“Shepherds or Butchers?” Redux…
Clericalism suffocates; it makes part of itself into the whole sacred character of the Church; it makes its power a sacred power to control, to lead, to administer; a power to perform sacraments, and, in general, it makes any power a power given to me! Clericalism separates all “sacredness” from the lay people: the iconostasis, communion (only by permission), theology. In short, clericalism is de facto denial of the Church as the body of Christ, for in the body, all organs are related and different only in their functions, but not in their essence. And the more clericalism clericalizes (the traditional image of the bishop or the priest emphasized by his clothes, hair, e.g., the bishop in full regalia!) the more the Church itself becomes more worldly; spiritually submits itself to this world. In the New Testament, the priest is presented as the ideal layman. But almost immediately there begins his increasingly radical separation from the lay people; and not only separation, but opposition to lay people, contrast to them. – Fr. Alexander Schmemann [Journals, pp. 310 & 311]
Redux. The time has come to say more about the problem of clericalism in the church. Nearly 7 years ago I wrote a post entitled “Shepherds or Butchers?” The post title comes from this short story, told by Fr. Tom Hopko.
“Clericalism: A policy of maintaining or increasing the power of a religious hierarchy.”
It is a problem. Nay, it is a BIG problem. Since writing that first post several years ago, I am now 7 years older and 7 more years “woke” to things I was not awake to 7 years ago. Over these past years, I’ve become increasingly more concerned as I have witnessed a steady trend towards more clericalism within the Church. It is like a cancer that is silently growing.
Clericalism is all about separation, about power, about authority, about dominance, and overall about ensuring absolute “obedience” to the hierarchy. It is a breeding ground for corruption. As Fr. Schmemann of blessed memory said so well above, “Clericalism suffocates; it makes part of itself into the whole sacred character of the Church; it makes its power a sacred power to control, to lead, to administer; a power to perform sacraments, and, in general, it makes any power a power given to me! Clericalism separates all “sacredness” from the lay people: the iconostasis, communion (only by permission), theology.In short, clericalism is de facto denial of the Church as the body of Christ, for in the body, all organs are related and different only in their functions, but not in their essence.”
I know many good clerics, who represent the best of what the ideal priest/pastor who model themselves after Jesus should show in their servant leadership. They do their utmost to exemplify love. They are self-sacrificial, patient, humble, and kind. They see themselves as an equal part of the whole; not as separate or elevated or more sacred. They are simply fulfilling the role they have been called to; their part in the function of the entire body – the same body that recognizes them and deems them worthy (axios) of filling that role. They are good shepherds; not in condescending oversight of “ignorant sheeple”, but lovers of real human people just like themselves, all with different lives and stories, joys, sorrows, and desirous of real communion with one another.
Unfortunately, I have also have met many clerics, a growing number in fact, who seem absolutely caught up in this system of clericalism. To be clear – I am not passing judgment on any persons. That being said, as the saying goes, the first step to solving any problem is admitting that there is one. There is a problem.
When a priest tells his parishioners that they are “forbidden” to interact with another group of people, help a certain cause, or affiliate with certain things, this is a problem. When a pastor becomes more of a cop rather than a cleric, policing polity and treating the people as sheeple that must be poked and prodded; this is a problem. When people are not left free and lovingly encouraged to grow and think for themselves, but rather told to be obedient and swear allegiances; this is a problem. When sacraments are used as punishment for the transgression of disobedience to the cleric; this is a problem. When the robes and the regalia, the crosses and the cassocks, and all the “stuff” that visibly ensures that the person wearing them is seen as different or set apart become instead a pedestal, or a way of showing “rank”, this is a problem. I would also be remiss if I did not say that this is not only a clerical problem; it is also how the people treat the clerics, often elevating them and expecting this separation and “sacredness” from them.
This is a problem because we claim to be the “Church”, the living body of the crucified and risen Christ. The living church is not the military. It is not “rank and file.” It is not “pray, pay, & obey.” There are no generals or common soldiers. It IS the priesthood of all believers and the communion of the saints. Everyone has a role and a part to play, and EVERY role and EVERY person is of EQUAL importance. “Blessed are the meek…” “The last shall be first…” “He who desires to be the greatest must be the servant of all…” This is the opposite of clericalism. I can easily identify with something else Fr. Schmemann said in his journals, that I think quite accurately sums up how clericalism gnaws at the very fabric of the REAL Church;
“How torturous is the “churchly” language one must speak in church – the tone, style, habit. It is all artificial; there is a total absence of a simple human language. With what a sigh of relief one leaves this world of cassocks, and kissing and church gossip. As soon as one leaves, one sees: wet bare branches, fog which floats over fields, trees, homes. Sky. Early dusk. And it all tells an incredibly simple truth.”
I am not anti-church. I am not anti-clergy or against orders (other than the exclusion of women in many roles in the tradition I am a part of…but that is for a future post.) I myself am an “ordained Subdeacon” in the Orthodox Christian Church. I wear a cassock when I attend and serve. My role is to assist the deacon and priest during services, and if the bishop visits, I kick into high gear and have many specific roles to fulfill as his personal assistant while he is here. In all of this, I do not see myself as higher, better, or set apart from “lay people” or simply put, the rest of the body. I am one of them and together we all form the communion and manifest the REAL living Church. Even so, sadly, there have been many times that I have been treated differently or better because of the garment that I’m wearing, and the “title” that I carry, to the point of being seated away from friends and family at a “head table” with the rest of the clergy, as we are catered to by servers while the “lay people” serve themselves. As my dear friend Cory said at one such occasion, that really hit the nail on the head; “I guess membership has its privileges, eh?”
Membership in the club. Part of the clan. The “in” ones. This is clericalism and it is this behavior that I am vehemently opposed to and believe it must STOP, or else, we are not the Church…we are simply another club with membership dues and ranks to be achieved. We are a part of the filthy rotten system and no longer of any real meaning. We are a caricature of the real, but we are not the Real itself, and clerics that act in this way are no longer shepherds modeling the Good Shepherd, but rather butchers, beating and shoving and filled with condescension, treating the people like dumb sheep to be prodded and pushed. It is this precise behavior that Jesus called out in the Scribes and Pharisees more than any other thing… “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.” (Matthew 23:15)
So what to do? Are we shepherds or are we butchers? Reflect. Repent. Resist the illusion. BE the Real. Clericalism suffocates but real clerics breathe life. If we all lived more like the Rebel Jesus, and followed the model of the Good Shepherd and his ragamuffin band – thankful, kind, and loving to everyone no matter where or what they are, serving everyone and treating all as equals – we may just find that others will want to know more about this Way that we live. Anything less is simply dead religion and empty ritual, and its clerics have become nothing more than museum curators and whitewashed tombs. The world can live without it…and so can I. People are hungry for the Real…so am I. Good news – the Real still exists. LET’S LIVE LIKE IT. Bring on the REALvolution.
“We should have understood long ago that there is, in this world, religion without God, religion as a center of all idols that possess fallen man, religion that is the justification for these idols…principles are what people have instead of God.” – Fr. Alexander Schmemann