In the great 'Ekteni' (prayer) which is offered at every Orthodox Church service, each petition begins separately with the words "For the...", and have a special sanctity. We begin with general requests before progressing to the more specific.
We first of all ask for 'peace', so that we may prioritize properly our needs and wants with a composed frame of mind. We then immediately place our petitions in a logical and moral order, as a praying community of faithful. For we never forget, of course, that our liturgical life is always 'reasonable worship'.
Out of all these petitions, which are all vital and substantial, we shall single out the following one for comment:
Before any commentary, it is obvious to all that this refers to specific goals which are at the same time quite varied. For this reason it is highly comprehensive.
First of all, we should say by way of general observation that the structure of the petition is a wonderful gradation of particular 'architectural' sensitivity in matters involving spiritual things and people. Thus, the petition is not restricted to seeking the good health and prosperity of only one class of people. Nor to underlining how significant and necessary one particular good is for our spiritual condition.
On the contrary, the organic unity of all the mentioned groups within the undivided body of the faithful especially during divine worship testifies to the grace that is shared to all, in absolute solidarity and communion. And this 'communion' is self evident from the moment that this grace is characterized as the "great and abundant mercy`. This is why all who pray together as one the people of God "here present' await it with the same hope.
If the divine grace was not mercy, but was instead given as a 'reward' for the virtues of the faithful person, then it would not be self evident to all, and all members of the body would not commune from it. And if the divine grace was not "great and abundant mercy", then it would not be sufficient for all.
In spite of what has been said so far, it is clear that the placement and prominence given to an indefinite number of faithful, who are initially not distinct from the others on account of special functions and gifts, nevertheless provide the general tone and the most decisive impetus for the full development of Parish life. These faithful are generally and somewhat vaguely called "those who bear fruit and nurture the soil".
However, it immediately strikes us that the order in which these two groups are mentioned, which could in fact be the very same group, but described in two different ways, does not appear to be natural, in terms of temporal placement.
Through natural and logical sequence, one would expect those who "bear fruit' to come after those who "nurture the soil`. For we all know that cultivation always precedes the fruit.
It is precisely this 'reversal' in the order of the 'Ekteni', which may appear absurd in secular terms, but which can show us that there is a purely spiritual law at work; one that radically distinguishes the Church from the world.
While the fruits are inevitably a consequence of nurturing the soil in secular terms, the order is different in spiritual matters, according to which cultivation necessarily demands the sacrifice of the fruits, so that further multiplication of the fruits may occur.
Christ Himself presented this astounding truth, without any dramatic overtones, as the most natural "miracle' in all of Creation. He reminds us of the simple phenomenon and the image of the multiplying grain of wheat: `Most assuredly 1 say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain" (John 12:24).
This spiritual ordering completely overturns the natural order of things. Looking at Parish life in this light, in which "those who bear fruit" are mentioned before "those who nurture the soil", we should say that the first category of workers in the vineyard of the Lord should approach their sacred task by being, abundant in fruits' already. For it is only through the consumption of fruits which are deposited from the outset, in the form of a guarantee, that they are able to affect beneficially and cultivate accordingly the other faithful who look towards them as their leaders and fathers.
According to such a spiritual ordering, it would be reasonable for one to understand "those who bear fruit" and "those who nurture the soil" as being, first of all, the spiritual leaders and teachers; for it is they who are successors of the Apostles, not only during the celebration of divine worship, but also in all other manifestations and activities of the Church.
All other faithful "who toil" and "who sing" next to those who are first in responsibility, have of course no less a God given role, as they too are gifted by God.
The distinction between various groups in the common life of the Church does not primarily signify a grading in terms of value. Rather, it seeks to clearly state the varying degree of responsibility and obligations on the part of each person. We do not overlook in any case that it is precisely this variety and difference in groups and functions which combines all members into an unbreakable organic unity, namely into the Body of Christ, which is the Church.
from Voice of
Orthodoxy, v. 24(1), January-February 2002
the official publication of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia