Be a Holy Priesthood

Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. . . .  But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.  (1 Peter 2:4-9)


It is St. Peter who tells all of Christians to be a holy priesthood and who says we are a royal priesthood.  It is where we get the notion of the priesthood of all believers.  So how can we all be priests?  We can do with our lives what priests do in the Liturgy.

We can make everything and anything we do an offering to God.  Each of us offers to God daily whatever it is we do in our lives…

Whatever we think

Whatever we say

Whatever we do

These are our offerings to God.  If we remember that every moment of our life is an offering to God and stay consciously aware of this, we can actually transfigure all we do into something holy.   Our “Christian” life is not opposed to our daily or secular life.  We have only one life we live.  Every aspect of our lives – what we do in our bedrooms, in our living rooms, in our kitchens as well as our workshops and garages – becomes our offering to God.  We can transform any minute and every minute into prayer and into a spiritual sacrifice.  The spiritual sacrifice is what St. Peter tells us we are to offer to God.  This is not some ritual act, but rather we turn everything we do into prayer and an offering to God.


In today’s Epistle (Galatians 6:11-16), we hear the words:  “what counts is a new creation.”  That is what we are trying to do.  We come to church and see the icons, these are people, scenes and events transfigured by God into holy events and holy people.  We come here and experience bread and wine transfigured into the Body and Blood of Christ.  We come here as individuals and are transformed by the Holy Spirit into the Body of Christ, God’s own church.

What we experience here, we can do in our own homes and lives as God’s priests.  We can transfigure and transform every moment into an iconic moment.  The icons shouldn’t just be on the walls of the church, we can make our lives iconic .  In fact we are each an icon of God – we each are created in God’s image (icon) [Genesis 1:26-27].  When we live as Christians, when we live in God’s likeness, we make each moment and each event iconic because we make God’s image present in us.


For God so loved the world…”   (John 3 – today’s Gospel) –

Fr. Schmemann points out  it is this world God loves.  It is this life God loves.  No other.

This world and this life are to be communion with God.  God offers this to us, but we can also strive to make it so.

It is this world where there are hurricanes, and earthquakes and war and political strife and financial struggle –  this is the very world into which Christ became incarnate.  He chose to enter into this world because of His love for us.


Mt. Saint Helens Volcano

There is something about this world which God loves and is not willing to give up on .  He wants to transform this world, not replace it with some other world.

God loves this world

God wishes to save this world

God can transfigure this world.

Even with all the problems of this world – natural disasters, human made disasters, sin, evil, human hubris, God still loves this world because He sees the goodness in it and He still sees His image in us!  God has entered into this world and share our human nature because God loves us and this world.


We can cooperate with God by being God’s priests and transforming our lives and what we do into a daily spiritual offering to God.  We can make ourselves image bearers of God and can make our lives, our homes, our time on earth to be iconic and to reveal the presence of God to everyone.



The Holy Spirit at Work in Us

“Come to him, to that living stone, rejected by men but in God’s sight chosen and precious; and like living stones be yourselves built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. . . . But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were no people but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy but now you have received mercy.” (1 Peter 2:4-5, 9-10;  emphases not in the original text)


Every baptized Orthodox Christian receives the Holy Spirit in and through the sacraments of baptism, chrismation and the Eucharist.  How do we show that the Holy Spirit is at work in our lives?


Each Orthodox Christian is called to be part of the holy priesthood.  Priests in general consecrate things – to make them into an offering to God.  In the Church, Bishops consecrate Chrism and men to serve as priests and deacons in the church.  Priest in turn consecrate believers in baptism and also bread and wine to be shown to be the Body and Blood of Christ.   But all believers share in a priesthood in which we each are to consecrate the things in our life – our homes, families, children, jobs, hobbies, meals, friendships, thoughts, words, feelings – everything great and little can be consecrated.  We can make everything we do into a holy offering to God.  The meals we cook, the things we build, or memorize, or sing, or think about – all can be consecrated, offered to God.  If we think we can’t offer it to God, perhaps we shouldn’t be doing it.  But what we choose to do, all of these things we should offer to God, consecrate them to God and for God’s own use so that God will deify them.


Everything we have is a gift from God including our lives, our possessions, our blessings, our talents, knowledge, wisdom, the work of our hands.  So what can we offer to God that is truly our own?  What is truly ours are our wills and our decisions.  We can freely opt to co-operate with God.  We can present ourselves to God  in order to serve Him.  Our free wills belong to us and we can work in synergy with God to accomplish God’s will.  Thus every decision, the countless ones we make in our daily lives are each an opportunity for us to serve God – to offer that moment in our lives to God, to direct our energy toward God.  Our choices are a true offering to God –  not something God predetermines in our lives, but what we can freely offer to God.  Our love is something we can choose to offer to God.  It is something God truly values in us and from us.

Repentance: Opening One’s Heart to Receiving Spiritual Gifts

Ephesians 4:11-16

The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,  until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.  We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming.   But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,  from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.

Athonite Monk Alexis Trader comments:

“According to the Fathers, spiritual gifts are given so that the struggling believer can more fully lead the Christian life by observing ‘all things whatsoever Christ commanded the Apostles to do.’ Saint Maximus goes so far as to define a gift of the Spirit as ‘every capacity for fulfilling a commandment.’[…]God is quiet ready to shed His gifts upon His children, but his children first must cleanse and ready the vessel (i.e., their entire existence: body and soul) in which the gifts can be received. Saint Basil the Great notes that God grants His gifts not only with the benefit of others in mind, but also according to the faith, peace, and purity from the passions of the one receiving the gift.[…]Purification through repentance is required before the believer reaches the stage of illumination in which the gifts are given.[…]Thus in order for a believer to receive spiritual gifts, he not only requires a general purity from the passions, but the good soil of a ready mind or heart well fertilized with the virtue that most corresponds to that spiritual gift. The reception of spiritual gifts, like every aspect in the work of man’s salvation, is the joint activity of (synergy between) the grace of God and the free will of man.” (In Peace Let Us Pray to the Lord, pgs. 48-50)

Constantine, the Church and War (1)

This is the 9th blog in this series which began with Two Versions of Constantine the Great.   The previous blog is Constantine, Heretics and Schismatics (2).   This blog series is considering Constantine the Great as presented in two books:  Paul Stephenson’s  CONSTANTINE: ROMAN EMPEROR, CHRISTIAN VICTOR  and Peter Leithart’s DEFENDING CONSTANTINE.

Both Leithart and Stephenson agree that while there is a tendency in early Christianity to see military service and warfare as being inconsistent with Christ’s Gospel commandments.  However, when the reasoning behind this “pacifism” is stated it often is not so much opposition to violence and warfare as it is a rejection of the pagan ritualism that was mandatory throughout the Roman military establishment.

 “In several versions of the Apostolic Tradition (written ca 215AD), those who held public office, administered justice or were officers in the army were – like gladiators and prostitutes – expressly forbidden from receiving baptism, since their professions involved them in activities that were impermissible for Christians.” (Stephenson, CONSTANTINE: ROMAN EMPEROR, CHRISTIAN VICTOR, p  280)

Of course because our modern perspective accepts many centuries  of Christians being involved in governments and warfare, it is a little bit difficult for us to completely understand the early church’s attitude toward government let alone toward warfare.  We can look at some of the attitudes towards war and the military that we find expressed in the Post-Apostolic period.

“Indeed, Tertullian’s (d. ca 220AD) disapproval of Christian participation in military matters is not principally provoked by the potential for violence occasioned by army life.  Rather, his particular distaste is for the requirement for all soldiers in the Roman army to participate fully and regularly without fail or resistance, in state religio … Tertullian condemns Christian soldiers who do not display the courage of their convictions, but instead wear the symbols of idolaters…”   (Stephenson, CONSTANTINE: ROMAN EMPEROR, CHRISTIAN VICTOR, p 56 )

Leithart agrees with Stephenson’s assessment of Tertullian:  Tertullian expresses little about the violence involved in being in the army but is very concerned that Christians not participate in pagan sacrifice and ritual.

“His main argument against Christians in military service—not, to be sure, his only one—was that they would be required to participate in pagan rites.  He argued that the military oath, the sacramentum, was incompatible with the Christian’s commitment to Jesus …  His later treatise De corona militis… its focus was overwhelmingly on the idolatry involved in wearing the military crown, rather than on the issue of bloodshed.”  (Leithart, DEFENDING CONSTANTINE, p  270)

Of course it is possible that the thought of Christians being involved in bloodshed seemed so appalling and remote that Tertullian didn’t even entertain that thought.   He focused on what was much more obvious to him – Roman military personnel engaged in mandatory pagan rituals.  Their service was not only to the empire but also involved loyalty to the gods their officers and emperors served.  So Tertullian may never even get as far as commenting on Christians actually participating in military killings, as for him just putting on the military uniform is a form of denying Christ.

Origen had a slightly more sophisticated appeal regarding Christian military service:  just as pagan priests were exempted from military service so that they could seek the favor of their gods on behalf of the empire, so too Christians, who all shared in the priesthood of all believers,  should be exempt from military service since all of them wrestle in prayer with the righteousness of the empire; apart from that righteousness, the empire would not be worth serving militarily.

40 Martyrs of Sebaste

Origen’s (d. ca. 254AD) arguments, however, were often linked with conceptions of pollution.  He appealed to the pagan practice of exempting priests from military service, arguing that Christians are priests and thus fight in prayer and worship rather than with the sword.  ‘Do not those who are priests at certain shrines, and those who attend on certain gods, as you account them, he asks Celsus, ‘keep their hands free from blood, that they may with hands unstained and free from human blood offer the appointed sacrifices to your gods; and even when war is upon you, you never enlist the priests in the army?’  Given this, ‘how much more so, that while others are engaged in battle, these too should engage as the priests and ministers of God, keeping their hands pure.’  Christians wrestle ‘in prayers to God on behalf of those who are fighting in a righteous cause, and for the king who reigns righteously, that whatever is opposed to those who act righteously is destroyed!’   But more important, ‘we by our prayers vanquish all demons who stir up war, and lead to the violation of oaths, and disturb the peace.’  Thus, Christians ‘are much more helpful to the kings than those who go into the field to fight for them. . . .  None fight better for the king than we do.  We do not indeed fight under him, although he require it; but we fight on his behalf, forming a special army—an army of piety—by offering our prayers to God.”  (Leithart, DEFENDING CONSTANTINE, pp 268-269)

Thus Origen argues that Christians as priests are always engaged in a spiritual warfare on behalf of the empire – struggling to defeat those demons and gods who wish evil on the empire.

[As an interesting aside, Origen’s emphasis on Christians praying for those fighting for a righteous cause and for the righteous king very much echoes what a them found in St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans.  According to Richard Hays in ECHOES OF SCRIPTURE IN THE LETTERS OF PAUL, Paul uses the Old Testament not as a repository of wisdom but as a witness to the one truth, namely God’s righteousness which now includes Gentiles as the people of God.  Origen was very attuned to this same theme of God’s righteousness which the Christians have received and must use to support righteousness in the empire.  The Christians aren’t to kill others to enact this righteousness, but are to witness to it even to the point of their own deaths.]

Next:  Constantine, the Church and War (2)

Pentecost (2011)

Now when the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven. And when this sound occurred, the multitudes came together, and were confused, because everyone heard them speak in his own language. Then they were all amazed and marveled, saying to one another, “Look, are not all these who speak Galileans?”And how is it that we hear, each in our own language in which we were born? “Parthians and Medes and Elamites, those dwelling in Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, “Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya adjoining Cyrene, visitors from Rome, both Jews and  proselytes, “Cretans and Arabs; we hear them speaking in our own tongues the  wonderful works of God.”  (Acts 2:1-11)

“We believe that in the Church the Old Testament prophecy has been fulfilled: ‘And in the last days it shall be, God declare, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh’ (Acts 2:17). God pours out his Spirity not upon just a certain member but upon all His people. All are charismatics since all have received the Spirit as a ‘pledge’ (arrabôn) of the new age to which the Church belongs while still abiding in this old age. The Church is the beginning of the ‘last days’ (eschatai hemerai).
Upon entering, the believer is set apart for ministry in the Church through the sending down of the Spirit. ‘The fullness of grace’ (omnis gratia) has an absolute but not relative, a permanent but not temporary, character, for only charismatics can be members of the Church. The gift of the Spirit that every member of the faithfull receives in the sacrament of initiation is the charism of royal priesthood. In the Church there are no gifts of the Spirit without ministry and there is no ministry without gifts. Through the charisma of the royal priesthood the Christian is call to priestly ministry in the Church.” (Nicholas Afanasiev, The Church of the Holy Spirit, pg. 3)

Members of the Church – the Body of Christ

Ephesians 2:14-22 

“For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity.”

Nicholas Afanasiev writes in  The Church of the Holy Spirit (pg 13):

“And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near.  For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father.

Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.

Peter’s teaching on the Church as a “spiritual house” is just another expression of the teaching of Paul on the Church as the body of Christ.  Both are grounded in the primordial tradition going back to Christ himself:  “He spoke of the temple of his body” (John 2.21).  The idea concerning the royal priesthood of the members of the Church stems from the teaching about the Church.

“So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ…tend the flock of God that is your charge…, not as domineering over possessions [of God] (tôn klêrôn) but by being examples to the flock” (1Peter 5.1-3)  In each local church, the Holy Spirit has set apart the presbyters (or bishops) to tend the flock of God (Acts 20.28).  God’s flock which the presbyters tend is their possession (klêros) which they have received from God.  God’s people is one, God’s flock is one and the klêros is one.  Belonging to God’s flock, each member of the Church belongs to the possession that the presbyters tend and through them to the possession (klêros) of God.  Thus one could say that each laic as a member of the people of God is a cleric.”

The Church: Our and Us

The Church is the Body of Christ.  All members of the Church are needed to make up the Body – not just bishops or clergy, but every man, woman and child baptized into Christ becomes part of the priesthood of all believers.  All believers are to share in the total mission and ministries of the Church; some are particularly gifted by God to carry out specific ministries within the Church.   St. Paul mentions the gifts of the Spirit, as well as the ministries of those so called by God, and also the fruits which those possessing the Spirit will bring forth to the glory of God.

“The gifts of the Spirit are not given for their own sake as a reward of some sort, but for ministry in the Church, and they are given to those who already have drunk of the Spirit.”  (Nicholas Afanasiev, THE CHURCH OF THE HOLY SPIRIT, p 15)

The gifts of the Spirit and the ministries of the Spirit are given to the Church in its members to build up the body of Christ.   Individuals are not given the gifts of ministry to lord it over others, nor to start their own parishes and denominations, but rather to build up Christ’s Church.   They are gifted in so that they can be servants within the community rather than to be lords over the community.

“(St.) Paul believes that God’s justification means the creation of a community of Jews and Gentiles with a new heart, by virtue of internal rather than external circumcision (Rom 2:25-29), who, enabled by the Spirit, live faithfully toward God and lovingly toward others, thus fulfilling the  ‘just requirements of the law’ (Rom 8:3-4).  The very purpose of Christ’s incarnation and death was to create such a community (Gal 5:6,13-14; Rom 8:3-4; 2 Cor 5:21).  (Michael Gorman, INHABITING THE CRUCIFORM GOD, p 80)

We all as Christians are united in love to serve one another and our Lord.  As Orthodox we together as a whole must share in the evangelical, pastoral and apostolic work of the Church.  This is our work, not just the clergy’s.  It is up to us to go into the world with the Gospel, and it is up to us to witness to the Gospel through our lives.

For this discussion, I am using these three terms with a specific and essential understanding as a starting point. … By ‘pastoral’ I am referring to expression of ministry that ‘shepherd’ others’ journey in Christ in some manner.  The flock to be guided may be a family, a parish, or a monastic community.  The flock could also include spiritual sons and daughters who present themselves privately to their spiritual mother or spiritual father for direction in the conduct of their lives.  By ‘evangelical’, I am referring to expressions of ministry that in some way ‘share the good news’ with others.  This effort may take place within a small community of sisters and/or brothers, or be expressed by a mission on a much larger scale.  And, by ‘apostolic,’ I am referring to those who have been ‘sent out’ to establish and build the Church in a particular time and place.”   (Kyriaki FitzGerald, PERSONS IN  COMMUNION, p 82)  

FirtzGerald argues that all baptized Christians are called to be pastoral, evangelical and apostolic – not just the clergy.  This is the very mission of the membership of the Body of Christ to which we all belong.  Christ is the sole head of the Church, the bishops and clergy are members of the Body together with all the laity.  When we talk about “the Church”, we are talking about “us”  and “our” Church, not “them” and “their” Church.   We are all in the same Church working together for the glory of God and the salvation of the world.


ApostlesThe mission of the Church requries that all believers become ministers of the Gospel.  We come to church in order to practice our faith.  In other words going to church is about ministering to and serving God and others.  The focus is not on what I can get out of church or take home with me (though there is something being given to us).  Rather the focus is to be on what I can give to and do for others.  This is the Christian mindset.

Early in his ministry, Jesus sent out those whom he had called to himself: “And he appointed twelve, to be with him, and to be sent out to preach and have authority to cast out demons” (Mk 3:14-15).  Christ himself gave the name of apostle (apostolos) to his disciples: “He called his disciples, and chose from them twelve, whom he named apostles” (Lk 6:13).  Jesus did not found a static community that withdrew from the world.  Nor did he attach himself to one particular place.  He traveled from city to city, town to town; and was always on the move.  He sent out his disciples, still imperfect beings with weaknesses and shortcomings, who were at once his “disciples” and his “apostles.”  The community he established had mission – a sending-out – as its inner force.  The work of this apostolic community had a centrifugal energy, moving outward from the Lord, the Teacher, to the others.  At the same time, a single person, the person of Christ, provided a steady, centripetal attraction. (Archbishop Anastasios of Tirana and All Albania, “Rediscovering Our Apostolic Identity in the 21st Century”)

 Biblical scholar James Dunn in his massive study The Theology of Paul the Apostle writes about all believers: Paul saw all ministry and service on behalf of the gospel as priestly ministry, ministry which all believers could engage in and which was not limited to any special order of priests.

From Shepherd to Hierarch

afanasievThis is the 2nd blog in a series based upon the book, THE CHURCH OF THE HOLY SPIRIT by Russian Orthodox priest and scholar Nicholas Afanasiev.   The first blog in the series is  The Grace of the Bishop

As in the first blog, I intend to mostly quote Afanasiev to let him speak for himself.  He offers in the book an historical overview of the development of hierarchy and clergy in the Church while defending the priesthood of all believers and noting that all in the Church (including priests and bishops) are also always part of the laity of the church and part of the flock of the One True Shepherd, Jesus Christ. 

“The faithful are shepherded by Christ, and only in a narrow sense of the word by their bishops, for all are Christ’s sheep and are in God’s flock.  Bishop preside over God’s flock, being themselves the sheep of this flock, just as the rest of the sheep led by Christ.”

“Tend the flock of God that is your charge… not as domineering over those in your charge but being examples to the flock.”  (1 Peter 5:2-3)

Afanasiev writes that in the early church (he calls it the primitive Church), the entire people of God shared the responsibility of discerning the will of God.   This is not a job for the bishop alone, for the Church is a living community, the Body of Christ and requires all members to be active for the Body to be healthy.

“The ecclesial assembly is the place where God’s will is revealed, while it is the people of the Church who examine the revelation and attest to its truthfulness.”

“In the early Church all administration, just as the whole life of the Church, was public.  Everything began and ended at the ecclesial assembly.”

“As with all of history, that of the Church is irreversible.  We cannot return to the time of early Christianity, not only because of radically changed historical conditions but also because the experience of the Holy Spirit’s guidance of the church accumulated through the passage of time, cannot be laid aside.”

The early Church in Afanasiev’s thinking is not just an ideal, a golden age, to which we must go back, but it did represent a very unique moment in the Church’s history which shaped the  growing Christian movement and was shaped by multitude of issues the expanding Christianity faced.

MysticalSupperChange, sometimes subtly occurred.   For example, “The episcopal principle of unity of the local church replaces the eucharist.”   Afanasiev strongly believes that the Eucharist was the original unifying symbol of the Church.   The Church is the Body of Christ and this is made manifest in the Eucharistic assembly where the Bread and Wine are shown to be the Body of Christ because the Church is present and manifest in the Assembly of all believers.  But as the role of the presiders of the Eucharistic assembly subtly changed, so did the focus of the assembly.  The bishop became to be seen as the unifying factor in the assembly and all were to be in unity with him and he alone presided at the Eucharist.   This setting apart of the bishop meant he was no longer seen as part of the royal priesthood of all believers, but that he had a special priesthood that the rest – the laity – did not.   As the roles of the bishop and presbyter became more standardized in the emerging church, the bishop eventually replaces the senior presbyter as the one who presides at the Eucharist in each assembly.    As the bishops role became more clear, the role of the presbyters became less pronounced.    As time moved on the bishops become more diocesan hierarchs who then gave priestly ministry to the parish priests.   The presbyters role re-emerged as priest while the bishops became archpriests, hierarchs.

“Beginning with the era of Constantine, the Church becomes a body governed by law in the eyes of the Roman state authorities.  It is quite natural, but in turn, the Church recognizes the law as indispensableRussianbishops for itself.  This was the step that inevitably led to destruction of the primordial concordance or symphony between the people and the bishop.  The bishop becomes a high official and prince of the Church whose subjects are the people and clergy.”

Afanasiev claims that the increased emphasis on the apostolic succession used to combat heresies and false teachers eventually was combined with a notion that emerged over time in the Church: the notion of the high priesthood of the apostles.    Basically the argument which evolved was that  Christ was the high priest and the apostles received and preserved the high priesthood of Christ.   The apostles then passed on the high priesthood to the bishops.    This is how the bishop’s role changed in emphases from being pastor/shepherd to high priest (hierarch).

Next:  The Church of the Future: From Hierarch back to Shepherd?