He that heareth you, heareth me; and he that despiseth you, despiseth me; and he that despiseth me, despiseth him that sent me. And the seventy-two returned with joy, saying: Lord, the devils also are subject to us in thy name. (Lk 10 16-17)
A recent report from the Pew Research Organization was entitled: “Majority of U.S. Catholics’ opinions run counter to church on contraception, homosexuality.”i While I have not conducted a scientific survey on Eastern Orthodox on these topics, in my pastoral experience I have encountered what I would call a significant number of individuals who consider themselves Orthodoxii who would concur with this unfortunate finding.
What compounds the Pew Research Report is that the Catholic Church leaders themselves have asked for a poll of Catholics on these and similar issues.iii The egregious problem with such an action is that it gives the impression of an extremely erroneous view of how the Church has understood the teachings of Christ and carried them out over the ages and how the explanation of these teachings and the formulation of the doctrines or dogmas of the Church has occurred. Given that the social and political philosophy of the day is secularist democracy, sometimes masquerading under the guise of political, social and religious correctness, such an official survey by Church authorities certainly gives out the false hope that the teachings of Christ and His Church can be formulated by popular opinion. Nothing can be further from the truth. Furthermore, when someone is asked for their opinion on some issue by an authority, they frequently irrationally assume it will be acted upon. Thus, false hopes, expectations and dysfunctional emotions such as anger, in some, are easily nurtured by such surveys. (Morelli, 2005, 2007a,b) This sows fertile ground for the homogenization of vocations within the Apostolic Churches.
Authority: Christ and His Church
In terms of primacy and ultimate authority, Christ Himself is the head of the Church. This is affirmed by St. Peter, who, when writing from Rome to the persecuted Christians in Asia Minor (Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia ), says:
If so be you have tasted that the Lord is sweet. Unto whom coming, as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen and made honorable by God: Be you also as living stones built up, a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. (1Pt 2: 3-5)
Clearly, Christ conceived of the people of God, those baptized and who have put on Christ, as a holy people. As St. Paul wrote to the Galatians (3:27): “For as many of you as have been baptized in Christ, have put on Christ.” This is echoed by St. Peter who tells them:
But you are a chosen generation, a kingly priesthood, a holy nation, a purchased people: that you may declare his virtues, who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light: Who in time past were not a people: but are now the people of God. Who had not obtained mercy; but now have obtained mercy. (1Pt 2: 9-10)
What is necessary to be in Christ’s Church?
It is important to consider what is necessary to be numbered among the kingly or royal priesthood and thus make our baptism efficacious. We have to be “Peter” the same rock that His Church is based on. Consider St. Matthew’s (16:16-18) recounting of Jesus’ dialogue with His Apostles:
Jesus saith to them: But whom do you say that I am? Simon Peter answered and said: Thou art Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answering, said to him: Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona: because flesh and blood hath not revealed it to thee, but my Father who is in heaven. And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
The Fathers of the Eastern Church have consistently understood by these words that those who make up the true Church of Christ are those who share what the Father (through the Son and the Holy Spirit) has revealed to them. This goes back to the understanding of the Apostles themselves. St. Luke tells us:
God sent the word to the children of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ: (he is Lord of all.) You know the word which hath been published through all Judea: for it began from Galilee, after the baptism which John preached, Jesus of Nazareth: how God anointed him with the Holy Spirit, and with power, who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. (Acts 10: 36-38)
St. Paul also affirms that the source of revelation is the Divinity itself:
Grace to you, and peace from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ. I give thanks to my God always for you, for the grace of God that is given you in Christ Jesus, That in all things you are made rich in him, in all utterance, and in all knowledge. (1Cor 3-5)
Christ Passes His Earthly Authority To His Body On Earth: His Church
The first reference that Christ makes about His Church is also to the foundation on which it must be built. Foundations are made of hard substances. In Jesus’ time they were made of natural substances such as the rocks that made up the earth’s crust. After the Apostle Simon’s confession as to who Christ is, Christ changes Simon’s name to Peter, meaning ‘rock:’
Thou art Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answering, said to him: Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona: because flesh and blood hath not revealed it to thee, but my Father who is in heaven. And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. (Mt 16: 16-18)
If we profess Christ to be the Divine Son of God, then we, too, become the foundation for the rest of the Church to be built on. It is after this profession that any authority or power the Church has can be exercised. This can be seen in what Jesus tells Peter (formally Simon Bar-Jona) after this:
And I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose upon earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven. (Mt 16: 19)
Orthodox Understanding of Ecclesiology
It is important to note that the Eastern Orthodox Church has consistently considered these words of Our Lord to apply not only to Peter, but to all the Apostles as well and to all their successors in future time. Blessed Theophylact (2006, p. 141), the great Orthodox commentator on Sacred Scripture, tells us:
Even though the words “I will give unto thee” were spoken to Peter alone, yet they were given to all the [A]postles. Why? Because He said “Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted.” Also the words “I will give” indicate a future time, namely, after the Resurrection.
From the notes on this passage from Blessed Theophylact’s commentary we learn that the English word ye (thou) is derived from the Greek word aphete which is second person plural. This means that the authority given is meant not for one person alone (Peter) but to all the Apostles at that time and their successors. In a much prayed for unity of the Apostolic Churches, first uttered by Christ in his priestly discourse to the Apostles during the last supper, “Holy Father, keep them in thy name whom thou has given me; that they may be one, as we also are.” (Jn 17: 11), we join with Christ for a common understanding of the ecclesiology of the Church among the Apostolic Churches.
Unity a critical attribute of the Church
McGuckin (2011) looks to St. Cyprian of Carthage’s (c.200-258 AD) understanding of unity as reflecting the patristic understanding of ecclesiology. Well worth repeating in this article is McGuckin’s quote of Patelos’ (1978) synopsis of St. Cyprian’s teaching:
It is a truism that the holy catholic and apostolic is founded upon the Apostles and preserved by the divine and inspired fathers in the Ecumenical Councils, and that her head is Christ the Great Shepherd who bought her with His own blood; and according to the heaven-tending Apostle she is the pillar and ground of the truth, as well as the body of Christ. This holy church is indeed one in identity of faith and similarity of manners and customs, in unison with the decisions of the Seven Ecumenical Councils, and she must be one and not many that differ from each other in dogmas and fundamental institutions of ecclesiastical government. (p. 256)
Having concord with the Church
The Heterodox, especially those who want to shape a group/community that they will call a church, will often cite these words of Christ as recorded by St. Matthew to support their action:
Again I say to you, that if two of you shall consent upon earth, concerning any thing whatsoever they shall ask, it shall be done to them by my Father who is in heaven. For where there are two or three gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”( Mt 18:19-20)
Looking to St. Cyprian of Carthage’s understanding of Patristic tradition can aid in discovering how the Church understands the orthodox meaning of Christ’s words:
He placed agreement first; He has made the concord of peace a prerequisite; He taught that we should agree firmly and faithfully. But how can he agree with any one who does not agree with the booty [sic] of the Church itself, and with the universal brotherhood? How can two or three be assembled together in Christ's name, who, it is evident, are separated from Christ and from His Gospel? For we have not withdrawn from them, but they from us; and since heresies and schisms have risen subsequently, from their establishment for themselves of diverse places of worship, they have forsaken the Head and Source of the truth. But the Lord speaks concerning His Church, and to those also who are in the Church He speaks, that if they are in agreement, if according to what He commanded and admonished, although only two or three gathered together with unanimity should pray—though they be only two or three—they may obtain from the majesty of God what they ask.iv
Basically one has to be in peace and concord with the Mind of Christ and His Church and not be an innovator of self-proclaimed novel teachings. (Morelli, 2010)
The Church as the Body of Christ
Christ considered His Church on earth, as His Body. Consider these words of Christ: “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abide in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine: you the branches: he that abideth in me, and I in him ” (Jn 15: 4-5) St. Paul makes the meaning of Christ’s teaching very explicit in his Epistle to the Colossians (1: 18): “And [Christ] is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things [H]e may hold the primacy ”
The Inner Composition of the Body of Christ
St. Paul delineates the inner composition and workings of the “Body of Christ” in two famous and well quoted passages: He writes to the Corinthians that baptism in the Spirit is our entryway into the Church:
But all these things one and the same Spirit worketh, dividing to every one according as he will. For as the body is one, and hath many members; and all the members of the body, whereas they are many, yet are one body, so also is Christ. For in one Spirit were we all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Gentiles, whether bond or free; and in one Spirit we have all been made to drink. For the body also is not one member, but many. (1Cor 12: 11-14)
This is summarized in St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians and is a frequently chanted hymn in the Eastern Church during the Paschal Season: “For as many of you as have been baptized in Christ, have put on Christ.” (Gal 3:27)”
The St. Paul tells us that each member of the Body of Christ has an individual calling, vocation and function.
Now you are the body of Christ, and members of member. And God indeed hath set some in the church; first apostles, secondly prophets, thirdly doctors; after that miracles; then the graces of healing, helps, governments, kinds of tongues, interpretations of speeches. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all doctors? ] Are all workers of miracles? Have all the grace of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret?” (1Cor 12: 27-29)
Baptism Is Necessary But Not Sufficient: It Must Be Lived Out By Obedience
Many heterodox and ‘my-way’ individuals have a very simplistic view of the meaning of these passages. It is as if they are saying ‘Be baptized and do what you want.’ Nothing can be more far afield from the truth. Christ Himself has told His Apostles and Disciples of the necessity of obedience. Consider two straightforward teachings Christ gave to His Apostles during His priestly discourse at the Last Supper: “If you love me, keep my commandments.” (Jn 14:15);and “He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them; he it is that loveth me. And he that loveth me, shall be loved of my Father: and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.” (Jn 14:21).
Our Church Fathers on Obedience
Our spiritual Church Fathers have lived out and proclaimed loudly the necessity of continuing obedience. St. Theodore the Great Ascetic tells us: “. . . he who has embraced obedience and slain his own will with the sword of humility has indeed fulfilled the promise that he made to Christ . . . .” (Philokalia II, p. 21). While St. Theodore is speaking about the promise of monastic profession, we can consider this as applying faithfulness to our baptismal promises. St. John of the Ladder (1979) tells us: “He who lives in obedience has eluded two snares [disobedience and conceit] and remains eternally an obedient servant of Christ”. (p.40). He puts it this way: “For obedience is distrust in oneself in everything, no matter how good it may be, right to the end of one’s life. (p. 22) He counsels on the spiritually deleterious consequences of selective obedience, writing: “If he does his will in some things’ although he considers himself obedient, he lays the burden on his own shoulders.” (p. 23)
The place of obedience in any true Christian is given to us by St. Maximus the Confessor:
Just as the result of disobedience is sin, so the result of obedience is virtue. And just as disobedience leads to breaking the commandments and to separation from Him who gave them, so obedience leads to keeping the commandments and to union with Him who gave them. Thus he who through obedience has kept the commandments has achieved righteousness and, moreover, he has not cut himself off from union in love with Him who gave them; and the opposite equally true. (Philokalia II, p 139).
Obedience to our Particular Vocation in Christ’s Body: The Church
It is important, therefore, that all be obedient and that the obedience conforms to the Divine calling each of us have received. In this regard, a phrase from the Anaphora Prayer of the Liturgy of St. Basil should be the guide for all ecclesial matters for those of the Royal Priesthood, be they of the episcopate, the presbyterate or laity. St Basil prays: “Be mindful, O Lord, of the Priesthood, the Deaconate in Christ, and every priestly rank, and put not to confusion any one of us who stand about Thy holy Altar.” Those of the ordained priesthood as bishop/priest, stand around the altar and are ordained to call down the Holy Spirit to sanctify what is earthly and make it Divine. The ordained deacons standing beside the bishop/priest are speaking for the laity that make up the Royal Priesthood. Those laity of the Royal Priesthood stand before the altar and acclaim “Amen” (So Be It) to the holy events they are participating in.
The Uniqueness of the Vocations of the Priesthood and the Laity
The Holy Mystery of the priesthood has three orders: bishop, priest and deacon. As the proper icon of Christ, the one and true priest who became incarnate in the male sex, those ordained to the priesthood are, and must be, of the male sex. (Morelli, 2014). A female diaconate, as it was in the early Church, if restored, would serve in the baptism of women and not have a Eucharistic function.
All priestly ordinations take place during the Divine Liturgy, in which ordinary bread and wine is made (consecrated) into the true Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ. This is most fitting, as the Eucharist is the ultimate gift of God to mankind that Christ left after His Ascension. As a Deacon is to ‘serve’ those who celebrate the Eucharist (bishop/priest), a deacon is ordained after the consecration. The priest, whose main duties include proclaiming and teaching the Gospel, blessings and particularly sanctifying God’s people by celebrating the Divine Liturgy, is ordained after the bread and wine are on the Altar, so he may participate in the consecration. A bishop is fittingly ordained at the Little Entrance, symbolizing the fullness of Christ’s earthly public life of teaching, preaching and giving us His Eucharist at the Last Supper, as well as His passion, death on the cross and Resurrection for our salvation. To all of these ordinations the assembled people of God (laity) participate by shouting out “Axios” (He is worthy).
Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev (2002, p. 156), while acknowledging the importance of the ‘royal priesthood’ of all those who are baptized that obey His teachings and the teachings of His Body the Church, nevertheless, “recognizes a difference between laypeople and ordained clergy, the latter being entrusted with the celebration of the Eucharist and having the power of ‘binding and loosing’.” The priestly ordination is “not only a change of status but a transition to another level of existence.” He quotes
Archimandrite Cyprian (Kern) states that “a person who has been ordained is no longer a simple layman, but a theourgos, an “initiator into mysteries” and a celebrant of sacraments.”
Metropolitan Hilarion then goes on to quote a great contemporary saint of the Church, St. Silouan the Athonite, a simple un-ordained monk of the Russian Monastery of St. Panteleimon on Mt. Athos, on the great dignity of the priestly ministry and the graces given to pastoral service:
[This] grace is so exceeding great that were men able to see the glory of this grace, the whole world would wonder at it, but the Lord has veiled it that His servants should not be puffed up but find salvation in humility.... Truly noble is a priest – the minister at God’s altar. Whoever gives offense to him offends the Holy Spirit who lives in him.... (p. 156)
St. Silouan’s reflection that the priesthood should served in humility is to be noted.
Christ’s injunction to His Apostles on how to minister
Consider Christ’s strong words to His Apostles on the ethos of Christian ministry; it must be in emulation of Christ’s ministry itself:
It shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be the greater among you, let him be your minister: And he that will be first among you, shall be your servant. Even as the Son of man is not come to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a redemption for many. (Mt. 20: 26-28)
Furthermore, to the Pharisees chastising Him, Christ told of the humility that is necessary in any service: “He that is the greatest among you shall be your servant. And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be humbled: and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.” (Mt, 23: 11-12). St. Silouan’s depiction of the priesthood was simply passing on to us the importance of Christ’s call to humility in diaconia.
I may dare say that the higher the level of priestly order and service laid on a man, the greater the level of humility should be the ethos of his heart, demeanor and service.
Clericalism versus the true spiritual dignity of the holy priesthood
In modern times some clergy have been charged with the pejorative term ‘clericalism.’ The charge of clericalism implies that cronyism, that is to say favoritism is involved in their social and political and religious life. Such individuals want to be favored over others or favor others because of their ‘exalted’ title rather than their spiritual and psychological qualities. It bespeaks of inegalitarianism, a social, political specialness over those holding non clerical status.
As long as bishop, priest and deacon are shrouded in humility, clericalism-cronyism will never emerge. The bishop and priest, as well as those in the royal priesthood, do have unique and distinct callings in the Body of Christ. However, the exercise of their unique functions must be shrouded, actually immersed, in humility. One example of humility described by St. John of the Ladder (1991) would be useful in distinguishing someone bearing the spiritual dignity of the priesthood, versus the entitlement to social and or political favoritism implied in clericalism. St. John tells us that one sign of humility “is the perfect bearing of indignity.” (p.64).
Proper exercising of our vocation
Orthodox theologian Paul Evdokimov (1998) notes with great spiritual perception that all those baptized into the ‘Royal Priesthood’ are called to “interiorized monasticism.” (p. 233). He writes:
“When Christ,” Says St. John Chrysostom, “orders us to follow the narrow path, he addresses Himself to all. The monastics and the lay person must attain the same heights.” We can see indeed that there exists only one spirituality for all without distinction in its demands, whether of the bishop, monk or lay person, and this is the nature of monastic spirituality. Now this has been shaped by lay-monastics, which gives the term ‘lay’ the maximal spiritual and ecclesial meaning. (p. 137)
Evdokimov sums this up when he says: “It is in its total demand that the Gospel addresses itself to everyone everywhere.” (p. 136). It should be noted that the demands of the Gospel are both the precepts or Commandments of God and His Christ as well as the traditional monastic counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience (according one’s state of life). Considering the charge of clericalism, discussed above, I would add the necessity of all to intensely nurture and practice the virtue of humility in their lives.
With this in mind, we can understand the unique functioning of all the members who make up the Body of Christ, be they bishop, priest or laity. Evdokimov puts it this way: “With us innovations cannot be introduced either by the patriarchs or by the Council: for with us, the safeguarding of religion dwells in the whole body of the Church.... Lay persons are not judges (kriteis) of the faith. The promulgation of doctrinal definitions is the charism proper to the episcopate [with consultation with the presbyterate].” (p. 236) Evdokimov points out that the Church is the shield, that is to say the defender and protector of the teachings of Christ in its entirety, this means the “ability to distinguish truth from error, “to verify truth and to testify.”v
The Lay vocation in the Church.
The Apostolic Churches certainly do not need a ‘poll’ of the views of any who do not proclaim the ‘true doctrine of Christ and His Church.’ The critical role of the laity who can earnestly chant the prayer in the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, after the distribution of the Eucharist, those who can fully pray from the depth of their hearts that “We have seen the true light, we have received the heavenly spirit ,” these are the ones to fulfill their Christian vocation. These committed Christians will be able to act as Evdokimov writes: “laymen are the defenders of the faith,” (p. 236), but to exercise that defense always with the humility that also should underpin the exercise of all Christian vocations. As St. Isaac of Syria (Brock, 1997, p. 12) tells us: “As salt is needed for all kinds of food, so humility is needed for all kinds of virtues.”
But prove all things; hold fast that which is good. (1Thes 5: 21)
Alfeyev, Bishop Hilarion, (2002). The Mystery of Faith. London, England: Darton, Longman and Todd.
Blessed Theophlyact (2006). The Explanation by Blessed Theophylact of The Holy Gospel According To St. Matthew. (C. Stade, Trans). House Springs, MO: Chrysostom Press.
Brock, S., trans. (1997). The Wisdom of Saint Isaac the Syrian. Fairacres Oxford, England: SLG Press, Convent of the Incarnation.
Evdokimov, P. (1998). Ages of the Spiritual Life. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press
McGuckin, J.A. (2011). The Orthodox Church. NY: Wiley.
Morelli, G. (2005, October 14). The Beast of Anger. http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/articles5/MorelliAnger.php.
Morelli, G. (2010, November 25) The Ethos of Orthodox Catechesis. www.orthodoxytoday.org/OT/view/morelli-the-ethos-of-orthodox-catechesis
Morelli, G. (2007a, March 15). Good Marriage: How An Attitude of Entitlement Undermines Marriage. http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/articles7/MorelliEntitlement.php.
Morelli, G. (2007b, April 27) Good Marriage II. Reciprocity—The One-Way Contract that can Wreck a Marriage. http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/OT/view/good-marriage-II-reciprocity-the-one-way-contract-that-can-wreck-a-marriage.
Morelli, G. (2014). Psychotherapy with members of Eastern Orthodox Churches. In P. Scott Richards & Allen E. Bergin (Eds.) Handbook of Psychotherapy and Religious Diversity (2nd ed. pp. 77-102). Washington DC: American Psychological Association.
Palmer, G.E.H.; Sherrard, P.; and Ware, K. (Trans.) (1971, 1981, 1988, 1990). Philokalia, I IV. London: Faber and Faber.
St. John Climacus (1991). The Ladder of Divine Ascent. Boston: Holy Transfiguration Monastery.
ii This would include those of any of the Churches that can be traced in direct succession to Christ and His Apostles: Eastern Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox and Roman Catholic.
v An ideal example of the members of the Body of Christ working together and working with others of the Apostolic Churches can be seen in numerous news reports of the annual ‘March For Life’ in Washington DC. Leading their people are various Roman Catholic and Orthodox Bishops surrounded by their priests and accompanied by the people they shepherd. [http://www.lifesitenews.com/news/breathing-with-both-lungs-eastern-orthodox-make-strong-showing-at-march-for]. Also notable is the courageous stand and model of pastoral leadership of Roman Catholic Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, who spoke before a rally organized by the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) and the Family Research Council, which “seeks to send "a clear message to every level of society that a majority of Americans still stand for marriage as it has been traditionally and historically defined and handed down through the centuries."” [http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/06/17/san-francisco-archbishop-anti-gay_n_5503044.html]. All orthodox Christians, must be either teachers or defenders of the teaching of Christ and His Church on such a moral issue.
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V. Rev. Fr. George Morelli Ph.D. is a licensed Clinical Psychologist and Marriage and Family Therapist.
He is the Coordinator of the Chaplaincy and Pastoral Counseling Ministry of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese and Religion Coordinator (and Antiochian Archdiocesan Liaison) of the Orthodox Christian Association of Medicine, Psychology and Religion.
Fr. Morelli is also Assistant Pastor of St. George's Antiochian Orthodox Church, San Diego, California.
Fr. Morelli is the author of: