? And how would you explain it relative to the theological development in the Orthodox Church itself? Because we know very, very well that in the 17th, 18th centuries, 19th century, Orthodoxy in the textbooks was very much influenced by Roman Catholicism. And very often our teaching on the priesthood was almost identical to what was being taught, at the time, by the Roman Catholics except we didn’t have the Papacy. So it was almost as if our understanding of bishops and priests, except that our priests get married and we don’t have a Pope, was just exactly like the Roman Catholics. And I would like to say, I don’t think this is true at all. And it shouldn’t be. And when we explain it that way, we are doing a grave disservice to our Church, to the Christian faith, and to the people that we are speaking with.
There really is a different approach here, from the beginning, and it developed differently, and is understood differently, and we have to try to see what that is. And I spent my entire life doing that and living with people who were doing that. You know, people like Fr. Alexander Schmemann; Fr. John Meyendorff; Fr. Georges Florovsky; Metropolitan John of Pergamus, John Zizioulas; and many of the other writers—Lewis Patsavos, who wrote from Holy Cross—I mean there were many—Fr. Harakas, Fr. Stylianopoulos, Fr. Romanides—so many people were writing upon this, about this particular issue. Fr. Pomazansky at Jordanville. I mean, this was a debated issue, and is debated to this day.
So, I’m just going to, you know, since I have the microphone here, and I’m given the possibility—hopefully by God’s grace and not as a temptation of the evil one—but this possibility to share with you how I think is the best way to formulate it. And the formulation that I will share with you is basically the formulation that I was taught. And I would add Kallistos Ware definitely in that number of people. I don’t want to blame anybody for what I’m telling you, I really don’t. And I don’t want to say this is the teaching of these five or six people; it’s not. But I would say, by and large, it’s a synthesis of what I was taught by them, perhaps with some shadings and some little tweaking of my own because of whatever reasons, because I just think it’s necessary. But in any case, that’s what we’re going to do right now.
So, what we want to do from the beginning is to say that I believe it would be an Orthodox Christian teaching that from the beginning, from the very first human beings, from Adam, if you want to put it that way, that wherever you have humanity, you have human beings made in the image and likeness of God. And in their createdness, in their being human creatures, in their humanity, inherent in their humanity, in our humanity, is the vocation and calling and commandment of God that we all, men and women together, in unity—and here we would insist there must be Adam and Eve, together—that men and woman, humanity, as we are structured by God, male and female, were created to be prophetic, priestly, and pastoral people. If you use nouns instead of adjectives, we are created to be prophets or teachers, we are created to be priests, and we’re created to be kings or governors or pastors. If we use scriptural language of the Old Covenant, “shepherd-kings.” That’s what we are created to be. When we fulfill our humanity as God intended it we are to be prophetic, priestly, pastoral people. All of us. Every one of us.
Now, what does that mean? That means that we are created, prophetically, to know the word of God, to hear the Word of God, to be able to say, “Thus says the Lord!” and it really would be the Lord. We are created to know the truth. We are created to teach the truth, to live in the truth, to speak the truth, in love, of course. But truth is a big part of it. Knowledge. Knowledge, to know. We are created to know. And that’s what it means to be prophetic. A prophet isn’t simply a person who predicts the future, like, I don’t know, Jeane Dixon or somebody.
A prophet is a person who is directly inspired by God to know the truth and even to know the truth in very particular, specific conditions. To know the truth about what is happening. The truth about what happened. The truth about what will happen. The truth about what is going on, and to be right about it, not to be deluded, not to be deceived. And here I think, in biblical language, the opposite of a prophet would be a fool. A fool. We are not created to be fools. We’re not created to be fooled and we’re not created to be foolish. And in the Bible, “fool” is almost a technical term. When the Bible wants to speak about those who are really not what they are supposed to be they are called “fools.” “The fool says in his heart there is no God,” you know. And the opposite of foolishness is wisdom. The prophet is a wise person. He not only has abstract—or she, women prophets, of course—prophets not only have abstract knowledge (gnosis), but they have not only super-duper knowledge (epignosis in Greek) but they have sophia, in Hebrew chokhmah. They have wisdom. Wisdom. They know how to apply the truth. They know what the truth is and how, practically to apply it. And so we are all created to be prophetic people.
As far as being priests is concerned, what does it mean to be a priest? What does it mean to be a priestly person? A priest is the one who offers all things to God and mediates for the whole of creation before the face of God. A priest is the one who offers to God all that is his. In the words of the Byzantine Divine Liturgy, the priest is the one who is at every moment of every day is saying to God, “Your own of your own, that which is yours, we offer unto to you back to you in behalf of God and for all, and you give it all back to us as holy communion.” A priest is a consecrator, a sanctifier. A priest is the one who pronounces the Word of God and invokes the Spirit of God over all things. A priest is a person with a prophetic gift of knowing what things are. And here we want to say right away that you cannot be really priestly unless you’re prophetic, and you cannot be prophetic unless you’re priestly. No one can be a prophet if they’re not offering to God all that is his, in gratitude and glory. As St. Paul puts it in Romans 1, the first chapter of the Letter to the Romans, human beings are created to know the dynamis and the theotes of God, the power and the divinity of God. Human beings are created to offer doxa and efcharistia, glory and gratitude. As Fr. Schmemann would have said, we are created to be doxological and eucharistic. That’s what it is to be a human being, to be a worshiping being.
And then of course the priest is not only worshiping and glorifying and sanctifying and hallowing and naming and so on, but the priest is also mediating, interceding, mediating between God and creation. Mediating for, on behalf of the brothers and the sisters. Mediating on behalf of the plants and the animals. Right now there’s an absolutely huge downy woodpecker with a nice red cap and black and white body, eating out of my birdfeeder, with a huge long beak. Well, I am supposed to be, as a human being, the mediator between that bird and God. I’m supposed to thank God for that bird, and praise God for that bird. I’m supposed to take care of that bird. I’m supposed to name it; I’m supposed to glorify God with it and through it. And all of the creatures are glorifying God—the sun, the moon, the stars—everything’s glorifying God. And the human being is created to do that, too. That’s what it means to be priestly.
And then to be pastoral, or to be royal, to be kingly or queenly, is to govern the whole of creation. I should govern that woodpecker and now this shrike and then the chickadee who are coming around right now. I should govern my field out my window. I should govern the tree [whose] leaves are falling down. I should care for the whole universe. I could look up at the setting sun that’s shining through my window right now in my eyes, and I should know that all of this is made for me. God gave that for me, he gave it to all humanity—certainly the planet Earth. We may not know what else is going on in the universe, but we sure know what’s going on on the planet Earth. And here we are, on the planet Earth to care for it, to govern it. It’s interesting that the word “governor” in Greek is igumenos. It’s the word that we Orthodox use for the abbot of a monastery, and it’s a title of Jesus in the New Testament. And we’re going to see that all these things are titles of Jesus when we get to it. We’ve got to get there, though.
But starting in the beginning, so to speak, reflecting on creation itself, on humanity itself, anthropology, cosmology—to use the fancy words—you know, protology, etiology, you know, the sources of things. We see that human beings are to be prophetic, priestly, pastoral beings. Pastoral prophets. Priestly pastors. Pastoral teachers. Prophetic teachers. Prophetic priests. That’s what we are supposed to be. And those three aspects, which are just handy aspects when we have to speaks, the three Ps, you know—prophet, priest and pastor—they are integrated. They go together. You cannot be one without being the other one. You can’t. It’s impossible.
Now, technically a person can be a prophet without being a technically ordained priest, sure, but not without being priestly, you see. We’ll try to straighten this out as we go. But what we want to see from the beginning is :this is our calling, this is our commandment by God. Then what we want to see—very important in this opening introductory reflection—is that humanity blew it from the beginning. Humanity blew it from the beginning. Instead of being prophets, we’re fools. Instead of being priestly consecrators ,we’re polluters and desecrators. Instead of being pastors and governors we’re slaves, and elemental slaves to the very cosmos, the very creation, the very plants, animals, trees, sun, moon, star, earth, water that we should be governing we are now its— it governs us. And we return to the earth out of which we were made, with the name Adama, “Adam,” which means “earth.”
So we blew it! Sin came in, in a word. We didn’t accept our calling. We try to live outside of relationship to God, and the minute you live outside of communion with God you become a fool. You’re not a prophet, you’re a fool. The minute you’re out of communion with God and cease to worship and glorify God and praise God and offer all things to God, you become a destroyer of creation, a polluter, a desecrator, a defiler. And the minute that you break your communion and relation with God by failing to keep God’s commandments, you’re not a pastor-king anymore. You don’t rule anymore. You’re a slave. You’re a slave to your body, to your passions, to your hormones, to your DNA, to your biology, to your nature, to your nurture, to your biological definition from your parents. You just become a slave to everything and, ultimately, a slave to death itself and you die. So there’s this tragedy.
So the Christian view would be: the createdness of things and the goodness of things to begin with. Then, the falleness, the corruption, the perversion, the defilement of things through sin. And then the Christians would hold—we ancient Christians would hold—that God Almighty—who created all things and created us in his image and likeness to be prophets, priests and kings, pastors—he doesn’t give up on us. He sticks with us. And he works with us. And there has to be a synergia, there has to be a cooperation. Like I say a million times on the radio, God’s not a magician or a mechanic or a fairy godmother. We’re free people, he’s got to interact with us. Evil is part of the whole story. It’s a tragedy; it’s a drama.
So, what we believe is—and this would be the whole, this would be the Bible, basically—is that God— it’s the story of God seeking us out. “Adam, where are you?” “Well, I’m in the pit of hell, I’m cursed and sinful and dead.” “Well I’m going to come after you. And I’m going to do everything I can to make you prophetic and priestly and royal and pastoral again over the whole of creation. I’m going to reestablish your humanity. I’m going to see to it that you are capable of fulfilling all that you were created to be ap’ archis, ‘from the beginning.’ ” That’s the Christian faith.
And so the Christian faith, in a sense, as Abraham Heschel said, is not our opinion of God; it’s God’s opinion of us. It’s not our seeking God; it’s God seeking us. And God finds us in the pit of hell and he saves us.
So, how do we understand what we call the Old Testament? The Old Testament is God restoring our humanity, reconstructing our humanity so that the Messiah could come. So the Messiah could be born of the Virgin, that there could be a woman who could give him birth, and that he could save the world and reestablish the world and recapitulate all things and make things be what God wanted them to be from the beginning, and that we could fulfill our destiny, and fulfill what the Apostle Paul calls “the mystery hidden from before the foundation of the world, hidden even from the angels but now revealed to us in the Christian Church.”
So, the Old Testament. God reconstructing humanity. So what does he do? He finds people who are willing to work with him. He finds Abraham. Well, even before Abraham, he finds Noah, he finds Enoch. He finds anyone who can make a covenant with him and work with him. But then ultimately, the whole holy history begins in earnest, so to speak, with the covenant with Abraham and the promise to Abraham, that in Abraham’s seed the whole world will be blessed. But Abraham has to interact with God, too. Abraham has to know the will of God. Abraham has to be willing to worship God to the point of sacrificing his own son. Abraham has to keep the commandments, of circumcision and so on. He’s got to believe God. He’s got to trust God.
And then you have Abraham and you have Isaac and you have Jacob and then you have Joseph and the twelve sons of Jacob whose name is Israel. You have the whole biblical story, and if you want to know this story without reading the entire Bible, you can just read one of the Psalms, I can’t remember the number, I think it’s 106. You can find it easily. One of the Psalms just goes through the entire holy history. Or just read the sermon of St. Stephen in the Book of Acts, when he is killed there. Or just read the letter to the Hebrews, or read St. Paul’s sermon at the end of Acts, where they recapitulate and retell the biblical story in a synoptic form, in a symbolic form.
So, there is this whole story. It’s God’s story. It’s God’s version of us. Now, in that story, inherent to that story, are prophets and priests and kings. Read the Bible! There’s patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob. There’s Moses, the Prophet, he’s called the Prophet. There are those who are the judges of Israel. That’s one of the awfullest parts of the whole Bible, in my opinion, the Book of Judges. Basically it’s just a terrible story about how nobody followed God at all, practically, and it’s filled with blood and gore and everything else. But then you have Hannah, then you have Samuel. Then you have God reluctantly having the kingship, you know. And you could hear about all this, by the way, also if you just wanted to listen to my Fifty-Five Reflections on the Names and Titles of Jesus because we’re going to see that all of this is there. It’s all in the person of Jesus, ultimately.
But while we’re still staying in the Old Testament, we see that there’s the judges and the kings. And then the kings like David, they become foreshadows and prefigures and types of Jesus himself. And then you have Jerusalem, you have the holy city, then you have the temple, then you have the priesthood. You have the priesthood even before you have the kingship. You have the tabernacle in the desert, you have the offering of the sacrifices, you have the lambs that are slain. You have the manna from heaven, you have the feasts of the Torah, of the Tanakh, as it’s called, the Five Books of Moses, the Pentateuch. You have them. You have Passover-Exodus, you have Pentecost, you have the agricultural feasts, you have the sacrificial offerings, you have the Levitical code. All that priesthood is there in the Old Testament in a very primitive form. Primitive, but very much like the nations around Israel, so that the people would know what the heck is going on.
And then you have the battles between the kings. And you have God, Yahweh, fighting for his king so his king can destroy the other king so there can be a kingship and ultimately the world can be saved through Jesus. And, by the way, that that’s a very important point, and I think that maybe sometime I have to give a specific talk on Ancient Faith Radio about those wars in the Old Testament and why everybody’s getting slaughtered left and right and how we understand that as Christians. That’s a very important point. But one thing’s for sure: it’s all prototypical to the slaughter of the evil one and the devils by Jesus on the Cross as the King, the king of Israel who dies for his subjects.
So in the Old Testament you have prophets, you have priests, you have kings. You have the prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah , Ezekiel, Daniel. You have the so-called “minor prophets,” who are not minor, they just wrote a little bit less and so on, I don’t— St. John Maximovitch, one of our great saints of the modern time, he didn’t like this idea of “major” prophet and “minor” prophet. There’s a story about how one school girl that he was examining in one of his church schools spoke about the four major prophets and the twelve minor prophets, and he rebuked her a little bit. He said, “Honey, don’t put it that way. We know the Protestants do that because you have Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel as really the big names, but the other ones are very important, too. They are not minor in any sense of being less important they are just different; they have a different calling.” So maybe we shouldn’t use those terms, “major” and “minor.” But in addition to Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel, we have Hosea and Amos and Malachi and Micah and Jonas and Joel and Zechariah and Zephaniah and Haggai and Nahum and Obadiah and Habakkuk. We have those twelve. We have scriptures assigned to them in Holy Scripture.
But even then the prophets are not just those, they’re just not the Four and the Twelve. You have Elijah, who’s probably the quintessential prophet. Moses is called a prophet. You know, so prophecy, the prophetic people, is gifts. Huldah was a prophet. When Josiah found the Deuteronomic scroll and he wanted to know if it was authentic or not, he went and asked a woman. The woman’s name was Huldah; she was a prophetess, and she affirmed by her direct knowledge and inspiration by God that, yes, indeed, this was an authentic book. So there are prophetic women.
There were even bands of prophets, the Navi, wandering prophets. Some of them were pretty cuckoo and according to the real prophets they were saying, “Thus says the Lord,” and it wasn’t the Lord. Basically they were fakes. They were false prophets, you know. But the prophetic people are filled— the Old Testament is full of them.
But what we want to say now is that all of this exists to bring forth Christ, to bring forth Jesus of Nazareth, the Messianic prophet, the teacher sent from God, Jesus Christ, who is the great high priest and the only one there is, and Jesus Christ who is the king over all the kingdoms of the earth and the only king that there is. Jesus is the prophet, the priest, the king. And here I’d refer you to my talks about the titles and names of Jesus in the New Testament.
But how is he prophetic? How does Jesus really show forth the will of God? How is he the living Word of God himself? He not only proclaims the word, he is the Word. And by the way, there’s no place in the New Testament, [where] it says, “The Word of God came to Yeshua ben Yosef,” or something. There’s no place in Scripture where it says the Word of God came to Jesus. He is the Word of God. He is the Word of God. He communicates with God face-to-face from all eternity, not just on a mountain like Moses. Jesus is really as far beyond Moses, as the letter to the Hebrews says, “the house is to the builder of the house.”
So in any case, Jesus is the prophet, he’s the teacher, he’s the only teacher we had; he says “Don’t call any man teacher. One is your teacher, even God.” So he becomes the teacher, and he teaches, and he shows what God is really like, and what the word of God really is. How? Well, ultimately, by dying on the Cross. Not just by what he teaches, but by what he does. In fact, the holy Fathers say he’s most eloquent prophetically when he’s hanging dead, when he’s silent, when he’s not saying anything. Then you really see what the Word of God is and what the will of God is. Then you really see who God is. You have the prophetic act par excellence. And we should never forget that the word “word” in Hebrew doesn’t just mean a spoken word, it means an act, it means a work, it means a thing.
So Jesus is that prophet. But his prophetic ministry is fulfilled by his crucifixion and death and glorification—death on the Cross and glorification when he’s raised from the dead.
Then Jesus is the great high priest. Now what is the sacrifice, what is the lamb, what is the bread that’s broken? It’s him! It’s him himself. He’s the one who offers and is offered, as we say in the Byzantine Divine Liturgy. He is the one who receives the offering and the very offering that’s distributed to us. So he is the priest and the victim. And he becomes the great high priest by offering the perfect offering which is himself, and he does that on the Cross.
And then he is the king. And the king lays down his life for his subjects. He’s the pastor, the good shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep. There’s only that one Jesus. And, being all these things, we can even say that Jesus is the only Adam. He’s the only real human being. He’s the only real Son of God. There isn’t any other. It’s one. One. And for the Christians, therefore, when we try to understand the priesthood, or the episcopate, or the pastorate, or the ministry, or what it is to be a episkopos, a bishop, what it is to be an elder, a presbyter, what it is to be an igumenos, a governor, a leader, there’s only one for us and that’s Jesus himself. There isn’t any other. He’s the only one that there is. There isn’t any other. And all of the Old Testament existed to produce this one, so that this one could be born, who is God from all eternity becoming man for our sake and becoming the prophet, the priest, and the teacher and the pastor and the king.
So, for the Christian faith, Jesus is the bishop. He’s even called the bishop in the New Testament writings. Again I refer to my series on the names of Jesus. He’s called the archpriest, high priest. He’s called the pastor. He’s called the shepherd and bishop of our souls, in Peter. These are his names, and he’s the only one. No one else can claim to be this, nobody. No-bo-dy at all. But in that sense, no one can even claim to be a human being. We’re just nothing but a piece of raw meat that dies and stinks and rots in the grave. You know, what kind of human beings are we? You know, we call ourselves human beings.
I just read a book called JFK and the Unspeakable. It’s another one of those books speaking about the assassination of John Kennedy. But there’s one line in the book where they’re discussing nuclear power and dropping the atom bomb and all that kind of stuff, and Kennedy was speaking about that with the generals and the security leaders. And then as he left the room he apparently said to somebody, “And we call ourselves human beings when we’re sitting here discussing how to kill and destroy all.” You know, well, that’s part of the fallen world. If you’re a President of the United States that’s something you’ve got to do, one way or another. Got to deal with that stuff because we’re a fallen, corrupted world. But we’re human beings who are corrupted. But the human being, the man, is Jesus. The anthropos is Jesus. The Adam is Jesus. The son of God is Jesus. And therefore there’s only one.
And once I hear a talk by Bishop Kallistos Ware at St. Vladimir’s Seminary. I never forgot that talk; I repeat it all the time, and I usually, I try to give a— you know, say that it’s from Bishop Kallistos and not from me, but I don’t want to implicate him in my mistakes, but it’s not my original idea—where he said, “When the Christians think about ‘the priest,’ ‘the pastor,’ ‘the teacher,’ ‘the prophet,’ we must begin by saying that there is only one. One. One alone. One. Jesus the Christ, one.”
But then, as Bishop Kallistos himself said in his talk, which I remember to this day, almost verbatim—you may notice that I have a good memory—Bishop Kallistos said, “But then the minute you say ‘one,’ then you have to say ‘all.’ ” All. Because what the bishop said was that Jesus Christ did everything that he did, for us human beings and for our salvation. As Bishop Kallistos would say, “God became man to make man god, but he also became man to make man man.” God became human to make human beings—male and female both, men and women—to be really human. And to be, as the holy Fathers teach: by grace, everything that Christ himself is by nature, and, by nature, Christ is both divine and human. By grace we become divine, and, therefore, become human. And we can’t even be human without grace. No one can be human without the grace of God. It’s impossible, because if you’re not living by the grace of God you’re living by the destructive power of demons. There isn’t a middle path.
So, Bishop Kallistos said, we identify, we speak about our bishops, our priests, first of all by saying there’s only one, and that’s Jesus, and then by saying that they are all, everyone who believes in Jesus, who is baptized into Christ in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, who is sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit. That person becomes prophetic and priestly and pastoral and royal by that very act. By baptism and chrismation, and then by offering the holy Eucharist and participating in it—and in the holy Eucharist we offer our own bodies as a living sacrifice to God, which is our spiritual worship. St. Paul taught that clearly in the twelfth chapter of the letter to the Romans. Our sacrifice is ourselves, our own bodies. We offer ourselves, our body together with the body of Christ to God the Father and then our bodies become the body of Christ and then we become, literally, changed by the invocation of the Holy Spirit to become, ourselves, the very body and blood of Christ in this world. To be his eyes, his ears, his hands, his face, his mouth, his feet. We become to be, by grace, everything that Christ is by nature. That’s the Christian faith, according to Orthodoxy.
So, what we say, the minute we say, “All of creation has been saved and redeemed through all of the activity of God through the entire Old Testament that is fulfilled in the incarnation and the crucifixion and the glorification of the Son of God and the out-pouring of the Holy Spirit on all flesh,” [is that] baptism, chrismation, and Eucharist is what makes us human. It’s what makes us prophetic, it’s what makes us priestly, it’s what makes us pastoral, makes us royal. It gives us all the powers from God and the graces of God to be what he created us to be from the beginning.
So, you speak about “the royal priesthood,” or the “kingdom of prophets and priests,” a kingship. You know, these are New Testamental terms. They are in Paul, they are in Peter, they are in John in the Apocalypse. You find these terms all over the place. Read, read the New Testament and you will see. And these were already applied prefiguratively to the people of Israel in the Tanakh, in the Pentateuch, in the Law of Moses. They’re there already. They’re there already. To Moses God says, “These are my chosen people, a royal priesthood. These are my people whom I have chosen to be priestly among all the nations. These are the people who are to be prophetic. These are the people who are to be royal and kingly, because they are prophetic and royal and pastoral by my grace and presence among them as their God, Yahweh.” That’s the Bible.
So, you begin by saying, from the Christian perspective, there is only one who is the real Adam, the real human being, the real prophet, priest and king and pastor. But in him we all participate in that very same reality. So you could say that every baptized, chrismated person who participates in the holy Eucharist is a prophetic, priestly, royal person. That’s how it’s understood. But then, as Bishop Kallistos himself said in his memorable talk that I’m now remembering for you, he said, “You say ‘one,’ you say ‘all,’ but then you have to say ‘some.’ Not ‘all,’ just ‘some.’ “
And who are these “some”? And here is where we get specifically into the teaching of holy orders and into the teaching of the bishops, the priests, and the deacons, and even, in the charismatic gifts like the prophetic teachers, the healers, the wonder-workers, and so on, because these are not all. Not all people are bishops, priests ,or deacons, or deaconesses. Not all people are prophets or healers or speakers in tongues or whatever else kinds of charisms there might be. Not all; only some, only some. And God knows how to deal with that.
But here from the beginning we must make a necessary distinction. There’s a distinction between all Christians who are priests and prophets and kings, and those Christians that have particular charismatic gifts. But there’s also a distinction between all Christians, who are made to be priests, prophets, and kings and those Christians who have specific charismatic gifts, and those who are actually ordained by the laying on of hands—you might even say a “second” laying on of hands, a laying on of hands after baptism and chrismation—there’s a second laying on of hands, for certain members of the Church to serve as the Church’s leaders and as the heads of the Christian communities succeeding the Apostles. That’s our Orthodox Christian faith.
Some are chosen by God for that particular ministry, which is not a charismatic ministry that can come and go by the breathing of the Holy Spirit who comes and goes. It’s an order. It’s part of the structure of the Church. It’s an ordination that’s given once and for all for leadership, for pastoral care, for teaching, for prophesying, and for caring for the prophets and caring for the teachers and caring for all the people of the Church who are holy and have gifts and use them for the edification of the Church and the glory of God and the salvation of their brothers and sisters.
There has to be a headship and leadership in the New Covenant (qahal), the New Covenant community, the New Covenant Church, the Church of Christ, until Christ comes again in glory. And here’s where we get to our specific topic and the end of our reflection today. There are some in the church who are called and commanded by God and recognized by the community, and even affirmed and ordained in the community by the community by the grace of God to serve as bishops, to serve as presbyters, and to serve as deacons.
And then there are other minor orders such like reader, singer, exorcist, doorkeeper, even bread-baker or whatever. There are what we come to call “clergy” (kleros), a part of the community that has this particular ministry. Just like in the Old Testament there were the priests, the Levitical house. The Levitical house didn’t even have a piece of land that was theirs. God was their portion and they were God’s portion. So the Old Testament priesthood prefigures the New Testament clergy. Certainly it does. And we’ll see that as the Church progressed, a lot of the rules and stipulations for the Old Testament priests were applied to the New Testament bishops and priests. They had to fulfill the same categories, they had to have the same qualifications as the Old Testament priests did. And one of them, as we’ll see, was to be male.
But what we want to see now is—and we have to end for today—is that from the beginning of the Christian Church there were bishops, there were presbyters, there were deacons. There were females presbyters in the sense of elderly old women who had their position in the Church, which was different from the male presbyter. There were female deacons, Phoebe, for example, she’s named in Romans, who had their ministries to perform in the Church. There were ministries—orders, as we would say nowadays—holy orders that belonged to the very mystery of the Christian faith. That’s why for Orthodox, and for Roman Catholics as well, the orders, the holy orders are part of the very being of the Church. They are essential to the Church as the mystical body of Christ in the world until the Lord returns in glory when everything will be the Church—or nothing will be the Church, but everything will be the Church and there will be no need for bishops, priests and deacons or patriarchs or metropolitans or archbishops or abbesses or abbots or anything else. It’ll just be the Kingdom of God with Christ filling all things within himself. But until he comes and we’re still in this fallen world—and it was God’s plan that Christians would be in the fallen world for who knows how long, until he comes again in glory, says the Scripture: he’s coming soon but then the same Scripture says “soon” for God may not be “soon” for us, and the full number of the elect has to be fulfilled before he comes—and while that is happening through the centuries, there is the Christian Church.
So the Christian Church becomes part of human history after the death and resurrection and glorification of Jesus and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. And the Church is a concrete historical community of human beings. That’s what it is. We’ll talk about that next time. But within that Church and essential to that Church would be the leadership of that Church which belongs to the very being of that Church, which are the bishops, and, with them, presbyters and elders and deacons, and then all the members of the Church together, including those with charismatic gifts and those without them, and including, even in some sense the penitents and all that. There is a Qahal Israel, an assembly of Israel, a church of Israel that is now the church of the Messiah. And here it is very important that the term “qahal” which is the term for “church” is what is used in the New Testament for church. But the Church is the Church because of the presence of God in it. But God acts in that Church in very particular ways. He acts in particular ways before the Messiah comes, and he acts in particular ways after the Messiah comes.
So we’re going to continue our reflection to discuss: how does God act in his Church after the Messiah comes, and what is that Church like, and what are the various “theseis” as the holy Fathers would call them, the places, the positions in the Church? What are the various diakonias, the various ministries within that Church? And then very particularly, how are we to understand the bishop, and then, of course, the archbishop, the metropolitan, the patriarch? How are we to understand the presbyter amd the protopresbyter and the archpriest and so on? How are we to understand the deacon and the protodeacon and the archdeacon? How does all of that fit into the picture? That’s what we are going to try to discuss in the days to come.