My beloved brothers and sisters in Christ Our Only True Lord, God, and Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE.
CHRIST AS “THE LEADER AND CONCLUDER OF OUR FAITH” [Hebrews 12:2].
“let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, LOOKING UNTO JESUS
THE AUTHOR AND FINISHER OF OUR FAITH, WHO FOR THE JOY THAT WAS SET
BEFORE HIM ENDURED THE CROSS, despising the shame, and has set down
at the right hand of the Throne of God. For consider Him Who endured such
hostility form sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and
discouraged in your souls” [Hebrews 12:1-3].
Our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ is both the “Author” (Initiator) and “Finisher” (Perfecter) of “faith.” “Who not only constitutes our faith, but also regenerates us through our faith in Him, in His Word. Saint Paul , who had also accepted Christ thus, as the LEADER OF HIS faith, is aware that as an Apostle of the ONLY LORD, he cannot be anything but a minister (diakonos) to the faith.” Christ’s “joy” was to do God’s will. “He “endure the Cross” in that He voluntarily accepted humiliation and death. As His followers we are to follow His determination and perseverance.
We, as Orthodox Christians, believe that there is only one True Master, Christ Jesus. Father George D. Metallinos of blessed memory writes: “He (St. Paul), clarified that they,” (the Apostles) like himself, “were ministers (diakonoi) and servants of Christ, and NOT the root and the Source of Good things,” which is Christ Only. This is also THE CONSCIENCE OF GENUINE SHEPHERDS THROUGHOUT THE AGES, AND HOW THE FAITHFUL PEOPLE OF GOD ACCEPT AND REGARD THEIR SHEPHERDS.”
The holy Apostles were the epitome of meekness and humility following the example of our Lord Christ. They understood that their discipleship was to do Christ’s will. Their ministry was one of brotherly love for their fellow men and did not see or understand their apostole (mission or ministry) to be one of exercising “authority or power.” They were true shepherds indeed who sought only to serve, heal, and to teach the word of God, the Gospel of Salvation. They never lost sight of their Divine Teacher and Lord God Whom they served faithfully and everything that they did was done for His sake and His glory. “But Jesus called them to Himself and said to them, ‘You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. Yet IT SHALL NOT BE SO AMONG YOU, BUT WHOEVER OF YOU DESIRE TO BECOME GREAT AMONG YOU SHALL BE YOUR SERVANT. AND WHOEVER OF YOU DESIRES TO BE FIRST SHALL BE SLAVE OF ALL. FOR EVEN THE SON OF MAN DID NOT COME TO BE SERVED BUT TO SERVE, AND TO GIVE HIS LIFE A RANSOM FOR MANY” [Mark 10:42-45].
The holy Apostle Peter explains and definitely defines the role of the shepherd within the Church. He says, “Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving AS OVERSEERS, not by compulsion but willingly, not for DISHONEST GAIN but eagerly; NOR AS BEING LORDS OVER THOSE ENTRUSTED TO YOU, BUT BEING EXAMPLES TO THE FLOCK, and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away” [1 Peter 5:2-3]. Pastoral work is to be undertaken “willingly” and cheerfully, WITH NEITHER FINANCIAL “GAIN” NOR POWER IN MIND. For faithful service is done on behalf of Christ, “the Chief Shepherd” and awaits an eternal “crown of glory.” “Those entrusted to you” (Gk. kleron) means those who have “the inheritance,” and is the source of our word “clergy.” In the Old Testament the Levites were the kleros; their inheritance was the Lord. In the New Testament all are kleros, a royal priesthood, equally inheriting the Lord. While there are “orders” of clergy in the Church–BISHOPS, PRESBYTERS (Priests), DEACONS-a separation or isolation between priests and laity is unknown in the New Testament.
Our Savior and Lord reveals that He is “the good Shepherd.” “The good Shepherd gives His life for the sheep. But a hireling, HE WHO IS NOT THE SHEPHERD, one who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees and the wolf catches the sheep and scatters them. The hireling flees because he is a hireling and does not care about the sheep. I am the Good Shepherd and I know My sheep and am known by My own. As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father and I lay down My life for the sheep” [John 10:11-15].
The holy Apostle Paul writing to Timothy is very clear on what the qualifications of a bishop or a deacon should be. He states, “A bishop must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach; not given to wine, not violent; not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous…not a novice, lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the devil…” [1 Timothy 3:1-7].
“Likewise Deacons must be reverent, not double-tongued, not given in much wine, not greedy for money, holding the mystery of the faith with a pure conscience. But let these also first be tested; then let them serve as deacons, being found blameless…I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, WHICH IS THE CHURCH OF THE LIVING GOD, THE PILLAR AND GROUND OF THE TRUTH” [1 Timothy 3:8-15].
As long as everyone, whether bishops, presbyters or deacons abide by Saint Paul’s admonitions then harmony, respect, love and peace will prevail in the Church. It is imperative that these sacred offices held by men be kept incorrupt and blameless. It is only then that any neglect, abuse of power, violence, greed, and controversy be avoided. Saint John Chrysostom writes on the word “blameless” “Every virtue is implied in this word. [The bishop’s] life should be unspotted so that all should look up to him, and make his life the model of their own.” All the above mentioned of course applies to presbyters as well. Bishops, Presbyters and Deacons are defenders and preservers of the Faith and they are all responsible directly to the Almighty God in keeping the Church “the Church of the Living God, the pillar and ground of the truth” pure and undefiled.
In the Orthodox Church, the laity or faithful are the people of God and are also responsible for preserving the integrity of the faith as much as bishops, presbyters and deacons. The example for this that is often given is that of bishops being refused entrance to their cities after the Council of Florence until they recanted of their signatures. The LAITY refused to accept that the Council;s decisions were in accord with the Orthodox faith. The Orthodox Christian laity are called to live by the same Christian moral standards as the clergy. They both are expected to participate in all the worship services and keep the various days and seasons of fasting and feasting. The clergy are the sacred Priesthood, where the laity are AMONG THE ROYAL PRIESTHOOD. The clergy CANNOT CONDUCT FORMAL WORSHIP SERVICES WITHOUT THE PARTICIPATION OF THE LAITY, AND THE LAITY CAN NOT PERFORM THE SAME SERVICES WITHOUT THE CLERGY TO LEAD THEM. Each plays a very important role in the liturgical and administrative life of the Church.
“Glory Be To GOD
– Saint John Chrysostomos
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With sincere agape in His Divine and Glorious Diakonia (Ministry),
The sinner and unworthy servant of God