Word Magazine April/May 1966 Page 10-14



Currently much attention is being focused on the Church and the rela­tion her members have to the prin­cipal reason for her existence: to bear witness to the love of God our Father in the sin inundated world and to aspire to His heights of per­fection. And no discussion could be more pertinent during these times when so much thought is being di­rected in the area of the role of the layman in the Church. The layman has a vital role to perform and all too often he himself does not realize his potentiality as a definite asset to the furtherance of the cause of the Mystical Spouse and as an apostle to the world.

The sentiment of the Prince of the Apostles bears witness that our con­cept certainly is not analogous with that of Christ when he utters, “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should show forth the praises of Him who hath called you out of darkness unto His marvel­ous light.” (I Peter, 2:9.) It is sad indeed that the active apostolate of Christ’s ministry has been borne and exerted principally by those whom He has called, trained, and laid His hands upon in ordination and sent forth to teach in His holy name. The role of the layman has been misun­derstood and this ignorance has pre­cipitated adverse conditions in the Church that have resulted in serious threats to the very life and existence of the Mystical Spouse.

St. Peter expressed the mind of God when he captured in words for posterity the desire so close to the heart of Christ for the laity. He thus exalts the layman to a lofty compari­son with the glorious formal priest­hood of Christ. However, the lay­man is distinctly different from the priest only in that he has not been commissioned to teach officially and to lead others with the authority of Christ. But the layman must be a witness to the teachings of Christ made explicit by the priest. He is, as it were, an assistant to the sacerdotal ministry, an extension of it, simply because it is physically impos­sible for the priest to reach out in his human limitations to all places. And in this wise, the layman carries the torch, brings the shining example of Christ’s philosophy to the world.

In the sermon on the Mount, Christ addressed Himself to the world in general and to His followers in particular when He taught: . .“Ye are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has lost its savour, wherewith shall it be salted? It is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under the foot of men.” (MATT. 5:13) Not only is the layman obliged to live so that Christ will be loved and honored and the object of adoration the world over, but he is at the same time warned that unless he aspires to the high ideals Christianity demands of him, nothing less than an eternity in hell will result.

The layman’s objective is to real­ize his ultimate end; to save his soul and to enjoy the beatific vision after the final judgment. Everything else which comes to focus must be sub­jected to the final scrutiny of criteria which will judge whether or not the methods or means he employed will serve to bring him to the feet of God. And if the layman is sincerely zeal­ous for the salvation of his own soul, he will also be seriously concerned for the salvation of those about him. It is this that prompted Christ to teach, “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” (Matt. 5-16.) Else­where John bears witness to feelings we should possess in regards to one another: “He that loveth not his brother abideth in death.” (I John 3: 14.’) And if we love our brother, how can we not be solicitous for his eternal welfare?

The layman cannot be separated in duty and objective from the priest. His hopes and desires are congruent and integrally part of the aspirations, the dreams, and the hopes of the priest. The layman is in a particular advantageous position superior to the priest for carrying Christ into the world through the good example of his daily life. He witnesses to his Christian faith to the individuals in whose company he travels. The many and diverse duties incumbent upon the priestly office make it nearly im­possible for the priest to serve as ef­fectively in this apostolate as the lay­man. The layman is naturally “de­signed” by God for this task and it is not too remiss to conjecture that his impression, if it is favorably posi­tive and relates well to Christ’s life, will do more good for the Church and Christ’s cause than similar ef­forts exerted by the priest. This is simply so because the generality of people, whether or not they are cor­rect in this supposition, assume and expect the priest to be forever ex­emplary and do not consider an unusually good priest anything out of the ordinary, but presuppose such a condition naturally should exist. However, the layman, who is appeal­ing in the sight of God is looked upon far more favorably by his fel­lows because they can readily iden­tify him with themselves. And today, who can deny that the role of the layman is an understandably impor­tant one?

The Church does recognize the role of the laity and maintains that the widest possible use of their tal­ents should be made and recognizes the need for advise and help from the layman on a far from subservient plane. However, little sympathy can be accorded to the peculiar philoso­phy of those with an undue preoccu­pation on the part of some with quibbling about policy-making in the organizational life of the Church. The Church does foster the partici­pation of the laity in the apostolate of the hierarchy and numerous are the admonitions addressed to them by the episcopacy to assume a more active role in spreading the faith of Christ.

The very fact there is an im­mensely disproportionate misconcep­tion of the layman’s role bespeaks a failure on the part of the Church to illustrate effectively just what is ex­pected of her laymen. And so it is not any wonder that this very ill-con­ception has been the reason which has caused so much confusion, strife, chaos, and needless offense and in­sidious insults to be heaped in the face of God in all of our parishes. This is the principal reason much havoc has been wrought, the scene set for Satan to easily and effectively stir up evil in the hearts of the laity and cause much harm both spiritually and temporally to the Church and remain a problem of constant and serious concern to all who desire that the will of Christ be felt in our midst. These are times when deci­sions about the future of the Church must be resolved. Total misunder­standings about the positions of the layman in the Church by both lay­man and priests have too long flour­ished among us.

Yet in paradise was demonstrated the basic method by which men could be happy with God. And it was by disobedience that man sev­ered himself from the merciful Father in heaven, impaired his fac­ulties, and caused the stain of orig­inal sin to clothe the soul of his pro­geny to the consummation of the world. Since it was by disobedience to God’s will that man lost the op­portunity to a happy and blissful eternity, it is not unnatural that the means to bring about a restoration of this impairment is by subjection of his will to that of God or by be­ing obedient to Him in sincere and humble condescension to God’s de­sires for his life as expressed through His spouse, the Church. The Church has been established to accomplish this purpose. But man has disobedi­ently abandoned God’s will for him­self and espoused the cause of Satan.

The layman cannot be pitted against the priest nor can the con­verse expect to receive benediction from on high. This is a blatant viola­tion of basic Christian principles. Anything less than the ideal is not worthy of Christians as followers of Christ. For too long a time, now, laymen have exerted an undue influ­ence in the material and spiritual functioning of parishes without any Biblical injunction, theological basis, or canonical sanction for this prac­tice. The priesthood, which is sworn to uphold the sacred character of the Church has aided and abetted it by permitting the practice to per­sist. The affect on the Church, to say the least, has been dastardly dam­aging, not alone to its temporal or material progress, but what is far more important, the spiritual lives of the faithful are at stake, the destiny of their immortal souls is in danger and their eternal salvation is alarm­ingly imperiled.

What the layman must under­stand explicitly is that his eternal sal­vation is inexorably bound together with his healthy parochial attitude. What he thinks of his priest — for he must never forget, even for a mo­ment, the priest is another Christ — may well determine where he spends eternity. The sentiment advanced in the Old Law is expressive of the honor and love laymen should ac­cord the priest: “With all thy soul fear the Lord and reverence his priests.” (Ecc. 7:31.)

The influence of the layman can­not interfere in the fluent operation and functioning of Christ’s Church. The role of the layman has been su­perbly expressed in the words of a noted American ecclesiastic: “It is wrong to think of the laity as a dem­ocratic caucus and it is wrong to think of the Church as some kind of a celestial erector set or a kind of pousse-cafe’ with different non-fus­ing levels. The Church is organic— there is a continual flow of life blood of the Redeemer on all levels and through all levels. Can you conceive of asking the position of the many outstanding lay saints in the Church? Or the contributions many laymen have made? Would their contribu­-

tions have been notably greater if they had been granted a role in the parish policy-making? Let’s rise above the tawdry business of the role of the layman in parish supplies to the true role of the layman: the awe­some dignity and power that is his through the effects of the sacraments and translation of these sacramental graces into bearing witness before the world.”

The layman is not equipped, is not prepared, nor is he divinely endowed to transact the business of the Church. Nor should he even be in­terested in doing so unless his coop­eration and aid is solicited by the pastor. Too often policies determined by unqualified laymen have caused innumerable instances of damaging difficulty to the Church. The lay­man’s object is to reinforce the au­thority of the priest because it is the priest’s authority that gives basis to the role in which the layman is in­volved in working out his own salva­tion. Unless the priest be possessed of authority the layman is in danger of remaining sterile and impotent in his role. Unless the laity love and respect the priest, there cannot be a flourish­ing Church filled with pious faithful.

Obedience is the keystone of civil­ization, for it is the mother of order and without order nothing can exist. In tracing the history of civilization from the earliest times, we see shin­ing like threads of gold in the fabric of character development, the sterl­ing virtue of obedience. Long before the world was created, God struck the evil and rebellious disobedient from heaven and created hell as their domicile.

It is conceded and readily granted that it is the nature of man to be self-willed, to do what he wants to do, but he must learn to restrain himself; it is this which differentiates him from the animal. If there is no respect for authority, in time man will even lose respect for obedience to God and there are already in­creasing signs of this among us. The layman must realize his obligation of obedience to the Church as a neces­sary condition for a happy eternity.

In order to serve the Church, his fellow man, and above all, Almighty God Himself, the layman must serve as he is instructed to serve, he must obey the rules, the regulations and ordinances that have been laid down for the good of his religious society. The layman does not lower himself when he humbly condescends in obedience to the will of the Church. Just as a child is bettered by obeying the parents by overcoming a nega­tive trait the parents are desirous of eliminating from his character, so the layman, too, must comply with the Canons of the Church to remove the barriers keeping him from a blissful eternity.

The layman can never escape the obligation to obey, for in every walk of life, there is someone to whom he must owe obedience. It is good for him to train himself to obey the Church laws, regulations his priest might pass for the good of the parish, and the admonitions of his parents. Even kings must submit to parlia­ments, the president must submit to Congress, the priests to their bishops, who in turn are obedient to the Holy Fathers, the Patriarchs.

No one was more critical of the attitude of the Pharisees or more condemnatory of their outlook on life than Christ. No one denounced more vehemently their hypocrisy, no one loathed their practices more than the Saviour, but He demanded obedience to them because they were possessed of authority by God. He never declared because of their sin­fulness that they had lost God’s sanc­tioned right to teach and govern. And so he obliged His followers: “All things, therefore, whatever they shall say to you, observe and do.” (Matt. 23:2.)

In reality, the laity, in innumer­able instances have been obedient to the evil proddings of Satan. They have corporately cooperated in the degradation of the clergy and their authority. Eternal wisdom springs forth from the writings of the Old Testament to remind us that when we “ . . . smite the shepherd, the sheep will be scattered.” (Zechariah, 13:7.) What more effective means could Satan employ to divest God and His Church of its authority and imbue man with a strong sense of rebellion and irresponsibility towards lawfully constituted ecclesiastical au­thority than to place doubts in the minds of the laity about the priest? The devil is succeeding only because the laity is eager that he succeed. They have not taken too seriously the admonition by St. Paul to the Hebrews when they too questioned the authority of the priest: “Obey them that rule over you and submit yourselves for they watch over your souls and they must give an account, that they may give the account with joy and not with grief over you; for that is not profitable to you.” (He­brews, 13:17.)

Under the present conditions in the Church, how can the laity re­spect a priest if all his actions are curtailed by a group of laymen, which in no way is canonically sound? How can his parishioners honor him, respect him, and love him if he must subject himself to their scrutiny and approval? How can they respect him or of what au­thority is he possessed if he must in­gratiate himself with them to remain in the parish? How can they respect him if they have the power, super­seding that of the bishop, and thereby Christ’s, to hire and fire him at will if he dares to utter a truth which they find hard to hear and of­fensive, however moral and credible it may be? How much respect can the master have for the servant? How much respect can the laity have for the priest, if when finding need for some object necessary for his pas­toral ministration, he must secure ap­proval from them for its purchase? How can the laity love and adhere in obedience to Christ if they, by their actions, actually despise those whom He has sent: “As the Father sent Me, so I send you.” (John 20: 21.)

“And Christ drew near and spoke to them saying, ‘All power in heaven and on earth has been given to Me ‘ (Matt. 28:18.) Isn’t the Church presently in a contradictory situation? If Christ so speaks to His priests and ordains that they have “all power in heaven and on EARTH,” how is it that His priests are not allowed to function and fully exercise their priesthood? How is it that His priests have been degraded; and by those no less who refer to themselves as Christians! If the priest is another Christ as the Church teaches, how can he be dependent upon the popular support of the peo­ple? From what source does the priest derive his authority? Is it from the laity or from Christ? And yet there are those laymen who persist in approving or refusing a bishop’s pastoral appointment of a priest to a parish. This has come about be­cause we have placed and tested Christian principles by the vote. Once we try to prove Christian mor­ality by the results of the voting poll, we have lost Christ completely! Right and wrong can never be de­cided by the ballot!

How much can the scared heart of Christ endure? Was not the cru­cifixion enough? Must we continue by repeatedly inserting the spear into Christ’s side and bringing Him more and more anguish and sorrow by our continued refusal to follow His de­sires for us?

The priest is not subject to the laity, but is responsible to the bishop and he seriously sins who criticizes or causes difficulty for him or op­poses his plans or desires for the good of the parish. “He that despiseth you, despiseth Me, and he that des­piseth Me, despiseth Him that sent Me.” (Luke 19:11) “Touch ye not my anointed; and do not evil to my prophets.” (Psalms, 104: 15.)

Man was not created and placed on earth for a continual struggle, but to prepare himself for eventual un­ion with God. And there is a directed road to lead him towards this pur­pose. God has created man with a noble object — nothing short of life eternally with Him. But how can man attain this purpose under the principles being adhered to in many parishes? Are the churches, rather than a means to a glorious end, breeding places of the devil’s pollu­tion? Is it not true that the devil is exerting a definite influence among the laity and succeeding? Are not the laity, in their degradation of the venerable priesthood of Christ, co­operating capably and surrendering themselves to the will of the devil and assisting to duplicate on earth the despicable atrocious horror true of hell?

No one can claim ignorance as an excuse. Orthodox Catholics must in­vestigate the teachings of the Church and having been convinced of their veracity and credulity, must exert every effort and explore all means to bring about some semblance of order that will suggest they are followers of Christ. Of course, there will be those who insist the present day cir­cumstances are not causes of alarm and that the Church will weather the storm and that the conditions now prevalent should obtain. In this wise, attention can only be drawn to Christ’s own words: “Beware of false prophets which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves.” (MATT. 7: 15)

Christ taught “. . . not every man that saith to me, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter into the kingdom of heaven. Many will say to me in that day ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name. . . and in thy name, done many wonderful works?’” (MATT. 7:22) The very “duties” and “Offices” which so many laymen per­form about the church today, which have usurped and excluded the di­vinely commissioned authority of the priesthood will be the very means that will be utilized as a condemn­atory sentence to an eternity for them in hell.

The laity must always strive in its endeavors towards God’s love and holiness so that Christ’s words will not condemn them: “Ye hypocrites, by well did Issais prophesy of you say­ing: ‘These people draweth near un­to me with their mouths and honor­eth me with their lips; but their hearts are far from me. But in vain do they worship Me.’” (MATT. 15:7-9) “Full well you reject the com­mandment of God that you may keep your own traditions.” (MARK 7:9) Christ thus rebuked those who re­fused to accept Him and His teach­ings, preferring those of their own choosing. They thought they might dismiss Him insignificantly and for­get to consider as binding on the eternal destiny of their soul His pro­found admonitions. But they forget, as many often do, that once the truth has been heard, it remains for man to accept it or reject by disprov­ing it from Scriptures, Canon Law and Church History. Because the teachings here advanced are impos­sible to disavow, they are binding upon the conscience of all Orthodox Catholics and they must ardently espouse them and consider them­selves individually responsible to see that they are implemented into the life of every local parish, simply because “he that is of God, heareth God’s words.” (JOHN 8:47) If we do not accept the testimony of Christ’s teaching concerning priests and lay­men: “For the lips of the priest shall keep knowledge and they shall seek the law at his mouth; because he is the angel of the Lord of hosts,” (MALACHIAS, 2:7) “. . . ye therefore hear them not because ye are not of God.” (JOHN 8:47)

Nor is there any validity in the argument that the democratic spirit should prevail in the Church. How many husbands or fathers, if after admonishing their children to follow a particular course of action, would tolerate one of them to refuse to acknowledge his authority and adam­antly insist a vote be taken of the household to ascertain if the admon­ition should be adhered to? Utter nonsense! But this would be the dem­ocratic process that necessarily should be followed! Unless the father in the family is possessed of authority in the family circle, complete disorganiza­tion and actual hatred will soon breed among members of the group. And where but from Almighty God does the father derive his authority? Why is the Church any different? There must be one final authority and Christ was not impervious to the needs of good order in laying the foundation for a Church that would endure the ages. Otherwise His words would not have been so heavily weighed: “. . . and whatsoever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven.” (MATT. 16:18) Very few are convinced that democracy actu­ally represents the fullness of govern­mental wisdom. It may be that this is only a passing phase in the social evolution of man. Even in this so-called democratic age, there is grow­ing tendency even among nations to place limitations on the self rule of the people and to resort to autocratic methods of government. This can appreciably be noted in present American governmental procedures where the state is more and more re­stricting the personal freedoms of its citizenry. In reality man only has as much freedom as he is willing to place shackles on his own wants and desires. Unless man does this, he is not free, but a slave to his own ap­petites. Many mistake license, which abundantly prevails in our general modern society and in the Church as well, with that glorious gift of God—freedom—whose object is to make us after Christ who maintained, “And ye shall know the truth and the truth will make you free” (JOHN 8:32) because “Whosoever commit­eth sin is the slave of sin.” (JOHN 8:34)

Arguments have been advanced that the pastor should remain su­preme in the spiritual realm while the so called “lay committee” should reign with a free hand over the mat­ters of “temporal” nature. But where in the Church can the delineation take place between the two areas? In neither situation, no matter how ostensibly corporal, material, or tem­poral, it is still definitely spiritual to some degree as it will be utilized to achieve a spiritual goal. And who decides the matters which fall into each category? Inevitably, it is the so called “committee” which judges supremely and infallibly in these in­stances. Certainly in the Orthodox Catholic Church, there has been an abundant opportunity to test the value of lay representation on Church councils. Diocesan synods have sup­plied many lamentable exhibitions of theological incompetence and bigot­ed prejudice on the part of lay dele­gates, resulting in the defeat of need­ed reforms and adherence to the canons. It certainly is not an edify­ing spectacle in diocesan synods when eminent lawyers stand to satirize the­ological doctrine, ridicule the very authority of the priesthood and ques­tion its divine commission while such proceedings are blasphemously con­sidered to be taking place under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. In many parishes, the priest, although he is competent to do so and is even canonically empowered, if the need is evident, to make changes in wor­ship services and the cycle of ser­vices, cannot even think of doing so without the consent of the parish “lay committee” or even an entire congregational meeting, both of which function illicitly in the eyes of God! How can these laymen, totally ungrounded as they are in matters theological assume competence in this area? Lay representation in the governing bodies of the Church has resulted in situations almost every­where in the Orthodox Catholic Church which are tantamount to domination of the clergy by the laity, even though it is doctrinally maintained that all authority proceeds from Christ and works downward through the bishops, priests, finally reaching the laity.

The “lay committee” system which exists in all parishes is a perfect il­lustration of government of a relig­ious