Nicholas Afanasiev, Gifts, and Ordination

Nicholas Afanasiev, Gifts, and Ordination

Published: Jan 25, 2008 by Maria Gwyn McDowell

Nicholas Afanasiev is very concerned to clearly pair ministry with gifts, and ensure that the church remains charismatic rather than subject to law. “Activity in the Church equals ministry and ministry presupposes a corresponding charism, for there can be no ministry in the Church without the gifts of the Spirit” (61). Conversely, if a charism has not been given to an individual, the individual cannot perform the ministry associated with the charism. Laics, in their baptismal ordination, are given a royal and priestly charism, which allows them to concelebrate the eucharist in worship, to witness to the Truth in the teaching and governance of the clergy, to receive teaching as truth, and by implication, to reject what is not Truth. Laics are not teachers: “The office of the teacher does not belong to laics. They are not able to teach in the ecclesial assembly and to instruct the people of God. However, the lack of the gifts for teaching that characterizes laics does not rule out the fact that laics as members of God’s people can have their own individual views and privately express their own opinions,” (76) nor are they administrators. Bishops govern, and those who have the teaching charism teach. Afanasiev points out that while teaching has always been a part of the bishop’s ministry, it has not always been a part of a presbyter’s ministry.

However, at this point, Afanasiev seems a bit circular, and leaves some significant questions unanswered. Laics do not teach, for instance, because they do not have the charism of teaching. If they had the charism of teaching presumably they would be ordained. At one point in our history, we had the ministry of the didascaloi, specifically appointed to teach. According to Afanasiev’s logic, they were no longer laics, because they had the additional gift of teaching. They were not necessarily priests, nor were they bishops. So, which comes first, gift or ordination? If the latter, how do we recognize someone’s ‘fit’ for ministry? What do we do when the ministry which corresponds to the gift no longer exists? What do we do when the Church does not recognize the charisms of people, or does not have the diversity of designated ministries to correspond to the diversity of gifts? He assumes that if the gift is attached to a particular ministry, those who don’t have this ministry do not have the gift (59ff). How is the gift recognized? By whom?

By rejecting the legal models (representative democracy of the Moscow Synod, virtually all of Balsamon’s logic in interpreting the canon’s of Trullo) in favor of a charismatic and grace-based understanding of the Church, Afanasiev neglects to offer a clear alternative, or any kind of mechanism to incarnate a charismatic model. On the one hand, the bishop is confirmed by the people, and according to Cyprian, makes decisions only with the consensus of the people. Yet Afanasiev also says that the bishop’s decisions are the will of God, as consensus is given in ordination itself. Consensus “could have been latent” (62), or “silently accompanied the actions of the bishop” (62). Laics fulfill their ministry by “having full knowledge of what is being done in the Church and themselves witnessing to the will of God” (64). But does ‘knowledge’ and ‘witness’ necessarily imply the active ministry of the laics in the church that Afanasiev so rigorously defends in his press to restore regular communion and emphasis on concelebration?

On the one hand, Afanasiev complains that the loss of the doctrine of the royal and priestly ministry of God’s people has made impossible lay activity based on gifts. He vociferously rejects the loss of the laic’s consecrated status, as they are ordained in baptism as royalty, priests, and prophets. On the other hand, his assertion of who has those gifts is rigid, there is no crossover or blending in gifts, and he makes no mention of how we recognize and received gifts unless they are already a part of an ordained ministry.

So, to summarize with some questions:

  1. How are gifts recognized, by whom, and do the precede or follow ordination?
  2. Are particular gifts and ministries so distinct from one another? If gifts are given as a result of the Spirit rather than the law, is the Spirit so precise in who gets what? History does not seem to support such a narrow understanding of gifting and ministry.
  3. What do we do when we have gifted teachers who are not ordained (or can’t be b/c they are women), and presbyters and bishops who are hardly gifted teachers?
  4. By what mechanism do we achieve “consensus” and is it not possible that representative governance allows for the exercise of laic discernment and accountability (gifts Afanasiev grants all laics - 61) without them necessarily ‘governing’ the church?

Some interesting quotes:

“The ministry of laics in the Church in the sacramental area does not invalidate the ministry of those who preside over the people because without them the ministry of laics would be unable to be expressed. More precisely, it would be left outside the Church. Laics are concelebrants with the bishop and the presbyter for it is in concelebration that the sacraments are performed. Laics are the bishop’s concelebrants not just because they have some active role in the sacramental ministry but because they, being the priests of the most high God, actually celebrate those sacraments. Only with the concelebration of the laics can the bishop or presbyter celebrate those acts. Only a layperson who had been degraded from his priestly status (becoming non-initiated by this) is deprived of sacramental ministry. As a member of the people of God, a laic ministers together with those who preside over him” (38).
Ininfrequent reception of communion: “…those are the innovations that were being established in ecclesiastical practice and against which both the council in Antioch and the compiler of the Apostolic Canons were struggling. When despite these ordinances the custom of rare or relatively rare communion became entrenched in ecclesiastical practice, it then became necessary to interpret these canons in accordance with the existing practice” (51).
Sacramental ministry is not only open to laics, moreover without their participation no sacrament can be celebrated in the Church. Exercising their sacramental ministry in the Church, the people minister in a different manner from their presiders and the presiders minister in a different manner from the people but nevertheless,everything in the Church is celebrated by their common action” (57).
In the sphere of administration and teaching the people of God is governed and instructed by those ordained for these ministries. In these spheres laics can neither govern nor teach jointly with those who governing or instructing them. The prerogative of the people in these spheres is examination, expressed through consensus and ecclesial reception. Examination is the testimony of the people of God to the fact that the rulers and teachers whom God has ordained do in fact rule and teach according to the will of God and that the gifts of the Holy Spirit that they have received abide in them. Pastors and teachers do not rule and teach in their own name or in the name of the people that has authorized them but Christ himself rules and teaches through them as the one Shepherd of one flock. In all of the three main spheres of activity in the Church Christ worships, rules and instructs through the gifts of the Spirit that God has poured upon the ministers of the Church” (79).

All citations taken from: Afanasiev, Nicholas. The Church of the Holy Spirit, trans. Vitaly Permiakov, Ed. Michael Plekon. Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 2007.