As we reflect on and comment on the Divine Liturgy in the Orthodox Church, we reflected last time about clergy and laity, and we said that in some sense the entire Church is clergy and the entire Church is laity, or perhaps we could put it the other way around: the entire Church is laity in the sense that we are all laos—laos is where you get the term “laity”—that we all belong to the people of God: bishops, presbyters, deacons, and then even the monastics, monks and nuns: we all belong to the laos tou Theou, the people of God. We are members of that people altogether in one body, in one oikos, in one household. We stress that a lot.
We also reflected on the fact that the Church as a whole that celebrates the Divine Liturgy, the Church as Church, is the celebrator of the Divine Liturgy. It’s the one who does the common act of the people of God, that in some sense the entire Church is clergy, also. It’s kleros, it’s kleronomia, it’s God’s inheritance, God’s portion, taken apart from the whole of humanity, those who belong to Christ, who are baptized into Christ, who accept and confirm the fact that they are bought by his blood, they are sealed by his Spirit, they are chrismated, they have received the gift of the Holy Spirit, and therefore constitute a special people who is then a special portion of people, a part, an inheritance, a heritage, that belongs to God and God belongs to them; in some sense that God acts in and through them. God is the God of all, of course, and Christ is the Savior of the whole world, but God is the head of the Church in the Person of the Son of God, Jesus Christ, and Jesus himself in that sense is a part of the body, as its head, but that body is itself the portion of humanity that offers the worship in spirit and in truth to God through Christ by the Holy Spirit until the Lord Jesus comes at the end of the age in glory.
So we said last time that the whole Church is clergy, the whole Church is laity; the whole Church is laity, the whole Church is clergy, in the sense that all belong to the people and that whole people are a part of all peoples of the earth who offer the worship to God in spirit and in truth through Christ by the Holy Spirit. But we also said last time that within the body of the Church, there are those who are consecrated, who are ordained—they are the bishops, they are the priests, they are the deacons—and they have come to be called in history “the clergy,” and then the rest of the people, namely, the unordained, came to be called “the laity,” so that they were “lay persons.” Sometimes the unordained members of the Church are even called “the people.” We’ll speak about the clergy and the people.
Then sometimes it happened that the word “Church” was applied only to the clergy, like when we say, “Why doesn’t the Church do something about this?” We’re talking only about the clergy, forgetting that it’s the entire people who are the Church, not just the clergy. And the clergy are not alone; they are always with all of the members of the Church, constituting the whole people. The members of the body who are not ordained are also never alone. They are always with those who are ordained. So within the Church, the Church is the clergy and the laity, the ordained and the non-ordained altogether constituting one body.
No element in that body can exist without the other, and no element in the body can say, “I have no need of you.” I mean, St. Paul spoke about this in the letter to the Corinthians. In fact, Fr. Anthony Coniaris has a wonderful book about the Church, called, I Have No Need of You, where he’s criticizing this idea, that certain members of the Church can say they don’t need the others and that the clergy could even say they don’t need the non-clergy, the laity, in modern terms. Well, that’s really horrible. That’s absolutely unacceptable. It’s certainly not scriptural, it’s not Christian, it’s not the way things are. There’s one body, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one bread, one cup, one body, one household, one people—and within that people, you have the clergy and you have those who are not clergy, but they’re all the people. Then in some sense all of the people are also God’s portion as a whole to offer worship in spirit and truth and to do the Divine Liturgy on behalf of the whole of humanity and the whole of creation. So we have to really try to understand this as well as we can.
Now, today I want to reflect further, though, on what happened through history about clergy and laity relative to the celebration of the Divine Liturgy, because certain very unfortunate things happened through history, and of course when you’ve got a body in the world, a household in the world, a community in the world, that is now over 2,000 years old, it goes through lots of the vicissitudes of history, and lots of stuff happens. Certain stuff happened to clarify the truth, to clarify the reality, to clarify the mystery, but other things happened to obfuscate it, to obscure it, or maybe even to deform it or to lead to terrible misunderstandings. I would just like to reflect further today, hopefully for our edification, instruction, inspiration, and for us to understand better who we are and what we’re doing as Christians and as the Church of Christ on earth until the Lord comes in glory. Hopefully this will be helpful.
I’m just going to kind of do this in a kind of a manner through the history and to show what kind of questions and difficulties arose on this particular issue. First of all, I think we just have to repeat again that in the New Testament Scriptures and in the early Church writings, what we could call the sub-apostolic age, in other words, the time right after the last of the writings of the New Testament were written, in the time of the so-called Apostolic Fathers like, for example, Ignatius of Antioch, Irenaeus of Lyons, Cyprian of Carthage, Hippolytus of Rome, Justin the Philosopher, the Dialogos, and other writers of that time. You have a very, very, very, very strong teaching that the Church is all of the people together, the ordained and the not ordained: the bishops, the presbyters, and the deacons, with all of the other members who are not bishops, presbyters, and deacons. They all constitute one body, and that they are members one of another. St. Paul mentions this so many times in his letters. We are members, one of another. Each member has its place, its gift, its part.
One interesting thing to note, by the way, is that, later on in Church history, St. Anthony the Great—who was a monk of the Egyptian desert who lived from 250 to 350, so he went from the time of persecution to the time of establishment of Christianity, St. Athanasius the Great wrote his Life—wrote seven letters in addition to his 38 sayings that are in the Sayings of the Desert Fathers. In these letters, St. Anthony the Great, in each of the seven letters, at least once—in some of them twice; I believe in one of them three times—he quotes that saying of St. Paul: “We are members, one of another. We constitute one body. We are one people.” Even though he was living all alone in a cave in the desert! He hardly came out. He came out twice during persecution to help the martyrs, and he came out into Alexandria when the Arians were denying the divinity of Christ, to support St. Athanasius and the Orthodox bishops.
But isn’t it interesting that this hermit-monk of the Egyptian desert would stress so often: We are members, one of another. We form one body. We are not a divided people; we are a united people. We are united with each other, and we are united with God through Christ and the Holy Spirit. So this oneness, this unity, was stressed very, very much in the earliest Church, with a diversity of membership, a diversity of gifts. Not all were bishops, not all were presbyters, not all were deacons, not all were ordained, not all belonged to the company of widows, not all belonged to the portion called the virgins, and not all had the charismatic gifts, not all are apostles, not all are prophets, not all are teachers, not all are healers, not all are administrators, not all are evangelizers, not all are speakers in tongues and so on. Read St. Paul’s letters and you will see this, how he stresses that unity of the one body with the diversity of membership and the diversity of gifts.
So this was very, very, very strongly stressed, and what was stressed also is that not only did not everyone have every gift, but that there was an order in the community. So relative to worship, certainly relative to the holy Eucharist, certainly relative to teaching and preaching officially in the name of the Church, this was done by the bishops, the episkopoi, the presvyteroi, the elders of the communities. In every community, there were appointed elders and bishops to lead the community, to govern the community. The purpose, the function, the ministry of these leaders was to guarantee the unity, the identity, the integrity, the continuity, the catholicity, the reality of the Gospel teaching, of the Church itself, to guarantee the unity of the Church, the identity of the Church, the identity of teaching, the identity of worship, the identity of baptism, chrism, Eucharist, in every single one of those communities.
That was their specific calling. It was the calling of the bishops and the priests to be the guarantors, that the Church body, the household of God really is the household of God, it really is the body of Christ, it really is the Church of God, it really is the presence of the kingdom of God on earth until the Lord returns in glory. That was a very special ministry in the Church, and it came to be called, later on, the sacrament of holy orders, that there’s an order, a taxis in the Church. There are some who are ordained to make sure that that order is preserved and that it is exercised properly and that it is maintained and celebrated in the proper way.
Given this view, that there are bishops and presbyters in the Church, and deacons to do the services and, if we’re speaking just about the Divine Liturgy now and the liturgical services of the Church, to head and to govern those particular services. Now, whenever you have an act of the Church as Church, it has to be presided over by a bishop or a presbyter. That’s the Orthodox conviction. So when you have baptisms, they ultimately have to be done by and presided over by the bishop and/or the presbyters that he has assigned for this purpose.
Speaking about baptism, it is the teaching that in an emergency any Christian can baptize any other Christian, but even when that takes place, when a person is baptized by another person, like under persecution or in time of illness, still that has to be ultimately sealed by the bishop. The baptized person has to come to the community, like Ananias baptized St. Paul, but they have to come to the community and be integrated into the community. Then the giving of the gift of the Holy Spirit through the hands of the bishop has to be done, and then that person who is baptized and chrismated under the presidency and governance of a bishop in a community then participates in the holy Eucharist, the Divine Liturgy, which is always led by a bishop or a presbyter. It is never not led by a bishop or a presbyter, and it cannot be done without the bishop or the presbyter. That was the teaching from the New Testament and the earliest Christian time.
Having said this, it’s important to repeat again that even though this is so and this must be so, this does not mean at all that the Church is just identified with the clergy, and this does not mean at all that the clergy in the Church, the kleros in the Church—the bishops, the presbyters, the deacons—are better Christians than the others, that are superior Christians than the others, that they’re holier than the others. That would be a travesty. That would be totally wrong to say. And the whole history of Christianity would prove it, because how many saints there are and holy people in the Church who were not ordained! Most of the monks even are not ordained. All the nuns aren’t ordained. Every single holy woman was not ordained. The Theotokos, Mother of God herself, the Panagia, All-holy, was not a bishop or a presbyter or a deacon. She was not ordained as a leader in the Church community in its structural organization. This is simply not the case.
And it is not the case that if you are ordained you somehow have special graces that make you more immune to sinning. I’m doing a series on Speaking the Truth in Love right now about bishops and Church organization through the ages—I would recommend that you listen if you have the chance—where I point out that almost all of the canons of all of the councils—the ecumenical councils, the local councils—about 80% to 90% of those canons have to do with bishops and presbyters and deacons who don’t behave, who don’t do it right, who have sinned, who have defiled their office, who have somehow scandalized the faithful by their misbehavior, even though they’re bishops and presbyters and deacons. So there’s nothing magical here, nothing automatic.
Nevertheless, it is also the truth, from the very beginning, that not just anybody can be a bishop or a priest. There are qualifications, and those qualifications are given in Scripture. You could read them in Titus and Timothy, and it’s very clear. They have to be blameless. No public crime. They have to be the husband of one wife or celibate, single persons. They have to refrain from all kinds of misbehavior. They have to be apt teachers. They have to be those who know the faith and have been tested. They have to be temperate, sensible, dignified, hospitable, apt teacher, no drunkard, not an alcoholic, not violent, but gentle, not quarrelsome, no lover of money. They must manage their own households well. They must keep their children submissive and respectful. If they can’t care for their own household, it says, how can they care for the household of the Church? How can they care for God’s Church? They must not be a recent convert, whatever that means today. They must not be puffed up and conceited. They must be well thought of by outsiders. They have to have a good reputation.
So not just anybody can be a bishop or a priest, but it has to be a man and it has to have these particular qualifications. But that does not make it automatically that they’re a better Christian or a holier Christian or that they are superior to others or that they’re somehow over the others who are not quite full members of the Church or that only they are the really fullest members of the Church, the others are defective members of the Church. That would absolutely not be the case. It would not be the case. It would be just wrong, terribly wrong, to think that.
Also, it would be very wrong to think that a man is ordained a priest because of some kind of personal spiritual merit. He has to have talents and gifts and be tested. He has to be, for example, capable of speaking. He has to be capable of governing. He has to have a certain wisdom. That’s why the canon would say he should never be ordained under 30 years of age. That is a canon of the Fifth and Sixth Ecumenical Councils. So there are qualifications, but that doesn’t make him holier, better, or immune to temptations and sin. In fact, the traditional teaching would be: the devils attack the clergy more than anybody else, because if they can get a bishop to be corrupted or a priest to be corrupted or sinful or lecherous or lewd or a crook or a stealer or any kind of evil-doer, they’ve really then damaged the Church; they can damage the Church much more than a person who is not ordained to Church leadership.
But here we want to be very, very careful. The people who are not ordained are not second-hand Christians. When it comes to the liturgy, we must insist again, clearly: the liturgy is celebrated by all the people, led by the clergy. It is not celebrated by the clergy alone. Now that requires some commentary because of what happened through history, because it did grow up. Certainly in my childhood it was almost a common understanding of people that the priests do the liturgy. The priest, I don’t know, celebrates the liturgy. In Roman Catholic terms, the priest says Mass. The priest celebrates and performs the liturgy, and then it was the teaching that the people, the non-ordained, who were called the laity, they attended the service that the clergy did. So the performance of the service, its celebration, was done by the clergy alone, so to speak, and the rest of the members of the Church just attended. There was even such an expression like, “hear Mass,” in the Roman Catholic Church. So the teaching was that only the clergy did it, and the laypeople didn’t do it: they attended it when it was done by priests and bishops. That’s totally wrong. It’s done by everybody.
Here we even have canons that the priest can’t do a Divine Liturgy alone. He can’t do any sacramental ritual of the Church alone. None of the sacramental rituals are private. You can’t have a private baptism even or a private chrismation or a private marriage. The only thing that’s done in private is confession, but that’s even done as if confessing before and within the whole Church, done to a spiritual father alone to avoid scandal. But even that’s a corporate act. Even marriage is a corporate act. It means that a man and a woman are now going to live within the Church as being married. Even healing sacrament was a corporate act. You had to have seven priests, in the usual Byzantine tradition, and you had a gathering. In Slavic language, the unction of the ill person is even called soborvaniye; it means a gathering and an assembling of all the faithful to pray together, to use the New Testament expression, epi ton afto, in one place.
So everything is corporate, it’s public, it’s open, it’s done by all—but it must be led by the clergy, by the priest or the bishop. But the leader is not exhausting the Church. The Church is all the people, all together. But like I say, this was somehow lost through history, and an idea developed that it’s only the clergy who celebrate the liturgy and the other people attend it, but they don’t do it. That’s not right. It’s done by all.
Even St. John Chrysostom later will say the priest’s prayer is useless if you don’t have the Amen from everybody who’s gathered. You have to say, “Amen,” to the prayer; otherwise the prayer doesn’t work. The people have to give the order even for an ordination in the ritual. They have to say, “Kelevson; kelevsate. Give the command.” They have to affirm what is going on. Then they sing the hymns. It’s a corporate act. It’s a common act. It’s not just done for the clergy alone.
Now, having said this, another thing that we have to affirm here is that you can’t say that it’s only the clergy who have a Christian vocation and a Christian ministry, as if everybody else in the Church didn’t. Well, here again the earliest Church is very instructive to us, especially the epistles of St. Paul, because what it says is that every single member of the Church has a ministry, and the Church as a whole has a ministry to the world. I would even go so far as to say, if you used the understanding of the earliest Christian Church, the idea would be very clear that every member of the Church has a ministry to the world. The Church itself ministers to the world.
Even St. Basil the Great will say to bishops: You should remember that all the people in your region are your parishioners, not just the baptized members of the Church. You have to care about the atheist across the street. You have to care about the pagan over at the pagan temple. You have to care about everybody. You have to preach the Gospel to everybody. You have to witness to everybody. You have to do acts of mercy and almsgiving to everybody, not just to members of the Church. And you are responsible to everybody. In this sense, we could even say that the Church, as God’s kleros and God’s laos, God’s clergy and God’s people as a whole, has a responsibility for the whole of humanity, even the whole of creation.
So in that sense, everybody has a vocation. A retarded child has a vocation. A retarded child can never be a bishop or a priest. A retarded child may never be able to preach anything, maybe not even do anything in some sense of—I don’t know—helping poor people or something. But just by suffering, just by being there, just by being a member of the body, they have their vocation. So we want to be really clear now, very clear: every Christian, every human being has his or her vocation, calling. Everyone is called to be the person that God created him or her to be, and every single person has a calling to do what God has called that person to do. So we all have a calling to be and to do what God calls to be and do. If we are baptized members of the Christian Church, that means that we have a calling within the Church to be and to do what we as a member of the Church are called to be and do for the sake of the other members in the Church and for the sake of the whole of humanity and the whole world. When it comes to vocations and callings, it is very important to realize we all have one.
Sometimes you even hear people [who] will say, “Oh, I don’t need to go to church. I’m just a lowly layman. Oh, I’m not responsible for that. That’s the priest’s business.” Or sometimes you even hear priests saying, “Oh, I’m just a parish priest.” I remember when I was in seminary, working in the seminary, how irate the leaders at the time, like Fr. Alexander and Fr. John and Professor Verhovskoy and Dr. Arseniev. Prof. Verhovskoy and Dr. Arseniev, they were laymen; they were not ordained. In modern terms, they were laymen, but how upset they would get when you would hear a student say, “Well, I don’t have to study too much, because I’m just going to be a parish priest. I’m not going to be a theologian. I’m not going to be a scholar. Most likely, I’m not going to be a bishop.” Especially if they’re married, they would not be a bishop. “I’m just going to be a parish priest.”
Well, that’s a horrendous statement. That’s disgusting, in a sense. I mean, to be a presbyter and to govern a community, even if that community is tiny and small or whatever, that’s a huge, important, divine, sacramental calling. And it’s just as bad if a layperson, in modern terms, layman or -woman, would say, “Oh, I’m just a layman.” What do you mean just a layman? A layman is a member of the laos tou Theou; a layman is a member of the body of Christ. A layman has gifts from God to be exercised for the salvation of the brothers and the edification of the whole Church and the service of the entire world. We should never say, “I’m just a layman. I’m just a parish priest. Or I’m just a lowly deacon” or something.
And sometimes people get themselves off the hook in regard to Christian discipline and service. They’ll say, “Oh, after all, I’m not a priest. I’m not a monk,” as if only priests and monks are the Christian people who have to do the work of the Church. Again, that’s a travesty. That’s a horror. That is simply not true. Every single person is called to do the Divine Liturgy. Every single person is called to pray. Every single person is called to worship God in spirit and in truth. Every single person is called to keep the commandments of God. Every single person is called to do the work of God in his or her own way. It’s not just that priests and monks have to pray or go to church or be the Church. That’s just awful, to think of such a thing.
And again, when it comes to monks, monastics, most of the monastics are not ordained. So in that sense, they’re laypeople. But a monastic or a priest is not the only one who’s supposed to, let’s say for example, fast. Everybody has to fast. Maybe the monks fast more than others or deeper than others. Maybe that’s their specific vocation. But everybody has to fast. Everybody has to pray. Even when it comes to the Jesus prayer, for example, St. Gregory Palamas says ceaseless prayer is for every single Christian. It’s for every lay person. It’s for every humble being who ever lived. It’s not just for clergy or monastics. We all have to be constant in prayer.
St. John Chrysostom has a violent homily on the beatitudes, where he’s very sarcastic, and he said the Lord did not say, “Blessed are the poor in the monastic life for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are the merciful, O monks and nuns. Blessed are the peacemakers, O ascetics in the desert.” He said the beatitudes were said to every single human being, whoever they were, man or woman, learned or unlearned, literate or unliterate, ordained or not ordained. The beatitudes and the commandments are given to everybody, not just the clergy or not just the monastics.
Another thing that happened in history was that very often and in some languages, the non-ordained people came to be called worldly people, secular people, people who live in the world. Even the terms in modern Greek and Slavonic have that direct meaning. The word kosmikoi in Greek, worldly people, that means the non-ordained members of the Church are called kosmikoi, those belonging to the cosmos or the world. In Slavonic or Russian, they’re called mirianye; mir means this world, the world. So what happened was priests and ordained people and monastics were called religious, and the other people were called secular. Even that language came to be used especially in regard to monasticism. They would say, “What was your name in the world? What was your profession in the world?” as if monks and nuns were not still in this world. Well, they’re in this world.
Now, they’re not in public society. Yes, they live in separated communities. Yes, their whole task is to witness to the kingdom of God not of this world. Yes, it is true that in the second millennium in Christianity they were even given another name and monastic life came even to be called, sadly and misguidedly in my opinion, a second baptism. There is no baptism. We even confess in the Nicene Creed “one baptism”: “I confess one baptism for the remission of sins.” But that the monk or the nun really tried to live very consciously, intentionally, purposely, according to their baptismal reality, that they were dead to this world, they were alive to God and Christ; they were sealed by the Spirit; they lived for God alone. Well, they tried to do that and were called to do that; that was their vocation to do that, and monks and nuns are certainly blessed and part of the Church.
But even they are part of the Church. Canon law says monasteries have to be under a bishop. They’re not independent entities. All charismatic, spiritual people have to be members of the Church and under the discipline of the Church, keep the commandments of the Church, be a member of the Church, participate in the sacraments of the Church, and be under the governance of bishops and presbyters. Even the abbots of monasteries, men’s monasteries, are ordained presbyters. Every woman’s monastery has to have, for the sake of the sacramental life, an ordained presbyter to serve the sacramental mysteries and essentially, of course, the Divine Liturgy.
Now, it is true that unordained people may read the prayers of the hours. Unordained people have to pray. Unordained people really do have to read the psalms, and they should read the psalms, and they might do it according to the Church’s offices of vespers and matins and compline and the hours of the day, sure. You don’t need a priest or a bishop for that, but when that act is done as the Church, then it has to be done with the bishop beginning it and making the proper exclamations. That’s why, even in the monasteries, for example, the monastery where I serve, which is a women’s monastery, when they have the hours, the priest begins it by saying, “Blessed is our God.” Then they say, “Amen.” When they say the Lord’s prayer, the priest says, “For thine is the kingdom and the power…” But when the priest is not there, the abbess or the eldest nun present will say, “Through the prayers of our holy fathers…” They will say, “Through the prayers of the priests,” we do this.
By the way, that expression, “Through the prayers of the holy fathers,” it means the clergy. It does not mean the saints. I notice that in some churches today—I don’t know why—you hear the priest saying, “Through the prayers of our holy fathers and mothers.” That’s not correct. Yeah, we have to ask the holy mothers to pray for us, but that particular liturgical exclamation, it means by the prayers of the governors and the leaders and the guides of the Church. It means the presbyters and certainly, ultimately, it means the bishops. That’s why even when a bishop is present, that formula is “Through the prayers of our holy master.” So that particular exclamation liturgically means the clergy. Certain of the offices of the Church can be done without clergy, but no sacraments can be done without clergy. Certainly the Divine Liturgy cannot be done without clergy. So you have to have clergy to do it, but it’s the whole body that’s doing it.
You can’t say, then, “Well, the clergy are the religious people, the spiritual people, or even the monks and nuns are the religious people, and the laypeople, the non-ordained and the non-monastic, are just worldly people, kosmikoi or mirianye.” I think it’s singularly unfortunate that those terms began to be used for people who are not ordained. You can understand how that might happen in the Byzantine Empire, when virtually the whole population belonged to the Church. There were times in certain countries, even like Russia, where the Russian Orthodox Church was practically coextensive with the Russian population. Just about every Russian was a member of the Orthodox Church, or every Greek. So then you could say that there are the worldly people, and the clergy are the religious people, but that’s a very, very misleading, misguided, and in fact inaccurate way of speaking.
You can’t say that the non-ordained are secular and just live according to this world, where the priests and the monastics are not secular, they’re not worldly, they belong to God’s kingdom and they’re not part of this world. That would be a very bad understanding of the Christian faith and the Christian Church. Everyone is a member of the Church. Everyone has his vocation and calling. No one is better than the other. Everybody is in this world until they die or until the kingdom comes, but nobody is of this world, even if they’re not ordained, even if they’re what we say today as a lay person.
Another unfortunate development, it seems to me, was that the laypeople came to be called simply “the people.” So you had expressions even in the Divine Liturgy itself in the Byzantine rite, “the clergy” and “the people.” That’s a very misleading statement, because the clergy are themselves members of the people, and the people are still members of the Church and part of the kleros of God in this world, in and for the world. So I don’t know, maybe another formula would have been more accurate: “We pray for the whole body of the faithful and for its leaders—for its bishops, priests, and deacons.” So we do that in the liturgy. We say “for our bishop,” we say his name; for the honorable presbytery, the presbyters; for the diaconate in Christ; and for all the clergy—but then we say “and all the people,” as if the clergy weren’t members of the people. I don’t know, maybe say: “for all the clergy and for all the members of the body of Christ” might be better to say than simply to say, “the people.”
Another thing that developed which seems to be somehow unfortunate is that sometimes different disciplines and different laws are applied to clergy and laypeople. Now, in one sense this is understandable, because if you have a clergy who does a sin, then they have to be deposed from the clergy. If you have a member of the Church who sins, they have to be excommunicated from the Church, but a deposed clergyman is also excommunicated from the Church. So when you have a canon that would say: Anyone who has done this sin, if they are clergy let them be deposed; if they are laypeople let them be cut off—well, a deposed clergy is also cut off. So we have to see that there are not two standards.
I think functionally, as a matter of fact, a double standard did develop, which in some sense is understandable, especially when you have a penitential discipline. So, for example, a certain standard has to be kept by the clergy which, if they violate it, they may not be deposed or excommunicated, but they may no longer function as clergy, but they still can remain as members of the Church and receive holy Communion, together with all the members of the Church who are communicants who are not ordained. So, for example of a so-called double-standard, it would be, let’s say for example, a person gets divorced and then they repent of their sin and they remarry and the new marriage can be a Christian marriage, and they can remain in communion. Well, that happens, and it happens all the time, but still the double-standard would be if a clergyman is divorced, he may not be excommunicated from the Church, if he remarries and so on, but he may not function as a priest any more.
There is a standard that if a clergyman sins in some way, he may not be excommunicated, but he may no longer be allowed to offer the oblation and to govern a community, even though he still remains a member of the Church. And in that sense, you can say that what is applied to him is the oikonomia that would be applied to laypeople, so that, for example, penitent laypeople who have sinned in some way, whatever way, I don’t know, apostasy in the early Church, they may, sooner or later, be reconciled to holy Communion, or if they’ve given or procured drugs for abortion, for example, they should not be in communion for ten years or something, according to the canons if you apply them strictly. But here we do have to say that stricter application is applied to the ordained bishops, presbyters, and deacons.
According to the canonical tradition of the Orthodox Church, this is not necessarily the case with monastics. There are even canons that say: No one should be excluded from monastic tonsure because of their sins. If they’re divorced or murderers or crooks or thieves or something, they still may become monks, because monks is a penitential office, and it is not an ordination to leadership in the Church. So there’s really no grounds to exclude a person from monastic tonsure, at least no grounds because of sinfulness as long as they’re penitent. However, a penitent person who has committed a public crime still may not be ordained, and if they do a public crime while being ordained, they have to be no longer serving as a clergy. They may not be excommunicated, they may even stand among the clergy, but they are no longer functioning as clergy, because you cannot be an active head of a community if you have not done certain sins, which may not excommunicate you or depose you or put you out of the Church, but they may exclude you from the clergy, either before or after your ordination. This is certainly the teaching of the canonical tradition.
If you’re interested in this further, in my podcast on Speaking the Truth in Love, I’m doing a commentary on all of the canons of the Ecumenical Councils, a commentary on every single one of them, to try to understand how the Church is organized, operates, and how clergy and laity are to interact and so on. So if we follow the canons, we see that this is certainly the case. There is one discipline for all Christians, but when that discipline is broken or sins have been committed, there’s a different discipline for clergy than there [is] for non-clergy, for what we call today the lay people. That’s important to understand as well.
Then you have other things that we can mention. Later on in the Church sometimes certain divisions and animosities developed between the monastic clergy and the married clergy. In Russia this was called the white clergy and the black clergy. Especially when the time came when the bishops had to all be taken from the black clergy; they had to be celibate. Even if they were widowers, they had to take some kind of monastic tonsure or at least the monastic clothing. Then there became a type of competition between clergymen, sadly. Sometimes there was competition between higher, more prominent priests and lower priests, like archpriest or protopresbyters would lord it over the priests who were not proto-. That was very bad. You had all the human possibilities entering into this which caused difficulty.
Then a further difficulty came under the Turkish yoke, 500 years of the Ottoman Empire, when the bishops were given civil powers. They had to govern all the Christians in the Ottoman Empire. They had to make sure the Christians kept the law. They had to make sure that they paid their taxes. They had to even collect the taxes. If Christians did criminal acts, the bishops were those who judged them. So the Christians were judged within, by their bishops and priests under the Ottomans; they were not judged in Ottoman courts. If the bishops and priests did not keep the rest of the people in order, then they were the ones who were punished. Like if some people made a revolution or something, the bishop could be hanged—and they were hanged. They were killed when the people misbehaved.
Now, what happened here was there was a kind of a clericalization of the Church, and this was sometimes expressed in dress, and it was expressed in clericalization in the liturgy, like where only the clergy heard certain of the prayers; it wasn’t done out loud; or they celebrated Eucharist behind closed doors. Or the doors in front of the altar table could be opened only when the bishop served; it couldn’t be open when the presbyter served. All these kind of things developed, which we’ll discuss when we discuss the liturgy, but we should understand that these are very ambiguous practices that grew up. Certainly the holiness of the Church has to be protected, certainly the authority of the bishop has to be shown, protected, and revealed somehow, even by insignia, but when it happened that people wanted to become bishops—and this happened even before the Turkish yoke—just for prominence or just for prestige or just to own property or just to have a role in public or just to sit up on the amvon during the liturgy or, later on, to wear a crown or to sit on a throne or have people sing, “Eis polla eti, Despota; many years to you,” and to have your hand kissed and so on. This created a lot of difficulties.
And then even monastics began wearing rich vestments and jeweled crowns and golden crosses and even fancy monastic clothing. Mantiyas, which was a simple monastic cape, came to be decorated with various decorations and different colors: blue for metropolitans, green for patriarchs, purple for archimandrites or something or regular bishops. This became a very great difficulty. When you think, as far as Eastern Christianity is concerned, that there was a time in history under the Ottoman Empire when all of the major cities of Christendom were ruled by Turkish Muslims and the bishops in those cities were appointed by Istanbul, and all the Balkans and the Middle East, because of that they were almost all Greeks, and then the local members of the Church could not have bishops of their own nationality, like in Bulgaria or Serbia or in the countries where the Syrian people lived, in Jerusalem and in Antioch. It was only at the end of the 19th century that the patriarch of Antioch was an Antiochian again, a Syrian or a Lebanese or an Arabic person. Until this day, the patriarch of Jerusalem and the synod are all Greek-speaking people.
And all the bishops were assigned by Turkish leadership, through the Phanar in Constantinople throughout the entire Ottoman Empire. So when you think that there was a time when Constantinople, Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria, Ephesus, Damascus, Beirut, Athens, Thessaloniki, Nicosia, Heraklion, Belgrade, Bucharest, Sophia, Ochrid, Tirana, all Palestine, all Cappadocia, all the Balkan cities were all governed by Greek bishops; the Christians were all ruled by Greek bishops as their despotes. This really created a difficulty between clergy and laity, and even between ethnic groups within the Church.
And then when these bishops began to wear the insignia of the imperial power, secular power, it’s funny: the lay people were called secularists, but then the bishops began to dress with secular insignia. Their public clothing was the riassa and the fez, the cylindrical hat, of the Turkish judge, and their church outfits were the outfits, the dressing, of the Byzantine emperor, the phelonion, the miter, the eagle rug, the long hair. So this created a very great difficulty in understanding the Church as one body and the liturgy being celebrated by all the people and not just the clergy and not just the bishops. All this had a great impact on the Church.
Then in Russia you had even further problems, because you had Peter the Great suppressing the patriarchate. There was no patriarch in Russia for 217 years. That’s a long time: two centuries, plus. The Church was ruled by a holy synod which was a government agency, and no one could become a bishop unless they were assigned by the czar, and that happened in many places in Christendom. So the imperial power and secular power began to dictate who would be the priests and the bishops. In the West there was a whole investiture controversy, where the bishops of Rome had to fight against the Frankish and Germanic princes who were putting in office and investing the bishops in their territories. So then you had a lot of clergy-laity fights going on, secular power versus clerical power.
Then when that was transferred to America, for example, Canada, democratic countries, you had all of the problems that we experience in our time between clergy and laity. So then you have things like Orthodox Christian Laity or Russian Orthodox Laymen’s League, and all those kind of things developed which really indicated a kind of rift and abyss and schism between the ordained and the non-ordained within the Church.
This whole misunderstanding about clergy and laity, and how we are all clergy, and we are all laity, and the Church is one body, and no one’s better than anybody else, and each one has its ministry, and the ministry is for the sake of everyone, everyone in the Church and even everyone outside the Church—this was lost in many of the actual ritualistic practices of our time, which include a certain type of clergy dress inside the church and outside the church and a certain clericalization of the Church, where virtually all power and authority in the Church belongs to the clergy, not realizing that all power belongs to Jesus Christ and every single baptized, chrismated person is part of Christ, a member of Christ, and a part of the royal priesthood, and there’s only one authority.
So the priests and bishops don’t have any authority that belongs only to themselves and not to the entire Church. You could even say theologically the authority of the bishop and the priest is the authority that belongs to the entire body, and it is recognized and affirmed by all the members of the Church and very specifically those who are not ordained have to affirm and accept and even elect and nominate and participate in the ordination of their bishops and priests.
A lot of things happened in history that we have to be very much aware of, which skew our understanding of worship in spirit and truth, and [in] worship even our understanding of what we’re doing when we celebrate the Divine Liturgy as the one body of Christ, the one people of God, the one household of God, the Church being itself the people, gathered together with the leaders—the leaders have to be there; it’s not a Church without the leadership. But nevertheless, it is the entire body together, and there is harmony between every member of the body, unity, bearing each other’s burden, each one in his or her own place, fulfilling that to which they have been called and ordained and placed, through baptism, chrismation, charismatic gifts, and, very specifically, the ordination to the episcopate, consecration, ordination, of bishops, presbyters, and deacons within the Church.
But for spirit-in-truth worship, it’s always the worship of the whole body. It’s not the clergy alone. It is the whole body, governed and led by the clergy who are themselves, first and foremost, members of the body. They may be foremost members, but they are first of all members of the one body of Christ, and it is that one body, the Church, that celebrates and does the leitourgia, the common action of the Church. It’s the Church as a whole that actualizes the worship in spirit and in truth of the Christians about which Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well. The worship in spirit and in truth that God desires is the spirit of the Church as a whole, led by its clergy, but not exclusively done by the clergy alone.