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 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.
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.
I have recently read someone critiquing St Augustine and his interpretation of original sin as original guilt. They showed that how St Augustine taught that unbaptised infants would go to hell because they inherited the original guilt of Adam, even though the infants themselves are innocent of their sins. Correctly, they understood that inherited guilt is not the correct interpretation of original sin and the infants don’t inherit the guilt of Adam. The conclusion thus inferred is the Orthodox do not teach that unbaptised infants go to hell because they are innocent of sin.
This conclusion though is not correct. Inherited guilt is not the only reason that unbaptised infants would go to hell. Our position in heaven or hell is not only based on our innocence from sin. Our eternal life is not primarily about heaven and hell but about deification, that is union with God. Union with the One. Those who are united to Him are also united to one another and share the life of God, this is heaven, those who are not united with God, are also separated from others and live alone eternally, this is hell.
Christ worked our salvation by uniting our complete human nature with the complete divine nature in His person, thus He now has two natures. Our individual salvation in now affected by uniting ourselves to Christ becoming one with Him, one Body and sons of God by adoption. This union must be complete and Christ must be all in all both as God and as man. Our virtues and faith allow us to unite with the divine nature and this is the greater part but also we must be united in the human or created nature; we must be one Body with Christ, flesh of his flesh. This union is achieved initially through the mystery of Baptism and then sustained by the Eucharist. Baptism is administered though a created element, water, and is completed by the divine with Chrismation and the seal of the Holy Spirit. We need to partake of both for salvation otherwise we are not united to Christ and remain separate in one nature or the other; Christ teaches this in John 3: Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless someone is born of water and of Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” Each infant born is separated from Christ in the created/human nature by inheriting death from its parents. It requires baptism to unite it to Christ and enable it to achieve deification or union with God. Its innocence means that it is open to uniting to the divine nature but it is still separate from Christ in its created nature.
The union with the created nature must come about by the created nature, the union must be manifest though a created symbol of Christ and this is symbolised primarily in the death, burial and resurrection affected in water by a Priest of the Church. Because Baptism is to unite one with Christ and hence His Church, it can only be effective when given by and in the Church. The baptism of those separated from Christ and the Church cannot thus unite one to the Church and Christ. Salvation is only through the Church because it is only by the Church that one can be united in our human/created nature by means of our human created nature.
We must remember that salvation is about union with God, not about being a good person. We must be good because God is good but we are not saved because we are good. We are saved because we are willing to be united to God to have God be all in all in us and to are willing to be united to each other in one Body.
Here is a link to my book on the Minor Clergy of the Orthodox Church now published on Amazon.
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.
God is life, all life. There is no life apart from God because to believe so is to limit God. What lives lives in God and by God, even though it is other than God that is of a different essence. It lives by participation of his energies. He sustains it and gives it life. What is separate from God is separate from life and so heads to death. Only united to God and participating in his life can one live.
Man was created in union with God, although not yet perfect, as such he was maintained in life and free of death. Man was also sustained in virtue, the way to live correctly. However, once man disobeyed God he then separated his will from that of God and so separated his whole being from God, which meant that he would die because he is no longer united to life. God does not create death. Death is the only possible result for those who freely reject life, that is reject God, especially his will and sovereignty.
God is simple and not compounded of parts thus we cannot be partially united with Him rather we must be united in all aspects of our being. Our existence is compounded of various aspects which are united without confusion in the One but known distinctly in our created nature. Each other these aspects must be united to him because they are united in him. Even matter is united with God in Christ without dividing him.
God sustains us though even in our sin and separation because he, in his great love, waits for our repentance but he cannot forbear with us forever otherwise he would then deny himself, who must be all in all. Eventually, those who are not united to him must be left to death so that those who are united to him may experience the fullness of his life as he completely becomes all in all. However, he will not deny his own image in those separated from him and it will be preserved forever in him, although the person will suffer the torments of death forever. God is eternal and life is eternal. He cannot deny himself and become temporal. We must accept that we too must share in eternity, either united in the joy of life or separated in the anguish of death.
After the Fall man, being separated from God and so life, cannot of his own strength live nor persevere in virtue. He decays into death and sin. However, man has not lost the image of God so retains the ability for virtue but disconnected from the source it becomes clouded with sin and unable without God to be perfect. His mind not knowing God becomes fixed on the temporal existence of this world and he forgets that existence is eternal, that life is in God and is mainfested in virtue. But man is capable of repentance through faith and if he is willing to be reunited with God and accept God’s help by submitting to God’s will and sovereignty.
Baptism in the Church is the means of uniting man to God through Christ, it restores the original union of Adam with God and permits us to share in life and persevere in virtue. It allows us to become perfect in virtue and life because we have the life of God to enable us through the grace of the Holy Spirit. However, our body remains subject to death because the resurrection is not yet and to show that it remains our body united to but not confused with the body of Christ. It can be cut off from him again also. Nevertheless, because bodies of the baptised share in the union with Christ, the bodies of saints, those who maintain the union all their life, become holy reliques full of grace and even remain incorrupt because they are united to living body of Christ.
Without baptism of the Church, the body of Christ, man remains separate from God and unable to partake of his life. Our union with God must take place both spiritually and physically. The whole man, body and soul, needs to be united with God. Faith without works is dead as are works without faith and baptism.
Now concerning the things offered to idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies. And if anyone thinks that he knows anything, he has come to know nothing yet as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, this one has been known by Him. (1 Corinthians 8:1-3)
And though I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:2)
Knowledge as an end in itself is empty, it does nothing other than puff one up. As a means of finding the True God and of helping others to do so, it can be very helpful but only once it becomes fulfilled in the love of God. Only love and relationship have any real eternal value. It is only in sharing our life with others that we truly live and the core of sharing our life is love, without which we cannot truly bond with the other in communion. Why God? Because only God has life and love eternally and only in Him can we also participate of this life and love in a permanent and meaningful manner because human love is temporary and partial.
Knowing God is participating in His life. His life becomes our life and our life becomes His life. God is not an object that we behold from outside in some form of beatific vision, there is no outside of God from which to behold Him, but a subject within Whom we participate in relationships in love. We know God from experiencing this love and these relationships that is why to love God is to obey his commandments, the greatest of which is love. It is by living as He lives in all purity and virtue that we get to know Him as He is, not through some external knowledge about Him. We participate in Him by sharing His energies/operations and not by beholding His essence. This is impossible because to know His essence is not a matter of something to see or to grasp intellectually but something that can only be known by being. Yet, only God is God, only the hypostases of the Father, the Son and of the Holy Spirit are God in essence. It is impossible for anyone else, any creature, to have this essence otherwise they would be one of the hypostases of God and hence not a creature. The essence is not an object to be considered but the substance of a being and only that being can know its essence. This is why we partake of the energies of God, that is the operations/energies of His life. We know God because we will live like Him not in a partial limited reflection of His life, such as knowing someone in a mirror, but by truly partaking of His own life, such as knowing someone face to face but much more deeply than this analogy allows.