The Church consists of clergy and laity, and both of them function and are bound together by the laws which the Church’s absolute high priest and ruler, our Lord Jesus Christ, appointed in her. Through the holy ecumenical councils and the local synods, the Holy Spirit made decrees in harmony with the fundamental law which Christ appointed in the Church. If we divide the concept of the Church into her component parts, we come to the conclusion that there are these three elements:
- The clergy;
- The laity;
- The law.
From the combination of these elements, the form of the Church takes shape. If from these three elements we deduct one, we put an end to the concept of the Church altogether; neither is there a Church any more, nor can there be. The essential element in the Church is the order of clergy. The laity is equally vital; but it is the law that binds the two together morally and spiritually.
The name clergy (kliros, literally “lot”) is given to those who have been entrusted by God with an allotted charge – the ministry of the Word and the Mysteries of God for the salvation of the lay people, and who have a mission from God to guide the people to the light of the knowledge of God and the truth, to have oversight and be in charge of, and to work to accomplish the salvation of man for whom Christ died. The priests of the Word and of the Mysteries of God have been called clergy and clerics because they have been summoned to the great work of the salvation of man, for they continue and carry forward the work of Christ and the apostles by being allotted the task by divine choice. St. Paul stated that ”. . . no man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron” (Hebrews 5:4).
God the Father called to the task of man’s salvation, one able to save and possessed of the qualities necessary to assist in that great task. He summoned Jesus Christ and entrusted unto Him the great work of redemption. Christ both accepted the divine task willingly and carried it out faithfully. He succeeded as our high priest, and performed several divine accomplishments:
- He Himself observed every law and did all that was correct, and thus He incurred no blame or reproach;
- By word and deed He gave man the finest and ultimate teaching, and by His life and example, as well as by His words, formulated the law for us;
- He was offered upon the Cross and gave Himself as an eternal sacrifice for the eternal redemption of those who eternally choose the good;
- He entrusted unto believers the Mysteries of the Church, thereby providing for our spiritual communion with God.
For the further growth of the Church, Christ – who both accomplished His own task and laid the foundation of the building, Himself becoming the chief cornerstone of the Church – called the apostles according to the same law by which He also summoned Simon Peter and Andrew. “Follow me.” He said unto them, “and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19). Consequently, the apostles abandoned their nets and followed Him. They gladly heeded the words of Christ, and accepted His call without question, for they were chosen instruments worthy of respect, and tools well fitted for the task of the salvation of souls.
Such a selection and calling by God cannot err. After being appointed by Christ to search for those spiritual fishes who were in the world of sin, the apostles also received the Holy Spirit, and led the way in the sacred work of building up the Church of God. Indeed, they fulfilled numerous tasks of the sacred priesthood of the Church:
- They observed the Jaw of God and were justified in His sight as being blameless and pure in their way of life-men who became holy, though they commenced as common sinners;
- By word and deed they taught morals and virtue, and imparted the light of the true knowledge of God to the Church, for they were the light of the world;
- They celebrated the holy Mysteries which they received from Christ, the great high priest, according to the law ordained by Him;
- Finally, they died in spiritual combat, fighting against Satan and his agents and falsehood, on behalf of truth and virtue for the salvation of men and the holiness of the Church.
As was the calling of the apostles and their election to the supreme task of the salvation of souls, so also should be the calling and election of their successors. One who is called to the priesthood of the work of salvation should be designated by God and the pious faithful of the Church. He should be ready and willing, capable of devotion, one who aspires to the office of bishop as a noble task (I Timothy 3:1). Moreover, he should be one of the saved, one of the saints-those who by word and deed manifest their Christian virtue and training. He should be blameless, above reproach, and sensible as St. Paul exhorted (I Timothy 3:2), an able preacher and teacher, inspiring both by his deeds and by his words.
The immediate successors of the apostles received from the apostles that which the latter received from Christ the saviour, and which Christ the Son received from God the Father and entrusted unto them. The Church was called apostolic, for she preserved the teachings which she received from the apostles and their successors. This is the reason for our confession of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, even though we are much reproached by the heterodox for allegedly abiding by the precepts of men and teachings which they mistakenly believe to be alien to the spirit and letter of the Gospel.
In the apostolic Church, the clergy neither received nor possessed any privilege derived from an essential distinction, for Christ explicitly forbade and stigmatized oppressive authority, the vain struggle for first place, and the precedence of rank. Christ proclaimed equality as a dogma in His Church, and maintained that he who bears authority in His Church – whether bishop, priest, or deacon – is nothing but a servant, ministering to the salvation of souls.
Moreover, he should fulfill his ministry according to the will and the law of Christ, the absolute lawgiver and authority. For in order to be valid, all ministry and service in the Church must be conducted according to the laws established in the Church, and must be in harmony with the will of God revealed through the Church. Otherwise, they are unworthy and must be allowed no place in the sacred precincts of the Church.
Thus the apostles and their immediate successors were simply priests and servants of the Mysteries of God and ministered to the salvation or the people: The standard by which they judged their activity and ministry was the will and law of God, and they exercised their ministry in obedience to it.
Between the called and chosen clergy and the faithful people, was established the law by which reciprocal duties and rights between clergy and laity were indicated and detailed. The clergy’s service lay in the salvation of the faithful and in guiding their progress along the way of piety. In turn, the laity ministered to the provision of the material necessities of the clergy, while reverencing them as fathers, because in a fatherly way, by word and deed, they were advised and guided by the priests toward a life of sobriety, righteousness, and godliness, and from them they received the foundation of their spiritual training.
They took the bishop, the priest, and the deacon as the standard for their conduct, and they had a clear, unspotted mirror of their way of life. The people saw holiness and virtue in the life, conduct, and words of the clergy, and therefore, they both respected them and supported them, and heeded them as the successors of the holy apostles who actually witnessed and heard the truth incarnate.
The apostolic Church, even though she did not have the large, inanimate iconostasis which separates the altar from the nave in contemporary Orthodox churches, nonetheless had as a huge, living iconostasis within the holy Church, the life of the bishop and priest and deacon – the exemplary conduct, with its close imitation of Christ, of these godly and saintly men whom the Church honoured and still honours rightly with the name holy fathers. The priests, therefore, were and still are, the living iconostasis of the Church, for the people look to them, especially those who cannot see clearly the beauty and truth of the Christian religion and Orthodox Church at their source, and thus confuse persons with things, the religion and Church with their priests and bishops.
Why did the Church, in the apostolic era not only have a laity which was godly, righteous, and wise, but also have bishops and priests who were worthy of their mission – true inheritors of the task, as well as of the virtue, of the apostles and holy fathers? It was because the divine rule about the calling and selection of the priests still was recognized as authoritative; hence no one seized the honour upon his own initiative. It was accepted only by one who was summoned by God, such as Aaron, the apostles, and their successors.
The successors of the apostles, with the aid of the pious faithful of the Church, elevated not just anyone to the ranks of the priesthood, but only those who were distinguished by godliness, piety, faith, sacrifice, virtue, wisdom, and skill in the work of salvation of souls. Wherever they discovered such a man, they implored him to accept the great office of priest or bishop, which he had been avoiding, conscious of the awesome dignity of the Mystery which he was called upon to minister as a successor of the holy apostles.
Therefore, both in the bishops who performed the ordinations and in the candidates for ordination, there was a sublime awareness of the value and mission of the priesthood as a lofty and living ideal. There also was a clear and precise understanding of the great summons toward the enlightenment and salvation of the souls of mankind. The priests seriously looked upon themselves as servants employed to minister unto the ill, and to bring those wounded and damaged by sin, into the therapeutic infirmary of the Church – for therein abides the great physician Himself, the Theanthropos, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit, who is and remains eternally within the Church.
Tragically, however, self interest and secular ambition infiltrated the ranks of the clergy, bringing with them carnal passions and desires. Ever since the episcopacy and the priesthood came to be viewed as professional careers, and piety as a means of gain – ever since Satan took reign over their innermost feelings and drove the spirit of truth from them, making them, in the language of St. Gregory the Theologian, money worshippers – the bishops and priests have become more and more unworthy of their mission (although some worthy clergymen do exist), and also have led the laity astray, both perishing together in a rushing, mighty torrent of corruption and profligacy.
Consequently, this is the true explanation of why both clergy and laity have been corrupted and degraded. No one any longer applies the justice of the Gospel and ecclesiastical law, and the guilty remain unpunished, and not only this, but even are rewarded and elevated to higher positions so that they might sin even more. Both laity and clergy are now abandoned beneath a great cloud of sin, for both have the law of God against them. The law of God is by no means in their favour, but continues to demand the removal of the guilty bishops and priests, and repentance by the people.
Evil multiplies when its perpetrators remain unpunished. The simony of many contemporary bishops bears witness to their lack of piety and faith, and to their utilitarian and materialistic outlook. Moreover, the extent to which – worthy of Caiaphas – they also persecute the zealous and godly priests and laity of Orthodoxy, bears witness to the cancerous heights to which evil rises when left unpunished, and the sinful people endure and accept this miserable situation.* They endure and accept the transgression of the holy laws of the Church. They have lost the sense of their mission and the awareness of their duties and rights.
Our inexcusable negligence, which bears witness to a lack of respect for the mother Church, inevitably will become a source and cause of incalculable disaster to our country, if we are not quick enough to rise against the violation of the holy laws and canons, do not punish the bishops who are guilty of simony, and do not protest against the existing illegalities. Today we are creating an act of protest by raising our voice against all breaches of the law in the Church and nation. Until now our voice has roused many from sloth and indifference. Before very long, we pray for the rising of the entire nation against the evil and lawlessness.
What are we seeking! Nothing less than the proper administration of the law, the reinforcement of justice, and the consolidation of the throne of truth and law. Whoever loves the Gospel and righteousness, whoever loves God’s covenant, let him side with us in the struggle. The war against evil is noble and is imposed as an obligation.
Let those who are aware of their duty align themselves on our side in this noble struggle against evil and falsehood. Only by doing away with the wrongs shall we save and strengthen our nation.
Editors’ note: Just as their simoniac forefathers, many false bishops today in western Europe and America persecute the godly priests and laity who reject the ecumenical movement and modernism, who adhere to the Orthodox (Julian) calendar, and who confess Christ and Orthodoxy without theological and political compromise, far from the ecumenical altars of the harlot parasynagogues of Satan.