Chapter 15 -
The place of the laity in the the Church
1. The regal priesthood
God had chosen
Israel, to make it His "chosen people... a royal priesthood and a holy
nation" (Exod.19:5-6). Through the mouth of Isaiah He said "...you
shall be called priests of the Lord, ministers of God..."
"Say to my
daughter Sion: 'See, your Savior comes to you, having his own reward and his
work before him.' And he shall call it a holy people, redeemed by the Lord,
and you shall be called 'A City Sought After and Not Forsaken.' ”(Isaiah 62:11-12).
These testimonies of
the Old Testament which refer to God's chosen people are invaluable, because
they are a fore impression of the place of God's new people - that is, of
Christians. This is because the people of Israel are a depiction of the
Church (cmp. Gal.4:21-31, Rom.4:1-25, 9:6-8)
"You also" -
says the Apostle Peter characteristically - "as living stones,
are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up
spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ."
These passages do
not refer to a certain class of Christians, but to all the faithful who
comprise the spiritual edifice of the Church, with Christ Himself - our
first-born brother - as Her cornerstone and head (Eph.1:22, 5, Col.1:18)
Christ is the "ruler over
the kings of the earth", Who
"has made us kings and priests
to His God and Father"
(Rev.1:5-6) so that we
might "reign on the earth" (Rev.5:10).
All the above
testify to the uppermost honour - but also the huge responsibility - of
every faithful in the Church. A unique honour and responsibility!
2. A Priest, over one's own body
A faithful Christian
is a Priest to his own body and to his entire existence. He is called
upon to offer himself and all of his works as sacrifice to God and - along
with them - all of Creation, upon which he was placed by God as its ruler
beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present
your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which
is your reasonable service"
says the Apostle Paul (Rom.12:1)
Man's entire life
becomes a perpetual sacrifice to God - a perpetual Divine Liturgy.
A man of God ceases
to think and act selfishly, with his own calculations and personal interest
at his core - the way the first-fashioned people acted when they fell into
the devil's tempting proposal. Man once again places God's will and the
Lord's glory at his core. (1 Cor.6:20).
personal life becomes a continuous testimony of God's presence and activity
within man, so that should anyone examine his way of life, one will effortlessly
come to the conclusion that Christ lives inside him; that he is not a
conventional person but rather, a citizen of God's kingdom. His works
and his entire life thus become a perpetual divine Liturgy, thus re-acquiring their first meaning, which they had in God's Paradise. (Matth.5:16, 1
When man processes
Nature, when he discovers and subjugates Nature's powers, when he transforms
everything around him, he no longer does it for his own sake but does it for
his brethren and - subsequently - he offers them, through them, to
Christ, as thanks. (Proverbs 19:17, Matth.25:40, 2 Cor. 9:12-15).
whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that
from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for
you serve the Lord Christ»
In the Holy Bible
there are many passages that mention how mercy and practiced love towards
brethren precede every other expression of worship and in fact, that without
them, the worship of God is rendered futile. (Hos.6:6, 1 Kings 15:22, Matth.9:13, 5:23-24,
Mark 11:25, James 1:27,
The Prophet Isaiah
refers to true fasting and underlines the glorifying significance of one's
offering to a brother:
your bread with the one who is hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your
house; if you see one naked, clothe him, and you shall not neglect any of
the relatives of your seed. Then your light shall break forth early in the
morning, and your healings shall rise quickly, and your righteousness shall
go before you, and the glory of God shall cover you. Then you shall cry out,
and God will listen to you; while you are still speaking, he will say, Here
Man thus offers his
goods, the fruits of his labours, as thanks to God - as for example the
bread and the wine for the Divine Eucharist: «Thine own of Thine own do we
offer Thee, of everything and for everything!» Bread and wine are
gifts of God and at the same time are the fruits of man's labours.
This labour therefore is what man offers as a sacrifice to God, through his
brethren (Proverbs 19:17, Matth.25:40).
Says the Prophet
David: «...because all things are yours and of your own have we given
you, because we are resident aliens before you and live as resident aliens,
like all our fathers. Our days on earth are like a shadow, and there
is no endurance. Lord, our God, all this abundance that I have made ready,
so that a house to your holy name be built, is from your hand, and all
things belong to you...» (1 Chron.29:14-16).
This place of man
within Creation reveals to us that the reborn person cannot ever be against
progress and science. What he is called upon to avoid - at all cost - is the
devil's temptations in our day and age - that is, the selfish use of
Creation and the powers of God's Creation. Man is not called upon to
return to a way of life that is characteristic of a rural society; he is
obliged to utilize all of his powers to contribute towards the progress of
Science and technique. At the same time however, he is called upon to
infuse all of his works with the Spirit of God and to render them all a
source of glorification of God's Name. (1 Cor.6:20).
«Take heed for
yourself lest you forget the Lord your God, so as not to keep his
commandments and his judgments and his statutes, which I command you today.
Lest, when you have eaten and been filled and, having built fine houses and
lived in them, and when your oxen and sheep have multiplied and when silver
and gold have been multiplied to you and when all that you own has been
multiplied to you, you become exalted in heart and forget the Lord your God,
who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of a house of slavery, who led
you through that great and fearsome wilderness, where there was a biting
snake and a scorpion and thirst, where there was no water, who brought out
for you from flint rock a spring of water, who fed you with manna in the
wilderness that your fathers did not know so that he might distress you and
test you, that you might do well at your end. Do not say in your heart, “My
strength and the mastery of my hand have produced for me this great power.”
And you shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you
strength to produce power—and so that he may uphold his covenant that he
swore to your fathers, as today» (Deuter.8:11-18. Cmp. also 11:16).
3. A Priest, over God's Creation
The aforementioned also reveal
that man feels himself as responsible for God's Creation and once again
hearkens to God's voice, which places him in Paradise with the instruction
to toil in it and to place it at the service of the brethren - in other
words, to make him an instrument for the glorification of God (Gen.2:15).
Spiritual man - the
man of New Creation, who is anointed a king and a son of the Kingdom - is no
longer at a distance from God's Creation. He has found his proper
place in it: the place that Adam had, prior to his fall.
«If one attains
cleansing», according to the maxims of the desert Fathers, «everything will
we subjugated to him, as they were to Adam when he was in Paradise, before
he transgressed God's commandment» (Paul). And saint Isaac the Syrian adds
that the faith in God by the righteous one "transforms the beasts of the
forest into harmless lambs».
This regal and
hieratic authority of man over God's other creations, and his deep sense of
responsibility towards them, can be seen in the lives of the Saints of our
Church. The sacred Book of Saints (the "Synaxarion") for example
contains the following, touching incident pertaining to the blessed Hossios
«Once when he had ascended the mountain together with the Monastery's donkey
to cut and collect wood in the forest, a bear attacked and wounded the
donkey's hindquarters. The blessed Koprios then ordered the bear to remain
still and loaded the wood onto its back instead, saying "I will not set you
free yet, but instead,
because you wounded it,
you will undertake the donkey's chore from now on, until it is completely
healed!" The bear submitted to his command and thereafter carried the
wood». We see here how the man of God reigns supreme once again among
the animals; naturally not in any arbitrary manner and for personal and
selfish reasons, but in order to impose order and harmony in God's Creation.
Also characteristic is the following incident from the life of Anthony the
Great, as narrated by his disciples to Saint Hilarion during a visit to the
orchard of the Saint's monastery:
«When our blessed
Father Anthony had originally planted those trees, wild animals would cause
serious damages whenever they came to the nearby river to drink, by also
trampling over his garden. One time, when the saint spotted them coming, he
took a stick and approached one of the animals (which appeared to be the
protector of the others) and ordered it to leave. And - oh, the miracle! -
the beast stood still in its tracks, the saint tapped its sides with the
stick very humbly, saying: "Why are you wronging me, who has not in the
least wronged you? Why are you eating the fruits for which you did not toil?
Leave, therefore, and do not ever enter this orchard again!" Thus he
spoke, and from that moment on, they never again entered the orchard, but
would only drink water from the river and leave».
4. A proclaimer of God's Kingdom
you go, and preach the kingdom of God»,
as Christ tells us (Luke 9:60). A Christian's entire life becomes a cause
for God's name to be glorified among mankind (Matth.5:16, 1 Cor.10:31, 1 Pet.2:11-12)
- namely, so that those who are not in the Church might come to the upright
faith. Thus a Christian's life becomes judgment for the world and a call for
awareness of the truth.
«Go forth and teach all nations!» (Matth.28:19), Christ had said.
Our Church has set down that this excerpt be recited during the Mystery
(sacrament) of Holy Chrismation. This has been thus decided, for the purpose
of declaring that this calling by Christ is addressed to every baptized
Christian. Christ did not come in order to save a certain number
of "elect" - as asserted by certain people who are deluded. He came
for the salvation of all people (1 Tim.2:4). All people are invited to
become sons of Christ's heavenly kingdom. Therefore, if we desire that
the Lord's will be done, we must toil for the salvation of our brethren. «And
other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and
they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one
(John 10:16, Cmp.Isaiah 66:19).
Each and every
be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope
that is in you»;
however, as the Apostle says, you must do it «with
meekness and fear; having a good conscience, that when they defame you as
evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed» (1
Peter 3:15-16). «Let your
speech always be with grace,
seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one»
To the faithful, there is only
one who constitutes certain hope:
Christ (2 Cor.1:6;
Tit.1:2-3; 1 John 3:3). Apart from Christ, there is no hope for mankind (see
1 Thess.4:13, Ephes.2:12). Therefore, how can a faithful Christian be
indifferent and not strive to spread the only hope to as many other people
as possible? This opus is not simply the will of God; it is also the
best possible proof of our love for God (see 1 John 3:17, 4:7-8 and 20;
Ezek.3:16-21, 33:1-20). It is furthermore a witness of the genuineness of
the upright faith and the Christian way of life. If we remain
steadfast in that unique hope, we become inflamed with the desire for the
salvation of our brethren and are unable to rest while people who are around
us - our brethren - are still dwelling in indifference and in delusion, and
are left outside that hope.
if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let
him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a
soul from death and cover a multitude of sins»,
says the Apostle James (James 5:19-20. cmp also 1:5, Luke 15:24, 32).
therefore of a brother who is in utmost danger does not allow for any
postponement and indifference. «From our neighbour is life and death», says
Abba Antonios, «for if we win our brother, we win God» (cmp. Ezek.3:16-21, 33:1-20).
If we remain
indifferent, this signifies that we perhaps lack the courage to confess, or
that this hope is not solidly founded inside us.
In the first case, we need to
recall the words of the Lord, Who says that He will confess before the
Father each one of us who confesses Him before people, whereas He will deny
the ones who do not have the courage to confess Him or who deny Him before
people (see Matth. 10:32-33; Mark 8:38; Luke 9:26, 12:8-9, 2 Timoth.2:12).
In the second case, we need always keep in mind the words in the Book of
could wish you were either cold or hot. But, because you are lukewarm, and
neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth» (Revel.3:16).
Characteristic are the words of Philaret, Metropolitan of Moscow on this
matter: «If you refuse to be taught and to teach, you are not a disciple of
the Lord. What are you then? I do not know, just as I also do not know what
will become of you in the present life and in the one to come» (cmp. Jerem.20:9;
Ezek.3:16-21, 33:1-20; 1 Cor.9:16).