Western Rite Critic

A Balance to Contagious Enthusiasm

Three Unholy Forms of Authority


  • In pentecostalism, one gives up sovereignty of will, and intellect to the glossolalia of the emotions. A “word of prophesy” with no sound basis, can suddenly command the thinking and actions of followers. A leader too, may be accorded a “mantle” of apostleship, so that nothing can be reasonably challenged. After all, “touch not God’s annointed”.
  • In the evangelical “discipleship and submission movement” (also called “shepherding”), one gives up sovereignty of will and intellect to a strong leader. Think of it as evangelico-fascism. The talk is ever of “obedience”, and the most useful in these movements are the helper and the true believer. They justify and enable the subjugation of everyone else.
  • It’s no accident that it sounds like a Protestant version of Jesuitical thinking. The same notion that the word of a hierarch “makes something so” is very much in keeping with the priest, in the mass, causing by his words the transmutation and, in confession, absolving sins on his own “authority” and that of the Church.

These attitudes are far from Orthodox thinking, which sees the Church not in terms of power structures, which recognizes that truth is its own authority, and which recognizes hierarchy not in a vertical (top-down) role as the Latin West came to understand it on the basis of the filioque, but a hierarchy (Ἱεραρχία) that is horizontal – an interdependent community. As illustration, it is perfectly acceptable for a Roman Catholic priest to say Mass alone, with no one else present. An Orthodox clergyman may never do this; at least one layman must be present, or the liturgy cannot proceed. The thinking is different, and the attitude is different.

Often, therefore, when people convert from these Western movements and talk of “submission”, “obedience”, “authority”, and “leadership” in ways that were as foreign to the West in the fullness of her Orthodoxy as they have ever been to the East, it underscores the need for more study of the heart of Holy Orthodoxy before clamoring too quickly for such things. Israel prayed for a King and God gave them what was in their hearts, and it was bitterness and gall. An illustration of proper thinking is actually present quite clearly in Bishop Anthony’s encyclical. In it, he instructs the clergy, and advises the laity. This is like the fact that while clergy are members of a jurisdiction and need a blessing or canonical letter of release to go elsewhere, and permission to concelebrate, etc., a layman may go to any Orthodox church, pray, receive communion (with permission of the celebrant). In fact, it can be a good idea to make pilgrimage to various monasteries in a variety of jurisdictions, and to visit, for example, a Greek Cathedral, an OCA Cathedral, a Russian one. The Church is One, Holy, and Catholic.

Those seeking a Bishop or Priest who is merely a leader with apostolic authority, merely a better source, merely another version of the things remembered elsewhere, but with a little better surety, have not understood Orthodox thinking and piety at all. The Bishop is Christ with us, and worthy of all reverence, but this is a pastoral role, and the good shepherd does not, as with the aforementioned situations, overcome the mind and will of the Sheep, because God does not. In Holy Orthodoxy, theosis, which is what we mean by salvation, is accomplished by synergy (cooperation of our minds, wills, and activity with God’s operations); Christ is a good shepherd who does not stymie the sheep, and who works with us in community, allowing us freedom of thought and will, because without those things, the whole man cannot be saved. Likewise, a clergyman is a steward of the mystery, not just another “Christian leader” that replaces the previous ‘authority’.

Sidenote: even a reader or altar server may not wear vestments without the blessing of the celebrant upon them. But the laity show up ever day in vestments. This is why we don’t wear t-shirts with advertisements and cute sayings on them to liturgy, or miniskirts, or other impious garb. The laity are part of the priesthood, and serve the liturgy (“people’s work”) with the clergy and must, in fact, be present. In short, there is a distinction, though not a separation, as one so often finds in the both-and, not either-or world of Holy Orthodoxy; Orthodoxy makes you truly free, rather than putting you “under” yet another dominating force. Glory to God who removes chains from the prisoner, and sets free the slave.
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January 19, 2008 - Posted by | Western Rite Pieties | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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