Word Magazine February 1991 Page 21-22
“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”
(I Peter 2:9)
By Father John K. Teebagy
As this quote indicates, all in the Church are members of the royal priesthood of Christ and His Church. On the day of our baptism, chrismation, and first eucharist, we received entrance into the Church through the ‘laying on of hands,” in baptism and chrismation, but more importantly in the eucharist. As John Zizioulas says, “The theological significance of this (receiving communion) lies in the fact that it reveals the nature of baptism and confirmation as being essentially an ordination.” The result of this ordination, as Hippolytus tells us, is that the person takes his particular ‘place’ in the Eucharistic assembly . . . he becomes a member of a particular ‘ordo’ in the Eucharistic community” Ordination initiates members into a community which is rooted in Christ and guided by the Holy Spirit. We are all called to be members of this body and the Spirit is given to all. “Humanity, therefore, like divinity, is a community of coequal, coessential persons united together in exactly the same nature, whose essential spiritual freedom makes it reflective and expressive of God.” Thus all in the community of God strive, by virtue of their baptism, etc., toward perfect communion (theosis) with God, and try to be by grace what God is by nature.
In the Body of Christ, all members are called to be priests and prophets, those who know and follow the will of God. All are called to be priests after Jesus Christ who is the priest, the “unique high priest of the new covenant.” This particular title, that applies to all, is “royal priesthood.” “The laity will thus become the Laos (people) who is gathered from the world to realize in the community of the Church the eschatological unity and salvation of the world in Christ.” We are all created to be a pastoral being. We manifest Christ’s pastorship when we participate in His Kingship by being a servant. We must be Eucharistic beings who offer ourselves to God so that we might show things as they were intended reflecting the beauty and order of creation not sinful and distorted. Everything which is good is able to be consecrated and done to the glory of God. We are all called to do this through the royal priesthood of Christ.
In the Body of Christ, the Church, all, as we said, are called to the royal priesthood; however, some are called to serve the community in the ministerial priesthood. These members are all “set apart in a more specific way, through prayer and the laying-on-of hands, to serve God.” This form of ministry is not to be seen as a job or as a certain degree of power or as a separation from the royal priesthood of believers. “Thus the Church becomes hierarchal in the sense in which the Holy Trinity itself is hierarchal: by reason of the specificity of the relationship.” The Church will always exist, and God needs those who can minister to His flock — His because Christ is always in the Church — and to build up the body. The Church is one with the unity of God, catholic, and apostolic. It is “a sacrament, indeed the sacrament par excellence, having an essentially sacramental structure as her official, ‘institutional’ expression and life.” The ordained priesthood is “the sacramental manifestation of the ministry of Christ in and for the Church, in which all of the personal and partial ministries of the members are rooted, fulfilled, validated, and evaluated.” Because the priest is “the sacramental manifestation of the ministry of Christ”, the priest must possess or be an “icon” of Christ Himself. He must possess certain qualifications.
The first qualification for the ordained ministry, the one which most people know, is that the person be male. As we said above, all are called to the royal priesthood but only men are called to the ministerial priesthood. Why? As Timothy Ware tells us, the “iconic” character of the priesthood is the answer. Christ is present and eternally is the priest, but the priest acts in place of Christ. “The priest stands before us doing what Christ did and speaking the words that He Spoke; but the power and grace are from God.” When we deal with the “iconic” attribute of the priesthood, we must be made aware of certain errors which could be made. The priest is the sacramental presence of Christ in the community but in no way is he to be seen as an actor. When we show veneration to an icon, all the glory is given to that saint depicted; thus, when we respect the priest, and show honor to him, all of that is given to Christ. Furthermore, the priest, as icon, “is not to remind us of someone who is absent but to render that person present.” This iconic character of the priesthood is to be male, for as Fr. Alexander Schmemann said, “If the bearer, the icon, and the fulfiller of that unique priesthood, is man and not woman, it is because Christ is man and not woman.
Other qualifications can be found in the Bible, specifically I Timothy. I Timothy 3:1-7 lists qualifications for a bishop (presbyter). They are: he must be above reproach, husband of one wife (cf. Council of Trullo #3: priests cannot be married twice, or married to a widow), must manage his own household well, and must not be a recent convert. In Titus 1:7-15 other qualifications are given such as: must be blameless, not a drunkard, lover of goodness, etc. A priest in short must never do anything which might compromise his priesthood.
In conclusion, we must say repeatedly that the Church is the Kingdom of God on earth and is guided by the Holy Spirit. The Church as church is perfect because Christ is present. Through the sacraments of initiation, all of us become members of the royal priesthood of Christ. We are all called to grow towards deification in the context of the Church. While the Church is heavenly and God-like, it exists in the world and needs persons to minister to its people. All are to do this, but some are called to be a sacramental presence of Christ and are set apart in the ministerial priesthood. These people must be an icon of Christ to his people. He must be the presence of Christ and must make Him known. He can only do this in the context of a Eucharistic assembly. Certain qualifications also exist for those in the ministerial priesthood. These are taken from Scripture and Holy Tradition, which is the Spirit of God in the Church, the life of the Church. These qualifications are not intended nor should they be seen as un-Christian. We all have a place in the Church, men and women, handicapped, and twice married people. Unfortunately, people who fall into this category may not be ordained. The qualifications exist so that a priest may not cause scandal nor be a stumbling block towards being a sacramental presence of Christ and preaching the scandal of the cross.
Father John K. Teebagy is pastor of St. George Church in Lowell, MA.