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ON LAITY, CLERGY, AND THE CHURCH

Protopresbyter John S. Romanides

Notwithstanding the earlier understanding of Baptism and Chrismation, we see a strange development in the history of the Church – the quality of the Church’s “royal priesthood72 did not remain at its original level.73

Even in the days of the first Christians, both laity and clergy were present from the very beginning. St. Paul calls the laity idiotes or untrained persons. The Church Fathers in turn explain that St. Paul’s untrained persons are the laity. A layman is someone who has been baptized, but has not yet been called from on high so that he could enter the royal priesthood or become a member of the clergy. A clergyman was considered to be called by God when the Holy Spirit entered his heart and began to pray there. In other words, he had become a “temple of the Holy Spirit,”74 and consequently a member of the Body of Christ that is the Church. This is why the Apostle Paul first tells the Corinthians “ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular”75 and then explains what he means by saying “God hath set some in the church, first apostles, second prophets ….”76 In other words, he gives us his own definition for the Body of Christ.

Later, the Church fathers inform us that, at a certain point in history, men were ordained into the clergy who would have been considered to be laymen in the early Church. Afterwards, some of these men were also consecrated bishops. St. Symeon the New Theologian (AD. 949-1022) has practically written a dissertation on this subject.

This means that a certain practice crept into the Church – men who were unqualified to belong to the clergy of the Church were ordained to the clergy. In other words, men were ordained who had not met the spiritual prerequisites for the priesthood.

St. Symeon the New Theologian was so highly successful in rebelling against this abnormal situation that the Church called him ‘the new theologian.’ From his era until the time of St. Gregory Palamas, a great battle raged within the Church about the qualifications for the election of a bishop. On account of this hesychastic controversy, as it came to be called, St. Symeon the New Theologian’s position ultimately prevailed and was sanctioned — candidates for consecration as bishops of the Church were to be selected from monks within the hesychastic tradition of purification, illumination, and theosis.

Notes:

72 1 Peter 2:9.

73 “ …The regeneration of mall, the revelation of the heart, and the discovery of the hypostatic principle cultivate in man a fervent love for the entire world that is expressed by sacrificial prayer on behalf of the whole world. With a heart aflame with love, man emerges from the narrow limited boundaries of self and lovingly enters the hypostasis of the other. To a certain extent, he lives Christ’s self-emptying and anguish in Gethsemane by lamenting for the entire world. In the lives of many saints, we see that they had this compassionate heart for all creation, even for the devil. This sacrificial prayer that arises when the believer experiences the appearance of God and uncovers his own personhood is called ‘the royal priesthood’. Those who pray noetically have what is called ‘the spiritual priesthood’.” Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos, The Person in the Orthodox Tradition, p. 96 [in Greek].

74 1 Corinthians 6: 19.

75 1 Corinthians 12:27.

76 1 Corinthians 12:28.