Word Magazine April 1993 Page 5
THE SACRAMENT OF HOLY ORDERS
It is the conviction of the Orthodox that Christ is the only Priest, Pastor and Teacher of His Body, the Church. He alone guides and rules His people. He alone forgives sins and offers communion with God, His Father. The sacrament of holy orders in the 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. 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 mankind.
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 make Christ present to mankind 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.
The Three Rank’s of the Ordained Ministry
Our English word deacon comes from the Greek word diaconos which means “one who serves.” The deacons of the Church originally assisted the bishops in good deeds and works of charity. Today the deacon also assists the priest and bishop in liturgical services and will often head educational programs and youth groups, do hospital visitation and missionary work and conduct projects of social welfare. Some deacons have an honorific title: e.g. protodeacon (reserved for married deacons) which means a first deacon, or archdeacon (reserved for celibate deacons) which means a leading deacon.
Our English word priest comes from the Greek word presbyteros which means “an elder.” The priests exercise the function of pastors of the local parishes. The Priests in the Church are assigned by the bishop and belong to the specific congregations which they serve. Some priests have an honorific title: e.g. archpriest (reserved for married priests) which means a leading elder, or archimandrite (reserved for celibate priests) which means the leader of a flock.
Our English Word bishop comes from the Greek word episcopos which means “one who oversees.” 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. A titular bishop is one who does not head a diocese, but rather serves as an assistant or auxiliary to a diocesan bishop. While a diocesan bishop heads an actual see (e.g.. Metropolitan PHILIP is the head of our Archdiocese of North America), a titular bishop has the title of a city which once was a diocesan see but no longer functions as such (e.g., Bishop Antoun’s titular see is Selefkia, which in ancient times was the port city of Antioch and the see of a diocese). Some bishops have an honorific title: e.g. Archbishop which means a leading bishop in a particular locale, metropolitan which means the bishop of a metropolis (major city) in a particular area, or patriarch which means the bishop of the capital city of a region or nation.
The Rite of Ordination
An ordination is always celebrated during the Divine Liturgy: a bishop is ordained (or consecrated) after the Thrice-holy Hymn, a priest after the Great Entrance, and a deacon after the Anaphora. In each instance, the candidate is first presented by his sponsors to the ordaining bishop. He is then led through the holy doors into the sanctuary and in procession thrice around the holy table, each time kissing the corners of the holy table. During these processions, three hymns are chanted (the same ones which are chanted as the bride and groom thrice process around the table at a marriage service).
The candidate then kneels before the holy table and the bishop lays his hands upon the candidate’s head and prays. (In the case of the consecration of a bishop, multiple bishops must take part in the laying on of hands.) At the conclusion of the ordination prayers the candidate rises and is presented to the people so that they might voice their approval of his worthiness with their shouts of “He is worthy” (axios in Greek: moostahik in Arabic). The candidate is then clothed in the vestments of his rank. The primary vestment for all three ranks is called the sticharion; in fact it is one which belongs to all baptized Orthodox Christians, being symbolic of the robe of our baptism by which we were all ordained to the “royal priesthood” (cf. I Peter 2:9).
The deacon is vested in the sticharion, the orarion (stole) is placed over his left shoulder (when he prepares to receive holy communion, the deacon will cross the orarion over his breast), and the epimanikia (cuffs) are placed around his wrists. The priest is vested in the sticharion, the epitrachelion (priest’s stole) is placed around his neck, the zone (belt) is tied around his waist, the epimanikia are placed around his wrists, the epigonation (sword of the Spirit) is hung at his right side, and then the phelonion is placed over all. The bishop is vested in the sticharion, the epitrachelion is placed around his neck, the zone is tied around his waist, the epimanikia are placed around his wrists, the epigonation is hung at his right side, the sakkos is placed over all, the omophorion (bishop’s stole) is laid on his shoulders, and a pectoral cross and engolpion (pectoral icon) are placed around his neck; later in the Divine Liturgy the mitre (crown) is placed upon the head of the newly-consecrated bishop and he is presented the pastoral staff.
Reprinted from the bulletin of St. George Cathedral in Wichita, Kansas.