Clergy, Monks, and Laity

Mary Cunningham

in The Oxford Handbook of Byzantine Studies

Published in print October 2008 | ISBN: 9780199252466
Published online November 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Classics and Ancient History

 Clergy, Monks, and Laity

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Originally used to refer to all Christians, the word clergy (kleros) included those who were appointed to serve and minister to the laity, or ordinary members, within the Christian Church. Although bishops, presbyters, and deacons formed a threefold hierarchy in the earliest period (first-second centuries CE) of the Byzantine Empire, lay members of the Church could carry out some other ministries, such as prophecy, teaching, and healing. During the second and third centuries, the bishop began to be recognized as the primary source of unity and authority within the Christian Church. When Constantine I and subsequent emperors adopted Christianity as an official religion, the organization of the secular Church was further codified. In the middle and later periods of Byzantine history, the threefold structure of the clergy, comprising bishops, presbyters or priests, and deacons, remained in place along with the lower orders of subdeacons, deaconesses, and readers. This article focuses on the clergy, monks and nuns, and laity of the Byzantine Empire.

Keywords: Byzantine Empire; clergy; monks; laity; nuns; bishops; Christianity; Christian Church; deacons; priests

Article.  4665 words. 

Subjects: Classical Studies ; Middle Eastern Languages

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