Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Anglican Church to Consider Letting Vicars Divest

The implosion of the Anglican Communion continues unabated.  With the establishment of the Anglican Ordinariate, the soon-to-be-expected ordination of women bishops, blessing of gay "marriages' , not protecting or being even a willing voice for the ongoing persecution of the Christians in the Middle East, and a theology more concerned with oil and bankers and corporations than with that which actually is a catholic message of salvation, the only question Anglicans should ask now is not "when the Anglican Church will cease to exist," but "How fast can we get there?"  Every new and novel policy and action the Anglicans  now adopt will only hasten their own destruction. 

The Anglican Church's newest move towards self-destructiveness:  allowing clergy to wear whatever they wish.  The justification?  Flexibility and the need to relate to the modern man because modern Christians and those outside the church are "offended" or "turned off" by such vestments.  Here is another instance of the praxis and doctrine of the church being dictated by those "outside" of the Church or those who are only nominally churchgoers.  It should be emphasized that the Church exists first and foremost for those who have been received and called to worship the Lord who is the Church's head.  It is not a business and should not adopt business practices to increase a customer base.  Nevertheless, that is precisely what the Anglicans have been doing as well as the Protestants in general and even the Catholics have started down this road.  How long before it really starts to affect the Orthodox?

Vestments are often looked at as being gaudy and ostentatious and, thus, wholly unnecessary.  The standard argument goes like this:  Christ Himself never wore vestments when he was teaching His apostles or feeding the hungry or healing the sick, therefore, His priests shouldn't need to dress up like that.  If not then, Jesus preached against the temple and its abuses and so the vestments also need to go.

First of all, it is important here to distinguish between Christ the teacher and Christ the high priest.  Christ was outside of the temple when he taught, fed and healed.  He was not acting as a priest and was not in the priestly order.  He never once spoke against the worship in the temple but spoke against the hypocrites who abused their positions in the temple and its worship.  Christ never failed to go to the Temple; his parents certainly didn't.  So, the argument that Christ wanted to start a new worship or temple against the established order is bunk.

Now, with regards to the priest, it is important to remember that the theology of icons pervades the overall theology of the Church.  Now, even if most Christian confessions do not accept the theology of icons as it is practiced in the Orthodox Church, they adopt the ideas of image and likeness to a certain extent, especially Catholics, Anglicans and some Lutherans.  The priest stands in persona Christi.  He, in a manner, in a mystery, becomes Christ and celebrates the Divine Liturgy accordingly.  This is all laid out in the Epistle to the Hebrews which focuses on Christ as the bodily fulfillment of the priesthood according to Melchizidek (see Psalm 109).  The priest may well teach, but that is not his primary function during the Divine Liturgy. His main function is to worship and bring all creation to worship God alongside Himself and to dispense of the gifts of God to His creation.  The vestments are a poor reflection of the glory that the Lord clothes Himself with.  Such is why the vestments are often elaborate.  Also, in the Orthodox Church building, you may find one icon of Christ the teacher, but the icons of Christ that dominate are the Christ the judge (on the iconostasis to the right of the Royal Doors) and Christ the archpriest often placed on the bishop's throne.  Christ is vested the same way the bishops are.

Outside of the church building, the priest and clergy still adopt a certain dress.  This is to identify them as priests.  Why would we want our priests to blend in with the people?  Don't we want people to know the priests as they walk among them?  If a person should collapse in the midst of a crowd and suffering and wants a priest, wouldn't it be easier to grab a person wearing a cassock or collar than it would be to trust some random person wearing blue jeans and a polo shirt that he is?

The wearing of vestments also reinforces humility.  I am  a tonsured reader and chanter and though this is a very minor clergy rank, I still wear a black cassock while performing my duties.  This is to suppress our own personal tastes in clothing and attire and instead to reinforce that our dress is not in service to our friends and fashion critics out among the laity.  Those who complain about the elaborate nature of the priests' vestments probably do not give any thought to the expensive suits and the time it takes Joel Osteen or Rick Warren to get ready before they "preach."  There is no way that Joel Osteen goes out on stage without an extensive visit to hair and make up first and there is no way he is wearing a suit off of the rack at JC Penny's rather than something from Giorgio Armani.

The vestments during the Liturgy are but one way to connect us to the heavens.  Too much has been made of Liturgical worship into merely a mental activity.  True heavenly worship lifts up the entire person in his whole bodily form which must include the senses.  Even in the description of the worship of God in the heavens, as vividly described by the Apocalypse of St. John, there is no lack of incense, icons, hymns, etc.--all things to draw the created to the Creator. 

Anglicans and Lutherans would do well to remember that.

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