Are laypeople permitted to interfere in the matters of the Church?  


        Can the laity (the members of the Church who are not ordained into the priesthood) involve itself in matters of the Faith? Can laypeople who are not empowered to officiate in Sacraments of the Church censure Bishops when those Bishops deviate from the truth?  How justified are they who maintain an indifferent stance behind the backs of their Priests and Spiritual Fathers when the teaching and the Faith of the Church are being distorted, with the excuse that their Leaders and their Spiritual Fathers likewise do not witness and confess the truth of Orthodoxy because "they  have undergone something human"?

Theology is necessary, in order to move on to orthopraxis

        Everything that is necessary for our salvation has been delivered to the Church by Her deified teachers (that is, Her holy Prophets, Patriarchs, Apostles and Fathers) and can also be found in the Holy Bible, the decisions of the Ecumenical Synods that pertain to the Dogmas (the "Oroi") and to the way of life (the "sacred Canons"), as well as the works of the Holy Fathers, so that it is easily assimilated and comprehended by the simple faithful for the purpose of moving from Orthodoxy (the upright belief) to orthopraxis (the upright practice) and avoiding the obstacle of heresies. Heresies can, through an altered faith (heretical fallacy), destroy orthopraxis and "ontologically" alienate one from the Body of Christ, by having been cut off from the unity of the Church around the Bishop and from the Divine Eucharist.
       According to one of the "principles" of proper theology, Orthodox theology is not a philosophical system; it is an endeavour to attain salvation and theosis (deification).  That which preoccupies the Fathers in theological disputes is not the victory over an opponent, but the preservation of the potential for deification and salvation1.
       The dogmatic and theological works of the Holy Fathers are to a large degree addressed to the laypeople - to the simple folks - with the aim to initiate them deeper into the faith and practice of the Church and to safeguard them from heresies. Hardly anyone reminds us of this point nowadays, because the theological-dogmatic sermon has mostly disappeared.

(We will deal with the consequences of heresy on people's spiritual lives separately.)

2) To "unerringly theologize" is not for everyone of course, but to "theologize philosophically" and to "confess" the proven Theology of the Church is for every pious person.

a. Theology

       It is true that the Holy Fathers regard Theology as something extremely profound and simultaneously lofty and they stress that to be preoccupied with it befits only those who have progressed in a Godly lifestyle and are at least in a state of "catharsis" of passions - if not at the uppermost stages of "enlightenment" and "theosis", as Saint Gregory the Theologian says: "It is not for each and every one, dearest, to philosophize about God; it is not for each and every one... this matter is not that cheap, nor for those who are on a low course" but for those who "have been examined and have passed on to "theoria" (ie, the "sighting" of God) and have been purged in soul and body, or at least are being purged."2.
       The preoccupation by Bishops and other Clergymen par excellence with Theology is understood in the sense that the Clergy mostly fulfil the requirements for attaining enlightenment and theosis because they are select, thanks to their perspicuous lives. The Sacred Canons determine firstly the responsibility of the Hierarchs to preoccupy themselves with the dogmas.   But this does not mean that the Clergy comprise a separate body, beyond the Body of Christ - the Church - where they are organically joined to all of the faithful. That is why it has been pointed out, that "the usually quoted terms of "official Church", "administrative Church", "teaching Church", are in use conditionally and excessively, when from a dogmatic point of view, on the basis of precision, they appear as untested."3.
       Thus, while Theology par excellence belongs to those who have been united to God through theosis and the illumination of the uncreated light, nevertheless, according to the teaching of the Holy Fathers "we others can also theologize, but at other, lower levels, but chiefly by following the true theologians"4.  Αn unerring path is to trust everything that the Holy Spirit has revealed through the Saints. On this matter, Saint Gregory Palamas writes that those who are not saints can also theologize, and in fact can theologize with certainty, and "not by pursuing speculations, but by the words that have been spoken by God"5
       Therefore, on the basis of the teaching by Saint Gregory Palamas and earlier Saints whose theology he had summarized, there are three kinds of theology:

       (a) the unerring and mystical theology of those who have attained theopty (the "viewing" of God), who speak from personal experience and communion with God,

       (b) the wisdom-loving theology of those who have no personal experience per se of theopty, but who humbly accept the experiences and the theopties of those who have attained theopty, and they theologize according to them and

       (c) the modern (newly-found, innovative) theology of insolent theologians of those who theologize dialectically, on the basis of their own personal philosophical principles, and who reject the experiences of the Saints6.

       The middle path - of wisdom-loving theology based on the dogmas of our Church - is based on "evidentiary reasoning".  Given that we have been taught the dogmatic truths by the Holy Spirit Himself - through the Holy Fathers (Prophets, Apostles, Confessors, Hierarchs etc.) - this is evidence enough to make us feel certain about what the Church believes and to prevent us from going into "dialectic musings" or agnosticism (that is, to supposedly speculate dialectically about divine things, or about not being able to produce any certain positions and proofs thereof).  This was one of the basic points of Saint Gregory Palamas' argument with the philosophizing pseudo-monk and agnostic, Barlaam the Calabrian.
       Saint Gregory Palamas had maintained that it was not possible to apply dialectic musings to theology, given that they focus on "the imagined and the possible, which by nature are sometimes different and other times different and other times exist and other times do not exist, and at times are true and other times are not".  This is what the Hellene philosophers used to do, whose theology eventually resembled conjecture.  On the contrary, evidentiary reasoning, which focuses on "that which is necessary, that which always exists and is always true and always the same", is absolutely necessary in theological problems but also very effective, because there are sides to a theological problem that can be subjected to proof. Proof is based on God-revealed "self-proven principles" on the one hand and "common meanings" and "tenets"7 on the other..
Consequently, we can as Orthodox always provide "evidence" on the overall truth about God, humanity and the world; perhaps not on the basis of our (possibly nonexistent) personal participation in God, but surely on the basis of (a) the theological teaching of our Saints, who had attained a union with God and (b) of common logic, which apples these teachings to the new problems that appear.

b. Confessing

       As we shall also see further along in historical incidents whenever the Faith was at risk, the defending of Orthodoxy - the "confession" of the truth by Orthodox faithful - was not a matter for philosophizing or discussion according to the "dialectic musings" that we mentioned previously; rather, it was a matter of persisting in the theology that was delivered from the very beginning to the faithful by the Church, as an infallible theology. There are no gradations between superiors and subordinates, clergy and laity in this display of persistence - this kind of confessing.
       Saint Theodore the Studite is categorical: "It is a commandment of the Lord, that one must not remain silent in the event that the Faith is at risk. For He says ‘speak out, and do not remain silent'.." (Acts 18:9) And "If he retreats, my soul does not favour him". (Hebr. 10:38)  And "If they remain silent, then the stones shall cry out" (Luke 19:40). Thus, when it comes to the Faith, it is not possible for one to say" "Who am I?"8.
        Elsewhere, he writes: "At a time like this, when Christ is being persecuted through His Image, one is obliged to fight, not only if he is superior in rank and in knowledge by preaching and teaching the Orthodox word; but even if he is in the place of a student, he still has a duty to reveal the truth courageously and speak freely. These are not the words of me, the sinner, but of the divine Chrysostom, along with other Fathers.»9.
       So, let us take a look at just a few of the many historical events related to the defending of Orthodox by the laity.

3) Historical testimonies by the people of the Church of their preoccupation with matters of the Faith

a. Eusebius, who later became Bishop of Dorylaion

        One of the first people to react against the heretic Patriarch Nestorius - the layman Eusebius and later Bishop of Dorylaion - was finally vindicated by the Church during the condemnation of Nestorius.  Eusebius (as a layman) had immediately reacted (in 429), by confronting the heretic Patriarch inside the church.
       According to Saint Cyril, "On seeing him (Nestorius) presenting new and sacrilegious teachings within the Church, a certain man (among the very lenient and while still among the laity, but with a wondrous education accumulated inside him), having been moved by a fervent and God-loving zeal, cried out loudly saying that the pre-eternal Logos Himself had patiently endured a second birth - that is, according to human nature and by a woman; and while there was an uproar in the crowds for these things and most of them and the more prudent lauded him with immense praises as pious and most prudent and knowledgeable in the correctness of the dogmas, while others raged against him, he (Nestorius) discontinued and immediately acknowledged those whom he had destroyed with his teaching and turned his tongue against him (Eusebius) who had not tolerated his words, but also against the Holy Fathers, who had legislated for us the pious Symbol of Faith (the Creed) which we have as a secure and certain anchor for our soul, as it was written (Hebr. 6:19)»10.
       Eusebius then immediately posted and circulated in a public, written libel on the wall of the Temple of Haghia Sophia a censure of the Patriarch, with the following prompt:  "I will adjure in the Holy Trinity whosoever receives this document to present it to bishops, presbyters, deacons, readers and laypeople who dwell in Constantinople, and furthermore to provide them with a copy, for the purpose of censuring the heretic Nestorius for being of the same belief as Paul of Samosata who had been anathematized one hundred and sixty years ago by the Orthodox Fathers and Bishops. And that which was said by both sides are as follows........"11.
       At a later date, this same Eusebius - now Bishop of Dorylaion - headed the confrontation along with Saint Flavianus, Patriarch of Constantinople, against the heresy leader Eutychius who had first introduced Monophysitism, and together with Saint Flavianus underwent persecutions following the robber council of Ephesus (449 A.D.).
       Theophanes the Confessor and Chronographer writes the following on the matter:  "The aforementioned Eusebius the scholastic who had first confronted Nestorius, when conversing with Eutychius the Archmandrite regarding the faith, found him to not believe correctly. After beseeching him exceedingly and exhorting him, he was unable to benefit him. Eusebius then mentioned the relative incident to Bishop Flavianus." etc12 .

b. Laypeople who confessed and were persecuted by the heresy leader, Patriarch Nestorius of Constantinople.

       From a letter by the Pope of Rome Celestinus we are informed that many citizens of Constantinople - who, as we mentioned, had reacted against their Patriarch Nestorius - were subjected to persecutions and excommunication by the heretic Patriarch. As the Pope wrote to Patriarch Nestorius: "I hear that those of the clergy who believe the way the Catholic (=Orthodox) Church does - and with whom we are in communion - are suffering the worst kind of violence - such that it is said that they have even been isolated outside the City. We are rejoicing over their having earned the prize of confession, but we are sorrowed over the fact that their persecutor is a Bishop. The blessed Apostle Paul was transformed, from a persecutor to a preacher; but now there is the worst kind of impiety, that of a preacher becoming a persecutor."13.
       Following the local Synod of Alexandria which condemned the newly-appeared teaching of Nestorius as a heresy (430 A.D.), Saint Cyril wrote a letter to the simple faithful of Constantinople, encouraging them to abstain from every communion with Nestorius, if he did not repent. As for those who he (Nestorius) had severed from every communion with him, Saint Cyril regarded them as still canonically in communion with the Church. Says the Saint in a letter of his to the citizens of Constantinople: «...preserve yourselves spotless and immaculate, neither communing with the aforementioned, nor paying attention to him as a teacher, if he remains a wolf instead of a shepherd and if he prefers after this reminder of ours to uphold perverse things.... We however are in communion with the clergy or laity who for the sake of the correct Faith have been separated or excommunicated by him, and we do not validate his unjust vote but rather, we praise those who suffer, telling them that ‘if you are scorned in the Lord you are blessed, for the Spirit of power and of God has reposed upon you' (1 Peter 4:14)»14.

. Saint John of Damascus

       Saint John of Damascus, while still an official of the Caliphate of Damascus and while the Iconomachy had broken out in Constantinople, wrote around 730 A.D. texts opposing the Iconomachy, which had caused a great deal of damage to the heresy. As mentioned in his Bios, the Saint, full of zeal like the Prophet Elijah, «...had sent -to those Orthodox who knew him- texts in the form of epistles that were in favour of venerable Icons, thus proving to its full extent and with great wisdom that the veneration of divine imprints (icons) is necessary. And he instructed them to say similar things to the others and to show them his epistles. And in many ways this young athlete of the truth hastened - as though in the middle of a circle - to circulate his epistles from hand to hand to the faithful, and to fortify Orthodoxy».  This was how a calumny was spun against Saint John by the heretic Emperor of Constantinople Leo III, resulting in the unjust punishment of John by the Caliph (on the pretext that he was an aspiring insurrectionist and conspiring against Arabian supremacy), with the severing of his right hand.  Following the miraculous restoration of his hand by the holy Icon of the Theotokos, the Saint abandoned his post and withdrew to a monastic life in the Monastery of Saint Savvas in Jerusalem15.

d. The ten Martyrs of the Copper Gate who had opposed the Iconomachy, commemorated on the 9th of August.

      The Book of Saints for the 9th of August commemorates the feast-day of the Holy Ten Martyrs, who had undergone martyrdom for the sake of the Icon of the Saviour Christ which was placed on the Copper Gate of Constantinople. The first nine of these ten Saints (Julianus-Marcianus-John-Jacob-Alexios-Demetrius-Photios-Peter-Leontios and the patrician Maria) had participated in the resistance that the populace had displayed against the Army, when an officer (Spatharios) had attempted to take down the sacred Icon of Christ from the Copper Gate during the reign of Leo III Isaurus in the year 730 A.D., following the signing of an Iconomachy decree16.  After eight months of imprisonment and horrific tortures, the Saints were executed for the sake of Orthodoxy, together with the patrician Maria! 17

e) The sacred Canons make allowances and encourage the reaction of laypeople against heretic (pseudo) pastors.

       The most eloquent of texts regarding the defending of the Faith by the faithful - even when opposing Bishops, when Bishops through heresy are revealed as "pseudo-bishops" and "pseudo-pastors" - is the renowned text of the 15th sacred Canon of the 1st - 2nd Synod (of Photiane) of the year 861 A.D.; a Synod that is regarded as one of equal authority to the Ecumenical Synods. After elaborating on how Christians should react in cases of aberration by the Bishops of their territory, this sacred Canon finishes with the following clarification: "Whosoever, on account of a heresy denounced by the Holy Synods or the Fathers, separate themselves from the Primate (of the Church, the Bishop), that is, when he publicly preaches heresy and teaches it to the Church "barefacedly", they not only are not subject to a canonical penance prior to a synodic opinion for having walled themselves off from communion with the said Bishop, but they will in fact be worthy of the appropriate honour by the Orthodox. For they have not accused Bishops but rather pseudo-bishops and pseudo-teachers and have not split the Church with a schism; instead, they have taken care to rid the Church of schisms and partitions" 18.     

There are also other related Canons and interpretations by Canonologists (which we will examine in a special section)..

f) The confirmation of the Bishop's Faith by the laity.

       As very rightly observed by the renowned theologian Protopresbyter fr.George Florovxky, that although a Bishop does not teach the Faith based on a "power of attorney" and suggestions by the flock - ie the faithful people - he likewise cannot say whatever he wants, because "in the Church, ‘personal opinions' cannot and should not exist"19. Therefore, the Bishop is called upon - and limited to - expressing the age-old catholic experience of the Church. If he has not "embodied" himself in the Holy Spirit to this experience - which will become apparent in his teaching, behold, he will duly and justifiably be subject to the reaction of the Fold. These are the exact words of fr. George Florovsky: "the bishop must embrace inside him the whole Church; he must display, must reveal Her experience and Her faith. He must not express himself, but must speak on behalf of the Church - ‘ex consensus ecclesiae'. [...] The bishop has not obtained the full competency to preach from his flock, but from Christ Himself, through his Apostolic Succession. But this full competency which has been given to him is a competency to bear the witnessing of the catholic (overall) experience of the Church. He is restricted to this experience.  Subsequently, in questions pertaining to Faith, it is the laity that must judge, depending on his teaching. The duty of obedience ceases to be valid, when the bishop deviates from the catholic model, in which case, the people have the right to accuse him, even to dethrone him"20.
       For that reason, the response by the Patriarchs of the East to Pope Pius IX in 1848, was to proclaim the significance of the role of laypeople in the preservation of the Faith of the Church: "for us, neither Patriarchs nor Synods could ever introduce new things (dogmas and morals), because the defender of religion is the Body of the Church itself - that is, the people themselves, who want their religion eternally unaltered and the same as that of their fathers."21
       When interpreting this response of the Orthodox Patriarchs to Pope Pius IX in 1848, where the role of the laity for the preservation of the Faith is pointed out, fr. George Florovsky observes: "The whole body of the Church has the right to verify - or, to be more precise - the right, but not only the right but the duty of "verification". In this sense, the Patriarchs of the East had written in the familiar Encyclical of 1848 that ‘the people themselves have been the defenders of the religion'"22.


a. The praises of Saint Theodore the Studite to a woman confessor

     Martyrs and Witnesses of the Faith had also appeared during the Iconomachy era, from among the orthodox laity.  Saint Theodore the Studite in his letter to a persecuted official, the patrician Irene, had consoled her and encouraged her with the following words:  "Who of the confessors doesn't know that you are co-confessing? Where has it not been heard that there is a senator among the martyrs?  The orders of Monks have admired you and you have been praised by the congregations of the laity. But of what value is that?  The very orders of angels and saints have been delighted thanks to you. And do not think that my words are flattery. Look, o martyr of Christ, how much you have been honoured, how much you have been elevated; compare clay and gold for me: that is how much greater and how much more than the earthly rank that you abandoned is the heavenly rank that has now been bestowed upon you by God - that is, to be called a martyr of Christ, and confessor of the truth."
       "For this, I would remind you no not deviate from that objection - you, who have clung to the immovable rock of Orthodoxy - nor to become easily thrown and of a double mind on account of the falls (into heresy) by either laypeople or monastics and all those who think they are something, or anyone in general. They are pseudo-brethren, pseudo-apostles, who have an education of piety but have denied its power (2 Tim.3:5). Many
wiseacres and "seemingly hierarchic" and "seemingly saintly" persons have been defeated in older generations; on the contrary, few and truly wise people, who have lived with a fear of God, have shone forth as lights in the world, because the beginning of wisdom is for one to have an awe of God (Psalms 110:10) even though they have not been regarded as important personages, because man looks upon the face but God examines the heart"23.

b. The fighting confession of the confessors of the laity amid the persecutions by the heretics checks and censures the slackness of many Monks

       There are many things that one could say here also. We have chosen only one indicative example by Saint Theodore the Studite, addressed to his friend, the Hegumen Theophilos, on the matter of the "adulterian heresy" - that is, the ecclesiastic tolerance towards the illegal (adulterous) marriage of King Constantine VI and his subsequent synodical acquittal by the (adultery-marrying) Hegumen Joseph, who had performed that illegal (adulterous) marriage.
       "So, because heretical disrespect came out into the open through a Synod, thus also must your piety be expressed with courage together with all the Orthodox, by not communing with the cacodoxy, nor commemorating any one of them who had participated in that adultery Synod or are of one mind with it. And of course it is fair, blessed father, since you too are in every way God-loving as your name indicates, to be God-loving in this also. For the Chrysostom had characterized as enemies of God in a loud and prolonged voice, not only the heretics, but also those who commune with them.  And if your steadfastness is not secured, who then can be saved? And he who has outspokenly confessed with the help of God like a saint and yet the heresy becomes fulfilled, but now, if he relapses after the heresy, how will anyone dare to say a single word? And if the monastic order doesn't regard everything as chaff - I mean the monasteries and everything around them - how can a layperson scorn woman, children and the rest? 24.

       The right - or rather the duty - of the faithful to defend the Faith is more than obvious. In another section, God willing, we shall also tackle the subject of the contribution of Monks in matters of the Faith.



  •   1. Cmp. Protopresbyter Theodore Zisis "Following behind our Divine Fathers - Principles and Criteria of Patristic Theology" , Patristic texts 1, Vryennios Publications, Thessaloniki 1997, page. 44.
  • 2.  Essay 27Theologikos 1, 3, PG 36, 13e. (translated).
  • 3. P.N.Trembelas, Dogmatics, vol. Β΄, Soter publications, Athens 2003, page 376 (translated).
  • 4. Protopresbyter Theodore Zisis, as above, page 43.
  • 5. Second Evidentiary Essay 18 and 28, P.Christou publications, vol.1, 94. 103.
  • 6. Archmandrite George, Saint Gregory Palamas - Teacher of Theosis, Sacred Monastery of Saint Gregory publications, Holy Mountain 2000, page 54.
  • 7. Monk Theocletos Dionysiates, Saint Gregory Palamas, Speliotis publications, Thessaloniki, page 61.
  • 8. Epistle (81) Pantoleon Logothetis,  PG 99, 1321Α.Β (translated).
  • 9. Epistle (2) To Monastics, PG 99, 1120Β (translated).
  • 10. Five books against the slanders of Nestorius 1, 5, PG 76, 41e. (translated).
  • 11. ACO Ι, 1, 1, 101 (translated).
  • 12. Theophanes, Chronography Α.Μ. 5940, PG 108, 260B.261Β (translated).
  • 13. Epistle of Celestinus to Nestorius ACO 1,1,1,81 (translated).
  • 14. ACO Ι, 1, 1, 113-114 (translated).
  • 15. The entire Bios in John Patriarch of Jerusalem's "Bios of our Blessed Father John of Damascus", PG 94, 429-489. The specific incident, taken fom paragraph 14 (PG 94, 449Β) onwards.
  • 16. Refer  John Feidas, Ecclesiastic History, Vol. Α΄, Athens 1994, page 774.
  • 17. Menaion of August, in the Ecclesiastic Library«FOS»,  «FOS» publications, Athens 19702, page101.
  • 18. Hieromonk Agapios and Monk Nicodemus, Pedalion of the Noetic Ship of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, page 292 (translation).
  • 19. fr. George Florovsky, Topics of Orthodox Theology, "Artos Zois" publications, Athens 1973, page 208.
  • 20. Ibid, pages 207, 208.
  • 21. (§17), in John Karmiris' , The Dogmatic and Symbolic Monuments of the Orthodox Catholic Church, Vol. Β΄, Athens 1953, page 920.
  • 22. fr. George Florovsky, as above, page 207.
  • 23. Εpistle (156) Irene the Patrician, in Theodori Studitae Epistulae, Vol. Β΄,  De Gruyter publications, Corpus Fontium Historiae Byzantinae, Series Berolinensis 31, Berlin 1992, pages 276.277 (translated).
  • 24. Εpistle (39) To Abbot Theophilos, PG 99, 1049Α.Β (translated)


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