Hierarchy – our place.
Homily 391 – 30th after Pentecost
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
January 12, 2020
Epistle: (224-ctr) – Ephesians 4:7-13
Gospel: (10) – Matthew 4:12-17
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God.
St. Paul in his epistle to the Ephesians mentions something very important, that perhaps we all know but aren’t always aware of.
We have different skills and talents.
It is something that in the grand scheme we sometimes take for granted and forget. But it is absolutely true – I have a unique set of skills and talents. As do you.
That isn’t to say that we can’t do something the other can, or we can do something the other can’t. It is in the sense of complementing each other.
It is what Dionysius the Aeropagite calls “hierarchy”. Order. In the letter St. Paul speaks of some being apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some shepherds, and teachers – but all for one purpose.
That purpose is the perfecting of the saints, to build up the body of Christ.
Some of you, perhaps most, already understand that there are nine ranks of angels. Each angelic rank has a particular purpose. Each has a “place” in what Dionysius calls “the celestial hierarchy”.
The ones closest to the throne of God, the Seraphim, have the role of proclaiming “Holy, Holy, Holy” to all in the presence of God. The Cherubim serve a similar purpose but provide a place – a support if you will – for God.
Then there are the beings that interface with both God and us – the Angels. Angels means “messenger”.
In the Church we have an order as well – we have orders of clergy. There are three that are closer to the throne – which in our temple is the chair at the easternmost point of the sanctuary within the Church, called the “High Place.”
That is also called the “cathedra”, which is where the Bishop is. The priests – presbyters – stand around the Bishop and the Deacons serve with the Bishops and priests.
There are other orders, also – subdeacons, readers, and candle bearers. There are formal roles that we don’t use any more, like doorkeeper.
There is order to this. When clergy line up, like in a procession, there is a process based on the level and time. So the Patriarch would be first, then Metropolitans, then Archbishops, then Bishops. That is the order within the order of Bishop.
All are bishops. Fully and completely. Yet the roles they play within the body may vary.
Same with priests – there are those designated Protopresbyters, those Archpriests, and then priests. We line up within our order based on our date of ordination.
Deacons have their order, monks and nuns have their order. The laity doesn’t have order within, necessarily – and yet there are still roles within the laity, within the family.
Now, why is this important? Not because an order or rank within an order is important. Rather, it tells us where we belong. Where we fit. There is, at least to me, comfort in that.
More than that, however, is that the place where I am to be – I am the only person uniquely designed for that place. I know where I fit, and I’m the only one who can and will fit there.
Without me serving that role, occupying that place, the body of Christ is – incomplete. Deformed. Because we are not interchangeable. We are not disposable.
So – with this understanding – why does the ear desire to become the eye? Why does the hand desire to be the foot, or the stomach desire to be the knee?
There is a saying that one never truly knows the value of something until it is missing.
What’s the value of the O-ring that caused the Space Shuttle to explode? The cost was under $5. The value was billions.
The failure of that one small part caused all the other parts to cease functioning properly.
We think hierarchy, and think “pecking order” or “power structure” but it isn’t that at all.
It is our unique place in the body of Christ. Humility is our acceptance of that place.
Now, don’t overthink this. I know it sounds like I already have. But we don’t have to determine our place in the body and then set about becoming that.
We can see the need, and if we have the ability to meet the need, we should meet it. Be that in the Church, in our community, in our family. That will determine our place, which can change over time.
But brothers and sisters, it will never stop being our place, wherever that place is.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Glory to Jesus Christ!