Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov

Study Notes: Liturgical Minyan

Posted in D.Min. Study Notes by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 20 June 2015

The principle of correlation or concelebration in Liturgy described by Fr. Alexander Schmemann brings the laity into the equation of the Liturgy and strikes at the very heart of clericalism. Clericalism, at least as it exists in the Russian Church, seems to elevate ordained priests to some strange position within the Church. People are convinced that priests are not normal humans, that they have some special “superpowers” acquired through ordination, and that they are very much separate from the rest of the faithful–as if they were some alien beings. And while these ideas may be correct in some specifics–I do believe that priests receive divine grace from God–they are wrong in principle.

What clericalism breeds with respect to the Liturgy is an attitude that the Liturgy is something that the priest does. The priest becomes a provider of services, and people come to consume these services: watch the Liturgy, pick up some holy water and blessed bread, receive communion, submit some names on a piece of paper, order a memorial service for grandma… The very language that has come into use in Church highlights this consumer attitude: people “order” various services; in fact, often they call and expect to be able to place an order over the telephone. And the most common question is, “How much does it cost?” People want to know the price and decide whether the “product” is worth it. They can always shop around and look for a lower price. To be sure, some people do have an understanding that they must participate in the life of the Church: when they submit a list of names for commemoration at the divine Liturgy it is the same list that they use in their private prayers, when they ask for a memorial service they expect to be there praying together with the priest, etc. But many lay people treat the Church as a boutique shop of spells and amulets and the priest as a shaman who dispenses them.

“Contrary to popular belief,” however, priests do not possess anything that the Church does not possess. Priesthood is the attribute of the Church which She receives like a crown from Her divine Groom, it is not an attribute of a few special individuals. The royal priesthood of the Body of Christ (1 Peter 2:9) becomes focused on an individual priest in the same way that sunlight can be focused by a lense on one spot. So, a priest does find himself in a “spotlight,” but it is not his light–it is the light that belongs to all the faithful, it is the light of Christ shining through His Church. Christ’s priesthood simply does not exist outside His Body, the Church. There cannot in principle be a priest outside the Church. Priesthood is not a quality or a possession of a person; it is the quality of the Church.

Furthermore, if priesthood is the quality of the Church and not of professional priests, then Liturgy is also the function of the Church and not of professional priests. Liturgy is the life of the Church in communion with Christ and not a product “produced” by the clergy and purchased by the lay consumers.

Unfortunately, the way our religious services are organized nowadays is very conducive to the spectator attitude of the laity. Commemorations at the Proskomede are done out of sight and hearing of the faithful, people have no way of engaging with the service and just stand and observe. Of course, people should be praying during the service, and we usually say that this is their way of participating, but consider the following illustration. If a priest is not serving and is simply praying in Church during a Liturgy officiated by another priest, we say that the priest is not serving, even if he takes communion at the appointed place. This is the status of the laity in our churches: they are not serving.

I really like the synagogue idea of a minyan. I am not aware that the Christian Church ever had such a requirement. It is true that a priest cannot serve the Liturgy all alone, but the “where-two-or-three-are-gathered-together” clause requires only one chantor in addition to the celebrant, and there exist various dispensations and exceptions to this rule. But imagine if we required a larger quorum in order to celebrate the Liturgy. People would actually feel the responsibility to be in church in order for the Liturgy to take place. Lay people would feel that their presence is necessary and required, that without them there just may not be a Liturgy–something that every priest feels very intimately. Think of the Liturgy as a family supper. Can the father sit down to a family supper alone? The answer is obvious: without the presence of the family, there cannot be a family supper. Could it be that without the presence of the community of believers, the Body of Christ, there cannot in principle be a Liturgy, even if the priest is all vested and ready to celebrate?

If we had the concept of a minyan for the Liturgy, the idea that the Liturgy begins with the process of the faithful coming together, with God’s children answering the call of the Father and gathering “like olive shoots around [His] table” (Psalm 128:3)–alive, growing, producing fruit, and connected to one root (cf. John 15:5), the idea that the Liturgy begins with my wilful act of “manifesting my membership in the Church” by gathering together with my brothers and sisters in Christ for the common work of the Liturgy may become more tangible, visceral and real for the lay faithful.


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