Paper on the minor clergy

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.


3 Responses to Paper on the minor clergy

  1. GeorgeYuri says:

    Dear Monk Patrick,

    I understand your position on Holy Tradition. In my parish, I use unordained laypeople to read the Epistle each Sunday and on other occasions. I won’t lay claim to Oikonomia, but it is a wonderful opportunity to encourage participation by parish members in the life of the church.
    Yours in Christ,
    Rdr. GeorgeYuri

  2. Dear Rdr George,

    Thank you for the comment. While I understand your motivation to have laity read the Epistle, I think that the means is not that in accord with Holy Tradition, which, to make a stronger point, is not according to the will of our Lord. We know that God is a God of order and that He has established various offices/gifts for different purposes in the public worship of the Church. As in stated in the paper, these offices are not merely functions but also gifts of grace or the Holy Spirit and it is not appropriate that one who has not the gift to perform a function, excepting certain functions in necessity.

    The laity have their own means of participation in the life of the Church other than becoming ordained to various ministries. They could be encouraged to participate as appropriate for the laity in responses and communal hymns from their place in the nave (which is most of the Liturgy.) Otherwise, their participation in the life of the Church is taking the life from the Liturgy back home, where a husband is responsible to teach his whole family, and the wife has a particular responsibility for the faith and piety of the children. They are required to participate in almsgiving, hospitality, giving a good reason for their faith when asked, prayer at home, reading the Scriptures at home and other such things. This is participation in the life of the Church and should be the focus for the laity not reading the Epistle on Sunday, an act that is contrary to the Holy Spirit inspired canons of the Fathers (that is commandments equivalent to those of the Lord.) The laity should come to the Church to learn in quiet humility and to commune of the Lord in communion with the other faithful. This I believe is the Orthodox way. I think we need to be careful of being influenced by practices from outside the Church.

    Sorry to be speak strictly on the matter but I believe that a false sense of what it is to participate is not helpful for the general life of the Church or a “wonderful opportunity”) because it degrades the importance of the laity continuing the life of the Church at home as the real participation of the laity in the life of the Church. Also, I don’t believe that the order within the services in the Church is merely cosmetic or functional but rather is iconic of a number of spiritual mysteries. Let all things be done properly and according to order.

    In Christ,
    Priest-monk Patrick.

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