Paper on the minor clergy

27 May, 2010

Here is a link to my book on the Minor Clergy of the Orthodox Church now published on Amazon.

The Minor Clergy of the Orthodox Church

This book 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 book 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.


Testimonies of God

2 February, 2016

I have thought for a while why the commandments of God are also known as the testimonies of God. This seems a strange name for them and, in one Canon, its use this term rather than commandments for the canons seemed to carry less force for the need of obedience. However, recently an understanding has dawned on me about the significance of the use of testimonies for the canons. It rather fits in very well with something that I have thought to be true for sometime and it confirms this thought more strongly than the use of the word commandments does. What is this understanding?

The understanding is that the testimonies of God are the witness of God. They testify to the presence of God. Thus, the canons are not merely arbitrary rules or rules to manage a human organisation or system but they are rules that testify to the presence of God. They provide a tangible means of knowing God and of guiding us to live and act in a way that testifies to God’s presence in the Church. This gives the canons much more weight than the idea of arbitrary commandments. Rather, they are the framework of the door through which God is present in the Church in various ways. Just as God did not become Incarnate through any woman but only through the purest virgin, so too God is not present in the Church through any structure or way of life but only through that which He has determined as proper to Himself. These rules are not so much about man qua man but about man qua God. Thus, the rules are required to have God present in man. Because God is unchanging and always the same, these rules too take on an unchanging quality so that the one same God is properly able to be present in the Church and in each of us. They are testimonies of Him and His life and not of ours. They do not change through time because He does not change through time. The Incarnation gives the commandments of God and the testimonies of God even more force than in the Old Testament because God is more fully present in tangible man having taken humanity to Himself and united us to it through baptism and the Eucharist. The form of the door is now fixed as Christ, in both His divinity and humanity, and so the framework cannot change else it will not be fit for the door.

The Great and Holy Council?

30 January, 2016

The proposed Great and Holy Council of the Orthodox Church is unlike any previous council of the Church. It has had a long period of preparation unlike previous councils but this is not the main issue of concern. The procedure for the Council is unlike any previous Council. The votes are only for each “autocephalous” church and not for every bishop in attendance. This then is not at Ecumenical Council but a council of “Patriarchs” and, while there have previously been non-ecumenical councils involving all the Patriarchs, this type of council has previously been unknown in the Orthodox Church. The Church has no formal institution of a council of Patriarchs and it is important that it does not have such a council. Such a council would imply a permanent head of that council and so head of the whole Church. If this head was to fall into heresy then the whole Church is in danger of going with him. Such a head also has the normal conciliar right to ordain the other members of the council. This is the papal position but unknown and moreover rejected by the bishops of the East. Nevertheless, the Ecumenical Patriarch is not, yet, claiming such a thing but the type of council being called here and its way of procedure is a step in this direction and undermines the ecclesiology of the Church. An Ecumenical Council for this reason cannot be called by a Patriarch or Pope but only by a secular ruler of the “world” who commands the bishops of the “world” to come together to proclaim the common faith of the Church. In this manner, while the bishop of precedence is the “chairman” of the Council, all the other bishops are equal without the priorities of Metropolitans and Patriarchs taking their normal place. Thus, the equality of bishops qua bishop is shown to its fore in this assembly and this allows a true unanimity of faith among  them. The command of the emperor overrides the hierarchal structure of the metropolitans and patriarchs to open the way for the equal representation of the bishops. This would not be the case if the council is called by a Patriarch or Pope who could only do so by his authority within the structure. Without even deciding anything, this council is not one within the Tradition of the Church.  This forebodes badly for the rest of the council. More troubling is that it will claim an authority over the Church in implementing its decisions that it does not have and should not have. This is a recipe for schism and division, the very thing that this “so-called” council is trying to overcome.

Turning to its proposed findings. There are 5 areas that the council wants to address: 1) how the granting of autonomy is to be managed; 2) the mission of the Church in the modern world; 3) the relations of the Church with other “Christian” groups; 4) marriage impediments; and 5) fasting rules.

The first matter does need addressing in that it is causing quite some problems with Church internal unity. However, the intention is more of a procedural matter and could have been better addressed in some form of accord. One may ask though, what is this fairly recent concept of granting autonomy? Such a thing is really not in keeping with the structure and ecclesiology of the Church depending on how this is understood. It portrays another problem within the Church in its understanding of the hierarchal relationships. Rather than returning to the Tradition, this council merely puts in a procedure that gives some form of legitimacy to the present potential deviation from Tradition and the council may rather solidify a way of thinking that is foreign to the Church.

The second matter is the so-called mission to the world. This is a completely unnecessary issue. The Church is to proclaim the Gospel to the world to bring souls into union with Christ. The Church does this through its teaching and way of life. This council is in danger of surrendering the Gospel to the ways of this world and becoming an institution of the world speaking to the world about worldly concerns. The language used is more consistent with secular human rights speak than that of the Gospel and the Fathers. This is far better left out of the council and offers nothing to the faithful that is not already known and it doesn’t even contribute to any unity of the Church.

The third matter is relations to other “Christian” groups. This seems to tie the Church into the heretically inspired WCC and into a process of ecumenism. It even condemns proselytising heretics. Surely the mission of the Church is to snatch heretics from their error and not to give them a sense of being in Christ and that their differences are only a matter of discipline rather than of faith and piety. This should most definitely not be enshrined into some form of official Church teaching. This will certainly cause a deepening rift in the Church and harden the split with the OC churches which should not be ignored in the desire for unity. It will also give grave concern to those who have remained with the Church hierarchs but are opposed to ecumenical behaviour on the grounds that it is inconsistent with the Tradition of the Church. Again, the decision that is being suggested is not helpful to the Church and best left alone if not expelled from the thoughts of those proposing it.

The fourth matter is about marriage impediments. The proposed decision enshrines a particular understanding of marriage and impedes other ways of understanding the mystery. This is again dangerous. There is only one change in the canons but it is very important. As recognised in the proposed decision, the canons strictly forbid marriage with non-Orthodox. The proposed agreement changes this strict position without citing a particular necessity for any particular case. There is only a rule that the children must be baptised in the Orthodox Church. However, marriage is a mystery of the Church and there is much more at stake in the Canons of the Fathers forbidding marriage with heretics. One understanding, which is not addressed, is that there is no marriage union outside the Church because marriage union requires both partners to be Orthodox. The only economy for necessity is in the case of one of a couple converting to Orthodoxy while the other refuses to do so and, rather than split the marriage, it is permitted to remain, especially for the children. This is an economy rather than a sense of true union of marriage, which is seen in that if the non-Orthodox partner wishes to depart then the Orthodox faithful is not bound to the marriage. The proposed decision, in this understanding, means that many faithful will end in relationships in which they do not participate in the mystery of marriage. This decision will also see a watering down of the faith among the faithful and children and increase the position of those who wish to deny that heretics are separated from the Church. The rule against non-Christians remains strict but there is nothing to determine what the boundaries are of what is a Christian. Are Mormons Christian? If not why not? Then what about “Jesus only” pentecostals? What of liberal Anglicans that may deny the virgin birth or the resurrection of Christ? The Fathers have always either spoken of all heretics as one group or, if economy is to be measured to them, mentioned each by name. Again, this is the first formal change of a canon of an Ecumenical Council, without a specific necessity being provided for a qualification to meet that need. This is contrary to the spirit of the Fathers and Tradition of the Church. Again, it adds little to present practice and undermines those wishing to remain faithful to the Tradition of the Church.

The fifth matter is on fasting. The decision maintains the fasting rules of the Church and adds nothing to what has been said before other than to apply the canons with economy, which is already been done. This is a pointless decision that does nothing to enhance unity in the Church but, at least, helps to reinforce maintaining fasting as in the past, which is its one positive.

In summary, this council fails to be a council within the Tradition of the Church even before it decides anything. Then, its decisions themselves fail to conform to the Tradition of the Church.  The decisions provide nothing of necessity to the faithful and will not improve unity but rather increase internal division.


25 January, 2016

Having begun Ronald Dworkin’s, Justice for Hedgehogs, I noticed that he treats the view of God and morality in a shallow manner of a school boy approaching the ten commandments for the first time. Morality is set but God from on high as some form of arbitrary rules that are obeyed in grudging faith. Yet, how far this is from the truth of morality for the Christian. Indeed, the infant Christian is trained on obeying the rules of God so he can be trained into the right way of experiencing morality and the way of God because these things are not quickly perceived through the desires of the flesh and delights of this life. After the initial period of training, the obedient student comes to know the way of the Lord and even quickly moves through the desire of reward for doing what God wants and even beyond doing it because God wants. He comes to know the ways of God initially expressed in the rules as being the true ways of man and hence the meaning of being in the image and likeness of God. He does these things because he loves them and experiences the true rightness of these things and even transcends the rules to know the essence of the matter in his relationships with others. Thus, he even at times infringes the letter of the rules because rules are not capable of legislating for every nuance of life, even though we require them as infants to train us on the right path; one cannot gain knowledge of the truth of morality without passing through the path of obedience and those that are mature must never lesson the fear of God for beginners to obey least they deprive them of the truth to be gained.

Christianity and belief in God does not ground morality in rules that God, seemingly for arbitrary torture, gives to man but understands that morality is blueprint that free and responsible persons require to relate well to others in free consent. Freedom means that morality is not something hardwired into humanity but rather it comes in the form of rules and intuitions that may be moulded and shaped by cultural and even distorted but it is nevertheless something that requires the free consent of man. Thus, a man denying the existence of God can still be moral and have good morality. Christianity neither denies this nor that morality can be understood without God. However, Christians recognise that man is not able to fully live as morality would have him and that the full fruits of morality cannot be realised in this life terminated by mortality. Christianity gives the moral man hope and reward not in pleasing God but in being able to continue to love all more deeply and perfectly with the full capacity of true moral relationships in their depth, length, width and time.

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.