Who is right, who is wrong? And are we to continue in this frustrating "civil war" at a time when we need unity and the total mobilization of all our resources to withstand the challenge of the modern world? When Catholics and Protestants outnumber us by 150 to 1, the younger generations shake in their attachment to Orthodoxy and we must count on each one for the gigantic tasks that we face? We call ourselves Orthodox — i.e. men of the true faith. We ought then to be capable of finding in their true faith guiding principles and positive solutions to all our problems...
A major source of the misunderstanding, strange as it may seem, is terminological. The terms clergy and laity are used all the time, yet, without a clear understanding of their proper — i.e. Orthodox, meaning. People do not realize that between such Orthodox meaning and the current one, which we find in, say, Webster’s Dictionary, there exists a rather radical difference. We must begin, then, by restoring to the terms we use their true significance.
In Webster, lay is defined as:
The words lay, laity, layman come from the Greek word laos which means people. "Laikos," layman, is the one who belongs to the people, who is a member of an organic and organized community. It is, in other words, not a negative, but a highly positive term. It implies the ideas of full, responsible, active membership as opposed, for example, to the status of a candidate. Yet the Christian use made this term even more positive. It comes from the Greek translation of the Old Testament where the word laos is applied ordinary to the People of God, to Israel, the people elected and sanctified by God Himself as His people. This concept of the "people of God" is central in the Bible. The Bible affirms that God has chosen one people among many to be His particular instrument in history, to fulfill His plan, to prepare, above everything else, the coming of Christ, the Saviour of the World. With this one people God has entered into "covenant", a pact or agreement of mutual belonging. The Old Testament, however, is but the preparation of the New. And in Christ, the privileges and the election of the "people of God" are extended to all those who accept Him, believe in Him and are ready to accept Him as God and Saviour. Thus, the Church, the community of those who believe in Christ, becomes the true people of God, the "laos" and each Christian a laikos — a member of the People of God.
We are accustomed to think of "ordination" as precisely the distinctive mark of clergy. They are the ordained and the laity, the non-ordained Christians. Here again, however, Orthodoxy differs from Western "clericalism," be it Roman Catholic or Protestant. If ordination means primarily the bestowing of the gifts of the Holy Spirit for the fulfillment of our vacation as Christians and members of the Church, each layman becomes a layman — laikos — through ordination. We find it in the Sacrament of Holy Chrism, which follows Baptism. Why are there two, and not just one, sacraments of entrance into the Church? Because if Baptism restores in us our true human nature, obscured by sin, Chrismation gives us the positive power and grace to be Christians, to act as Christians, to build together the Church of God and be responsible participants in the life of the Church. In this sacrament we pray that the newly baptized be:
We think of worship as a specifically clerical sphere of activity. The priest celebrates, the laity attend. One is active, the other passive. It is another error and a serious one at that. The Christian term for worship is leitourgia which means precisely a corporate, common, all embracing action in which all those who are present are active participants. All prayers in the Orthodox Church are always written in terms of the plural we. We offer, we pray, we thank, we adore, we enter, we ascend, we receive. The layman is in a very direct way the co-celebrant of the priest, the latter offering to God the prayers of the Church, representing all people, speaking on their behalf. One illustration of this co-celebration may be helpful; the word Amen, to which we are so used, that we really pay no attention to it. And yet it is a crucial word. No prayer, no sacrifice, no blessing is ever given in the Church without being sanctioned by the Amen which means an approval, agreement, participation. To say Amen to anything means that I make it mine, that I give my consent to it... And "Amen" is indeed the Word of the laity in the Church, expressing the function of the laity as the People of God, which freely and joyfully accepts the Divine offer, sanctions it with its consent. There is really no service, no liturgy without the Amen of those who have been ordained to serve God as community, as Church.
It is this Orthodox understanding of the "laity" that discloses the real meaning and function of clergy. In the Orthodox Church clergy is not above laity or opposed to it. First of all, strangely at it may seem, the basic meaning of term clergy is very close to that of laity. Clergy comes from "clerus" which means the "part of God". "Clergy" means that part of mankind that belongs to God, has accepted His call, has dedicated itself to God. In this initial meaning the whole Church is described as "clergy"— part or inheritance of God: "O God, save Thy people and bless Thine inheritance": (kleronomia or clergy — in Greek). The Church because She is the People of God (laity) is His "part", His "inheritance".
The conclusion is clear: there is no opposition between clergy and laity in the Church. Both are essential. The Church as a totality is Laity and the Church as a totality is the Inheritance, the Clergy of God. And in order to be this, there must exist within the Church the distinction of functions, of ministries that complete one another. The clergy are ordained to make the Church the gift of God,— the manifestation and communication of His truth, grace and salvation to men. It is their sacred function, and they fulfill it only in complete obedience to God. The laity are ordained to make the Church the acceptance of that gift, the "Amen" of mankind to God. They equally can fulfill their function only in complete obedience to God. It is the same obedience: to God and to the Church that establishes the harmony between clergy and laity, make them one body, growing into the fullness of Christ.
This simple and Orthodox truth is obscured too often by some ideas, that we have willingly or unwillingly accepted from the environment in which we live.
Many mistakes have been made on both sides in the past, let us forget them. Let us rather make an attempt to find and to make ours the truth of the Church. It is simple, wonderful and constructive. It liberates us from all fears, bitterness and inhibitions. And we shall work together — in the unity of faith and love — for the fulfillment of God’s Kingdom.