The Orthodox are the priests and monastics of the people of God

Orthodox and Heterodoxy during the Season of Advent

The Holy Spirit outside the church

Why baptism? Why the Church? Why “Right Worship”?

The Orthodox are the priests and monastics of the people of God

 I [1] have been thinking a lot about the relationship between the Orthodox and their non-Orthodox brothers and sisters in Christ.  I have witnessed, experienced and read countless accounts of the abundant grace of God, the transforming power and miraculous work of the Holy Spirit outside of the walls of the Orthodox Church.  Even in the midst of much error, ignorance and confusion, Christ is clearly present.  Just as God poured out the Holy Spirit on Gentiles not long after Pentecost, sometimes even before they were baptized, so He pours out His Holy Spirit on all who call on his name and desire pure hearts.

So what then is the necessity of the Orthodox, of Orthodox baptism and worship, some might ask?


I think the Orthodox are the priests and monastics of the people of God, as well as the preservers of the fullness of the Church given to us by Christ. 


Looking at the structure of our temple has led me to think about these things.  Before Christ, the temple was the place where the children of God gathered to pray to the Lord–and their prayers sustained the world.  In the outer area, the children of Israel gathered to worship and pray. Then there was the altar where the Levites served and priests offered sacrifices for the people – and the Holy of Holies which only the high priest could enter. 


Today, it is the followers of Christ who are God's people.  All can stand in the narthex to pray and worship our God and pray for the world, just as the children of Israel once did in the courtyard of the temple.  The Orthodox in the nave then represent the priests, standing in the altar, offering up our sacrifice of prayer and fasting, keepers of the sacred tradition handed to us by Christ.  The altar where the Orthodox priest enters on our behalf is, of course, the new Holy of Holies. 

Like monastics, the Orthodox pray, fast and asceticize more than other Christians. 


They are the intercessors before the Lord and His saints on behalf of their brothers and sisters that live more in the world. 


Without the mighty prayers of those who answered the monastic call of God, the Church would likely have failed. 


Without the Orthodox having preserved the fullness of the teachings of Christ and of His Church, Christianity would not have survived, either. 


The rest of Christendom, along with the whole world, survives off of the intercession and labor of the Orthodox Church of Christ on their behalf.

So at Christmastime, while some celebrate Christmas as a time of feasting and exchanging gifts, others withdraw into the cell of their souls to pray and fast.  Even the Enemy's attempt to spoil the beautiful picture with his garish threads of commercialism and dark threads of secularism cannot diminish this picture—the glory of the world preparing to receive her King.


It will be a beautiful and wonderful thing when all the people of God, all those that love Christ, all those to whom and through whom the Lord is ministering, are one – when all who love and follow Him are finally 'Orthodox', is another way of putting it – even if this is not until after His return . 


For now, for whatever reasons the Lord has allowed it to be, I find beauty in what is.  Aside from the crass commercialism,  I thoroughly enjoy the metaphor of the world's happy, noisy preparations and celebration of the Savior's birth on December 25th — followed 13 days later by the joyous, but quieter, less noticed (in our culture, anyway), more sacred welcome of the Christ Child on January 7.


To these words, I add some things, which I thought of when I read my email.

I have a theory – the less monastic and "struggling" a church is, and therefore the more secular – the more the lines are blurred between where the church is and where it is not.


We see this secularism in drastically reduced and omitted services, either very infrequent communion, or frequent communion with no preparation, a hatred and distrust of monasticism or even little or no knowledge of it, bishops who do not live openly ascetical, monastic lives, and other symptoms.


I believe that one of the worst things the calendar change did was bring many Orthodox closer to secular Christianity (an oxymoron, really), and decreased their spiritual life in numerous ways.


Of course, not everyone following the Pope’s calendar are secular, and many who follow the Julian calendar are barely Christian, but, at least in this country, in many places the church has lost its way. We need more asceticism – not less, and this must be personal asceticism, where we fast and pray, and give alms, and look to the mind of the church and not secular life for inspiration. We also need bishops who truly live and act as bishops – that is, inspirations to the faithful, because they live a sober and monastic life. We have too many administrators and not enough spiritual men.

I wonder sometimes –  what am I doing! – when I finish a vigil with myself and one or two other people present – but I always know in my heart that I cannot be what I am not, and I cannot be other than what I am. I am a sinner, but also a Christian priest, and my service, whether almost alone, or in a crowded church, (especially my service outside of Sunday, which seems to be the only “traditional” day when the majority of Orthodox Christians think they should go to church) is part of what was written above: Orthodox are the priests and monastics of the people of God, as well as the preservers of the fullness of the Church given to us by Christ.


Priest Seraphim Holland 2009.     St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas


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[1] A recent email from a correspondent to Priest Seraphim, posted with permission, and a few editorial changes. I have added the Headers.

One Response to “The Orthodox are the priests and monastics of the people of God”

  1. Isaac says:

    Bless Father,
    Your words are very sobering, very true.  Christ is working outside the walls of His Church, or otherwise people like me would not have found it.  We might be surprised to find many in the Kingdom on that last day from protestant and catholic who found grace in spite of the errors of their confessions, who nevertheless believed in Christ, obeyed His commandments as best they could, and by grace defeated passions, obtained virtues, and suffered for His Name.  God is just and is a debtor to no man, and surely His goodness and mercy pursue such people wherever they may be found.
    We Orthodox have the fullness of the faith, the one holy catholic and apostolic Church, the Mysteries, the teachings and example of the Fathers and Saints, the Ecumenical Councils, and the Divine Liturgy, but oftentimes here in America we refuse to live it.  Or worse, we think we live it but can barely stand through a 45 minute Vespers service once or twice a year, rarely if ever go to confession, live in service to the passions most of the time, and think that we are living out the fullness of the faith– because, after all, we go to seminars with famous Orthodox speakers. There are serious abuses in our American Church and the result is unchanged lives, and a dilution of the fullness which Orthodoxy has so long preserved. 
    I am blessed enough to be in a parish with a good and pious priest who serves vigils and liturgies regardless of the sparse attendance.  He teaches and exhorts us to virtue and to struggle with our passions, and to sober mindfulness of death and judgment.  Frequent communion is encouraged but only with frequent preparation.  Parishes without these things are spiritually ailing, and like you said, need true bishops to guide them back to the saving path.  It is easy to get radicalized and refuse to associate with these people, but that's usually the wrong approach… love for our brethren necessitates the opposite quite often, and correcting meekly, through example and prayer. 
    As for the idea that the Orthodox are the priests of the people of God, I think Met. Hierotheos of Nafpaktos says something similar in Orthodox Psychotherapy.  All who have been purified of the passions and live in an illumined grace-filled state, or who are least are struggling towards this end, are the "spiritual priesthood" who offer up the spiritual bullocks upon the altar of their pure hearts.  It is this priesthood that is available to all, man and woman, adult and child.

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