THE ‘MINISTRY’ and the LAITYHome > Spirituality > THE ‘MINISTRY’ and the LAITY
Word Magazine May 1965 Page 10-12
THE ‘MINISTRY’ and the LAITY
By Henry C. Allan, Jr , of Chicago, Illinois
An otherwise well-informed and highly articulate Orthodox expressed skepticism and doubt when the writer recently spoke with him in terms of a “lay ministry” or the “ministry” of the laity in the Orthodox Church. For this individual — as with most Orthodox — a “lay” minister is almost a contradiction in terms. An Orthodox layman does not “minister” anything to anyone and an Orthodox “minister” is certainly not a layman!
Yet a “lay minister” is precisely that: A Christian layman exercising a ministry of one sort or another: Christian men and women (let’s not exclude the ladies, bless them!) functioning as “ministers” of our venerable and holy Church, actually performing duties or services as a regular
part of their Christian discipleship.
Is the “lay ministry” some sort of new notion, or something borrowed from the Protestants? Is it some novel “American” experiment? The history of the Apostolic period and the 1st Century of the Christian era would indicate otherwise. In fact, and as a matter of record, the Early Church was characterized by (1.) a broadly diversified ministry on the part of the first Orthodox bishops, priests and deacons and (2.) almost universal involvement and participation by the Orthodox laity. They, too, “ministered” in the Church. They, too, had jobs and duties to perform.
The development of the Church’s ministry followed this general outline: Soon after the miracle of Pentecost, a “division of labor” gradually took form in the Christian Orthodox Church. That is, members of the Christian community — in Palestine, Syria, Greece, Asia Minor, Africa, India, etc. — were assigned, volunteered for and otherwise accepted various duties in the Church. St. Paul, writing to the Orthodox of Ephesus declared that our Lord Himself assigned “some apostles, and some, prophets, and some, evangelists and some, pastors, and teachers.” (EPH. 4:11). Note the various categories: apostles (bishops), prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. Instructing the Orthodox of Collosae, the Great Apostle (Paul) proclaimed that God “hath set some in the Church, first Apostles, secondarily, prophet, thirdly, teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healing, helps, governments, diversities of tongues.” Elsewhere in the New Testament, references are made to bishops, elders and deacons.
The development of the Diaconate — and the outstanding ministry of several of the first Deacons — illustrates the diversified nature of the Apostolic Ministry and the “involvement” of all Christians in the duties and functions of the Orthodox Church. The Book of Acts recounts how, as converts were added daily to the Church, great pressure was exerted upon the Apostles to concentrate their efforts in the realm of preaching, teaching and organizing new congregations. They agreed to give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the Word (Acts 6:4)” but, before limiting their discipleship to these concerns, they selected 7 worthy men — Stephen, Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor Timon, Parmenas and Nicholas of Antioch. The apostles “laid their hands on them” (Acts 6:6) and ordained them deacons. These new “ministers” were given the task and prime responsibility of ministering to the poor, the sick, the infirm and the aged. The charitable work of the Church was their basic job!
It is not difficult to trace the pattern of Apostolic organization in St. Luke’s story of the Orthodox Church in the Book of Acts. Plainly, the “ministry” — as we now understand the terms as being Church offices or duties assigned in perpetuity (and sanctified by ordination) — was highly diversified. Some Orthodox were apostles, some elders, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors, some teachers, some bishops (as distinct from the apostles) and some deacons. Obviously, certain of these ecclesiastical offices “overlapped,” but it is equally obvious that most everyone — if not everyone had an assigned function in the Church. The “ministry” of the Orthodox Church in the Apostolic era and probably into the 2nd century was “shared” generously by the entire Christian community. If you were a baptized member of the Church, you were a disciple, automatically, and a disciple was not just a person with a “membership” or an “affiliation,” but a worker and a minister of some sort or other. He or She was a teacher, possibly, or an evangelist or a prophet or a deacon (or deaconess). Everybody participated and everybody worked for their Church!
One cannot read the annals of the Early Church without concluding that the organization or polity of our Orthodox Church was loosely defined. Likewise, the “division of labor’’ among Christians was not sharply differentiated. That is, apostles and elders seemed to do much the same work in many newly-converted Orthodox communities. Prophecy was not strictly confined to one order of clergy or ministers. The Apostle Paul functioned in many capacities — as bishop (overseer), evangelist, teacher, etc. Interestingly enough, this energetic man found time to support himself by working at his trade of tent-making, in addition to all his other activity. There was much overlapping as these Orthodox men and women performed a multiplicity of tasks in their dedication to the job of establishing and nurturing new Christian congregations .St. Philip, one of the 7 deacons ordained by the apostles, tended to his work of helping the poor, the sick, etc. In addition, however, St. Philip journeyed to the city of Samaria (see Acts 8:5) and there preached the Gospel. Later, in Gaza, St. Philip taught the Ethiopian Eunuch, a man high in the
court of Queen Candace. In the 8th Chapter of Acts (Acts 8: 38), St. Luke writes that “… he commanded the chariot to stand still. And they went down into the water, both Philip and the Eunuch, and he (Philip) baptized him.” Here is an instance of a Deacon administering Sacraments. St. Stephen, also a Deacon, was an eloquent preacher whose bombastic sermons led to his death by stoning. He was, of course, one of the first of the Christian martyrs.
Subsequent centuries witnessed an enormous expansion of the Christian Church. As the political “climate” changed in the favor of the Church, Orthodoxy became institutionalized and “big.” It became the “state” religion or the “established” faith in many lands. In other countries, the Church, as a significant minority, made its “peace” with the kings and rulers. Firm allegiances were consummated with emperors and monarchies in both East and West. Gradually, a hierarchy developed in the Orthodox Church with distinct ranks and orders of clergy. Honorary positions were established. For the first time, there emerged the “professional” clergyman, the man who made a career of service to the Church. As these full-time priests and bishops assumed more and more duties, the laity and the so-called “lesser” clergy (i.e., Deacons. Deaconesses, Sub-Deacons, Lectors and others in “minor” Orders) were reduced both in numbers and in participation in the ministry of the Orthodox Church. The separation between clergy and laity—barely perceptible in the days of the Apostles and long after — began to steadily widen. Some aspects of “separation” were considered desirable by the hierarchy and were encouraged by such innovations as (1.) celibacy (not even applicable to bishops in the Early Church!) See 1st Timothy 3:2., (2.) distinct garb or uniform for bishops and priests and (3.) special titles and names for the clergy.
“Separation” of Orthodox clergy and people coupled with increasing clerical “professionalism,” has been heightened and intensified in 20th Century America. Of course, the same could be said for the Roman Catholics, the Episcopalians and a number of Protestant bodies. 50 years ago, in both Europe and America, a parish priest administered the Sacraments, did all the preaching, supervised and sometimes personally handled the teaching chores and attended to various and sundry administrative tasks. Today, however, the parish priest is also “expert”— or is expected to be in fund-raising, public relations, publicity — promotion, counseling and guidance, real estate, building maintenance and other areas of parochial concern, plus the so-called “traditional” duties of the pastor. It is utterly fantastic!
And what of the laity? Well, in most Christian Communions, the Orthodox included, laymen attend services (in varying degrees of regularity!), “affiliate” with this parish or that — whichever tickles their fancy, make cash contributions which generally are less than they spend on booze, tobacco, hi-fi’s and other extravagances. They passively half-watch and half-listen to the Mass or other corporate worship and, beyond an occasional “committee assignment” (on some vital redemptive work like a bake sale, car raffle, rummage sale or card party), do absolutely nothing for the Kingdom of God — and exercise nothing that even faintly resembles a “discipleship” to Christ.
Restoration of the Lay Ministry — and the widespread ordination of “non-professional” priests and deacons (for isolated mission congregations and to help over-burdened parish clergy) would have a profound impact upon the Orthodox Church and upon American society! The rest of the Orthodox world would be forced to sit up and take notice. For a switch, the American Church would be “calling the signals” and setting the pace! Can you imagine: instead of just one, lone completely involved Christian in a given town or neighborhood — instead of just the priest
— we could have 10 or 15 or 20 informed Christian “workers” or “ministers.” Instead of just the pastor “carrying the ball” (and running his own “interference!”), we Orthodox would have extra priests (mature, self-employed Christians to assist our pastors in administering the Sacraments). We’d have a number of Deacons, permanent and “perpetual” clergymen — as in the days of the Holy Apostles — to give leadership and direction in the areas of helping the poor, ministering to the sick, etc. and a cadre of permanent and trained teachers of the Faith, ordained for this purpose, well-versed in their Orthodoxy and articulate in the classroom and other “learning” situations. There would also be more people on the “team”: lay-preachers (lawyers, doctors, dentists, college professors, teachers, Y.M.C.A. secretaries, social workers, etc.) who, schooled in the basic tenets of Orthodoxy and Biblical studies, could “spell” the pastor in the pulpit on various occasions. And how effectively could the Orthodox Church utilize those men and women with business and sales backgrounds. How protective these Orthodox would he as lay evangelists: Christians who could really “sell” the Faith and attract potential converts! Conservatively speaking, the leadership of our Church could be multiplied twenty times over! The great “reservoir” of heretofore untapped talent would be blasted wide open! The “involvement of all Orthodox in their Church would be increased.
The question was recently raised on a public affairs TV program as to the frightening effectiveness of World Communism, especially as its views regarding religion and the family are so extreme and “revolutionary.” Someone inquired why it was that Communism has, since the conclusion of World War II, engulfed almost a quarter of the world’s surface. One major factor is most certainly the total and complete dedication and “involvement (that word, again!) of every member of the Communist Party. In the writer’s college days at the University of Iowa, he knew several Marxists intimately and others slightly. Recognizing that these were undergraduate and graduate college students, still every Marxist, male or female, qualified as extremely competent “apologists” for their “religion.” They all spoke knowledgeably and enthusiastically regarding their doctrines and their dogmas. Everyone of them was a “minister” of the Red Gospel —and highly effective, at that.
In Communist organizations, members are often assigned to small, “action” groups known as “cells.” If there are 20 people in such a “cell,” the Party expects 20 workers for the Communist Cause. Not 19 and not 15 and not 10, but 20 — all of them! Nobody “freeloads.” Nobody goes along for the ride. Nobody is simply “carried” on the membership rolls. No one simply “affiliates” with this religion — and does nothing about it.
How is it with us Orthodox? How many of us can really talk, argue, dispute and defend our faith? How many “preachers” and “teachers” do we now have in our parishes? One? The priest? Too often, this is precisely the case.
It is a grievous commentary on our times and on our religion when Orthodox Christians are forced by ignorance and indifference to direct inquirers to the parish priest to answer even the most fundamental questions about their faith. “Go see Father George, he’ll tell you,” or “Talk to our priest, he’ll know the answers to your questions.”
How would a pastor function in a parish blessed with “auxiliary” priests, with deacons, with deaconesses and with lay preachers, lay evangelists, teachers, etc.? He would, of course, retain the prime responsibility for the administration of the Sacraments — and he would continue to discharge his fundamental teaching and preaching ministry. In addition, however, he would act as a parochial “coordinator,” a mentor and instructor for all other “ministers” of the parish. He would be a prime resource for them all. He would “trouble-shoot” in any area of parish life requiring his specialized skills and experience. He would serve as a sort of “catalyst” in the congregation. Having more “hands” to help him in a number of aspects of parochial life, he could cover much more ground and yet be free to concentrate his efforts wherever and whenever he saw fit.
On what basis and by what criteria might these “auxiliary” priests and permanent deacons be selected for ordination? Certainly, our Metropolitan-Archbishop would consider the Apostolic qualifications set forth in the 1st Epistle to Timothy (i.e. “…grave, not double-tongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre, holding the mystery of the faith in pure conscience.”) Older, mature men who have, over the years proven these attributes and who have worked faithfully for Orthodoxy, would undoubtedly receive first consideration. Academic backgrounds — although a college degree may not be required — professional and business experience would also be weighed. Marital and domestic situations would also be a consideration. Persons ordained to the so-called “minor” Orders would likewise be carefully selected, although perhaps with somewhat less rigidity.
There is both Scriptural and Traditional “precedent” for (1.) a highly diversified clergy with many types of Orthodox “ministers” and (2.) for a “lay ministry,” with laymen functioning in permanent offices and capacities and discharging a meaningful “discipleship.” It existed in the Apostolic era! It continued to exist in the 1st Century and beyond. It is more than just a coincidence that in no period of its history was the Church more dynamic, more dedicated, more aggressive and more relevant.
In 1965, the world has a dire need for a vital Christianity, for a relevant faith that squarely faces up to the problems and the sickness of our age. It is manifestly apparent that this “re-birth”
cannot be done with a handful of clergy, dragging a. great mass of inactive, ignorant and uninspired laity behind them! It is possible, however, that a “return” to a type of Apostolic Ministry might trigger a return to Apostolic vitality, zeal and dedication.