BASIC DOGMATIC TEACHING
An Orthodox Handbook
by Protopresbyter Fr. Anthony Alevizopoulos (1931 – 1996)
Dr. of Theology, Dr. of Philosophy
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…” (Isaiah 61:6)
“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.” (1 Pet.2:5)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 (Gen.1:28-30). “I 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).
Each Christian’s 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 Cor.10:31)
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).
«And 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» (Coloss. 3:23-24).
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, 2:15 e.a.).
The Prophet Isaiah refers to true fasting and underlines the glorifying significance of one’s offering to a brother:
«Break 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 I am.» (Isaiah 58:7-9)
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 Koprios:
«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
«…but 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 shepherd» (John 10:16, Cmp.Isaiah 66:19).
Each and every Christian must «always 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» (Coloss.4:6).
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.
«Brethren, 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).
The salvation 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 Revelations: «I 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).