Barlaamism, Charlatan, Christopher Veniamin, Clergy, Clericalism, Converts, Discernment, Elder Sophrony of Essex, Empirical Dogmatics, illumination, Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos, Mladostarchestvo, Mladostartsy, Ordination, Protopresbyter John S. Romanides, St. John Chrysostom, St. Symeon the New Theologian, Theoria, Unbelievers
The Mysteries (Sacraments) of the Church
The Church as the Body of Christ and a Community of Glorification
Clergy and Laity
The catechumens in the early Church were prepared to receive Baptism and Chrismation and to become faithful, honourable members of the Church of Christ, temples of the Holy Spirit. The Church, as has already been mentioned, is the real Body of Christ within which man is saved and glorified. In the apostolic era, the Apostles, who had received the Holy Spirit, directed and led the local Churches, as can be seen in the Epistles.
With the passage of time, however, the clergy also needed to evolve, with the three degrees of priests, deacons and bishops, to carry out the work of the Church, which is the salvation of human beings and participation in the purifying, illuminating and glorifying energy of God. Particular categories of Christians with different spiritual gifts and ministries developed within the Church. The Apostle Paul refers in his Epistle to the Corinthians to these gifts and lists them in hierarchical order.
At the beginning he writes: “Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually” and he continues: “God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? Do all have gifts of healings? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the best gifts” (1 Cor. 12:27—31).
Subsequently two Orders of members took shape in the Church: the faithful laity and the clergy. Later monks were added as well.
Laity and Clergy
Through the Mysteries of Baptism and Chrismation, and also through their struggle to practise God’s commandments, the faithful had some sort of spiritual gift, at least prayer of the nous in the heart. and they belonged to the “royal priesthood”. The Apostle Paul, in the list of gifts that we saw in the passage quoted above, puts the gift of tongues — “varieties of tongues” — which is noetic prayer, in last place It is clear from other Epistles of the Apostles that all the members of the Church had noetic prayer, which is a sign that someone is a temple of the Holy Spirit and loves God.
Thus all the faithful, including the women, had spiritual priesthood. They were members of the “royal priesthood” and were illuminated, unless one of them fell into sin, in which case he lost prayer and was numbered among the catechumens as a penitent. The faithful were obviously not people who had no spiritual gifts, but those who had a: least noetic prayer.
The Apostle Paul refers to people who prayed with their nous — “I will pray with the spirit and I will pray with the understanding” — but also to the ‘uninformed’, who do not have this noetic prayer. “Otherwise, if you bless with the spirit, how will he who occupies the place of the uninformed say ‘Amen’ at your giving of thanks” (1 Cor. 14:15-16). Further on he writes, “Therefore if the whole church comes together in one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those who are uninformed or unbelievers, will they not say that you are out of your mind?” (1 Cor. 14:23). It is obvious that in the first Church, according to St Paul’s description, there were people with spiritual gifts, with a hierarchy of gifts, and uninformed laypeople. Outside the Church there were unbelievers.
“Within this context, however, we see a curious development in the history of the Church, according to which the royal priesthood of the Church did not retain its original quality. In the beginning, in the era of the first Christians, we have the laity and the clergy. The Apostle Paul calls laypeople ‘the uninformed’ and the Fathers of the Church interpret St Paul’s ‘uninformed’ as laypeople. The layman is someone who has been baptised but has not yet been called ‘from above’, so as to become a member of the royal priesthood — that is to say, a member of the clergy.
Someone was regarded as a member of the clergy if he had been called by God and visited by the Holy Spirit in his heart, and the Spirit had begun to pray in him. In other words, someone who had become a temple of the Holy Spirit and therefore a member of the Body of Christ, the Church.”
In the early apostolic Church all the faithful had spiritual gifts and belonged to the ‘royal priesthood’. They had spiritual priesthood, because they all had, at very least, noetic prayer, which is a spiritual liturgy.
From among these faithful they chose some to make them deacons, priests and bishops, so they would have the special gift of priesthood, by which they would celebrate the Mysteries and direct the members of the Church spiritually.
When the Apostles were about to choose the first deacons and ordain them, they said to the faithful: “Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business” (Acts 6:3). The First Martyr Stephen was “a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit” (Acts 6:5). In order to be chosen to become deacons, they had to have the Holy Spirit. Having the Holy Spirit means that they had noetic prayer, which is very clear proof of the presence and energy of the Holy Spirit. The members of the Church knew this and recognised such people, apparently through the spiritual gift that they themselves possessed.
In the early Church the clergy, who were organised into degrees of priesthood — deacons, priests and bishops — had a spiritual gift and thus they celebrated the Mysteries. At the same time, however, they guided the faithful to participation in the purifying, illuminating and glorifying energy of God, so that on these preconditions they could partake worthily of the Mysteries. This is the way in which Christians are cured. The degrees of priesthood corresponded to the degrees of the spiritual life.
“Dionysios the Areopagite tells us plainly that the deacon corresponds to the stage of purification, the priest to the stage of illumination and the bishop to the stage of glorification.”
This is also clear from the practice of the Church, according to which a newly baptised Christian ought not to become a member of the clergy. We also find this in the commandment that the Apostle Paul gives to the Bishop Timothy: “A bishop then must…not [be] a novice, lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the devil” (1 Tim. 3:2 and 6).
“We ordain someone when he reaches illumination. That is when we ordain him. Ordination does not make him illuminated. We ordain him because he is illuminated.”
“We have universities, high schools and primary schools. To become a bishop or a member of the clergy in the early Church someone could not be only recently baptised. For that reason there is a Canon forbidding the newly baptised to be ordained.
Why does it forbid the ordination of the newly baptised? Because the newly baptised Christian had not yet attained constant remembrance of God. He had only just gone through the stage of purification, and as a newly baptised Christian he was learning about the stage of illumination. Later, with the unceasing remembrance of God, he was regarded as have entered the stage of theoria. This stage of theoria, which is the first step, is the highest level of illumination and the first step towards glorification.
Bishops were chosen from people in this state, which is why the illumined became bishops, not the newly baptised. Being illumined does not mean being a graduate of the University of Athens or the Academies of Russia. It means that someone possessed illumination, constant remembrance of God, noetic prayer and so on. Essentially he had been purified.”
As time passed, however, the Church became secularised. Originally those among the faithful who had prayer were ordained to the clergy. Later, people were ordained whose outward behaviour was good, but as they did not have any spiritual gifts, they did not know how to cure people. They continued, however, to perform the Mysteries.
“The clergy is a group of people who are at least in the state of illumination, according to the teaching of the Fathers. If they are not in the state of illumination, the weaknesses of the clergy have to be made up for. Throughout the centuries, whenever the clergy in general lapsed from the state of illumination, there was a general decline, not only of the sacerdotal clergy — the priests, deacons and so on. The decline was so widespread that even the bishops were included in it. The bishops fell short of this state of illumination, and had not even passed through the state of purification.”
“Bearing this in mind, if one begins to study the clergy in the early Church, those among the Christians who passed through purification and reached illumination or theoria were teachers in their own right, because they had reached a certain spiritual condition.
That is why we have the strange phenomenon that parishes in the early Church had many priests. In the time of Heraclius, St Sophia had eighty priests and one hundred and fifty deacons, and these numbers were after the reduction. There had been many more, but the number was reduced. We only know the number after the reduction, not before. Ordination was a practice in the Church by which the Church certified that someone was suitable to be a priest, as he had reached a certain point and for that reason he was suitable to be a spiritual father. If, however, he had not reached that point, he was not suitable to be a spiritual father, so he could not be ordained a priest or a bishop.
In the early Church, the parish was made up of the illuminated, but not in the sense that they had acquired rational knowledge, because the most enlightened from that point of view is the devil. He is the best theologian outside Paradise.”
“In the New Testament, those who reach glorification are called Apostles and Prophets. Bishops were chosen from among them: bishops and priests came from among the glorified, the Prophets. After them there were teachers and all the others in the Church. Prophets were at the head of every parish. In other words, they are the hospital doctors. Among the doctors in the hospital there is one who is the director. After the doctors there are the nursing staff and all the others who make up a hospital.
What happened in the Church was this. The Prophets had the vote, so to speak, to elect bishops, because the Prophets administered the Church. They were not Prophets because they were chosen by the people: they were called by God. That is why we have those who are called by God. The Fathers of the Church say that in order to become a member of the clergy, someone must be called by God. Being called by God means that the Holy Spirit Himself has come to dwell within the man and prays. Thus the Apostle Paul says: ‘God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers…’ (1 Corinthians 12:28). These make up the clinical staff, the doctors, who also choose from among themselves a director of the hospital, who is called a bishop, and they administer the Church.”
The Church was regarded as a spiritual hospital and the clergy as spiritual doctors who cure people’s spiritual illnesses.
“The clergy of the Church are the clinical staff, the hospital doctors. After them come those who are at the stage of illumination, who are the hospital nursing staff. And after the nursing staff we have those being purified, who are the hospital patients.
Of course, this is not an exact comparison but an approximate one. As time passes, the glorified, the doctors, gradually disappear from a hospital, but the illuminated take their place. And gradually they too disappear and the patients replace them. The patients now direct the hospital.
That is why Symeon the New Theologian says that today men become bishops who in the time of the Apostle Paul would have said ‘Amen’ as uninformed laypeople. Because in the fourteenth chapter of the First Epistle to the Corinthians, those who say Amen’, when we say Amen’ in church, those ‘unlearned’ people are the laity, according to the Fathers of the Church. And now those who simply said ‘Amen’, says Symeon the New Theologian, are bishops of the Church. In other words, they have neither glorification nor illumination, yet they have become bishops of the Church.
Question from a Student: And they don’t even know about these things?
Reply: They don’t even know about them. And if you speak about them, they may even tell you that you are a heretic. Fortunately the Church recognised him as a saint of the Church, so if we say something that St Symeon the New Theologian says, we are in no danger of being condemned as heretics.”
The clergy knew the method of diagnosing illness and treating it, as do doctors who treat the body.
“…Someone goes and becomes a doctor once he has learnt to make a diagnosis and to give treatment.
Someone would go through purification in order to reach Baptism. He was baptised, illumined and became a temple of God. And once he had become a temple of God, because he was illumined he would then illumine others.
Ordination does not illuminate the candidate. Ordination presupposes that the candidate is illuminated. It is assumed that the ordination candidate, as he is illuminated, was chosen for ordination because he is already capable of becoming a spiritual father. He does not become a spiritual father because we have said a magical prayer over his head. We did not make him a spiritual father by saying a prayer. Take a priest who is mentally deranged. Read a prayer for him, and he will destroy thousands of people. A priest who does not know how to hear confessions correctly will send people straight to Hell instead of sending them to Paradise.
We recognise a spiritual father because he is in a certain spiritual state, so we ordain him. However, because this tradition became distorted, the other tradition arose, whereby the bishop, who has responsibility and is the spiritual father par excellence, when he has a good priest who knows about these matters, and has confirmation that the priest is in a particular spiritual state, he makes him a spiritual father. He ordains him a spiritual father and he receives a certificate that he is a spiritual father. He can hear confessions and so on. But how does this relate to the subject of diagnosis and treatment, as we see it in the early Church? That is the fundamental problem.
The historical development of our current perceptions of the bishop — the new perception of the bishop that we have is very recent, but in the West there is a long history of the evolution of the episcopal office, which makes comprehensible why the bishop is regarded as an administrator in the West. His title is ‘administrator of the Church’. His work is administration.
Today it is usually the parish priest who celebrates the Liturgy — in the West, and now the same happens here — the bishop goes to church and usually if he is present he presides without celebrating, whereas in the early Church, until the Fall of Constantinople and until the Greek Revolution, the bishop celebrated the Liturgy ever. Sunday. His work was to celebrate the Liturgy every Sunday, to give instruction, and to supervise, so to speak, all the catechism and all the work of the parish and the Church. Nothing else.
In any case, I see no difference between the patristic conception of Christianity and medical science. I can find no difference. Do yo. follow me? No difference at all. Provided, of course, that psychiatry is included within medical science. There is something much more basic here than what is known to modern psychiatry.
Consequently, the apostolic succession is part of the apostolic tradition. The different degrees of priesthood exist for the purpose of diagnosis and treatment. So when someone is cured, he really cured, and the parish recognises that he is cured. For that reason they choose him to be a leader, a bishop or a member of the clergy. They do not make him a member of the clergy in the hope that he will learn to diagnose and cure. They make him a bishop because he has been cured.”
The bishop is the guarantor of this therapeutic treatment method.
“It is usually said nowadays that the episcopate guarantees that the Orthodox tradition will be passed on. That is what they usually say today. Of course, this patristic tradition exists, that the tradition is mainly transmitted through the bishops, who are at the centre of the tradition, the centre of the unity of the Church, the centre to the Church’s duty to teach. They are central to the liturgical and sacramental life of the Church and nothing can be done without the bishop. This is a fact. But why is it a fact? Is it because they receive a laying-on of hands that has come down uninterrupted from the era of the Apostles, or because they had therapeutic grace?
Let us compare it with medical science. Take surgeons, for example. They become surgeons by means of examinations. They take courses. They practise in laboratory examinations, and once the professors consider that they are ready, they give them a certificate an; they are called surgeons.
The bishops were the university professors in the early Church. Now the bishops are the pupils of the ‘professors’. In the early Church the bishops are the professors. They produce spiritual children. They have all the responsibility for therapeutic treatment within the parish and elsewhere, which is why the bishop gives the priest permission to act as a spiritual father. Ordination does not give the priest permission to be a spiritual father, as some people say, because being a spiritual father does not come from ordination. Ordination is so that the Mysteries may be performed, the public worship of the Church and the Mysteries, in the proper way. The fact that a priest does not become a spiritual father by ordination means that ordination does not bestow everything.
One can only be made a spiritual father by a spiritual father. This is the essence of the apostolic succession and the apostolic tradition. Just as the surgeon—professor produces surgeons, so spiritual fathers produce spiritual fathers. One cannot become a spiritual father by being ordained. This is impossible.
From this point of view, the bishop was the bearer of the tradition. The bishop is assumed to be the spiritual father in the highest sense and the bearer of the diagnostic and therapeutic tradition of the Church. He knows best of all how to diagnose correctly and treat correctly. In this manner the episcopate transmits the apostolic tradition — the heart of which is diagnosis and therapeutic treatment, culminating in glorification — from one generation to the next.”
“And they reach the point when Symeon the New Theologian tells us that many bishops in the Church today would have been laypeople, not clergy, in the early Church. This means that the hospital is falling apart, and instead of real doctors, they have been replaced, initially by nursing staff, who at any rate know something. Later, however, their replacements were not even nurses. And we reach the point that the hospital is full of charlatans.”
Today things have deteriorated further. The clergy celebrate the Mysteries, but many of them do not know the therapeutic method and cannot cure people in accordance with the Orthodox Tradition. They do not know how, and are unable, to help Christians to pass through purification to illumination and glorification.
“As far as contemporary Orthodox theology is concerned, ecclesiastical practice has been separated into two spheres. On the one hand, we promise therapeutic treatment in the future, after death. We have become physicians not for today but for after death. How do we manage this? We receive ordination and afterwards we begin: ‘Blessed is the glory and rule (vasileia) of the Father…’ We perform the ritual, and then we say that everyone who partakes of the Mysteries will have life after death and will go to Paradise. Anyone who does not partake will go to Hell. Thus we have devoted ourselves to the future cure of man.
The priest himself does not cure anyone; he simply celebrates Liturgies. The bishop does not cure anyone; he simply celebrates Liturgies. Who teaches people nowadays? Who leads people from purification to illumination?
The liturgical life of the Orthodox Church today, not just in Greece but everywhere, no longer has any connection with the therapeutic treatment of man from the point of view of purification and illumination. If you want purification and illumination today, the most you can do is go to a monastery. You even need to be careful about which monastery: you cannot go to just any monastery. This is Orthodoxy today.”
“We have become conservers of particular liturgical texts and nothing more. Apart from the future life that we promise everyone: ‘Come to church. If you don’t come you will go to Hell; if you come you will go to Heaven.’ This is the message today. Yes, but how many of those who come to Church are cured, and how many priests today cure people? That is the question.
And there is something else. What about interest in the life to come? Most of those who are suffering from psychosis and are afraid of Hell are expected to go into monasteries and concern themselves with their souls from then on, so as to be sure of a place in Heaven. This is the vocation of monks.
So what will the parish priests do in their parishes, as they do not lead people from purification to illumination? They will concern themselves with this present life. There are parents who want to find a good husband for their daughter, so they offer paraklises and prayers. They go and bless houses and shops, so that business will go well. They read the blessing service on the occasional ship, so that the shipowner will become richer. They continually read prayers and perform blessings and memorial services. Thus the parish priest follows a ritualistic routine, but he does not involve himself with the purification and illumination of the laity, which is his main concern, at least as it seems from the liturgical books.”
“The ritual life of the Church is preserved: fine Liturgies, beautiful vestments, music, icons and one thing and another… but curative treatment — No! That is the problem.
We have reached the point that it is not only rare to find a spiritual father or a priest who is in the state of illumination, but even if you ask them about, say, the teaching concerning the Fathers, or illumination, glorification and purification, they have no idea — not only the clergy, but even university professors.”
The success of a diocese depends on whether the bishop and clergy know the therapeutic method, in other words, whether they themselves are following the path to holiness. Otherwise it is a failure.
“If a bishop becomes a saint himself and the clergy become saints and a large part of the flock becomes holy, this amounts to success. If, however, in a diocese neither the bishop nor the clergy nor any member of the Church reaches holiness, as this diocese does not have people who pass through purification and reach illumination and glorification, this means, with regard to strict Orthodox criteria, serious failure.”
To be sure, the fact that the clergy do not know the therapeutic method does not mean that they are unnecessary. It has already been stressed that the task of the clergy is twofold: on the one hand they perform the Mysteries and on the other they cure people so that they can participate worthily in the Mysteries. The clergy may not know the Orthodox therapeutic method, but they celebrate the Mysteries canonically, unless they have been officially defrocked by the Church.
“The priest or the bishop may be the worst man in the world. Provided, however, that there is no ecclesiastical enactment against him and provided that he has not been deprived of clerical orders, all the Mysteries that he performs as a representative of the hierarchy are valid. The Baptisms are valid and his ordinations are valid, even his prayers for the forgiveness of penitents are valid, though he himself be a rogue. Everything is valid.
From the moment he is deprived of clerical orders, however, everything he does is invalid. The man is the same before and after he is deprived of clerical orders, but being deprived of clerical orders has changed the situation. This is because we have an official decision of the Church that he is now degraded from the clergy.
The same happens with those who are excommunicated. When the Church has not officially excommunicated someone and has not expressed a view and has performed his funeral, this means that his relatives have every right to hold his memorial service in church. If. however, he has been excommunicated, because he was a Mason or a heretic, he will not be given a funeral. Consequently, as he cannot be given a funeral, there is no question of a memorial service.”
In general, the priesthood as a gift of grace is very highly valued within the Church. At the same time, all Christians, in order to be living members of the Church, should belong to the ‘royal priesthood . according to the words of the Apostle Peter: “But you are a chosen, generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvellous light; who once were not a people but an now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy” (1 Pet. 2:9—10). And according to the words of the Apostle Paul to the Colossians: “Giving thanks to the Father Who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light (Col. 1:12).
—Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos, Empirical Dogmatics, Volume 2