St. Clement of Rome

Today we celebrate the memory of our Father among the Saints, Clement, Bishop of Rome. This feast reminds us of the catholicity of the Church through space and time. Clement was a disciple of the Apostles, probably of St. Peter himself, and was consecrate Bishop of Rome in 91 AD.  He experienced the fury of pagan Rome against the nascent Church, and, despite this danger, managed to baptize the Prefect of Rome, Sisinius, and his wife, Theodora. As a result, he was exiled to the Chersonesus in the Crimea, where he ministered to the Christian prisoners in the marble quarries. Because of his ministry, he was subjected to torture and a martyr’s death. An anchor was tied around his neck and he was thrown into the Black Sea.

A hymn from Vespers connects his life in Rome, in the Crimea and in heaven together as a vast cosmic revelation of the divine light, comparing him to the sun, but a sun that travels rather from west to east:

You rose from the West like a radiant sun, O thrice-blessed father, and the earth was brightly illumined by your wondrous teachings as well as by your wounds. Having reached the regions of the East, you set in death. Then you dawned again, O blessed Clement, forever close to Christ in a divine communion, enlightening by the splendor which shines in the Age to come.

St. Clement is best known as the author of the Epsitle of Clement which he addressed to the Church of Corinth. A faction of young people seem to have rebelled against the bishops/presbyters for an unstated reason. St. Clement attempted to restore order to the Church by stressing the importance of order. The Greek word he uses is taxis, and he stresses the point that our Lord established his Church with a certain order, and that all things are done according to order. St. Clement’s exhortation to proper order, to the observance of the proper times for the divine sacrifice and services is a reminder to us today that the taxis or order of our divine services should be observed as far as possible. In the past we have “adjusted” the times of our services, for example, for pastoral reasons. Although that may be a legitimate reason, the Church has placed the services at a certain time for a reason; it is encumbent on ourselves to learn the reasons for the times and seasons of our celebrations, and not to consign them to the pile of “liturgical trivia”.

Some selections from St. Clement’s Epistle to the Corinthians will help us see more clearly the importance of taxis in the Church.

38. Let our whole body, then, be preserved in Christ Jesus; and let everyone be subject to his neighbor, according to the special gift beshowed upon him. Let the strong not despise the weak, and let the weak show respect to the strong. Let the rich man provide for the wants of the poor; and let the poor man bless God, because He has given him one by whom he needs may be supplied. Let the wise man display his wisdom, not by mere words, but through good deeds. Let the humble not bear testimony to himself, but leave witness to be borne to him by another. Let him that is pure in the flesh not grow proud of it, and boast, knowing tht it was another who bestowed on him the gift of continence. Let us consider, then, brethren, of what matter we were made, –who and what manner of being we came into the world, as it were out of a sepulcher, and from utter darkness. he who made us and fashioned us, having prepared His bountiful gifts for us before we were born, introduced us into His world. Since, therefore, we receive all these things from Him, we ought for everything to give Him thanks; to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.

St. Clement here presents a beautiful image of the life of the Church. All the members of the Church are subject to one another through humble service, and ultimately that service comes from the gifts God himself has given to us for use in the Church. Our job, then, is to discover the gifts that God has given us and how we can best employ them for others.

In paragraph 40 St. Clement illustrates how the Church is founded not just on the proper ordering of Services, but also on the proper place each person has in the Church. Everyone has a certain rank and a certain place for that rank to perform its part of the Service. Each rank, whether bishop, priest, deacon, or layperson, has its role to play for the glory of God.

40. These things therefore being manifested to us, and since we look into the depths of the divine knowledge, it behooves us to do all things in their proper order, which the Lord has commanded us to perform at stated times. He has enjoined offerings to be presented and service to be performed to Him, and that not thoughtlessly or irregularly, but at the appointed times an dhours. Where and by whom he desires these things to be done, He Himself has fixed by His own supreme will, in order that all things being piously done according to His good pleasure, may be acceptable to Him.

Those, therefore, who present their offerings at the appointed times, are accepted and blessed; for inasmuch as they follow the laws of the Lord, they do not sin. For his own peculiar services are assigned to the high priest, and their own proper place is prescribed to the priests, and their own special ministrations devolve on the Levites. The layperson is bound by the laws that pertain to laypeople.

Our Church is based on this divine order, not one constructed by human intellect or will, no business or academic model, but one that is based on the Trinity itself. But all are united in the worship of God and humble service to one another. In this, St. Clement has captured, already at the end of the 1st century, the universal essence of the Church.

Our Church, then, is based on a divinely established order, not just organized on human or business principles. Let us strive to honor that taxis which keeps the Church from falling apart into chaos or from falling prey to rebellions based on pride.