In the vestibule of piety

Another snippet from Fr. Thermos’ “The Forgotten Mystery…”, regarding the distinction or difference between clergy and laity:

“At the present time, the term ‘priest’ introduces us directly into a powerful distinction between the clergy and the people. During the first three centuries, however, when mention is made of the clergyman during the celebration of the Divine Liturgy, the term ‘president’ is used. Obviously, this is a term closely related to the term proistamenos, which St. Paul uses in First Thessalonians 5:12…The Eucharistic assembly during the first three Christian centuries presented aspects which today are entirely out of use….”

“It is a symptom of that decline – swift and sudden in the East, slower but steady in the West – in the understanding of that position of the laity as an ‘order’ in the church, a decline which begins in the fourth century. The word laikos ‘a layman’ in the East c. A.D. 300 still meant ‘one of the People (laos) of God’, with all the rights and high duties and destinies that implied. By c. A.D. 450 it had almost come to mean ‘profane’ as opposed to ‘sacred’… The veil which hid the sanctuary during the eucharist in the Syrian churches is the natural product of this frame of mind. ‘Liturgy’ is becoming the special function of the clergy alone, for their sacred character protects them in the ‘numinous’ presence of the sacrament, charged as it is with ‘terrifying’ power. The ‘profane’ laity have no such safeguard, and therefore the veil was introduced, to hide them from it rather than it from them…..

The point of all of the above being this, when he writes: “After the incarnation of God there are no ‘prohibited’ areas for the believer. ‘As long as you are a catechumen you are in the vestibule of the church. You must enter within, to pass through the courtyard, to behold the holy things….”

This last point regarding the catechumens particularly caught my eye as I have been speaking with someone for some time, months and months, who is patiently awaiting the moment to be able to enter the church. Long story. I’m sure these words bring some comfort that he is not fully outside but, in fact, has already entered and will soon “behold the holy things”.

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