"PARA-CHURCH" LAY ORGANIZATIONS
IN THE LIGHT OF ORTHODOX ECCLESIOLOGY
by Metropolitan Maximos (Aghiorgoussis), Th. D
Orthodox Christianity embraces and synthesizes many dichotomies and
antitheses. These seemingly bi-polar conditions are transcended by
the physical and spiritual dimensions of our understanding of church,
They also serve as rallying points for divergent opinions among
persons moved to feel that their personal understanding of Christ's
living church is clearer than the age-old conciliar consensus of its
ordained ministers. From the church's beginning, the contradictions
embraced by the church read like a list of paired oppositions that
we assume are in constant tension and conflict. "Clericalism" versus "laicism," "hierarchy" versus "democracy,"
"charisma" versus "autocracy," the church as "institution" versus the church as "communion" (κοινωνία)
are some of the terms which are used to describe the tensions that
have sometimes been manifest between clergy and laity. One could say
that Christological concerns, historical and structural in nature,
are often in opposition with Pneumatological concerns which are
charismatic and eschatological in nature. Historically, both lay and
clergy alike have been caught up in conflicts framed by these broad
categories. Yet, the Eucharistic understanding of the church as communion
transcends all these dichotomies and polarizations. (1)
Recently, newly-formed lay organizations accuse the Greek Orthodox
Archdiocese of America of the "heresy of clericalism."(2) Lay
persons call upon the Holy Spirit, Who together with what they call
the "People of God" are said to be in charge of the affairs of the
church. (3) It is to this amorphous lay organization that the church
and its hierarchy are to be responsible. Laying aside for the moment
the mandate of leadership that these persons claim, their politicized
positions raise difficult questions such as: Who is this "People of
God"? Is the "hierarchy" excluded from being a part of the
"People of God"? In view of the fact that the hierarchy of the
church of Christ is ordained by the Holy Spirit to mediate between
God and humanity, what is the proper place in the life of the church
of "lay organizations"? When these organizations are created
outside the spiritual framework of church governance, how are we to
understand their oppositional nature towards the church's hierarchy?
In order to answer these questions, it is necessary to ask them in the
light of Orthodox Ecclesiology. This brief study will present
Scriptural evidence regarding the life and structure of the church
from its very beginnings. It will examine developments in the early
church which established the Orthodox way of being, living, and
serving as church of Christ. It will compare the Orthodox way with
the non-Orthodox, pointing to the problem that indigenous "American
Christian Churches" models of polity have infiltrated the attitudes
of Orthodox laity. Finally, it will evaluate the presence and
function of today's "para-ecclesiastical" lay organizations, and
offer some suggestions regarding the solution of what many see as a
I. CHURCH STRUCTURES IN THE SCRIPTURE AND THE EARLY CHURCH
The people of God who were condemned by God in Hosea as "Not my People" (Hosea 1:8), were eventually forgiven for their apostasy. The Lord
said: "I will have pity on Not Pitied, and I will say to Not my
People "'You are my people'; and he shall say, 'Thou art my God.'" (Hosea 2:23). Also, God's promise given to Moses for this same
people establishes the changed nature of those who become citizens of
God's community: "You shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy
nation" (Exodus 19:6). It is the Lord Himself who has chosen the
people. Isaiah quotes the Lord saying of this people that it is
God's "chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself, that they
might declare my praise" (Isaiah 43:21).
These Old Testament statements apply in a prophetic way to Christ and the
new people which God called through Him out of the Jews and from the
Gentiles. This is the new Israel of God, the people of the New
Covenant. The Anointed of God, Who came to fulfill the Old Testament
promises, brings to the people a messianic, eschatological salvation
through the outpouring and power of God's Spirit. This not only
restores God's people as being "His," but also establishes God's
Holy Kingdom of Light on earth and in heaven, a reality which was the
goal of the coming of the Messiah. Thus, Saint Peter can tell the
addressees of his first letter, "the Exiles of Diaspora" of North
Asia Minor: "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. Once
you were no people but now you are God's people; once you had not
received mercy but now you have received mercy" (I Peter 2:9-10).
This chosen people of God, both old and new Israel, the church, is a
structured community: it is a "royal priesthood" or a "kingdom of
priests" which includes its leaders established for it by God. In
the Old Dispensation, Moses and Aaron respectively represented the
"royal" and "priestly" leadership. This leadership changed forms
and structures according to the needs of God's chosen people.
However, the people were never left without appropriate leadership, a
leadership that was set apart to minister to those who were
themselves set apart from the rest of the nations. As we will see
later, the community elders during the time of Christ formed the
pattern of leadership which was most probably adopted by the early
church during the apostolic and the immediate post-apostolic times.
In establishing the church as the eschatological community, God's inaugurated Kingdom on earth, Christ places the foundation of this
community squarely upon His Twelve Apostles. He builds it upon "the foundation of the apostles and the prophets" while He is Himself the
cornerstone (Ephesians 2:20; cf. Matthew 16:18, and Revelation 21:14). The ministry of the Twelve, foundational for the church,
established the pattern of church governance. The life and witness of the church to this day is based upon apostolic faith, life and
To the Twelve, Christ gives special powers, such as the power to heal and cast out demons (Matthew 10:1). Both of these acts, the result
of God's power invested in His appointed ministers, were signs of the presence of the Kingdom. Unique authority pertaining to the Kingdom
already present was given to the Disciples to forgive sins (Matthew 18:18; John 20:22-23), and to celebrate the Eucharist in His memory
(I Corinthians 11:25-26); Christ commissions them to announce the Gospel of the Kingdom (Acts 28:31), to "teach all nations, baptizing
them in the name" of the Holy Trinity (Matthew 28:19-20), and thereby making citizens of God's Holy Kingdom. Ultimately, Christ
calls the Twelve to participate in the eschatological judgement,"sitting upon twelve thrones and judging the twelve tribes of
Israel" (Matthew 19:28).
Of paramount importance to the life and salvation of the community of the new chosen people is the Eucharist. The Eucharist is not just a
"mystery" (sacrament) in the church, but the central "mystery"and sacrament of the church, the "mystery" and sacrament of the Kingdom revealed. God's eschatological Kingdom breaks through and is actually present at the Eucharist. Here the Royal Spirit makes Christ the Lord of Glory present in the consecrated community and in the consecrated
gifts. By this act the church proclaims Christ's death and resurrection "until He comes again" (I Corinthians 11:26).
In all these ecclesiological statements three major Scriptural images apply to the church. They are the people of God, the body of Christ,
and the temple of the Holy Spirit. These indicate the dynamic of membership in the church. There is differentiation within the
membership, for the people of God is a structured people; the body of Christ is differentiated in its members; the temple of the Holy
Spirit is also built by a variety of members who are "living stones" (I Peter 2:5). To each member a variety of gifts are given
by the one and same Spirit of God (I Corinthians 12:4). Among this variety of gifts is the unique gift of apostleship, an eschatological
gift of paramount importance for the life and mission of the church as proclaimed by Christ Himself.
Contemporary biblical scholarship states that the Twelve were basically residential church leaders. In spite of the mandate they received to
announce the Gospel to the world, they made it their concern to tend to the needs of the "lost sheep of the house of Israel" (Matthew
15:24). Hence, Raymond Brown sees them as probably having stayed within the confines of Jerusalem. (4)
However, along with Saint Peter for whom there are Scriptural references
indicating that he visited Antioch (Galatians 2:11) and eventually
Corinth (I Corintians 1:12; 9:5), church Tradition establishes that
all the Twelve apostles are linked with the creation of specific
geographic communities. However, they were not administrators and did
not ever abandon their responsibility to proclaim the Gospel of the
Kingdom. Certainly, they were not "bishops." The expression
"apostolic succession of bishops" is an obvious anachronism, one
that comes to us from the period immediately following the missionary
period of the disciples, the time of the Apostolic Fathers. The
Apostolic Fathers came after the Apostles, having been taught by
them. The Twelve felt the need for the appointment of able
administrators to do the administrative work of the church. Some
examples during the apostolic period were the "Seven Deacons" (Acts
6:5-6) for the Hellenistic Jewish community of Jerusalem, and the
"elders" which were associated with the Twelve (Acts 11:30, 15:4)
for the Hebrew community.
Not everything in the ministry of the Twelve was meant to be transferable
to their "successors." The privilege of the Twelve to be judges of
the twelve tribes of Israel in the eschatological Kingdom is the most
obvious example of the uniqueness of the ministry of the Twelve.
That which was transmitted was apostolic faith, teaching, life and
mission in the life of the apostolic community. Apostolic succession
is the continuation of apostolic faith, life and witness from the
apostolic community to the post-apostolic community of the early
Christian church and beyond. It is a succession of community to
community, and not merely a succession of person to person (Apostles
to bishops). What was transferred was participation in God's Holy
Kingdom anticipated on earth. The Twelve supervised a variety of
ministries which served the mission of expanding the Kingdom.
A variety of ministries continued through time in a variety of ways.
These ministries come to us through the Twelve. Scholars sometimes
speak of apostolic ministry as "polycentric" versus "monocentric" ministry. Later, the authority transferred from the Twelve to their
successors became more codified, associated with an individual whose
authority was demonstrably descended from Apostolic ministry.
Along with the Twelve, there were also apostles like Paul, "missionary
apostles." Their task was to establish Christian communities and
appoint appropriate leadership (elders), through the "laying on of
hands" (I Timothy 4:14; II Timothy 1:6).
Following the apostolic period, that is the ministries of the Twelve and the
missionaries of their time, an intermediate group of leadership
developed in the church. This intermediate group was that of the
elders/overseers (presbyters/bishops). At this time, presbyters and
overseers are interchangeable. The elements of this composition most
probably came from the leadership structure of Jewish religious
communities of the period. In these, the elders (zekenim)
exercised administrative leadership functions, whereas, a supervisor
(pakid), as in the Qumran community, exercised a pastoral role. (5) This
group of elders/overseers prepared the road for the Ignatian type of leadership.
The twofold ministry (presbyter/bishops and deacons) of the end of the
apostolic period was followed by a distinctly threefold model of
ministry and church governance. By the time of St. Ignatios of
Antioch (died A.D. 110), a clear distinction was introduced between
bishop (overseer) and presbyter (elder). As evidenced in the writings
of Saint Ignatios of Antioch, from this time on the model structure
of church governance is that of bishops, presbyters and deacons
serving the Holy People of God.
In Saint Ignatios' letters, the bishop emerges as a central figure,
surrounded by his presbytery and the diaconate. The bishop is a
living icon, a representation of Christ, through whom Christ is present and
presides over the one Eucharist of the church. The rest of the Holy
People of God, the presbytery, diaconate and the laity assist at the
celebration. Thus, the Eucharist becomes the "mystery" (sacrament)
of the Church around which the citizens of God's Kingdom are
gathered. It is here that through the power of God's Holy Spirit the
entire eschatological community, the church, is gathered in communion
with God, united as one in the body of Christ.
The so-called "monarchical episcopate," wrongly attributed to the
Antiochian bishop-martyr, is not the creation of Saint Ignatios. The
vision of Saint Ignatios was characterized by its collegiality.
Clergy and laity alike participate in the one mystery of God's shared
love. Church government and leadership are participatory. The
responsibility of the various authorities and ministries passed on by
the Apostles was a shared gift among the People of God. St. Ignatios
shares his responsibility of leading the church with his presbytery
and his diaconate. One of the images which he uses to explain his
relationship with his presbytery, is that of a lyre and its strings.
Both the lyre and its strings are needed to produce music. The lyre
is the bishop, and the strings are the presbytery.
In the Ignatian model, the bishop's ministry, as that of the apostle of
the previous century, is an echatological and eucharistic ministry.
As an extension of this ministry, the bishop is also a teacher and
administrator. He is the chief administrator because he presides
over the one Eucharist of the church, the Eucharist which is
The Orthodox Church has never lost sight of this Ignatian view of the
eucharistic episcopate as the visible sign and the perfect guarantee
of the unity of the church as the charismatic eschatological
community. During the imperial period, the institution of the church
experienced substantive changes.
II. STRUCTURAL DEVELOPMENTS IN THE FOURTH CENTURY
Following the Edict of Milan (A.D. 313), as Christianity grew and with the Roman Empire's
acceptance of the Faith as its official religion, the scale of church
administration changed dramatically. Whereas the Ignatian model had
a bishop at the center of each Eucharistic assembly, the geometric
growth of Christianity made the local model of a bishop at every
Eucharistic table unmanageable. Also, a centralized ecclesiastical
administration developed in conjunction with the civil authority of
Thus, in the fourth century of the Christian era, the
eschatological/eucharistic model of the bishop as illustrated by the
Ignatian model changed dramatically. There developed a reversal of
roles between the bishop and the presbyter. According to the
Ignatian model, the bishop is the only one to preside over the one
Eucharist of the church. The presbytery and the diaconate, as well
as the lay people assist in this, as they assist in the other tasks
of the church's mission (teaching and administering).
The departure from this Ignatian model is that the bishop ceases to be
the only one who presides over the one Eucharist of the church. The
need to celebrate the Eucharist in a greater number of smaller
communities was felt. Presbyters were also allowed to celebrate the
Eucharist alone. Bishops took on a greater administrative role and
teaching role in conjunction with the increasingly complex
relationship between the church and the state.
There were two inevitable consequences of the aforementioned developments.
First, the presbytery lost its function as the "right hand of the
bishop." Because of this, they also lost some of the close,
collegial relationship with the bishop and with their fellow
presbyters. This was a relationship which they had enjoyed before
this time. Second, the presence of the bishop at the Eucharist
became optional, perhaps even superfluous. As we will see, the
extension of this attitude becomes even more damaging to the
Episcopal ministry during the time of the sixteenth century "Reformation."
Some interesting developments which resulted from the changes indicated
above give a picture of the ideas which continued to inform the
relationship between bishop and presbyters. In the West, the bishops
were giving the Fermentum (basically Presanctified Gifts) for the priests to use at their
eucharistic celebrations. In the East, the priests can only celebrate on the linen Antimensium
consecrated by the bishop and bearing his signature, and are bound to
commemorate their canonical bishop's name at the Eucharist. Both of
these developments came about because of the need to validate the
actions of priests in the light of their more distant relationship to
their bishops. These examples do show that the bishop is still in
charge of the one Eucharist of the church in his diocese.
III. DEVELOPMENTS IN THE WEST
Saint Clement of Rome was the Apostolic Father who introduced the so-called
"linear" apostolic succession from the college of the Twelve
Apostles to the bishops of the church. The Ignatian understanding,
being eschatological/eucharistic, informs the prevailing
understanding of this succession in the East. This is true to this
day. For the Christian East, this succession is not linear, from
Apostles to bishops, but collegial and communal. Better yet, this
apostolic succession is a succession from community to community.
In the West, the eschatological, eucharistic, collegial and communal
aspects and dimensions of apostolic and episcopal ministry in the
church were not adequately emphasized. As stated, the episcopal
ministry lost its importance as the exclusive Eucharistic ministry.
Thus, the Reformers had an easy job in abolishing episcopacy all
together, at least episcopacy as was traditionally handed down to the
church. Traditional episcopacy was easily replaced with other
ministries of supervision, as episcopacy was not exclusively involved
with the "mystery" (sacrament) of the church, the Eucharist.
The "Reformers" eventually went as far as to "flatten" most of the
structures in the life of the church. They courted and encouraged
the establishment of an "equality" and non-differentiation among
all believers, totally abolishing the concept of "hierarchy."(6) Part of the ecumenical problem today is to restore the traditional
structures of differentiated ministries, the most important being
the prerogatives of episcopacy. Christian unity is predicated upon
the authority of the bishop as the icon of Christ, presiding in persona Christi over the one Eucharist of the church.
The WCC/Faith and Order document on Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry
(BEM) gives an account of the present convergence among the churches
regarding this burning issue of ministry in the life of the church.
IV. ORTHODOX ECCLESIOLOGY AND MINISTERIAL STRUCTURES
IN THE LIFE OF TODAY'S CHURCH
In continuity with its origins and the life of the early church,
Orthodox Christianity continues to see all ministries in the church,
including episcopacy, in a eucharistic and eschatological light and
In continuity with the Ignatian model, Orthodox self-consciousness
envisions the church as the eschatological/eucharistic community,
gathered together "in one place" (ἐπὶ τὸ αυτό, Acts 2:1, 44) to
celebrate "the "mystery" (sacrament) of the church." The Church of
the ages --past, present and future-- is gathered around the
Eucharistic table to experience the "real presence" of God's Holy
Spirit. The Church calls upon the Spirit to consecrate the
Eucharistic synaxis and make it a living Eucharist, and also
consecrate the gifts on the altar to become Christ's very body and
very blood. In this way, the "holy gifts" will be given "unto the
holy." Only in this way can there be no doubt that the Holy Spirit
is in charge in the life of the Church. The Paraclete brings Christ
to the faithful, and "forms Christ" in them (Saint Basil),
anointing them as He anoints Christ (Saint Irenaeos, Saint Basil).
The Holy Spirit "directs the life of the Church" (Saint Basil,
Liturgy of Holy Pentecost).
In the presence of communion created by the Holy Eucharist, all
dichotomies, polarizations and antitheses mentioned at the beginning
of this paper disappear: the gap is bridged between history and
eschatology, Christology and Pneumatology, institution and event,
charisma and structure, hierarchy and "democracy," clergy and
laity, and even created and uncreated being. There is only one
fellowship of love in communion with the source of all being, God.
The Life of God to which humankind is called to participate is by
definition an eternal communion. As the church continues its
"Liturgy after Liturgy," in reaching out to sanctify the world and
bring it into communion with God and God's Holy Kingdom, the church
blesses and sanctions a variety of ministries for both clergy and
laity. It is through these ministries that the church carries out
On the basis of their Christian baptism, all the members of the church
participate in the triple ministry of Christ, as priest, teacher, and
king. As "priests for all creation," they mediate salvation for
the entire creation of God, animate and inanimate. Through their
receiving of the Eucharist, the entire cosmos participates in the
transfiguration of creation in Christ. As teachers, they share in
Christ's teaching ministry, helping their bishop to "divide aright
the word of God's Truth." Through their participation in
administrative work, they exercise their part of a leadership role,
leading people into God's Holy inaugurated Kingdom.
From the time of Christ until now, we live as an eschatological community
in "the last days." These are the days of God's Kingdom prior to
Christ's second coming. God's Holy Spirit bestows a variety of His
abundant gifts upon the baptized. Among these gifts is also that of
the "ordained ministry," the Christian priesthood in its threefold
pattern. This gift is constitutive of the being of the church.
Also, it is the necessary tool to preserve its unity and faithfulness
to apostolic faith, life, witness, and mission.
The Eucharist, being the "mystery" (sacrament) of the church, always
was, is, and will continue to be central to the life of the Church of
Christ, the Orthodox Church. Bishops, priests and deacons are first
and foremost eucharistic orders. The Eucharist is the living spring
from which flows the pastoral, educational, and administrative
responsibility of the Holy Orders. However, what marks the
distinctiveness of these orders is their role of presiding over and
assisting in the celebration of the one Eucharist of the church,
announcing Christ's death and resurrection, "until He comes
[again]" (I Corinthians 12:26) "in glory to judge the living and
the dead" (The Creed).
V. LAY PARTICIPATION IN THE LIFE AND MISSION
OF THE GREEK ORTHODOX ARCHDIOCESE OF AMERICA
It is the estimation of all those who have any knowledge of Orthodox
Ecclesiology that lay people in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of
America are more than fairly treated. The Charter of the Archdiocese
provides for a very active role and very productive ministry for lay
Orthodox Christians. The recent pastoral letter sent to all the
faithful on the occasion of Lent, signed by the Archbishop and all
the ruling hierarchs of the Archdiocese, makes special mention of
The Uniform Parish Regulations (UPR) provide for a cooperative ministry
of clergy and laity together. The principle behind the cooperation
between clergy and laity is, certainly, the Orthodox ecclesiological
principle of "synergy." This principle avoids, and even excludes,
opposition and conflict which are damaging to the body of Christ.
The clergy and laity together are called to work for the well-being
and the spiritual growth of God's Holy People.
Clergy and laity are empowered to join together to accomplish all tasks in a
cooperative way. Lay people fully participate in numerous
conferences, congresses, legislative agencies, educational and
administrative endeavors, youth ministry, missionary activity,
charity work, and many more, on the parish, diocesan, and
archdiocesan levels. The entire ministry of the church occurs under
the supervision of the Mother Church, the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
It is understood that proper sanction has to come from the
Patriarchate for certain issues, especially those pertaining to
matters of faith, dogma, morals and ecclesiastical (canon) law.
As Orthodox Christians, we should be very proud of our present system of
church governance, and the loving relationship which exists between
our clergy and our laity. Our Archdiocesan Charter needs but a few
readjustments to reflect our age-old Orthodox ecclesiology. In the
case that someone feels that more fine adjustments are needed, there
is room for the necessary dialogue to improve the system. These
adjustments must occur through proper channels. These channels are
offered to us as extensions of the powerful, living traditions of the
Apostolic community which harkens directly to the Ignatian model of
post-Apostolic age. The Archdiocesan Charter is the protection and
the guarantor of the rights and the ministry of the lay people.
VI. "PARA-ECCLESIASTICAL" LAY ORGANIZATIONS
Professor John Karmiris is right when he says that the term
"para-ecclesiastical" may not be completely accurate insofar as the
people involved in such organizations are members of the church and
mean well.(8) However, when people organize not only without the
blessing of the hierarchy but in opposition to that hierarchy, there
is a problem.
Normally, our church does not suffer from "clericalism," and as a result
anti-clericalism does not take root. In the same way, there should
not be a need for "para-ecclesiastical" lay organizations. The
ministry of the laity should find fulfilling expression in the
context of the church and its organizations. If anything, our church
suffers from "secularism" and "congregationalism," which hurt our
communities and at times make it impossible to carry out the mission
of the Orthodox Church of Christ.
If lay organizations formed without the blessing of the church genuinely
mean well, it is hoped that they will be open to dialogue with the
church hierarchy. The wisdom of Professor Karmiris is very helpful
at this point. He identifies both the cause of the problem and its
Competent and pious laity, deprived of the normal exercise of their rights and
duties in the church in cooperation with the clergy, take refuge in
numerous religious organizations which have been established and
which are not very appropriately called "para-ecclesiastic." Some
of these organizations ... function independently and unchecked, and
not always in direct and organic union and dependence on the local
[bishop] to whom they should be subject. But
if the laity obtain again the position and service in the
ecclesiastical organization belonging to them, ... the most
important reason for the autonomous existence and function of these
organizations will cease to exist and their members will be
cooperating harmoniously with the clergy, under the guidance of the
local bishops [italics
added], as the holy canons and the holy tradition since the time even
of Saint Ignatios of Antioch determine. Hence it would be
undoubtedly a true blessing from God, if the religious organizations
which now function independently of the church would place
themselves and their divine zeal and their precious experience at the
disposal of the ecclesiastic hierarchy so that, under a unified
spiritual direction, the union and coordination of all the
spiritual powers and efforts of the workers of the divine vineyard,
both laity and clergy, may be accomplished. (9)
The guidance of John Karmiris is indeed helpful. The frustration among
some of the laity can be understood, but good will and dialogue can
make the difference in resolving any and all differences. Let us
hope that the message of Professor Karmiris will be heard by all
those people of good will who, out of love for the church, find
themselves in opposition to its hierarchy (or, find themselves on
opposite sides of the argument concerning "para-ecclesiastical" organizations).
But we must be clear that, on the basis of Orthodox ecclesiological
principles explained above, the spheres of responsibility and the
lines of demarcation of the various orders and structures in the
church have been well established. As Saint Paul directs, "let all
things be done decently and in [good] order" (I Corinthians 14:40).
And again, "[In] whatever state each was called, there let him
remain with God" (I Corinthians 7:24). We are to function according
to the call received, and not to interfere with one another's
ministries. In the light of Orthodox ecclesiology and the canonical
tradition of the church since the time of St. Ignatios of Antioch,
all church organizations which deal with the mission of the church
are under the canonical authority of the bishop. All such
organizations which do not submit to his authority are an anomaly in
the life of the church.
There is plenty of room for each person to exercise their respective
ministry under the umbrella of the Church's organization, sharing in
the one ministry of the one church. Factionalism and fragmentation
in the church have always been condemned. Saint Paul poses the
rhetorical question, "Is Christ divided?" (I Corinthians 1:13).
Let us make certain that we are not divided among ourselves. It will
only encourage the heathen to "blaspheme God's name" (Romans 2:24)
because of our shortcomings.
VII. SOME HELPFUL SUGGESTIONS
More wisdom on this subject is available from an ecumenical source: the
World Council of Churches document on BEM mentioned above. In its
section on ministry, BEM offers helpful remarks to both lay and
The authority of the ordained minister is rooted in Jesus Christ. ...
Authority has the character of responsibility before God and is
exercised with the cooperation of the whole community.
Therefore, ordained ministers must not be autocrats or impersonal functionaries.
Although called to exercise wise and loving leadership on the basis
of the Word of God, they are bound to the faithful in
interdependence and reciprocity. Only when they seek the response
and acknowledgement of the community can their authority be protected
from the distortions of isolation and domination. (10)
In the commentary to this section, the text notes:
Here two dangers must be avoided. Authority cannot be exercised without
regard from the community. The apostles paid heed to the experience
and the judgement of the faithful. On the other hand, the authority
of the ordained ministers must not be so reduced as to make them
dependent on the common opinion of the community. Their authority
lies in their responsibility to express the will of God in the
community. [Italics are in the original]. (11)
In other words, the hierarchy needs to take into account the feelings of
the community. However, the community must realize that at times the
hierarchy may disagree with the desire of members of the community to
engage in practices that, in the judgement of the hierarchy, are not
in keeping with the will of God. To resolve any such conflicts, it
is important to ensure that a healthy dialogue will be used to
elucidate the issue at question. Together we need to discover God's
holy will and submit to it.
1. In both the Old or New Testament, the expression "People of God," refers to a people which is set apart, structured, and differentiated
as a chosen people.
2. Christ provided the church with the ministry of His Twelve Apostles,
which is fundamental and foundational for the church.
3. The apostolic ministry is eschatological and eucharistic. It
proclaims the Kingdom through the preaching of the Word and the
sacraments, particularly through the Eucharist, which is the "mystery" (sacrament) of the church.
4. The Twelve Apostles were not administrators. They appointed persons
under their supervision to do the administrative work of the church,
namely the Seven Deacons and Elders.
5. The Pauline-type Apostles were missionaries. They established
Christian communities "in the lands of mission," and appointed
appropriate leadership for each.
6. Between the time of the Apostles and the bishops of the second
century A.D., the church leaders were the presbyters/bishops
(elders/overseers), which were most probably in keeping with the
contemporaneous Jewish community leadership.
7. The Ignatian Episcopal ministry is an eschatological and eucharistic
8. The Ignatian Episcopal ministry and the ministry of the presbyterium
9. In the fourth century A.D., the roles of bishop and presbyter were
reversed: the presbyter presided over the Eucharist; the bishop
became mostly an administrator and a teacher.
10. East and West both retain part of the tradition regarding the bishop
as the president of the Eucharist (Fermentum, Antimensia,
required commemoration of the bishop's name at the Eucharist).
11. The West de-contextualizes the tradition of St. Clement of Rome
regarding the linear apostolic succession of bishops. In reality,
however, the West is at variance with St. Clement, who does not
exclude the community in the succession of the life and witness of
12. The Reformers "flattened" most of the structures in the life of the
church and sought to abolish the hierarchy.
13. The Orthodox Church continues to understand all ministries as
eucharistic or, otherwise centered around the Eucharist.
14. In the Eucharistic communion, all dichotomies, polarizations,
paradoxes and antitheses in the life of the church are transcended.
15. "Liturgy after Liturgy" --the mission of the church includes a
variety of ministries, for clergy and for laity alike.
16. Lay people in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America enjoy a
cooperative (synergistic) ministry with the clergy. This ministry
is carefully protected and guaranteed by the Charter of the
17. "Para-ecclesiastical" organizations in Orthodoxy are a new and
18. Dialogue between the hierarchy and the laity is encouraged to resolve
the issues which led to the creation of a "para-ecclesiastical" organization.
19. BEM offers helpful suggestions to the hierarchy of the church, asking
them to exercise their authority with the cooperation of the
20. BEM offers helpful suggestions to the laity, asking them to recognize
that the hierarchy will take courageous stands to defend the will of
21. Healthy dialogue between clergy and laity will elucidate the will of
God, and encourage submission to it by all involved.
1. John D. Zizioulas, Being as Communion, Crestwood (Saint Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1985), p. 162.
2. Stephen Angelides, Address to the Greek Orthodox American Leaders Meeting in Denver, February 7,
1998; posted: Tuesday, Feb. 10, 1998; written: Saturday, Feb. 7, 1998;
Section: Articles; Content; Archdiocese; http://www.voithia.org/qmpdp021098130.html, p.7.
4. Raymond E. Brown, "A Brief Survey of the New Testament Evidence on Episcope
and Episcopos," in Episcope and Episcopate in Ecumenical Perspective,
Faith and Order Paper 102 (Geneva: World Council of Churches, year?), pp. 16-17.
5. Ibid., p. 24.
6. Chrestos Androutsos, Symbolics from an Orthodox Perspective
[in Greek] (Athens: Alevropoulos Press, 1930), pp. 96-113, especially p. 107.
7. World Council of Churches, Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry,
Faith and Order Paper 111 (Geneva: World Council of Churches, 1982),
pp. 20-32. It should be noted that a paper on convergence in
contemporary ecclesiology on the ecumenical scene, "The Nature and
Purpose of the Church," will be presented to the next WCC General
Assembly in Harare, Zimbabwe, in December, 1998. Ministry is part of
the document. One more document on Episcope-Episcopacy, the fruit of
two important meetings this past year (Strasbourg, April 1-10, 1997,
and Cret-Berard, Sept.4-12, 1997) will soon be published by WCC Faith
8. John Karmiris, The Status and Ministry of the Laity in the Orthodox Church,
trans. Evie Zachariades-Holmberg (Brookline, MA: Holy Cross Press, 1994), p. 49.
10. BEM, Ministry, 16, 17; pp. 22-23.
11. BEM. Ministry, Commentary, 16; p. 23.
Androutsos, Chrestos. Symbolics from an Orthodox Perspective [in Greek]. Athens: Alevropoulos Press, 1930.
Brown, Raymond E. "A Brief Survey of the New Testament Evidence on
Episcope and Episcopos," Episcope and Episcopate in Ecumenical Perspective.
Faith and Order paper 102, Geneva: World Council of Churches, year? pp. 13-29.
Karmiris, John. The Status and Ministry of the Laity in the Orthodox Church,
trans. Evie Zachariades-Holmberg. Brookline, MA: Holy Cross Press, 1994.
Vasiliadis, Peter. "Mission, Service and Episcopate" [in Greek], Biblical
Theology Studies. Thessalonica: publisher? year? pp. 364-90.
World Council of Churches, Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry.
Faith and Order paper 111. Geneva: World Council of Churches, 1982, pp. 2-7; 20-32.
Zizioulas, John. Being as Communion. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir Press, 1985.
"Episcope and Episcopos in the Early Church; A brief Survey of the
Evidence," Episcope and Episcopate in Ecumenical Perspective.
Faith and Order paper 102, Geneva: World Council of Churches, year? pp. 30-42.
[ EKKLISIA | www.ekklisia.org/gart-3-30.htm - March 30, 1998 ]