“Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them,

and they that are great exercise authority upon them.

But it shall not be so among you:

but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister;

And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant:

Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto,

but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25-28, KJV)

The word the Athenians used for their Assembly was Ekklesia, the same word used in the New Testament for Church
(and it is the greatest philological irony in all of Western history that this word,
which connoted equal participation in all deliberation by all members,
came to designate a kind of self-perpetuating, self-protective Spartan gerousia -
which would have seemed patent nonsense to Greek-speaking Christians of New Testament times,
who believed themselves to be equal members of their Assembly.)

- Thomas Cahill, Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea: Why the Greeks Matter


Thursday, July 5, 2007

L’eglise, c’est moi? The Etymology and Meaning of “Ekklesia”

From the recent, and not-so-recent, correspondences of our clergy and hierarchy it would be easy for one to conclude that without them there is no church, no ekklesia. One might also conclude that the ekklesia is the physical structure we enter to hear the Liturgy and partake of the Sacraments. The conclusion would not be accurate.

Ekklesia is derived from two Greek words, “ek”, meaning out of, and “kalein”, to call, summon or invite. Ekklesia means a convocation, gathering, congregation, or an assembly. "Ekklesia tou demou" – meeting of the citizens – in ancient Athens was the formal gathering where citizens of the polis (city) assembled to decide upon the affairs of their city. Ekklesia in the New Testament is the people of the City of God, not just part of them, the clergy, monks, or bishops, but all the faithful. From this meaning emerged the designation of local churches – ekklesiai. These were the whole communities of the faithful in various cities, and again not a part of them. In his writings to various churches, Saint Paul defined ekklesia, describing what the church truly is. In one such instance he wrote, "To all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints..." – in other words, to all the faithful, to the ekklesia.

Christ said that His church would be built upon Peter, not because all were to henceforth unquestioningly obey Peter, but because Peter showed faith in Christ as revealed by God. The rock upon which the Church was built was that of anyone with faith. All people who have faith in Christ are the rock of the Church – not only the clergy – but also the laity, the citizens of the City of God. In his epistles, St. Peter referred to the laity as the "Royal Priesthood".

After the Council of Florence in 1439, which falsely united the Roman West with the Orthodox East, one man stood alone in his objection and refusal to sign that document of union. That man, St. Mark of Ephesus, remained steadfast in his faith, upholding the proper traditions and teachings of the ekklesia, resisting the rigidity of the papal structure. He saw the union with Rome for what it was – a union of convenience for purely political and economic gain. As Metropolitan of Ephesus, St. Mark endured much and suffered greatly for standing alone in his position. However, the laity (derived from the word "laos" - the people), the "Royal Priesthood" stood with him, holding fast to the traditions handed down to them, and ultimately this false union was rejected.

We should remember also that Christ came in the form of God as man preaching the gospel of love, and He was crucified for this. Christ did not advocate putting non-believers to death, did not force anyone to obey Him, did not indulge in secret agendas, did not excommunicate. There was and is no condemnation in Christ Jesus.

are the Church. This community as a whole is the Church. Our priests, monks and bishops are not the whole Church; they are part of it. To hear them lately, one might think they ARE the Church, demanding blind and absolute obedience and acquiescence. L’eglise, c’est moi! In our specific case, the clergy and hierarchy have confused the two consecrated buildings where we worship as their “brides” and thus they claim, on the basis of a false analogy, "un-Christian polygamy". Those edifices are not their “bride”, are not this parish, are not this Church. We, the Greek Orthodox Community of Salt Lake City, the citizens of this “City of God”, ARE the ekklesia.

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