Not everyone is called—has a “vocation”—to be ordained to the clergy. But that doesn’t mean lay people have less work to do or that God expects any less of them.
Jesus gave the same orders and issued the same call to all of His followers: “go forth.” Matthew 28:16–20 is the Gospel lesson read during the Sacrament of Baptism: the Great Commission applies to every Christian, clergy and laity. We are all members of the Church, and we are all God’s servants.
In Byzantine times, the emperor bestowed many titles and “offices” (offikia, duties, responsibilities) on those who served in the imperial court. These office-holders also promoted the Christian Faith.
In 1966, Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras created the Order of St. Andrew, the Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Each year since then, about twenty lay leaders have had the honorary title of “Archon” and an offikion bestowed on them as a way of honoring their service on behalf of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Church. Many times, the offikion they receive reflects their role as a philanthropist, teacher, or other type of service defending the Faith and supporting the Church.
As Exarch of the Ecumenical Patriarch, Archbishop Demetrios of America blesses new Archons and bestows a cross on them.
The officion, or office, that each archon bears, stems from the Byzantine period. Through the Ecumenical Patriarchate, most of the traditional Byzantine imperial and ecclesiastical titles have been preserved. Thus, the specific titles bestowed to the Archons of the Order of St. Andrew by Patriarch Bartholomew and his predecessors, in many cases, stretch back 1000 years or more.
A listing of these titles follows along with a brief description of their historic role. Occasionally, the officion is prefaced with the term Megas or Great denoting that this office had a larger, supervisory responsibility.
It is apparent from the descriptions that archons in the Byzantine Empire carried a heavy responsibility for the administration of both Church and state. Today, archons continue to serve in ecclesiastic and secular roles: as lay leaders of the Church and as pioneers in business, civic life, education, law, and medicine.