September 19, 2023

Homilies on the Commonwealth of the Church - The Neokoros (Metr. Hierotheos of Nafpaktos)

 The Commonwealth of the Church

The Neokoros

By Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou

In the service staff of the Church, which is included among the lower clergy, there is also the Neokoros [known in English as the Sexton], who is responsible for the order in the Sacred Temples and their cleanliness. The Neokoros is also called a Lamplighter, because he lights the lamps, or Assemblyman, because in the past he called the Christians to the services, or Bell Ringer, because he rang the bells, or Ecclesiarch, because he took care of the good functioning of the Sacred Temples.

The word "neokoros" means the servant and guardian of the Temple. The word neos in the Attic dialect means "temple", and the verb koreo means "to clean," "to sweep," so a neokoros is the one who takes care of and cleans the Sacred Temple.

In ancient Greece, the neokoros had a sacred responsibility, as we find it in Ephesus and the cities of Asia Minor. It is characteristic that, when in Ephesus there was a riot in the idolatrous temple because many became Christians from the preaching of the Apostle Paul, then the secretary of Ephesus, in order to calm the crowd, said: "Men of Ephesus, what man is there who does not know that the city of the Ephesians is the neokoros of the great goddess Artemis, and of the image which fell down from Zeus?" (Act 19:35). In other words, the city of Ephesus was considered a "neokoros city", a servant of the goddess Artemis, a guardian and protector of the temple of Artemis.

Thus, in ancient Greece the neokoros, as a person who looked after and cared for the temple of the gods, also became an honorary title of various cities, as in the case of Ephesus, where it was a neokoros of the goddess Artemis.

In the Old Testament, there is no word for neokoros, although there was the word "neos", but it is almost parallel was the word "levite". The Levites were a priestly class among the Jews that came from Levi, the son of the Patriarch Jacob, but in reality they were the assistants of the Priests, the Priests themselves coming from the tribe of Aaron. Thus, the Levites served the Priests in the lower works of the Temple. There is also a book in the Old Testament called Leviticus.

In addition to the Priests and the Levites, in the Old Testament there were also others who performed various services in the Temple, that is, they were the doorkeepers, who made sure that there was water for washing hands, and others, who were characterized as "servants of the Temple" and "serving" in the Temple.

In the ancient Church, after the end of the persecutions and the rebuilding of the Sacred Temples, various servants appeared who carried out the work that the neokoros does today. They were called Candle-bearers, Ecclesiarchs, etc.

The Fourth Ecumenical Synod in its Second Canon speaks of a "Paramonarios", who apparently remained in the Temple and had various tasks for guarding and cleaning the Sacred Temple, lighting the lamps, taking care of the candles, etc.
Within these frameworks, the Church, through its decisions, determined the existence of the Neokoros, the way of their appointment, their salary and everything else that is suitable for the work they perform in the Church.

The neokoroi are loved by Christians, because they are interested in solving everything related to the good functioning of the churches, and from what we remember from our childhood, we wanted to have good relations with the neokoroi, because they took care of which children will become sacred children, i.e. "papadakia" [altar boys].

Today, together with the Neokoros, there is also the Euprepistria [Beautifier], who takes care of the cleanliness of the Sacred Temples, and in fact, in our days, various pious women are hired to carry out the work of the neokoros. In this case, a special service is performed by the Bishop, who also reads a special prayer for them to enter the Sacred Sanctuary.

This prayer is, of course, also read for a male neokoros, because the Sacred Sanctuary is for the Clergy only and those who enter it, men and women, must have permission and a blessing from the Bishop-Metropolitan.

At the end of the Divine Liturgy, in the prayer behind the pulpit, the Priest asks God: "Sanctify those who love the beauty [euprepia] of Your house". There are many who love the beauty of the House of God, the Sacred Temple, among whom are the neokoroi and those who take care of its cleanliness.

The Sacred Temple is the House of God, it is established as a place of worship by the Bishops, who place the sacred relics of Martyrs in the Holy Altar. Thus, there are three pillars of ecclesiastical life, namely the Bishop, the Holy Altar and the Sacred Relics of Martyrs, and one of these without the other two does not constitute an Orthodox ecclesiastical phronema.

Inside the Sacred Temple is celebrated the Divine Eucharist, but also the other Mysteries. Inside the Sacred Temples, miracles happen, the Grace of God descends. However, the Sacred Temples are also cleaned from the dust, from the decay of the created world, from what the Christians bring into them; the Sacred Temples are ventilated so that the air is renewed and there is oxygen, sometimes various reptiles enter the Sacred Temples, such as birds, bugs etc.

This means that the uncreated Grace of God does not make uncreated or indestructible what has the element of creation, nor does it transform the material elements in the Sacred Temples into elements that are uncreated and indestructible. Creatability remains, the wear and tear, that is why interventions are needed on the part of the neokoros or the euprepistria who clean the Sacred Temples, so that the Christians can enter a beautiful place.

After all, the uncreated Grace of God is shared by the whole creation accordingly, that is why it has various names, such as "substance-giving", which gives life to all creation, "life-giving", which gives life to beings, "wisdom-giving", which gives reasoning and mental energy to man, and "divinity-giving", in which the saints and angels participate.

Reptiles, bugs, even microbes and viruses share in God's substance-giving and life-giving energy. This does not mean that they stop contaminating creation. Humans participate in God's substance-giving, life-giving and wisdom-giving energy, as well as correspondingly participating in God's purifying, illuminating and divinity-giving energy.

Those who speak in general about the uncreated energy of God which is in all creation, without making a distinction as to which energy they mean, then fall under the unorthodox teaching of pantheism.

Since people, and indeed the saints, who are living members of the body of Christ and the Temple of the living God, are infected by diseases, germs and viruses, and die, it is not possible to believe that the Temples of God do not suffer decay when they are made from the material elements of the formed creation.

Of course, sometimes miracles happen in the Sacred Temples, God works in a different way than what He does at other times, but this does not mean that miracles always happen, and that the elements of creation and perishability are not also present in the Temples. After all, since the devil enters the Temples and puts various satanic thoughts in the churchgoers and the Clergy, this means that germs and viruses can also enter the Temples.

On this occasion we should pray that God sanctifies "those who love the beauty of His House", among whom are the Neokoros and those who contribute to the cleanliness and beauty of the House of God.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

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