Paper on the minor clergy

27 May, 2010

Here is a copy of a dissertation submitted for the degree of Master of Theology. It had been awarded a distinction.

Paper on the role of the minor clergy

This paper is an examination of the canons that have universal recognition in the Orthodox churches; that is the canons of the seven Ecumenical Councils and the ninth century, which are applicable to ordering the transactions of the minor clergy in the Church. While the canons are not intended to be an instruction book on the minor orders they, nevertheless, provide a good picture of the functions and expected way of life of the minor clergy and they provide a large number of rules to enable these functions and way of life to be correctly ordered.

The paper argues that, in terms of the Canon Law of the Orthodox Church, there has been an overtaking of the clerical functions by the laity, which the laity are not permitted to perform. These functions include chanting, reading, door-keeping, exorcism and serving in the chancel. These roles are the roles that were performed by the minor orders of the clergy, that is the Subdeacons, Lectors, Cantors, Exorcists, Acolytes and Doorkeepers. There seems to be an opinion that these are lay functions and so laity are appropriate to perform them but this paper will demonstrate that these are clerical functions.

It will be argued that while there is indeed a good case for the return to the laity of their role in the liturgical services, this does not mean taking over clerical functions but rather performing their proper parts in the services that are appointed for the laity. Many of these lay functions have, in the course of history, been assumed by the clergy for various reasons, and, in turn, these offices have been increasing performed by unordained laymen. This has resulted in a confusion of lay and clerical roles.

Another aspect that will be examined is the theological basis for the minor orders. It may be considered that the orders are merely functional and that they were established to ensure a quality of person that was capable of doing the function; thus, a Lector was to be capable of reading and a Cantor of singing. It will be argued in this paper that, while the clerical orders provide a mechanical function during the services, and this requires certain abilities, this function also has a theological or spiritual dimension that requires an ordination of the one performing the function, in a similar manner as ordination is required to the major orders of Bishop, Priest, and Deacon.


Vestments and Nationality

20 September, 2012

Here is a presentation given at a conference of the Orthodox Theological Research Forum recently held in Oxford:

Vestments in UK and US


Head coverings

7 February, 2012

I have been asked to write a post on the wearing of headscarves. The better terminology would be the wearing for head coverings of which a head scarf is one particular form of head covering.

According to St Paul men and women each have an iconic function that is: man is the image and glory of God and woman is the glory of man. This iconic function is seen in the manner of the roles of each, the appearance of each and in the relationships between them. The purpose of the iconic function is to manifest the relationship of God to man and make this relationship tangible in our daily lives. The male iconic image is to portray the governance of God over man and the female is to portray the obedience of man to God. Both govern and both obey since this is the relationship of all with God but between themselves a certain order is maintained that we may participate tangibly with God through such relationships and not merely abstractly with the unseen God. This order is manifest within the different levels of relationship between men and women. Mostly notably within the relationship of marriage where we clearly see elsewhere in St Paul the distinct roles of husband and wife in terms of Christ and the Church. However, there is also a public face in terms of permission to exercise public authority and teaching within the Church, the function of the hierarchy, which is permitted to men but not to women because it is God who governs and teaches us and we do not do these things to each other at a merely human level. Thus the male icon is appropriate for the hierarchy because it portrays the divine but the female icon portraying humanity learns in quietness and remains silent in the congregations. Women can govern and teach in private at home or among other women in a convent because man too shares in the governance and teaching of God to men. A married women is expected to exercise these roles in relation to her children. Women can serve the Church as deaconesses but this is a quiet role for ministry to women and it does not perform the same function as a male deacon in leading the congregation and exercising authority over minor orders.

Head coverings are the principle iconic form in terms of establishing ourselves as icons. This is because the main relationship aspect between God and man is in terms of governance and headship. Thus, the head is covered or uncovered to demonstrate this. Head coverings are asked of women to go with long hair as a free expression of obedience to God. Obedience is not forced of man to God but freely given by man hence long hair in itself, as a natural aspect, is not sufficient but a head covering is asked to be added in addition to show the free submission of man to God. The head covering is not merely for the wearers humility and obedience, it quietly bears testimony before all to lead all to obedience and humility. Because obedience to God is due at all times head coverings are also worn at all times, particularly in the presence of others, even in the home. Head coverings are most important though in relation to God seen when praying and also if prophesying. In these activities men uncover their heads to show the authority of God and also that mankind will reign with God in synergy. Women though remain covered to show the need of our continuing obedience to share one will with God. The symbolism of head covering is also used by male monastics to show their life of obedience, although they at times uncover their heads in recognition of the male iconic role that they also convey. The symbols and actions are also for the angels who also look upon us.

A head covering is supposed to cover the head fully as being completely under obedience to God. Thus, head scarves are appropriately wrapped around the head as are also many eastern forms of head coverings as used in Muslim, Jewish or even Hindu cultures. A small hat on top of the head, particularly one that is decorative, is not as appropriate although better than being without, which in terms of its symbolism is a sign of rebellion against God and of self-will, setting oneself as ruling like God if not done according to the will of God. Just as the relationship between God and man is true in all cultures so too is the requirement of head coverings. The only variation being in the type of material and the cut and shape of the coverings but the use of and minimum extent of the covering is to be applied in all cultures as a uniform aspect of Church culture.

Iconic functions are not merely symbolic as signs to teach of something else but there also establish the appropriate form within which Christ becomes present. Because humanity has form in its material aspect then a particular form is required to ensure the true presence of Christ in an incarnate and tangible manner to reflect the reality of our material condition. The material aspect truly participates in our life and existence and this is confirmed that specific material forms are required for mysteries to be manifest, so that the mystery encompasses both spiritual and material aspects of our existence.


Iconic form in the Liturgy

30 September, 2011

Here is a presentation that was given at the Orthodox Theology Research Forum held in Winchester, UK, 5-7 September 2011.

Presentation on Divine Liturgy


The union of God and man: the ground for being Orthodox

23 July, 2011

I would accept the Seven Ecumenical Councils because without Christ being both fully man and fully God in union without confusion then we could not participate in the life of God and we would forever be trapped in death. This is the Gospel and this is the teaching of the Apostles and the teaching of the inspired Fathers such as Sts Athanasius, Cyril of Alexandria, John Chrysostom, Gregory the Theologian, Leo the Great and the others. The miaphysites, by refusing to say two natures to cling to the a word of St Cyril, have not properly declared the faith of St Cyril and open themselves for confusing the natures or mingling the natures, either of which would deny our being able to retain our full human nature in union with God and so our salvation because we cannot be turned into God by nature nor confused nor mingled with His nature. St Leo says something simliar: “Nor does it matter in which direction of blasphemy they disagree with the truth of the LORD ’s Incarnation, since their erroneous opinions hold neither with the authority of the Gospel nor with the significance of the mystery.” And in another letter: “For there is no new preaching in the letter which I wrote in reply to Flavian of holy memory, when be consulted me about the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ; for in nothing did I depart from that rule of Faith which was outspokenly maintained by your ancestors and ours. And if Dioscorus had been willing to follow and imitate them, he would have abided in the Body of Christ, having in the works of Athanasius of blessed memory the materials for instruction, and in the discourses of Theophilus and Cyril of holy remembrance the means rather of praise-worthily opposing the already condemned dogma than of choosing to consort with Eutyches in his blasphemy.” See how St Leo turns to consistency with the Gospel and the Fathers as the rule of learning the true Faith and how this relates to the significance of the mystery.

Between Roman Catholic and Orthodox, issues between them have been raised throughout this thread. To go further in the differences between them, the distinction between essence and energies is also essential for our salvation otherwise we could not unite with God. Why? Because we must share the life of God, there is no life apart from God else God would be limited in some manner that is why those who separate from God die. We can’t share God’s nature else we would become God which is impossible because we cannot be without beginning. So, if there are no energies there is no connection with God, no participation in God, we are separate from Him and because there can be no life apart from him we die; we would never be able to exist in the first place. Rather the energies of God that are eternally of His essence yet distinct from it mean that we can share them, and participate in divine nature following St Peter’s second letter, without becoming God in nature; His life is realised in His energies and we become united and eternally sustained by them; if we are willing to accept them as our own in complete unity with God in one mind, perfect as he is perfect. Denying this distinction leads Roman Catholics to come up with another Gospel and understanding of salvation, which is not in keeping with the early Fathers. Protestants share this problem. This can also be seen in the spirituality of Orthodox Saints and Roman Catholic saints, particularly recent ones. While there are “miracles” claimed for both, beyond this the Orthodox saints, show evidence of this union with God in ways that go beyond any human level of spirituality, which by the way goes very deep even among non-Christians. The sanctity is seen in the fruits of the spirit, in love, patience, quietness, peace, joy, humility, unceasing prayer etc. These things are at a depth of character that are not momentary and unstable fruits, such as most have, but something that pervades them completely and permanently. Anyway, this is something that needs to be experienced first hand and there are not many whom one can easily meet of such spirituality. Nevertheless, on Mt Athos, in particular, there are a number of monks who are radiate much of this. I accept that there are many very pious Roman Catholics and Protestants but the spirituality to which I am referring transcends this; it is truly divine. This is also reflected in the art of the churches. Roman Catholic art since the schism became very fleshly, emotional and sentimental, as are pictures used by Protestants. The traditional iconography of pre-schism west and present day Orthodox points to something divine; it seems flat and lifeless to one accustomed to secular art but when one understands the spirit of the icons then one sees the divine in them; the transcendent peace and holiness free from passions. True spirituality frees itself from the passions, emotions and sentimentality, it becomes still in human terms but then it radiates life in divine spiritual terms. This spirituality is also seen in the actions of Patriarch Anatolius and others in reaction to St Leo’s refusal to accept Canon 28. They aimed to keep the peace, they obeyed in love as Christ commanded; this didn’t mean to say that the other was in absolute authority over them but it is an act of humility and love; this was not a sham or sign of weakness but to keep the importance of peace and unity. How do we know that they acted as such because the peace and unity was kept and yet the Patriarch of Constantinople continued to exercise all the authority that was recognised by the Canon. The Canon remained in the books and was reaffirmed at the Council of Trullo. If St Leo’s opinion was truly acknowledged in principle as an authoritative part of the Apostolic Tradition by divine will then they would have removed the Canon, the Patriarch of Constantinople would have stopped ordaining Metropolitans and the Council of Trullo would not have reaffirmed the Canon because it would be known to have been rejected by God through St Leo. Contrary to this they knew the Canon to be of Divine will and so they maintained it.


Ullmann and the legal framework for Papal Succession

19 July, 2011

Briefly, it seems that the much of the difference between the present Roman Catholic understanding of the role of St Peter in the Church and that of the Orthodox understanding is connected with the models of what it is that each Pope of Rome assumes on ascending the throne. Is it as bishop of the first See of the Catholic Church, or is it as an heir to the authority of St Peter? Is his status of Pope bound to his status as Bishop or to an inherited authority that is not dependant on being Bishop? Is the position dependent on the See of Rome and its location or only on a legal recognition of a candidate as being the legitimate heir of the Papacy? These are some of the questions arising from the model presented in Ullmann and that from an Orthodox perspective. I will fill this post later with more thoughts, but it is largely to allow the continuance of a discussion begun elsewhere. Please feel to drop in any comments about this particularly or in general about the place of St Peter focusing on patristic evidence and possible theological/ecclesiological models for understanding it.


The Place of Women in the Clergy

24 March, 2011

The place of women among the clergy is a particularly pressing topic today, especially with moves in groups, such as the Anglican Communion, to ordain women into the Priesthood. This paper will only address the matters pertaining to the minor clergy rather than the issue of Priesthood. It will also include within its scope the Deaconess, who, although perhaps considered a female Deacon, is in some places referred to as a servant of the Deacons along with the other minor clergy.

There is generally silence among the canons regarding women’s ordination to the ranks of the minor clergy. There is an assumption in the canons that the clergy are male because all the canons regarding marriage assume that the cleric is male. The only reference to female ordinations or clerical roles in the canons is that of the Deaconess, so it would seem from the silence and assumptions that only males where chosen for the minor orders. This seems to be consistent with historical evidence that only men were chosen for the minor orders and the only role permitted to women with official sanction was that of Deaconess. This is also supported with the evidence from the extant ordination prayers for a Deaconess, which specifically mention that it has been “granted not only to men but also to women the grace and visitation of the Holy Spirit” and “you do not reject women who offer themselves, and by divine counsel, to minister as is fitting to your holy houses, but you accept them in the order of ministers.” It would seem superfluous to mention that women were also permitted to minister in the holy houses in this rite, unless this was the only ministry open to women. Also, of significance in this issue, which will be referred to later in regard of the functions of a Deaconess, is Paul’s canon that women are to remain silent in the churches. This would be particularly inconsistent with them serving as Lectors or Canters, whose primary function is to speak aloud the divine words either in plain voice or by song for the congregation to hear.

The functions of a Deaconess seem to have been focused on ministry to women. The Apostolic Constitutions give the clearest statement and state that “A Deaconess does not bless, nor perform anything belonging to the office of Presbyters or Deacons, but only is to keep the doors, and to minister to the Presbyters in the baptising of women, on account of decency.” Here there is no mention of any service at the altar but only assistance at the doors and with baptism such as anointing the body of an adult female with oil before the baptism and helping her into the water. She may also have been able to take communion to women at home who were unable to come to church. This may explain why the Deaconess is permitted to take the chalice after her communion and place it on the altar, an interesting action not found in any of the other ordination rites. Being a minister of the Eucharist would be consistent with her being permitted to enter the Sanctuary. However, there is no mention of her giving the chalice to communicants during the liturgy, as was done by the male Deacons, so her ministry seems only to have been taking communion to women outside church gatherings. Even though the ordination of Deaconesses was performed in the liturgy at the same time as a Deacon’s ordination (unlike the ordinations of minor clergy, which are generally performed outside the liturgy,) and apart from speaking of her ministry as being in the diaconate and as receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit, the extant ordination rite does not include mention of ministry at the Holy Mysteries but only in the holy house, which is similar to the prayer for a Subdeacon. Also, the rite does not include any circling, nor kissing of the Holy Table, nor is there any exclamation of “Axios” by the people. She receives a stole but put around her neck and not worn in the same manner as a Deacon. She doesn’t have any other vestments. She does not kneel but only stands, which according to Dionysius the Areopagite, means that she does not have a position of leadership in the Church. This conforms with her being a servant to the Deacons, as mentioned in the Apostolic Constitutions and also with the writings of Paul, who in his epistle to Timothy says that a woman is not permitted to have authority over a man. Finally, she does not say any litanies as does a male Deacon after his ordination, which means that her role is a silent one and does not involve leading the congregation in prayer. Again, this fits with the commandment given by Paul for women to be silent in church. Thus, the evidence indicates that the role of a Deaconess is different than that of a male Deacon, even if she is considered a member of the major clergy.

Other requirements for a Deaconess include that she is 40 years of age or older at her ordination, again unlike a male Deacon who is required to be 25 years old, and she must be unmarried: either a virgin, that is a nun, or a widow. There are severe penalties for breach of this requirement. This is again different from the male clergy, who are permitted to be married and continue married at ordination. It is difficult to know exactly why there are these differences but it is clear that remaining free of martial or sexual relations is beyond what is expected of male clergy, at least in the East. The maturity required for her to serve is also greater than required of a Deacon. This may relate the requirement for her to remain unmarried with some parallel to the age restriction for widows. It would also suggest that the Deaconess was not ordained for mechanical functions in the services but a range of functions for women including teaching, which would require her to be more mature. Her freedom from a husband would help prevent a conflict of interest regarding obedience to the Bishop and permit to live in communities of women. The sexual purity being unmarried is no more than expected of an unmarried male clergyman.


Exhortation to seeking eternal treasures

19 March, 2011

We must orientate our minds and thoughts to spiritual things and not be trapped seeking temporal joys, goals and pleasures of the dying world. If we are not careful to begin doing this early we grow old in our earthly thoughts and we become blind to the heavenly message as seeing but not perceiving and hearing but not understanding.

I have experienced this first hand with an older non-Orthodox Christian who is committed to her faith but who has not seen the need to pursue spiritual knowledge and in later years when life has not gone as desired seeks after temporal joys to give her hope. When mentioning the priority of seeking eternal treasures the thought misses her and all she recognise is that one is being negative about the temporal joy and what is wrong with that. Her line of thinking seem to suggest that the pleasures of this world should be enjoyed in this life and the treasures of heaven are for the next life. However, if we do not put aside the temporality of this life now and seek the eternal treasures of the life to come now, then we will not be able to accept the eternal treasures when we die.


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