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Holy Orders

It is the con­vic­tion of the Ortho­dox that Christ is the only priest, pas­tor and teacher of the Chris­t­ian Church. He alone guides and rules his peo­ple. He alone for­gives sins and offers com­mu­nion with God, his Father.

It is also the Ortho­dox con­vic­tion that Christ has not aban­doned his peo­ple, but that he remains with his Church as its liv­ing and unique head. Christ remains present and active in the Church through his Holy Spirit.

The sacra­ment of holy orders in the Chris­t­ian Church is the objec­tive guar­an­tee of the per­pet­u­al pres­ence of Christ with his peo­ple. The bish­ops, priests, and dea­cons of the Church have no oth­er func­tion or ser­vice than to man­i­fest the pres­ence and action of Christ to his peo­ple. In this sense, the cler­gy do not act in behalf of Christ or instead of Christ as though he him­self were absent. They are nei­ther vic­ars of Christ, nor sub­sti­tutes for Christ nor rep­re­sen­ta­tives of Christ.

Christ is present now, always, and for­ev­er in his Church. The sacra­men­tal min­istry of the Church—the bish­ops, priests, and deacons—receive the gift of the Holy Spir­it to man­i­fest Christ in the Spir­it to men. Thus, through his cho­sen min­is­ters, Christ exer­cis­es and real­izes his unique and exclu­sive func­tion as priest, per­pet­u­al­ly offer­ing him­self as the per­fect sac­ri­fice to the Father on behalf of his human broth­ers and sis­ters. Through his min­is­ters in the Church, Christ also acts as teacher, him­self pro­claim­ing the divine words of the Father to men. He acts as the good shep­herd, the one pas­tor who guides his flock. He acts as the for­giv­er and heal­er, remit­ting sins and cur­ing the ills of menÃ?physical, men­tal and spir­i­tu­al. He acts as bish­op, over­see­ing the com­mu­ni­ty which he has gath­ered for him­self (1 Pet 2:25). He acts as dea­con (which means ser­vant or min­is­ter) for he alone is the suf­fer­ing ser­vant of the Father who has come “not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ran­som for many” (Matthew 20:28).

The sacra­ment of holy orders takes its name from the fact that the bish­ops, priests and dea­cons give order to the Church. They guar­an­tee the con­ti­nu­ity and uni­ty of the Church from age to age and from place to place from the time of Christ and the apos­tles until the estab­lish­ment of God’s King­dom in eter­ni­ty. As the apos­tles received the spe­cial gift of God to go forth and to make Christ present to men in all of the man­i­fold aspects of his per­son and work, so the cler­gy of the Church receive the gift of God’s Spir­it to main­tain and to man­i­fest Christ’s pres­ence and action in the churches.

It is the doc­trine of the Church that the cler­gy must strive to ful­fill the grace giv­en to them with the gift of the “lay­ing on of hands” in the most per­fect way pos­si­ble. But it is also the doc­trine of the Church that the real­i­ty and effec­tive­ness of the sacra­ments of the Church min­is­tered by the cler­gy do not depend upon the per­son­al virtue of the min­is­ters, but upon the pres­ence of Christ who acts in his Church by the Holy Spirit.


The bish­ops are the lead­ing mem­bers of the cler­gy in the sense that they have the respon­si­bil­i­ty and the ser­vice of main­tain­ing the uni­ty of the Church through­out the world by insur­ing the truth and uni­ty of the faith. and prac­tice of their respec­tive church­es with all of the oth­ers. Thus, the bish­ops rep­re­sent their par­tic­u­lar church­es or dio­ce­ses to the oth­er church­es or dio­ce­ses, just as they rep­re­sent the Uni­ver­sal Church to their own par­tic­u­lar priests, dea­cons, and people.

In the Ortho­dox Church, the office of bish­op is the lead­ing Church min­istry. The word bish­op (episko­pos, in Greek) means over­seer. Each of the bish­ops has exact­ly the same ser­vice to per­form. No bish­op is “over any oth­er bish­op in the Church and, indeed, the bish­op him­self is not “over” his church, hut is him­self with­in and of the Church as one of its mem­bers. He is the one who is respon­si­ble and answer­able before God and man for the life of his par­tic­u­lar church community.

All bish­ops of the Ortho­dox Church are bish­ops of a par­tic­u­lar geo­graph­i­cal ter­ri­to­ry called a dio­cese. They usu­al­ly receive their title from the main city in the ter­ri­to­ry. A bish­op of the chief city of a region which has with­in it oth­er bish­ops with their own par­tic­u­lar dio­ce­ses is usu­al­ly called the met­ro­pol­i­tan or arch­bish­op. “Met­ro­pol­i­tan” mere­ly means “bish­op of the metrop­o­lis,” the main city. The title of arch­bish­op means “lead­ing bish­op” of an area, but some­times the title is giv­en to cer­tain bish­ops for per­son­al or hon­orary rea­sons. The title of patri­arch belongs to the bish­op of the capi­tol city of a region con­tain­ing oth­er met­ro­pol­i­tanates and dio­ce­ses. Today this usu­al­ly means a nation­al church.

When the bish­ops of an area meet in coun­cil, as they must do peri­od­i­cal­ly accord­ing to Church Law, the met­ro­pol­i­tan pre­sides; or in the case of a large ter­ri­to­ry or nation­al church, the patri­arch. Once again, how­ev­er, it must be clear­ly under­stood that sacra­men­tal­ly all bish­ops are iden­ti­cal and equal. None is “high­er” than the oth­ers as far as their sacra­men­tal posi­tion is con­cerned; none is “over” the oth­ers as far as their life in the Church is concerned.

In pure­ly human and prac­ti­cal mat­ters, the met­ro­pol­i­tans and patri­archs guide and pre­side over areas greater than their own par­tic­u­lar dio­ce­ses, but they are not supe­ri­or or more pow­er­ful as far as their bishop’s office is con­cerned. No bish­op in Ortho­doxy is con­sid­ered infal­li­ble. None has any “pow­ers” over or apart from his priests, dea­cons and peo­ple or the oth­er bish­ops. All are ser­vants of Christ and the Church. Since the sixth cen­tu­ry it has been the rule in the Ortho­dox Church that the bish­ops be sin­gle men or wid­ow­ers. They are also usu­al­ly in at least the first degree of monas­tic orders.


The priests of the Church, also called pres­byters, are those who assist the bish­op in his work. In the present day, the priests nor­mal­ly exer­cise the func­tion of pas­tors of the local church­es or parish­es, a func­tion which was nor­mal­ly done by the bish­ops in ear­ly times. The priests head the local con­gre­ga­tions of Chris­tians. They pre­side at the cel­e­bra­tion of the litur­gy. They teach, preach, coun­sel and exer­cise the min­istries of for­give­ness and healing,

The priests in the Church are assigned by the bish­op and belong to the spe­cif­ic con­gre­ga­tions which they serve. No one receives the gift of the priest­hood per­son­al­ly or indi­vid­u­al­ly. Apart from his bish­op and his own par­tic­u­lar parish com­mu­ni­ty, the priest has no “pow­ers” and, indeed, no ser­vices to per­form. Thus, on the altar table of each Chris­t­ian com­mu­ni­ty head­ed by the priest as pas­tor, there is the cloth called the anti­men­sion signed by the bish­op which is the per­mis­sion to the com­mu­ni­ty to gath­er and to act as the Church of God. With­out the anti­men­sion, the priest and his peo­ple can­not func­tion legit­i­mate­ly, and the actions of the assem­bly can­not be con­sid­ered as being authen­ti­cal­ly “of the Church.”

In the Ortho­dox Church a mar­ried man may be ordained to the priest­hood. His mar­riage, how­ev­er, must be the first for both him and his wife, and he may not remar­ry and con­tin­ue in his min­istry if his wife should die. If a sin­gle man is ordained, he may not mar­ry and retain his service.


The dea­cons of the Church orig­i­nal­ly assist­ed the bish­ops in good deeds and works of char­i­ty. In recent cen­turies the dia­conate has become almost exclu­sive­ly a litur­gi­cal func­tion in which the dea­cons assist at the cel­e­bra­tion of the divine litur­gy and oth­er Church ser­vices. In more recent times, the dia­conate has been extend­ed to many as a per­ma­nent posi­tion for full or partÃ?time ser­vice to the work of the Church. I n the office of dea­con, the men may now not only assist the priest and bish­op in litur­gi­cal ser­vices, but will often head edu­ca­tion­al pro­grams and youth groups, do hos­pi­tal vis­i­ta­tion and mis­sion­ary work and con­duct projects of social wel­fare. In these cas­es the dea­cons are not nec­es­sar­i­ly tak­en from the pro­fes­sion­al schools of the­ol­o­gy, but are cho­sen direct­ly from the local parish com­mu­ni­ty. The Church’s rules about mar­riage are the same for the dea­cons as they are for the priests.

In addi­tion to the bish­ops, priests and dea­cons who com­prise the cen­tral ordained min­istries in the Church, the Ortho­dox tra­di­tion also has spe­cial bless­ings for the par­tic­u­lar min­istries of sub-dea­cons and read­ers. In the ear­ly church there were also spe­cial prayers and bless­ings for oth­er Church min­istries such as exor­cists, door­keep­ers, dea­coness­es, and lay-preach­ers; the lat­ter still func­tion in some church­es today. Also in most church­es today there are spe­cial cer­e­monies of bless­ing and instal­la­tion of lay work­ers in the Church such as mem­bers of the parish coun­cil, cat­e­chists, choir singers and lead­ers of var­i­ous orga­ni­za­tions and projects.