We have been saying in these reflections on the Divine Liturgy that the Divine Liturgy is the common work of the Church as a whole. It is the worship of the Church. It is not simply a common act of people who may gather themselves together. It is certainly not simply prayer in the sense that you have to go to church or you can only pray at church. We obviously are called to pray in church, but we are to pray in our rooms, we are to shut the door, we are to pray in our hearts, we’re to worship God everywhere as individuals and as families and as groups of people. But the Divine Liturgy, the liturgy as we have said many times meaning common activity, is the common activity of the Church community, of the Church as community, the community of the Church as a whole. It is the action headed by Christ, by God in Christ; that’s why it’s called divine.
As we mentioned already, the very term “church” in the Scripture, particularly the Old Testament, book of Numbers, for example, the Qahal Israel, the assembly of Israel, was the assembly of the people of God when God himself was present, when God himself was acting. So we will see clearly as we proceed that the liturgy is the action of God, God the Father, through Christ, by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in us, and it is our action, inspired by the Holy Spirit, through Christ, with Christ acting in us, to worship the one God and Father who is acting in us in our very worship.
Of course, what we believe as Christians is, when we worship God and when we do anything that is really human and virtuous and holy and good, it is God acting in us, but it is God acting in us so that we ourselves could be acting in him. It’s kind of like the prayer of Christ in John 17: “I in them and they in me, that we may be perfectly one.” But when we speak of Divine Liturgy as an act of the Church, it is the action of God in us and we in God as the community of the faithful in any given place. It is the Church gathered together, as we have been saying, epi to afto, in one place, coming together in one place, for the sake of doing this liturgy, which is the worship of God in spirit and in truth, and it is the act by which the Church actualizes itself, realizes itself, reveals itself, is concretized and manifested as the people of God, as the Church of God, in space and in time.
We repeat again and again that for Eastern Orthodox Christian, for ancient Christians, the Church was a visible, concrete community of people in history. The people in it are all sinners, struggling sinners, trying to be holy since they believe they have been consecrated by God through the Spirit in the redeeming acts of God and the saving acts of God, the sanctifying acts of God. But the Church, still being sinners, is still a visible presence of the community of God in which God lives, dwells, and acts, and that’s why everything in that Church is divine: the Scriptures are divine; the people are divine: saints, the divine fathers; the liturgy and the worship are divine. Even the canons are divine, the icons are divine. Everything is divine because it is of God, consecrated by God and showing forth God, revealing God, and being in us, giving us the possibility also to become divine and to actualize divine worship, the worship that God requires from us, as it was said in that conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well, that we are now commenting on and reflecting on in great detail.
Now today what we want to say and what we kind of want to reflect on is that the liturgy as the common act of the Church as the people of God is an act that is done by the whole people as God’s clergy, and it’s done by the whole people as God’s people. Then we want to see also that within the Church we have those who, in modern terminology, are called the clergy, and that means those who are ordained—the bishops, the priests, the deacons—and then all who belong to the kleros of the Church, like the readers and the singers and even the prosphora-bakers and the doorkeepers and so on. But then there are those who are not ordained or not assigned to any particular action of the Church as such. Their calling is not to have a vocation within the organization and structure of the Church. Nowadays, generally speaking, and as we’re going to see in a minute—it causes a lot of confusion—we call those people the laypersons, the laypeople.
Nowadays when we speak about clergy and laity, by clergy we mean those who are ordained, and by laity we mean those who are not ordained. Now we’re going to try to—like I’ve been using that modern word—unpack this. We’re going to try to understand and explain this a bit. But what we have to see from the beginning, before we start that process, is that we want to understand that the Church doesn’t mean, as we often use that expression nowadays, the clergy. When we speak nowadays about the Church—“Why doesn’t the Church do something about this?” or “What does the Church teach?”—we often mean the bishops or the priests. Certainly in the Western world, particularly in society, when speaking, let’s say, about the Catholic Church, even news commentators will say the Church: The Church does this, the Church does that. Basically, it means the leadership; it means the bishops. We Orthodox speak that way a lot of times, too. “What is the Church doing about this?” and so on, and it usually means the bishops.
Of course, we have to know that the Church can’t do anything without its leaders, and the Church even is not the Church without its leaders, without those who are in the apostolic succession with the laying-on of hands to govern the communities and to preside in and over the communities and to preside at the celebration of the Divine Liturgy and to preside at councils and meetings and to govern and organize and direct all the various charisms, gifts, and vocations of all the members of the Church. Sure, that’s true, but the Church is not just the clergy. The Church is all of the people who belong to the Church. It would be better perhaps to say that the Church is not just the ordained members, but the Church is all of the members of the body. Here again we could refer to the first letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians, we could refer to Ephesians, we could refer to Romans, where the Apostle Paul makes this point. The body of Christ is all the faithful people together.
Within that body, there are various ministries and functions that belong to the very organization of the body. You have the overseers and the bishops. You have the elders who are the priests, the presbyters. You have the deacons, both men and women. You have subdeacons who help the deacons. You have readers, chanters, all kinds of ministries of the Church organization. Then in addition you have the charisms, the charismatic gifts: some prophets, some healers, some teachers, some administrators. You even have those gifts of healing. Then you have gifts of tongues or interpretation of tongues in Corinthians. These are charismatic gifts that belong to the members, given by God, and those people could be, in modern terminology, clergy or laity. There can be charismatic presbyters who have gifts of, I don’t know, healing or preaching or prophesying; and you can have laypeople who also have those very same gifts. So the charismata, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, are not limited; certainly they’re not exclusively the possession of clergy. Not at all. As a matter of fact, in the Scriptures, in St. Paul, you have the impression, direct, very clear impression, that these charismata are in fact primarily even lay gifts.
It’s interesting, by the way, that there is in our time a very important writer, Consevic [9:35], he and his wife, who wrote about the elders. They were great scholars about the staretzi in Russia, like the Optina elders and so on. They make the point that eldership in Orthodox—the geronta, the gerontissas, the holy men, the holy women—they are not necessarily ordained; they are not belonging to the priesthood, so to speak, or the episcopate as such. They don’t belong to the clergy as such in the sense of being ordained. In fact, many of them, if not most of them, are laypeople—certainly all the women are. Even among the ascetics and the monastic elders, a lot of them are laypeople. St. Anthony the Great was a layman, for example. So was Poimen the Great. So were most of the Desert Fathers. St. Silouan on Mt. Athos in our time was not an ordained priest. I’m not sure; he may have been a deacon, but I don’t think so. But in any case, he was not a bishop; he was not even a priest. The abbots are most often are ordained, and the archimandrites are ordained priests, because they have to govern and preside over the monastic community. So in some places where the Church gathers, all of those who gather are monks, like on Mt. Athos, and together with the laypeople who are with them or are visiting them or are praying with them, worshiping with them.
But this Consevic [10:50], he says very clearly that he believes that the eldership, which has a succession throughout Christian history, parallel to the apostolic succession through the episcopate, is in fact rooted in the scriptural teaching of the charismatic gifts. It’s kind of like the prophetic charismatic succession within the Church. So you have the apostolic, institutional, organizational succession, and then you have the charismatic, prophetic, wonder-working, miracle-working holy people, both men and women, many, many of whom, if not most, are laypeople; they’re not ordained in that sense.
But what we want to see now is that, when we use the term “clergy” and “laity” today, we have to understand something, we might dare to say, more important or equally important, so that we would understand properly what we are talking about. In order not to be spreading confusion and not to misunderstand what “clergy” and “laity” mean within the Church, we have to first understand what “clergy” and “laity” mean concerning the Church as a whole. Here I would like to contend, I would like to, so to speak, not argue—because we’re not arguing—but I would like to try to make the point that in the Scripture and in the Christian understanding, before we can understand “clergy” and “laity” being understood as the ordained people and the non-ordained people within the Church as the body of Christ, the household of God, the temple of the living God, the people of God, we have to understand, first of all, that the term “clergy” and the term “laity” are terms that, in a very, very important sense, have to be applied to every member of the Church, and that there is a sense, which we must understand, that all of the members of the Church are, to use an English word, laity. And then we have to understand that in some sense all of the members of the Church, ordained and not ordained, are also clergy.
What are we trying to say here? Well, let’s try to explain. First of all, the term “laity” comes from the Greek word laos which simply means people. So the term “laity” and other terms that go with it, like layman, laywoman, layperson, laicize, laicization, whatever words would be connected to that term, the root of that word is laos in Greek, which means people, which simply means people. So in the Scripture when it would speak about God’s people or the people of God, it would be the laos tou Theou, the narod Bojnie in Slavonic. It’s the people as a whole.
Now you have also the word “clergy” or clergyman or cleric or clerical or clericalization, or even the term kleros, which means a lot, a share, a part, a portion, or even a place. For example, in our terminology today, the place where the singers in the church stand to sing is called the kleros. In general, the part of the church building, like where the solea is, the amvon, the altar, where the clergy, the ordained leaders of the community, are doing their ministries and acting, which then spreads around to where the singers are singing and the readers are reading—that is called, in general language, the kleros. So when a person goes up to sing, they stand on the kleros. So the word kleros, it means a lot or a share or a part or a portion or a plcae.
The word kleros, from which we derive the word in English, “clergy,” is connected to another very, very important word in the Bible, and that word would be kleronomos, which means an heir, or the one who receives what has been promised, the one who has been given, the one who has received the lot, the portion that is coming from the one who is giving this particular portion or gift. So you have the term kleronomia, which means inheritance or heritage or share or part or property or possessions that are promised and possessions that are given.
Now, very interestingly in the holy Scripture of the Old Testament Israel and in the Christian Church, the earliest Christian Church, the term laos and the term kleros or kleronomia were used in different ways in the churches of both the Mosaic covenants and in the Christian covenants, but they were terms both in the Old and in the New Testaments that in some sense, or in their original, primary sense, are actually synonymous; they are identical. They’re speaking about the same thing; they’re speaking about one and the same reality. They affirm one and the same conviction. This is important for us to understand.
So what are we saying here? We’re saying this, that God’s people are the laos, and everyone who is a member of the people of God is a member of the laos tou Theou, and in that sense they could be called laity; not in the modern sense, but in the more fundamental sense. They are part of the people.
Now, both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament… In the Old Testament the priests, the Levitical priests, were part of the people of God. They were that portion of the people of God that was set aside by God to lead the worship and to offer the sacrifices and to exercise the priesthood. It’s very interesting that in the holy Scripture the priests, the Levitical priests, were called God’s portion. As a matter of fact, when the lands were distributed, the Levites didn’t have any land. God was their portion. God was their portion, and they were God’s portion within the people. They were that part of the people that was set aside, taken aside, and actually consecrated with prayers, with pouring of oil, with vestments and all those kind of things. Read the Bible; read the Torah of Moses; you’ll find it all there in great detail, how the sons of Levi and the Levitical priesthood were a particular part of the entire people, who were set aside for the priestly services. Their portion was God, and God was their portion. Then the rest of the people had to support them. They had to give them things to eat, to drink, to tithe, and so on, because their whole task was to exercise the leadership and to offer the worship on behalf of all the people.
But what we want to see now is they were, first of all, members of the people. They were not over the people. They were not outside the people. They were part of the people. They were part of the people. What we want to see is that, in the old covenant, there was the whole people of God, within which were that kleros, that part of the people that was set aside to lead the worship.
As a matter of fact, in Eastern Orthodox understanding, ancient Christian understanding, you have exactly a parallel situation in the New Testament. In the New Testament, the Christians are understood to be the people of God, that they are the people. As it’s written in the Scriptures over and again: once you were no people; now you are God’s people. That is said particularly to the Gentiles. Once you had no inheritance; now you have inherited everything. Then certainly the people of Israel, who believed in Jesus as the Messiah, were carrying on the calling of being God’s people. Here the Apostle Paul is very clear that the Gentiles who believe in Christ and are baptized and receive the Holy Spirit and participate in the Church’s Divine Liturgy, that is, in the preaching, the teaching, the praise, the glorification, and the eucharistic gifts, the broken body, spilled blood of Jesus Christ, who participate in holy Communion, those Gentiles are grafted to Israel.
They’re grafted to the Jewish Christian community, or to the Jews who became Christians by recognizing, confessing, and even dying for, beside preaching and teaching, but dying for and suffering for the conviction and the truth—they believe it’s the truth—that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, that he is the Logos of God in human flesh. He is the One by whom, through whom, for whom, in whom, toward whom all things were created. He was, for us and for our salvation, born of the Virgin on earth in order to be crucified, to die, to be raised, to be glorified, to sanctify, to send the Spirit. So that is originally the Gospel that was received and taught by Jews. All the first Christians were Jews. The twelve apostles were Jews; Paul was a Jew. But then the Gentiles are grafted onto that, and they become the Israel of God, the people of God.
But in the New Testament, what we have to see is that all of the members of the Christian community, all those people who became members of Christ and members of Christ’s body, who constituted Christ’s Church and were members of Christ’s Church, using the terms differently in each part of that sentence, that they were all the people. They were all the people, what we would say today [are] the clergy and laity together. In other words, all belonged to the people. So in the New Testament, the teaching would be this: the bishops, the presbyters, the elders, those who received the laying-on of hands to govern and lead the community and to preside at Christian worship and even in some sense specifically to have the priestly function of actually offering the gifts to God on the altar, the bread and the wine—the deacons bring it to the bishop, he places it on the altar, and this is done within the community—but those clergy, in the modern sense of the term, the ordained—the bishops, the priests, the deacons—they are, first of all, members of the community.
Even before they were ordained, they were members of the community. They were first baptized, chrismated, communicant members of the Church who then are set aside to have the ministry and the service of the priestly leadership, the episcopal leadership. They are the ones who become a certain part of the people. They are first members of the people, belong to the people. They’re not over the people; they’re within the people. We already referred to that sentence in the book of Acts where St. Paul speaks to the bishops of Asia by telling them: you have received the episcopacy within the Church. He doesn’t say over it or outside it or apart from it; it’s within it.
So the same way that in the Old Testament the house of Levi and the Levitical men who constituted the old priesthood, they were first of all members of the people, so in the New Testament it’s exactly the same. The bishops, the priests, the deacons, all who are ordained, all who belong to the clergy, in the modern sense of the term, they are first of all members of the people. So you have these kind of expressions in holy Scripture. “Those who were not my people I will call my people.” That’s in the Old Testament; it’s in the prophets. “Once you were no people; now you are God’s people”: in the New Testament; it’s Peter. You have psalm lines that speak about everyone being the people of God, a prophetic people, a royal priesthood. In the law of Moses, you have this said all the time, about how God has constituted his elect as his people.
Now, in the Scripture, God’s people—and this is true in the Old Testament, and this is as true in the Christian Church—all of the people of God are kleros in relationship to all of the other people of the world. In other words, Israel is God’s portion as a whole people in relation to all the other peoples of the world, the other nations. Sometimes that term, “nation,” is even used in the holy Scripture: “a new nation,” it says, and the term ethnos is used; laos is used, and the other term for nation, the nations. You have this in the holy Scripture. So the one nation, so to speak, among all the nations, the one people among all the peoples, that is God’s portion, that belongs to God, that is created by God—that’s Israel in the Old Testament. The others are not the chosen people; they are not the elected people, the people elected to be God’s servants in the world for the sake of the salvation of all, not just for their own sake, and to suffer for Yahweh and to be faithful to him and to fight against idolatry and so on.
So what we want to say is that already in the Old Testament and certainly in the Old Testament, you have the teaching that the people of God are also God’s clergy vis-à-vis the rest of the people of the world, the rest of humanity. The people of God are God’s portion, God’s kleros, and this is very, very important. For example, it is true in the Old Testament that Israel is chosen by God for the sake of the salvation of all the nations ultimately, not just for their own sake. They are God’s portion for the sake of the salvation of all. So God’s people is also God’s portion. You can say that the people of God are both laos and kleros, and they are certainly kleronomia; they are certainly God’s inheritance.
You have these lines in the Scripture, Old Testament, and now taken over by the Christian Church, psalms like, it says to the Lord: You have given your inheritance, your kleronomia to those who fear your name. That’s a line of Psalm 61. By the way, that’s used as a great prokeimenon verse in the Sunday Lenten vespers. At Lenten vespers, every other Sunday in Great Lent, that is singing: You have given your inheritance to those who fear your name. You have other sentences in the Old Testament Scripture, like for example, Psalm 33, which says: Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people whom he has chosen as his inheritance. So, very interesting: you have the term “nation,” ethnos, then you have the term “people,” laos, and then you have the term “chosen people,” the eklektoi, and then you have the term “inheritance” or “portion,” kleronomia. So here you have the nation, the people, and the inheritance are all one and the same reality.
You have another line, for example, in Psalm 94: “The wicked crushed your people, O Lord, and afflict your inheritance.” So, again, people and inheritance, laos and kleros, or we can say laos and kleronomia, and we might even say, “Your laity and your clergy.” They are the very same people, because the people are the inheritance; they are the portion. You have another line in the Psalm, for example, 106, that would say, “The Lord will not forsake his people; he will not abandon his inheritance.” Then you have a line like: “The anger of the Lord was kindled against his people; he abhorred his inheritance”—when they went off and sinned and strayed and became idolaters.
Then perhaps the most familiar line to Orthodox Christians is the line from Psalm 28, which says, “O Lord, save your people and bless your inheritance.” Boy, really, Orthodox Christians are very familiar with that line. For example, the main troparion of the cross in the Orthodox Church is: “O Lord, save your people and bless your inheritance. Grant victories”—we say nowadays, “to the Orthodox Christians”; when it was first written, the Byzantine empire thought it was God’s people and God’s inheritance, so they applied it to themselves—“and grant victory over the other nations,” those who are adversaries, “and by the power of the cross preserve your politevma, your nation, your commonwealth, your people.” So you even have another term used: polis, city, or politevma, meaning a kind of a commonwealth; “habitation” sometimes is used.
Then of course this line introduces lots of prayers. You have the long intercessory prayers at matins and vespers, for example, litia or at matins, that begin, “O Lord, save your people and bless your inheritance. Preserve the Orthodox Christians, sending down upon them your rich mercies, through the prayers and intercessions of your all-holy Lady Theotokos, ever-Virgin Mary, by the might of the precious cross, by the protection of the holy angels, by the intercessions of the holy and all-laudable apostles, the holy victorious martyrs, the holy and God-bearing fathers, fathers and mothers…” You have an “O Lord, save your people and bless your inheritance.” Well, that shows that the people and the inheritance are one and the same reality. The laos is the kleros.
What we want to see now and what we’re trying to say very, very simply is that when you take the Church as a whole, whether it’s the Qahal Israel—the assembly of God of the Old Testament, the nation of Israel, Judah, Israel, where God is known and so on—and certainly for Christians we believe it’s the Christian Church which is the Israel of God in the Messiah, that the Church as a whole community is laos. Everyone in it are the people of God, including the ordained members. Everyone belongs to the people.
Then it would also be the understanding that this entire people—let’s speak of the Christian Church—is God’s kleronomia, is God’s heritage, God’s portion, God’s kleros, God’s part, God’s possession within all of the families and all of the peoples of the earth. The important thing about the Christian Church is that it is not simply made up of Jews. It’s made up of anybody, any human being of any nation on earth that is baptized into Christ, has faith in Jesus as the Lord, is sealed by the gift of the Holy Spirit, and therefore is a member of the body of the people of the chosen portion, and then therefore worships in spirit and truth at the Divine Liturgy, which is the common act of this community, this church, this assembly, and therefore is the common act of all of God’s people and all of God’s kleros, all of God’s clergy. So in that sense, the entire Church is people and clergy, just like the entire Israel was the people and the inheritance, the selected portion.
Now we have to add, however, though, that in the New Testament Church, speaking now about the Church—and this is identical to what we already spoke about in the Old Testament—within the Church, though, you still have a portion within the portion, so to speak, and those are the clergy. In other words, the whole people are God’s portion, but then within the people you have those chosen from among the people to receive a laying-on of hands—we might even say a second laying-on of hands after the baptismal one, the Pentecostal one, the one that’s at chrismation—to be a deacon (a minister) or to be a presbyter (a priest) or to be a bishop; to be an ordained person. So you have an ordination of some of the people to serve as the leaders of the people, and those people have come to be called today “clergy.” The rest of the people have come to be called, today, “laity.”
We even have a line which we will comment on later in the great litany where we say, “For all the clergy and the people”: “For this holy house and for those who enter, let us pray to the Lord. For all the clergy and the people, let us pray to the Lord.” But in some sense it’s an accurate sentence if by “clergy” you mean the ordained and by the “people” you mean the non-ordained. Nevertheless, we have to always remember that when we say “the people,” it doesn’t mean the non-ordained. The people theologically, scripturally, means all of the people, within which the bishops, the presbyters, and the deacons and all the clergy are also equally members of the people.
So what’s the conclusion here? The conclusion is that there is some sense in which the entire Church as the whole Church is both people and inheritance, clergy; and that the whole Church functions as the clergy—the prophetic people, the priestly people, the royal priesthood—for the sake of all the nations and all the people of the earth, so that when the Christian Church worships, it offers itself in sacrifice to God with Christ in the eucharistic sacrifice and offering which is always on behalf of all and for all. It’s an offering for the whole of creation. It’s an offering for all the humanity of the earth. The Church intercedes for all the peoples of the earth, including those who are not its members, the non-baptized. It even prays for its enemies. It prays for those who persecute them. And the offering of Christ is for the salvation of the whole world. So the Divine Liturgy is also a sacrificial offering and a prayer for the sake of the whole world.
What it means is that the entirety of God’s people, the whole Church, led by the clergy, are doing this priestly act as a whole. So we can say that the Divine Liturgy is celebrated by all the people who are there, by all the members of the Church, by what we call today the clergy and the laity together.
On the other hand, we have to say this other truth, and that is that within the people as a whole, the kleronomia, the inheritance as a whole, there are some who are ordained. I love an expression I heard once of Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware), who said: The way to understand priesthood and clergy and laity in the Orthodox Church is to say all of the people are the people of God, all of the people are priests unto God, all of the people are a communion of prophets and priests, all of the people belong to the royal priesthood, all of the people are in the holy nation, all together. So everything which is an act of the Church is done by all of the people together. The Church is a whole body and each member has its part.
You could say that when it comes to the priesthood, all of the people belong to the priesthood, which is the priesthood of only one Person, and that is Jesus Christ. So in a sense, the only real Person of God, the only One who really fully actualizes what it means to be God’s people is Jesus Christ himself. He’s the only One who was perfectly the Son of God that the whole of humanity was created to be by grace. He’s God’s own Son who comes into the world as the one teacher, the one prophet, the one high priest, the one king belonging to God’s kingdom. So in a sense for Christians there’s only one Person, one Adam, and there’s only one prophet, one teacher, one priest, and one King and one Lord, and that’s Jesus himself. Only one episkopos, only one overseer, only one presvyteros, only one elder within the community who governs, only one diakonos, the only one who really serves, has diakonia (service, ministry) is Jesus.
So Bishop Kallistos said when we look at this reality, we say there’s One (that’s Christ) and then there’s those who are members of Christ, belong to the body of Christ, and that’s everyone, and that is the Church, so that is all.
But then he added there are still some. There’s Christ; there’s the whole Church. Then there are some within the Church for the sake of the Church who are members of the Church who are set aside, who become a special portion, a special kleros, and those are the clergy who, within the people, as members of the people, govern the people, preside over the community in every aspect of its life, and certainly preside over the Divine Liturgy and the worship of the Church. They’re the ones who stand forth; they’re the proistamenoi. They are the ones who say the prayer, to which the congregation says, “Amen.” They are the ones who say to the people, “Peace be to you,” and everyone says back, “And to you, too; to your spirit.” They are the ones who actually say the words to the prayers, and they are the ones who actually do the sacrificial acts of offering: they are the ones who take the bread, prepare the bread, prepare the wine, put it on the altar, lift it up. They are the ones who invoke the Holy Spirit on the gifts. But they do it on behalf of all and for all; first of all, on behalf and for all the members of the Church, and within the Church, that’s done on behalf of all and for all, not only the members of the entire human race, but of all creation, because the worship of God by God’s people—and that would mean the people in Christ, for Christians, who are sealed with the Spirit—that’s always an intercession and a mediation for the whole world. Christ dies for and saves the whole world, and the Christians worship God on behalf of the whole world.
So let’s say it again. The Church as a whole is both laity and clergy. The Church as a whole are the laos and the kleros, vis-à-vis the rest of humanity. Then within the Church you have some who are clergy (ordained) who are exercising this ministry within the Church, and that would mean in modern terms together with the laypeople, with the people, but never apart from them. So we would never, ever say that it’s simply the clergy who celebrate the liturgy. We would not say that it’s the priest who does the liturgy. The whole community is doing the liturgy, but it’s being led by the presbyter or the bishop. It’s being led by the ordained person, and it has to be an ordained person. If it’s not an ordained person who’s leading the community, then that community is not the Church and therefore its act is not a leitourgia; it’s not a common act of the Church.
When some Christians get together to pray, that’s not the Church. Any assembly of believing people is not the Church. The Church is only the Church when it gathers as Church, when it comes together as Church, as St. Paul says, synerchomai en ekklesia, when it gathers together as ekklesia, as the Church of God, the Church of Christ. We know that that takes place when it is presided over by an ordained man. And it has to be a man in Orthodoxy; not any man, but a man with the proper qualifications, that are listed in the Bible in the letters to Timothy and Titus. There’s qualifications for who may be a presbyter, who may be a bishop, and even who may be a deacon, both man and woman. There’s qualifications, within the body, to allow the body to do its work properly, and certainly its common work, namely, its liturgy.
We would say very, very clearly for Orthodox Christianity and ancient Christianity, you could have the Divine Liturgy only when it’s headed by an ordained minister, by an ordained member of the laos, of the people. So one of the people is set aside, he is offered to God, the hands are laid upon him, the pastoral stole is put upon his shoulders, he is vested in the customary manner, and he stands forth to preside at the liturgy. And you have to have him, otherwise you cannot have the Divine Liturgy, because you cannot have an act of the Church without him. So that means every Divine Liturgy has to be headed by an ordained bishop or presbyter.
Now we know, very early on—we mentioned this already—that the apostles laid their hands on the men who became the bishops, and they laid their hands on others who were called elders, came to be called universally presbyters or elders, who then headed eucharistic communities themselves. However, a eucharistic community, a church, that’s going to celebrate the Divine Liturgy, headed by a presbyter, it can only be by a presbyter who’s been ordained by a bishop and has been assigned to be the head of that community by the bishop.
There even is in Eastern Orthodox practice a very concrete expression of that fact, of that conviction, and that is that every community where the Divine Liturgy is celebrated, every church, it has to have what is called an antimension. It has to have a cloth that is signed, has the bishop’s name on it, written in ink, which allows and gives to that community the right to be the Church and so to celebrate the Divine Liturgy, headed by a presbyter. Very often and very early it became the practice in the Eastern Orthodox Church that within that cloth was sewn a relic, a relic of someone who had died and suffered for Christ, a martyr usually, or then later on a person whose martyrdom was in ascetical life or episcopal, pastoral life, a saint, in other words.
Now, in the tables of consecrated church buildings, this relic is very often put right into the table when the building is consecrated to be the house of the Church. We spoke about this already. Certain buildings were built to house the Church of God, the household of God, which is the people, not the building. By the way, we must say, when we use the word “church,” it’s always the whole people. It’s not just the clergy alone, but it’s certainly not a building. It’s the whole gathering of the entire assembly, the entire community, led by the bishops and the presbyters. But the sign that this is so for the celebration of the Divine Liturgy is: you cannot have the holy Eucharist without the blessing and the assignment of the bishop, and when the bishop is absent, you have to have a special cloth that’s put on the table that sometimes, in fact, mostly all the time, has a relic in it—sometimes there’s a relic in the cloth and in the table itself—with the name of the bishop.
People who have seen liturgical service in the Orthodox Church know that at certain times the celebrant of the service kisses the altar table. Well, even when the bishop serves, he kisses the altar table at certain points, to show veneration to that table where the Mystical Supper will be celebrated and where the Gospel is enthroned. But when the presbyters kiss it sometimes in the liturgy, they’re not kissing the table; they’re kissing the name of their bishop. The bishop’s name is written in ink on this cloth, and so the presbyter bends over and kisses the bishop’s name to show that he’s kissing his father in God, the bishop, who is the bishop of that particular church community, which is gathered, over which he has been assigned as the governor and the leader as being a presbyter of the Church.
It’s always an act of the Church, but what we are remembering today is that the Church as a whole, clergy and laity together in modern terminology, are the people, are the laos; and that the Church as a whole is also the kleros, or the kleronomia, the inheritance or heritage of God. So the people are the inheritance and the inheritance [is] the people. When you look at the Church as a whole, everyone belongs to the laity, everyone’s a layperson as a laos or a laikos, and everyone is a cleric, klerikos; everyone is part of the kleros, the separated portion of humanity that constitutes the Church of Christ on earth until he comes again in glory. Then within the Church some of the laos are ordained to be the kleros within the community, namely, the clergy.
Just to say it one more time: the whole Church is laos and the whole Church is kleros, as a whole. Then within the Church, some of the laos, for the sake of the Church and for its structure and government, are ordained and consecrated to be kleros, a part of the laos. So the whole laos of God, the whole people of God is the kleros for all of humanity, and the ordained members of the Church of God are the kleros for the sake of the whole people of God which the whole Church of Christ is, the people of God.
I hope this hasn’t been too confusing, but it’s very important for us to understand this. When it comes to the celebration of the Divine Liturgy, we must say clearly: It is not just done by clergy, ordained men; it is done by the whole body, the whole inheritance, the whole people. But that whole people is led by the ordained members, whom nowadays we call the clergy.
This is how we have to understand it, but there is no Divine Liturgy that is not the liturgy of all the people. But there’s no Divine Liturgy that can be the worship in spirit and truth of all the people that is not a people who are governed and led by bishops and presbyters and served by deacons who are themselves members of that people and are ordained within the people so that the people, the Church as a whole, could celebrate and do and perform its common act, its Divine Liturgy.