Meeting The Orthodox (Page 8 of 25)

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By: Fr. Thomas Hopko
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8. The Laymen

Your explanation until now makes the Orthodox Church look like a highly clerical body with strong hierarchical control. What about the laymen in the Church? Do they have a role?

First of all, it has to be understood that all members of the Church are full members, each with his own calling and responsibility.

The clergy are those members who have a special service within the body, and not over it or apart from it. They are chosen from the people and are ordained within the community with the special sacramental function to lead and to care for the life of the faithful.

The clergy, however, are in no way infallible. They also have no “personal” rights or powers. Their entire service is organically carried on in and for the Church. If they fail in their service and prove themselves unworthy, they may be challenged by the lay people and by procedures clearly indicated in church laws they may be removed from their ministry. There are many examples in Orthodox Church history when lay people have preserved the Christian Faith in opposition to unworthy hierarchs.

Also it must be seen that there are conciliar bodies on every level of church life in which lay people participate. The majority of theologians and teachers in the Orthodox Church, as well as church administrators and workers of various sorts, are lay people and not clergymen.

Thus, although the clergy have their own particular function of leadership, and that by sacramental grace and not merely by human choice or selection, the lay people have their functions as well. All, however, are responsible for the integrity of the Church. This traditional Orthodox position has the official confirmation of the famous Encyclical Letter of the Eastern Patriarchs of 1848. In this letter it is clearly expressed that the entire body of the Church is the bearer of the Orthodox Faith and Life, with each member bearing full responsibility before God and men for Christian unity in the truth and Love of God. Thus if we can speak about any infallibility at all, or of any power or authority, it must belong to God who lives and acts in all of His People, led by the sacramental hierarchy.


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