10 April 2014


There is much talk of late regarding the evils of 'clericalism' thanks to Pope Francis' various comments.  A recent discussion with a Roman Catholic religious teaching sister made me think of something the late Orthodox priest and theologian Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann wrote regarding the ordination of the laity through Chrismation. In fact, as I could remember, his point was that in the Holy Orthodox Church all are ordained for ministry in some fashion -- a very different idea from the 'Us' vs. 'Them' divide in Latin-rite Catholicism between the laity and the clergy.

Side note: The Episcopalians in the USA teach something like the Orthodox idea by claiming that the laity form one of the four Orders of ministry in the Episcopal Church (TEC).  It is not clear if the laity means all of the baptised or all of the confirmed.  Currently it seems that "the laity" among Episcopalians refers to the Baptised who are anointed with Chrism at Holy Baptism and may receive Confirmation later in life -- that old 'via media' -- this time between Orthodoxy and Catholicism.  

Let us look at a brief statement from Fr. Schmemann on the subject:

The Layman Is Ordained

We are accustomed to think of "ordination" as precisely the distinctive mark of clergy. They are the ordained and the laity, the non-ordained Christians. Here again, however, Orthodoxy differs from Western "clericalism," be it Roman Catholic or Protestant. If ordination means primarily the bestowing of the gifts of the Holy Spirit for the fulfillment of our vocation as Christians and members of the Church, each layman becomes a layman — laikos — through ordination. We find it in the Sacrament of Holy Chrism, which follows Baptism. Why are there two, and not just one, sacraments of entrance into the Church? Because if Baptism restores in us our true human nature, obscured by sin, Chrismation gives us the positive power and grace to be Christians, to act as Christians, to build together the Church of God and be responsible participants in the life of the Church. In this sacrament we pray that the newly baptized be:

"an honorable member of God’s Church

"a consecrated vessel

"a child of light

"an heir of God’s kingdom,

that "having preserved the gift of the Holy Spirit and increased the measure of grace committed unto him, he may receive the prize of his high calling and be numbered with the first borne whose names are written in heaven".

We are very far from the dull Webster definition.  St. Paul call all baptized Christians "fellow citizens with the saints and the household of God" (Eph. 2:1a). "For through Christ"— he says — "ye are no more strangers and foreigners but fellow citizens with the saints... in whom all the building fully framed together growth unto a holy temple in the Lord, in whom ye also are built together for an habitation of God through the Spirit."

Fr. Schmemann illustrates his point very well, but it is interesting that the quote comes from an essay regarding the 'Us' vs. 'Them' mentality causing distress among the laity and clergy in Orthodox parishes.  The essay may be read in full by clicking HERE.