September 19, 2011

The Relationship Between Clergy and Laypeople

By Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos

We make a distinction between Clergy and laymen. That there is such a distinction and it belongs to the whole Tradition of the Church, no one can deny. But on this point too we cannot overvalue one category at the expense of the other. Nothing of the sort constitutes the Orthodox mindset. Nor can we consider that only the Clergy are obligated to keep all the Laws and Traditions of the Church, while the laymen have some mitigations. It is a fact that the Clergy have more duties and obligations in relation to salvation and other things, but all have the duty to keep God's Law.

We can say that the Church's system of government is synodal. This should not be interpreted in the sense of democracy. Some people say that the Church's system of government is democratic. This is not so, because there is a distinction of gifts and ministries. The Church's system of government is synodical, in the sense of hierarchy; that is to say, it is hierarchical. This is seen in the Apostle Paul's letter to the Corinthians. The Apostle says: "And 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" (1 Cor. 12:28). Thus there is a hierarchy in the Church. Each person knows his gift, fulfills the service which God assigned, and all work together for the edification of the Body of Christ. The image of the Body of Christ is very characteristic!

The Clergy are ordained to serve and minister to the people. It is a gift from God for someone to shepherd, and it is a gift to be shepherded towards one's salvation. Moreover, the basis of the sacramental priesthood is what is called spiritual priesthood, which laymen too can have. Everyone can have spiritual priesthood, because it is connected with the whole spiritual life, which is experienced through both the Sacraments and asceticism. According to the Fathers, the person has spiritual priesthood who has developed his noetic energy, and of course, who prays for the whole world. And we know that this spiritual priesthood will make a man worthy of enjoying the Kingdom of God.

Thus there should be no quarrel between Clergy and laymen. The Clergy receive the priesthood as a ministry and a sacrifice on the cross and the laymen accept the Clergy as fathers in order to be reborn into a new life.

I shall not go on to mention further distinctions which, unfortunately, we make in our spiritual and ecclesiastical life. The malevolent man, who is split, splits up the united life of the Church. As far as a man is impure, so far he is also in pieces; as far as he is purified of passion so far he is catholic. He is made catholic when he knows and experiences the whole truth. The whole way of life, which we see in the Holy Scripture and the tradition of the Church, is valid for all men. We can all attain deification.

We must make a constant effort to reach the catholic way of life, to experience the catholicity of the Church.