Monday, May 25, 2015

The reverse-clericalism of "layicism"

The below is from Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov's blog post. This sort of thing is hard to understand unless you've had the experience of seeing both clericalism and "layicism" firsthand. It might also help to be clergy or have someone in your family in the clergy to understand just how personal and vindictive things can get when the antagonism reaches its nadir.

This might also be a good time to plug "American Orthodoxy and Parish Congregationalism" by Fr. Nicholas Ferencz which has just been republished by Holy Cross. It goes into some of the uniquely American aspects of church life in our country and how we got here.

Recently, I heard a new word: layicism. It is a made-up word, of course. I guess, what the speaker was trying to convey is a reference to a phenomenon of church life which is a reverse of clericalism (anti-clericalism). In other words, if clericalism can be described (to some degree of approximation, of course) as the attitude of the supremacy of those ordained to clerical ranks over the lay people, the attitude of “us versus them,” some notion that we are the “real” Church, whereas the ignorant, unchurched masses are the sheep, the animals to be led, who do not know what is good for them. The clergy often act as if they had some special and unique grace and right. Layicism, then, is the attitude of lay superiority over the clergy, some notion that the lay people are the “real” Church, and that the clergy serve at the pleasure of the laity, that priests are to be appointed and dismissed by a council of a few lay people who think themselves some guardians of the church, while a priest is merely a “hireling” (John 10?). In other words, both clericalism and ‘layicism’ are nothing more than the “us vs. them” bizarrely and abhorrently adorned in “churchy” terminology. But how can this be? “Is Christ divided?” (1 Cor. 1:13) Is there a ‘class’ of clergy and another of lay people? Are not both members of the Body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:12 but see the whole chapter)? Are not both the “royal priesthood” of Christ (1 Peter 2:9)? Paul teaches that in Christ, “there is neither Greek nor Jew” (Gal. 3:28). Did he really have to specify that there is also neither priest no church board member?

The way out of this standoff between clergy and laity is to realize that clergy’s special grace is not special to clergy; rather, it is special to the Church. Priesthood (in all of its degrees) is not the quality of the “men in black.” Rather, it is the innate quality of the Church. It is focused upon one man in the same way that sunlight can be focused upon a clump of tinder with the use of a magnifying glass; but sunlight does not uniquely belong to the clump of tinder, not even when it is being consumed by fire. Priesthood is poured upon one man in the same way that a waterfall can be be poured upon the man standing underneath it; but the man would be an unspeakable fool to think that the river belongs to him, especially when he is being knocked unconscious by the weight of the water. And while it is true that “priests are clothed is righteousness” (Ps. 132:9), if they dare think that it is their righteousness, then they are clothed in nothing but “polluted garment” (Isa. 64:6) (which is a very polite way of referring to used feminine hygiene products with all of the bloody implications of the Old Testament ritual purity laws). No, it is not our righteousness–it is Christ’s. And no, it does not belong to us–it belongs to the Church, the Body of Christ.

But what of the ‘layincism’? There once was a very old custom of human sacrifice. For their sins, people sacrificed the best of what they had: the first and best fruits, the unblemished animals, and their own innocent children. Finally, they could find nothing higher or better than to sacrifice the incarnate God Himself. And it is 2000 years past time that we recognize it for what it is: priesthood is a sacrifice. From the beginning, it was supposed to be the sacrifice of the best person that a particular community had to offer. Perhaps, it is no longer that way (or is it?). But the fervent proponents of ‘layicism’ should ask themselves: “Do I want to be the one sacrificed? Do I want to be the one ‘standing in the gap’ (Ezekiel 22:30)? It is like saying: “Wow! They beheaded this dude on the altar… I wish it were me!” No?! You don’t wish that on you or your loved ones? Well, then have some sacred respect for those who took the iconic place of Christ. He is the one and only Sacrifice. He is the Lamb. You would not dare mess with Him, would you? Then do not mess with His “sheep to be slaughtered” (Rom. 8:36).

Every sacred sacrifice deserves respect, because it is the best you have to offer. It is nothing more than what you have managed to produce: through your labors, your laziness, your righteousness, your sins–you own it. For better or worse, honor it! Because if you you do not, how will God honor it?

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