Orthodox Outlet for Dogmatic Enquiries Essays about Orthodoxy and Protestantism

The successors to the Apostles // The status of Priesthood in the officiators of the Lord’s Church

General and specialized clergy

I recently read a book with the theme: “Who are priests?” which supposedly proves that the way the Orthodox Church functions is erroneous.  So, I would like to submit some observations on some of the arguments of this book.

When we want to disprove a viewpoint, it is not proper to write our own theories as to what others believe in, and then disprove that which WE think they believe in. The correct way is to discredit (if possible) that which they actually believe in.

This unacceptable phenomenon is almost always observed with regard to the Orthodox Church: Someone writes a personal theory as to what the Church believes in, and then proceeds to discredit this imaginary dogma. This is what happened in the book I am referring to, so, I must put certain details on this topic in order, so that no false impressions are left behind.

The word “priest” – which we Orthodox maintain that it refers to every Christian – given that all Christians are the “regal priesthood”.

In the Orthodox Church the expression: “specialized clergy” has a METAPHORICAL meaning only. In other words, there is no THEOLOGICAL difference between the terms “specialized” and “general” clergy. In fact, there is no difference whatsoever; because what we call “specialized clergy” is a “function” which, like the so-called “general” clergy, springs from Christ Himself, Who is our only priest.

This is also where the solution lies, to the issue that confuses our Protestant accusers. Christ is the Head of the Church and the Church is His BODY. Consequently, when every Christian becomes “Christened” (“all of you be in one Jesus Christ”), he partakes of the hieratic office of the Lord. But because all Christians are “each others’ members” in the Body of Christ, they have VARIOUS FUNCTIONS within that body. Of this “regal priesthood”, some perform the duties of the Laity (“general clergy”) and others the duties of Deacon, Presbyter or Bishop.

Thus, those who have the duties of the Laity (from where the term ‘liturgy’ = ‘mission for the laity’ is derived) cannot perform the Divine Eucharist without the member that is called ‘Presbyter’ or ‘Bishop’, but equally, NEITHER THE PRESBYTER NOR THE BISHOP can perform the Divine Eucharist without the Laity (as opposed to Papists, with whom Protestants confuse Orthodoxy). That which must be understood, is that the bloodless sacrifice is not performed by the Presbyter or the Bishop, but THE LAITY. The so-called “specialized clergy” is the LAITY’S HANDS in that ritual. During that moment of sacrificing, they offer their sacrifice to God, ON BEHALF OF THE ENTIRE BODY OF THE CHURCH.

At this point, we should respond to another unjust accusation.  When we say ‘bloodless sacrifice’ WE ARE NOT performing a repetition of the Lord’s sacrifice.  We are offering the Lord a portion of material creation, AS PRIESTS (all Christians); in other words we are offering bread and wine, which is why we say “we offer unto You these (offerings) that belong to your creations”. Our offering therefore is bread and wine, and not a sacrificing of Christ as Protestants falsely accuse us. The hieratic SIMILE of the so-called “specialized clergy” is the following: Since we give the title of ‘priest’ to someone who offers something for others’ sakes, then THE PART OF THE CHURCH’S BODY that offers something on behalf of others is called “priest”, without this signifying that the others are not also PRIESTS.

But before we refer to the hieratic offer of the (general) “regal priesthood” (=the Church), we need to rectify another two serious misconceptions that we found in the aforementioned book (without this signifying that the mistakes are limited to these two points).

First misconception:  There is a certain confusion between the “transubstantiation” of the Papists and the “transformation” of the Orthodox. We do not speak of transubstantiation, but of transformation.

Second misconception:  The repetition of the Divine Eucharist does not signify a repetition of the “once occurring” sacrifice of the Lord, but our PARTICIPATION in it. We must note here that in Church, we speak of the “Liturgical Time”, i.e., of the entry of the divine offerings into the never-setting day of the Lord, where there is no past and no future, but only an ETERNAL PRESENT, as time itself is abolished. Thus, the participant of the Divine Eucharist is TRANSPORTED to the “ONCE OCCURRING” sacrifice of the Lord and the sacrifice itself is not repeated.

As regards the concept of the so-called “specialized clergy’s” offer – beyond the bread and the wine that we offer in the divine Liturgy, (because God is the One Who ‘sends back’ Divine Grace, and transforms the bread and the wine into the “once only” sacrificed body and blood of the Lord), it is as follows:

Every single Christian, as part of creation, offers creation back to God. Mainly by offering their “bodies as living sacrifice” to God.  Through mankind, through its priest, creation is offering something to God and man offers prayers for creation. Let us see what saint Isaac the Syrian has to say on this matter:

“And what is a merciful heart? It is the burning of the heart for the sake of all creation, for the sake of mankind and the fowl and the animals and the demons and for the sake of every creation. And from the remembrance of these, and the sight of them, one’s eyes brim with tears. From the overwhelming, intense mercy that has overtaken the heart, and from the prolonged patience, one’s heart is diminished, and it cannot bear or listen to or see any harm or any slight grief occurring in creation. And this is why he tearfully offers up prayers, at any time, for the sake of unreasoning beasts and the sake of the enemies of the truth and the sake of those who do him harm, so that God may preserve them and pity them. Similarly, for the sake of serpents’ nature, out of the plentiful mercy that moves within his heart; immeasurably, in the semblance of God.” Isaac the Syrian “The discovered ascetic words” Homily 81.

Before closing this topic, I shall refer to one more thing, which is the responsibility of the unworthy “specialized clergy”, since it is mentioned in that book.

Since the one offering is not the Presbyter or the Bishop or the Deacon, but the Laity, the assertion that “the liturgy of an unworthy Clergyman is an abomination” does not apply, unless there is NOT EVEN ONE worthy officiator (according to God’s judgment and mercy of course). Therefore if there is even one in the Congregation who is worthy, the Divine Eucharist is valid. And of course it is not for any Protestant to say who is worthy; not even a Christian.

And I would like to clarify that, all the time that I have been referring to a Christian belonging to the “regal priesthood”, I have been speaking ONLY of those who are “borne by the Spirit of God” which speaks within them “Abba the Father” and no-one else, be they Orthodox or Evangelist or whatever else.

Text: N.M.

Translation by A.N.

Greek text

Article published in English on: 9-8-2005.

Last update: 13-6-2007.