Word Magazine January 1960 Page 10



By Archimandrite Michael Shaheen

St. George of Montreal

The Orthodox Clergy are divided into Major Orders and Minor Orders; the Major Orders are of Divine Origin dating back to the very beginning of the Christian Era and the Minor Orders are of ecclesiastical origin that were created to serve the specific and expanding needs of the Church in each new age.


Originally the Apostles were holding all three offices of the priesthood, but as the needs of the Church were becoming more and more numerous they were compelled to distinguish between higher and lower duties for those they were ordaining. Hence we have, first, the ordinations of seven deacons, then the ordinations of priests, and last the ordinations of the bishops whom the Holy Spirit by the laying on of hands of the Apostles appointed to govern the Church.” (On the Hierarchy of the Church by Rev. J. Papadpoulos, Th.D). in the Greek Orthodox Theological Review — Vol. I, No. 2, page 147, March 1955.)

Orthodoxy still retains to this day the three distinct offices of bishop, priest and deacon in the same manner as the fullness of the Faith has been preserved without change, addition or subtraction. All three are ordained following the example of the Apostles of Christ. (Acts 6:6, 13:3) (1 Tim. 4:14, 5:22) (II Tim. 1:6). Each of these three offices is distinguished by its specific name, by the method of election, by the time of ordination during the Divine Liturgy, by the duties, rights and jurisdiction and finally by the vestments worn. All are ordained with­in the Sanctuary of the Church before the Holy Altar, because it is in the Sanctuary where they will fulfill their priestly obligations for the people. Furthermore, only one ordination can take place at each Divine Liturgy. As the Church expanded and the number of the faithful in­creased, the Church found it necessary to bestow special honorary distinctions and titles (in each of these three offices. These titles of honor were granted according to the importance of the Location and the political influence of certain cities, particularly the churches founded by the Apostles themselves.


All bishops are equal in dignity, rank and ecclesiastical authority, but are distinguished by their honorary titles. First and above all the bishops are the Patriarchs, who are the superiors of the fathers and who are located in the Apostolic Churches. Next in honor is the Metropolitan who is located in a metropolis with a specific area under his jurisdiction. Next to the Metropolitan is the Arch­bishop who oversees an archdiocese. Large archdioceses are subdivided into dioceses with bishops looking after each diocese. Because it is not humanly possible to look after the needs of a whole archdiocese and to personally supervise it, each archbishop appoints a vicar general who exercises his Episcopal authority and assists in every way possible. The 12th Canon of the 6th Ecumenical Council requires that all bishops be celibates (unmarried in order that they devote their full time to the Church and its progress. Each patriarchate is divided into archdioceses, each archdiocese into dioceses and each diocese into par­ishes. The highest authority in each patriarchate is the Synod of all the bishops.

The Bishop is the only clergyman who can bestow bless­ings on all three orders.


In the priesthood we have the following honorary titles: an archimandrite which means head or superior of a monastery who must always be a celibate, and who ranks in honor above all other priests regardless of age, office or position. Next is an archpriest who may be married and heads all priests. All priests are equal in dignity, rank and rights regardless of their honorary titles. The parishes are generally in charge and under the pastoral care of married priests. An economos is also an honorary title meaning economist, one who looks after the financial affairs of the Church. We should also remember that only celibates can advance from the priesthood to the bishopric.

Also, too, a priest can bestow his blessings on another priest and all those minor to him in spiritual office.


The diaconate has three honorary titles which are as follows: an archdeacon who is an unmarried deacon and is chief of all the deacons. The deacon accompanying the Archbishop in all cases and Services is usually an arch­deacon. Married deacons are given the title Protodeacons. Then we have the second archdeacon who is next in order and finally the title of just plain deacon, which means helper. All deacons are of equal rank and serve as assist­ants to priests and bishops in all church services. Deacons are not allowed to perform any of the Sacraments (mys­teries) except Baptism in emergencies, which any lay per­son may also perform. Deacons are not permitted to be­stow any blessing whatsoever. Both priests and deacons must marry before ordination, because the Priesthood is regarded more honorable and more sacred than marriage. If perchance the wife of a clergyman passes away that clergyman is not allowed to remarry. Neither can the wife of a clergyman remarry should their husband pass away first.


The minor orders are composed of five offices. They are Subdeacon, Reader or Lector, Chanter, Assistant Chanter and Sexton. The duties of these orders are as follows: Subdeacon, who helps the deacon, priest or bishop and should be at least 20 years of age according to Canon 15 of the

6th Ecumenical Council.

Reader or Lector, who reads psalms, prophecies, hours and epistles with piety and dignity and assists the priest on special occasions.

The Head Chanter, who chants all services according to the proper tone of the day with piety, care and dignity. He is located on the right side of the Church.

The Assistant Chanter, who assists the Head Chanter by reading aloud to him and by humming. He is located on the left hand side of the Church.

The Sexton, the last of the Minor Orders, is in charge of everything in the Church and prepares all that pertains to the services. He also acts as a doorkeeper.

These five offices are appointed by the bishop by a special prayer offered outside the Sanctuary before the Holy Doors symbolic of their services which are rendered outside the Sanctuary. All are permitted to wear special robes and have their hair shorn during the ceremony of appointment. However, the Subdeacon alone is permitted to wear a stole in the form of a cross.

The Major Orders and the Minor Orders working as a team help the Church function smoothly and successfully and help also the Church fulfill its sacred mission in the world.