For those who visit an Orthodox service for the first time, one of the things that may strike them is the prominent role of the clergy. Sometimes, non-Orthodox may even wonder whether we are so top heavy, that we lack the flexibility to evangelize and perform mission work. That is, can anything be done liturgically if there’s not a bishop, priest, or deacon present?
The short answer is yes. When the Russian Empire extended into Alaska, a Russian Orthodox mission was established in 1794. It was never very large if one considers only the ordained clergy, not even if one considers the ordained clergy and the non-ordained monks. One of the ways of furthering the Gospel amongst Native Alaskans was to tonsure a local leader as a “reader.” Reader in the Orthodox Church is a minor order of clergy that most closely approximates what American Protestants might consider a “lay leader.” These readers would serve short services with psalms, hymns, prayers, and New Testament readings between the visits from the missionary clergy.
This practice continues today. In some towns in America, the Orthodox mission parish is too small to yet warrant a full time parish priest. Or, perhaps it is large enough but still waiting for a priest to arrive. In either case, a local lay reader will serve such short services. This Sunday, May 8th, that will be the case with us as well in Fargo. I have to be gone this particular Sunday, but a service will be held on Sunday morning at 10am nonetheless. As always, visitors are still welcome and, as always, the tradition of the Christian Church will be expressed liturgically.