One of our lovely Arab churches in this area, St. George’s by name, boasts a very learned presbyter, Fr. Joseph Antypas. Having attended there for a few months, we still get their newsletter, in which one of Fr. Joseph’s sermons is printed weekly.
Here’s an excerpt from this week.
It is the conviction of the Orthodox that Christ is the only priest, pastor, and teacher of the Christian Church. He alone guides and rules his people. He alone forgives sins and offers communion with God, his Father.
It is also the Orthodox conviction that Christ has not abandoned his people, but that he remains with his Church as its living and unique head. Christ remains present and active in the Church through the Holy Spirit.
The sacrament of holy orders in the Christian Church is the objective guarantee of the perpetual presence of Christ with his people. The bishops, priests, and deacons or the Church have no other function or service than to manifest the presence and action of Christ to his people. In this sense, the clergy do not act on behalf of Christ or insteadof Christ as though he himself were absent. They are neither vicars of Christ nor substitutes for Christ nor representatives of Christ.
Christ is present, now, always and forever to his Church. The sacramental ministry of the Church – the bishops, priests, and deacons – receive the gift of the Holy Spirit to manifest Christ in the Spirit to men. Thus, through his chosen ministers, Christ excercises and realizes his unique and exclusive function…
I think this excerpt is useful because it helps to clarify our differences with the Protestants on the one hand and the Roman Catholics on the other. It’s always best to know what one believes and what one doesn’t.
On the subject of Orthodox priesthood, I would add that our Church also believes that every Christian participates in the priesthood of Christ, just as the Baptists, who raised us, believe. When Scottie and Johnny and I were baptized and chrismated, we were given certain signs of this priesthood within the rite. Apparently Met. Kalistos Ware said this: “One is priest, some are priests, all are priests.”
For instance, God is the only Father in any absolute sense, yet earthly fathers share in his fatherhood by his gift. In fact, this is true of anything that human beings can be said to be. We do not even exist, much less have any attributes, except by participation in the existence and attributes of God. This is why the idea of going to Church and saying “Good morning, Father” to our priest does not seem heretical or dangerous to me. One must be careful to understand sayings of Christ and the scriptures in the sense in which they are meant, not taking them absolutely unless they are intended as absolute statements.
I call no man Father in the sense that I call God Father. But to my Dad and to my Priest I say “Father” with no compunction whatever. I call no one Priest in the sense that I call Christ priest. But understood in a certain sense, as explained above, a man in whom Christ is acting as priest is also priest, for no man who acts as a vessel of Christ does so without the participation of his whole person.