The Church's Ministry

Professor at the Orthodox Theological Institute, Paris


The Church is Christ's body, in which there are many members, differing from each other and yet indispensable to the body, and in that sense each has the same value. They are many: the body is one. This we learn from St. Paul (i Cor. xii), who reveals to us the fundamentals of the Church's hierarchy; for the Church has a hierarchy and its constitution is hierarchical, and yet it is an organism rather than an organisation, a mystical unity rather than a juridical institution. This does not run contrary to the fact that some sides of the Church's life are clothed in. legal form, and express themselves alike in canon law and also in common, public and private law. This notwithstanding, the Church belongs in essence to an order above the legal plane, and this should not be forgotten when we speak of the hierarchical character of the Church.

Russian theology expresses the fundamental essence of Church unity in a word for which no other language has an equivalent. Sobornost connotes alike the catholicity of the Church—the integral totality of its being-and its spiritual character as the oneness of its members in faith and love; its outer aspect, as at all points resting on the freely—chosen unanimity of its members, and lastly its ecumenical character, which links it to all nations and subordinates to it all local churches. It is the conception of sobornost, summing up as it does the organic nature of the Church, which underlies the doctrine of the hierarchy in the Orthodox system. Every member of the spiritual organism has his part in the life of the whole; receives his hallowing in baptism and his ordination in the sacrament of anointing, conveying to him the seal of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. In some measure every member of the Church has his charisma " Ye are an elect people, priests and kings, a holy nation " (1 Pet. ii, 9).

The laity, no less than the clergy, has its place and value in the Church as a whole. The status of the layman is not negative, it is not merely a non-clerical status, but


is rather a special order, imparted in confirmation. That is why the holy oil requisite for this sacrament has to be blessed by more than one bishop; in the Roman use the sacrament cannot be administered except by a bishop.

Baptism, even without confirmation, imparts some charismatic gifts; and because of this, baptism in the name of the Holy Trinity is valid even when performed by a layman, so that baptism is valid even among those Christian confessions which do not recognise Holy Orders and have lost the apostolic succession.

Societies of laymen, devoid of clergy—such as are those Protestant Confessions which have lost the Episcopate—possess only one ecclesiastical degree, the order of laymen. This order has its character and place in the Church, and though subordinate to the priesthood is in some sense independent of it. It is the mark of Protestantism to understand and to emphasise this independence of the laity within the Church: though they carry this to an excess, by way of reaction against the opposite excess of Romanism, in which the laity are bound to yield passive obedience to the clergy, and thus lose the value which belongs to them.

Priesthood within the Church is related inseparably to the laity, and the relationship is not merely that of ruler to subject: it is also a relation of mutual help and of unity within the sobornost. The priest requires the co-operation of the laity in the administration of the sacraments, and the laity take their share in service and sacrament through singing, responses and prayers. Laymen, in concert with the clergy, take their part in Church teaching, in the ministry of the word: they may even be entrusted with a mission, and permitted to preach under the oversight of the bishop. Laymen have an incontestable right to take part in the election of the clergy, in all its degrees, from that of deacon and reader to that of patriarch. Lay and clerical representatives of the diocese of Moscow shared in the election of the Patriarch Tikhon, first as Metropolitan of Moscow and then as Patriarch of all the Russias. The laity present at the ordination of a priest signify their approval by acclaiming him as axios (worthy) im-


mediately after the imposition of hands, and ordination cannot take place without this approval. Church administration in like manner is always conducted by the bishop in concert with representatives of clergy and laity organised in episcopal, diocesan or presbyteral councils, or in special gatherings such as local or ecumenical councils. Even where bishops alone are present, as at an ecumenical council, or in many local councils, the bishop's position is that of the " angel " of his church, voicing the harmony of its opinions and doctrine. He does not impose his personal opinion upon his church but gives authoritative expression to the voice of the whole Church and an episcopal council expresses not the sum of the personal views of the bishops assembled (which, in that case, would have binding force) but the harmony of the views of the local churches.

It would, however, be incorrect to describe these relationships in terms of public law as " representative and constitutional "-so judicial a conception would be out of keeping with the Church's nature. The relation between priesthood and laity is, on the contrary, that of the sobornost, a spiritual reciprocity, a union in love, a oneness in thought, and, as I said, an organic rather than an organised principle. The clergy is not above the people but in them and with them: it is not a judicial absolutism but a divinely-given authority. Yet, for the faithful, this authority is a spiritual power, based upon the mystical energy imparted in ordination to the priesthood for the fulfilment of its sacramental task. The sacrament which this energy of the priesthood brings into operation is a divine, not a human activity not an idea, a doctrine, an institution, but an immediate divine Fact. The priesthood has the power to link the divine with the human, to bring heaven down to earth, and it is in this sacramental ministration that the efficacy and basis of Holy Orders consists.

The priest is above all an offerer of sacrifice: this is the quality in virtue of which he can become the shepherd of the faithful and minister of the Word. The episcopal prayer at the imposition of hands for the priesthood reads thus " that he may be worthy to present himself at Thy


altar, to preach the Gospel of Thy Kingdom, to set forth in holiness the word of Thy truth, to offer to Thee gifts and spiritual sacrifices and to renew Thy people by the baptism of regeneration." Among all these gifts, the ministry of the altar and the giving of gifts and spiritual sacrifices-the purely sacrificial offices-belong to the priesthood alone for the ministry of the Word, the authority to preach the Gospel and even the power to baptise are compatible with the status of the hymen. The priesthood has the privilege of the ministry of the Word, not as a prerogative of its status, as though it were an ecclesia docens in contrast to the ecclesia discens, but in virtue of the fullness of its charismatic gifts and sacerdotal authority. There is no special charisma of the ministry of the Word and of infallible teaching, such as the Vatican decree attributes to the Pope, and to all the Roman clergy in his name (veritatis et filei nunquam deficientis charisma). The truth of the Church is committed to the whole body, to clergy and laity as an integral whole. No part of the Church can claim infallibility over against the others even bishops and patriarchs, as Church history sufficiently shows, can fall into error. And thus, if even the collective episcopate claims the charisma of infallibility, it infringes the sobornost, and leans towards the Vatican dogma by admitting an episcopal, collective charisma infallibilitatis.

Still, the episcopate has the right to use its power and authority in the defence and proclamation of the truths acknowledged by the Church, and this is what the bishops, in local and ecumenical councils, have done, when speaking in the name of the Church and expressing not their individual views but the faith of the whole Christian people, with their expressed or implied assent. The presence of representatives of the whole Church, clergy and laity, at local councils, gives visible expression to this assent.

The ministry of the Word and the authority to preach form a duty and privilege of those who serve the temple yet they are not restricted to the temple. Only one ministry is withheld entirely from the laity, that of the mysteries—the celebration of the holy Eucharist and the other sacra-


ments. No human consent or election can confer this power upon men, even though an act of election is a preliminary condition of ordination. The divine power of Christ alone, given to the Apostles and transmitted by apostolic succession, can confer it. The hands laid by the bishop upon the head of an ordinand are the hands of the Apostles. It is Christ Himself, our supreme Bishop, who ordains His ministers. And as the Church cannot live nor have salvation without a mystical union with Him by the communion of His body and blood, so the charismatic priesthood is a vitally necessary organ of the body of the Church: its suspension, or a break in the continuity of the sacerdotal status in any ecclesiatical group is the gravest of evils, and cuts it off from the fullness of life in the Church.

If then the charismatic source of the priesthood is the apostolic succession, episcopal authority is the continuous and primitive well-spring from which its fullness flows (sine episcopo nulla ecclesia), although the bishop is in and with, and not above, the Church. The charismatic authority of the episcopate is not an idea but a fact, before which we must bow in gratitude to God, humbling ourselves beneath His holy will. This authority alone conserves and fortifies the fullness of charismatic life in the Church, and restores to the right path such groups as have strayed outside Church unity into isolation.

The task of reunion remains merely abstract unless it is approached by way of intellectual interchange and the discussion of principles. As an idea, it requires an incarnation: as a problem, it demands to be realised. The union of Christians cannot be brought about otherwise than by a sharing of the same Cup at the Holy Table and by the ministry of a priesthood which is an integral unity and indubitably charismatic.

At the present time we find that the apostolic succession is broken and set aside in some quarters, while in others it has lost its evidential clearness through the historical complications of the Reformation and the Western schism while in all these quarters there is a historical reaction


against the Roman clerical system, although the Papacy has not violated the apostolic succession.

The orthodox priesthood of the Eastern Church has preserved all its vigour and charismatic purity, and that Church embraces in love all who seek it, expecting from them no juridical submission but rather brotherly love. When it is God's pleasure to accomplish that work of reunion to which our prayers look forward, may all be kindled with the longing for one undoubted charismatic priesthood which will rebuild whys has perished and complete what is doubtful, in such modes as the love of the Church and the grace of the Holy Spirit shall reveal. In that day the eyes of all will turn towards our Mother, the Orthodox Eastern Church, and towards its charismatic episcopate, for that healing of infirmities and renewal of exhausted energies of which a prayer in our Ordinal speaks.

This is the road which the reunion of the Church must needs follow the whole past history of the Church, no less than its present condition, makes this clear. And from this point of view our present gathering is symbolic; Christians from all over the world are here, and the only absentees are the representatives of the Roman hierarchy, which conceives of union as involving submission to the absolute power of the Pope. But here you behold, present among you, bishops and ministers of the Orthodox Church, and by their voice that Church summons all men towards oneness in faith, in love, and in sacramental grace, in the words which come before the creed in the liturgy of the holy Eucharist: "Let us love one another, unto the Confession, with one heart and soul, of the same faith."

Source: H.N. Bate, ed., Faith and Order: Proceedings of the World Conference, Lausanne, August 3-21, 1927 (London: Student Christian Movement & Garden City NY: Doubleday, Doran & Co., 1928). Numbers in square brackets [xxx] are the original page numbers.