Fr. Alexander Schmemann on Clericalism & the Eucharist

Fathers Thomas Hopko, Paul Lazor & Alexander Schmemann

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…

Again, the most obvious form of this separation is the exclusion of lay people from communion as the fulfilment of their membership in the body of Christ. Instead of a “faithful image” (1 Timothy 4:12) there appears an image of a “master of all sacrality” separated from the faithful, dispensing grace as he sees fit.

This is the root of opposition to frequent communion by some clergy – the protection of communion by confession, by remission, by the “authority given to me…” etc. This fight is so clearly now becoming stronger under the influence of some clergy possessed by their power, their “sacredness.” Nothing is as threatening to their authority as the return of the Eucharist to the Church, its revival as the “Sacrament of the Church” and not as “one of the means of sanctification…”

The tragedy of theological education lies in the fact that young people who seek the priesthood are – consciously or unconsciously – seeking this separation, power, this rising above the laity. Their thirst is strengthened and generated by the whole system of theological education, of clericalism. How can they be made to understand, not only with their minds, but their whole being, that one must run away from power, any power, that it is always a temptation, always from the devil? Christ freed us from that power – “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me…” (Matthew 28:18) – by revealing the Light of power as power of love, of sacrificial self-offering. Christ gave the Church not “power,” but the Holy Spirit: “receive the Holy Spirit…” In Christ, power returned to God, and man was cured from ruling and commanding.

* This excerpt is from “The Journals of Father Alexander Schmemann, 1973-1983”


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