September 22, 2023

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

The Commonwealth of the Church

The Laity

By Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou
The Church is the Body of Christ, as the Apostle Paul writes, and it has individual members, but it is also a community of theosis, as Saint Gregory Palamas writes.

This means that with Holy Baptism and Holy Chrismation we enter the Church, we become members of the Body of Christ, we participate in the Divine Liturgy, we partake of the Body and Blood of Christ and we proceed on the path of theosis, with our participation in the Mysteries and with the observance of the commandments of Christ and asceticism according to Christ.

Baptism is an introductory Mystery, because through it we are introduced to the Church, which as the Body of Christ has various members. The Apostle Paul writes that, just as the body has many members, the same happens with the Church, which does not consist of one member, but of many. Everything is needed in the Church, and these are the head, the eyes, the ears, the sense of smell, the hand, the foot, and no one can say that they do not need the other (1 Cor. 12:12-27). And immediately afterwards he writes: "And God has placed in the Church first apostles, secondly prophets, thirdly teachers, then powers, even gifts of healings, helping, administration, kinds of languages" (1 Cor. 12:28).

This means that all the members of the Church, Clergy and laity, have various gifts, they are all gifted, each one has their own gift and there must be unity among the gifted members, so that God is glorified through them all. Thus, pastors have the gift of shepherding Christians, and Christians have the gift of being shepherded to their salvation. From this perspective we must see our life in the Church.

Therefore, the laity are not simply the members who do not have any mission in the Church, but they are the gifted members, who have the excellent gift of being members of the Church, of receiving the Grace of God through Baptism, Chrismation and in general through the Mysteries, who have the possibility, with appropriate preparation, to partake of the Body and Blood of Christ, who can pray and call upon God their Father with the Lord's Prayer, the "Our Father", who can pray with the prayer "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner", that with the Mystery of marriage they can create a Christian family, and many others.

With the Mysteries of Baptism, Chrismation and Divine Communion, people are "the holy people of God", the "Christ-pleasing people" of God who belong "to the royal priesthood" (1 Pet. 2:9). The Fathers of the Church define what this "Royal Priesthood" consists of, the "holy people of God".

Saint Dionysios the Areopagite calls the Christians who participate in the Holy Mysteries and belong to the Body of Christ the "Order of Theoria" of the Church, because through the act they reach the various degrees of theoria (divine vision), and this is done through the participation of the purifying, illuminating and perfecting/deifying energy of God. This is a great honor.

The sacred Theophylact interprets that the Christians who have the gift of belonging to the Church are prophets, kings and priests in the general sense of the term. That is, he writes, God anointed us and sealed us prophets, kings and priests. He says that everyone who is baptized is a prophet, because he sees what no eye has seen and what no ear has heard; he is a priest, because he must offer himself "a living sacrifice, holy, pleasing to God"; he is a king because he became the son of the king of all Christ and because he reigns over "inappropriate thoughts" and transcends "the whole world".

The Clergy are chosen from these gifted Christians to fulfill a special mission, a special work within the Church, to shepherd these gifted Christians. In this sense there are shepherds who must guide the rational and blessed flock to the Kingdom of God. Thus, there may be shepherds who have not previously had a shepherd and are not shepherded by God at the same time, and there are shepherds who respond to the purpose of the Christian life and consider Christ their shepherd and Lord and respect the shepherds of the Church.

There must be a close relationship, communication and unity between shepherds and the shepherded. Saint Gregory the Theologian writes that the relationship between them must be analogous to the relationship of "soul to body or mind to soul", so that, as he writes later, "both are composed of each other, the deficient and the surplus", so that with the harmony of the Spirit their connection will "prove to be a complete body".

The gifted Christians who do not have any special mission in the Church, participate in all the sacred services, participate in all the Mysteries of the Church, especially in the Mystery of the Eucharist, and in various ways and degrees participate in the ecclesiastical culture and are led to the heavenly Divine Liturgy.

Some of them are chosen by the Bishops and finally by the Metropolitan to participate in the catechesis of the young, in the pastoral ministry, in the various activities of the Church and perform an important work in the Parishes and Metropolises.

If there were not these gifted lay people, the members of the Church, there could not be a Parish, there could not be Sacred Services and the Sacred Mysteries, nor could the pastoral, catechetical and philanthropic work of the Church be carried out, and for this we thank them warmly.

From all the written sermons that were given in the Sacred Temples during these two months (July and August) it can be concluded that the Church is an organized family, an ecclesiastical society, a Healing Center, and this was regulated by the God-bearing and God-inspired Fathers, who made decisions in Local and Ecumenical Synods, with the conviction and inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The Church is not a human established institution, but a "sacred institution" constituted by the Holy Spirit. In the Church, the sacred institution and the gift are closely connected.

To the Church belong the Bishops, the Presbyters, the Deacons, the Monks, the Parish Council, the Laity, all the blessed people of God. That is why our glory, our honor, is the Church. In it we must all remain humbly, as its members, to belong to it until we close our eyes and open them in eternity, in the heavenly Church. Amen.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

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