Christ is risen! Truly He is risen!
Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution. Then the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables. Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” And the saying pleased the whole multitude. And they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch, whom they set before the apostles; and when they had prayed, they laid hands on them. Then the word of God spread, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith. (Acts 6:1-7)
In the earliest days of the Christian movement, there was a welcomed rapid growth spurt that also necessitated the Church to creatively deal with the ‘growing pains.’ Growth creates both opportunities and problems. The Apostles were quite willing to share the burden of leadership with others so they could concentrate on the things they felt uniquely called to do. They did not see a need to control everything, be in charge of everything or even be involved in every aspect of Church life (they were not micromanaging the communities which were forming in obedience to Christ). In fact, they felt some much-needed tasks were better done by other believers rather than by themselves. So, the office of the deacon was born out of necessity. It was seen as a broadening out of apostolic powers and responsibilities, or even a spinning off of certain apostolic ministry. As a result of proclaiming the Gospel, the Church realized new apostolic responsibilities were emerging. The Apostles themselves couldn’t do it all, but that didn’t mean these ministry “spin offs” were anything less apostolic. It would be good for the Church today to again embrace the thinking of the Apostles and create new ministries and ministers in the Church so that even more of the Lord’s work could be accomplished by the Church. The Lord Jesus told us: “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Luke 10:2).
Two comments on ordination and ministries in the Church are below, the first by Fr Alexander Schmemann who is equating ministry with clergy and thus understands ministry to be part of (and perhaps limited to) the liturgical and hierarchical nature of the Church. While the thinking that emerges in the Church through history does equate ministry with clergy and hierarchy, I see no reason why this has to be so especially when thinking about the creation of the diaconate. There can and should be ministers and ministries in the Church that aren’t related to or part of hierarchical thinking (chaplains come to mind, visitors of the sick and imprisoned, charity work, educational ministry, singers, parish administrators, those doing various support work including maintenance and cleaning, various types of evangelism or apologetics, counseling or dealing with ethical and theological issues). One only has to think about Matthew 20:25-28 – But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave; even as the Son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” There is a very strong anti-hierarchical sentiment in the Gospels (see example Matthew 18:4 , 20:20-27, 23:1-12 ; Mark 10:42-44; Luke 22:24-27; John 13:1-17). Fr Schmemann says:
“To ordain someone to a hierarchical function does not mean his elevation above the others, his opposition to them as ‘power’ to ‘submission.’ It means the recognition by the Church of his personal vocation within the Ecclesia, of his appointment by God, who knows the hearts of men and is, therefore, the source of all vocations and gifts. It is, thus, a truly conciliar act, for it reveals the obedience of all: the obedience of the one who is ordained, the obedience of those who ordain him, ie. recognize in him the divine call to the ministry of government, the obedience of the whole Church to the will of God. … ‘Clergy’ are, by definition, those whose special ministry and ‘obedience’ is to govern the Church and whom the Church has recognized as called to this ministry. . . . The real question concerns the relation between the ministry of government and the conciliar nature of the Church. How does the hierarchical principle fulfill the Church as council? (CHURCH WORLD MISSION, pp 166-167)
Schmemann does connect hierarchy, the Church’s governing ministry/authority, to the conciliar nature of the Church. Christian Hierarchy is not that which is ‘over’ the rest of the Church, but functions only within the communal nature of the Church. Hierarchy is something within the Body of Christ whose purpose is to help all the membership carry out the Church’s mission rather than controlling all the work of the Church or exclusively doing the work of the Church. Hierarchy can only work in the Church if there is full conciliarity which recognizes all the members of the Body of Christ having an essential role and ministry.
Fr Michael Plekon commenting on the works of Nicholas Afanasiev writes:
“The different places or roles in the liturgical assembly are not according to honor or any other political or social or economic status, Afanasiev insists, but with respect to the ministry of each, which is a gift of God. In the ‘priestly act of worship,’ there is no division of the assembly. It is not, as it appears later in history and today, that some, the ordained, ‘celebrate’ while the rest, the laity, merely attend. . . . ‘It is the people of God, in all its fullness, that celebrates the sacrament of the Church. The gathering, which is the essential element of the ekklesia has been forsaken. There is, in fact, no gathering. There are only sacred acts which are performed by those who are ordained.’ (LIVING ICONS, pp 163-164)
It is the entire assembly of parish members which celebrates the Church’s sacraments – not just the clergy! When the Church assembles in worship, all its ministers gather together to do the work of God (liturgy is the common work of all the members, not just the clergy). Unfortunately, this is often not obvious in the Orthodox Church which sometimes reduces the Church to liturgical functions and clergy. No clergyman (no matter what hierarchical rank he has) is to serve the Divine Liturgy alone – there must be at least a 2nd person present to fulfill Christ’s teaching from Matthew 18:20 – “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” Occasionally theologians like Afanasiev point out the Church is suffering a reductionist vision of itself in which there are clergy who function and the laity are observers. Not only are the laity reduced to observers, but sometimes clergy act as if their role is to protect the Church and the sacraments from the laity!
The Church is called to be the fullness of the faith and to recognize all of its life and activities as ministries and all its members as ministers. Even in the Creed, the Church is not claimed to be hierarchical but “one, holy, catholic and apostolic.” It would be under the ‘catholic’ rubric that one can understand the universal nature of the Church through its many and varied ministers and ministries. My quip regarding the Church is related to the prosfora, the holy bread of the Church. We all must become bakers of this bread, and not be merely loafers. If we show up at the church expecting everything to be in order (all the work done by others) and we come just to take communion, then we are not being Christians who are supposed to be givers more than takers. As St Paul says in Acts 20:35 – In all things I have shown you that by so toiling one must help the weak, remembering the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.'”