Hierarchical Governance and Administration of the Orthodox Church

Martyrs Menodora, Nymphodora, and Metrodora

My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,


Blessed is the man, who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scoffers. Rather, his delight is in the Law of the Lord, and on his Law he mediates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.

The wicked are not so, but are like chaff which the wind drives away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous. For the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.


(We continue on the topic of the Church)


The Orthodox Church is a hierarchical ecclesiastical body, and its administration is governed by "The Sacred and Divine Canons of the Holy and Renowned Apostles, of the Holy Councils, Ecumenical as well as Regional and of individual Divine Fathers", hereinafter referred to as the "Canons." These Canons were established as authoritative and normative, governing the administration and order of the Christian Church, by the Seven Ecumenical Councils held in Nicaea in 325 A.D., Constantinople in 381 AD, Ephesus in 431 AD, Chalcedon in 451 AD, Constantinople in 553 AD, Constantinople in 680 AD, and Nicaea in 783 AD. In addition to prescribing canons determined at the Councils themselves, they also proclaimed that certain canons prescribed at local councils were applicable to the governanc  of the Universal (Catholic) Christian Church.

The Bishop has absolute authority over his clergy; the chief canon that most concisely defines this relationship is Canon XXXIX of the 85 Canons of the Holy and Renowned Apostles which specifies:

"Let Presbyters and Deacons do nothing without the consent of the Bishop. For he is the one entrusted with the Lord's people, and it is from him that an accounting will be demanded with respect to their souls."

This Canon is only one of many that deals with the clergy and specifically with their relationship to the Bishop. The Priests and the Deacons within a diocese are unquestionably under the sole and exclusive authority of their Bishop as is attested by numerous canons and as can be indubitably inferred from very many other sources.

It is crucial to understand that there cannot be an Orthodox Church without the spiritual authority of a canonical Bishop. Otherwise the so-called parish becomes nothing but a fraternal society or an ethnic and cultural club; at best such a parish is a congregational entity. This would mean that there was no need for Bishops, nor any need of the validity of the Priesthood of Christ, nor the essential nature of Apostolic Succession. In other words, such an entity would not be the Church of Jesus Christ, but a secular, man-made organization.

Nonetheless, in her concern for Her people, the Church has invited the laity to give input in the affairs of the Church so that the Bishops may make more enlightened decisions. By doing so, however, the Bishops have not abdicated their positions for the laity to become the overseers of God's holy Church. This is fully appropriate, and indeed Scriptural as the Apostles themselves asked the faithful to "pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint" (Acts 6:3). These were the first deacons in the Church, and the qualifications specified: "good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom" are the prototypical virtues absolutely required of each person who wishes to serve as a parish council member in the church today. (Text obtained from Greek Orthodox Diocese of Denver, His Eminence Metropolitan Isaiah of Denver).



The Savior, in giving authority to the Apostles before His Ascension, told them very clearly that He Himself would not cease to be the invisible Shepherd and Pilot of the Church. "I am with you always, even unto the end of the world" (every day constantly and inseparably; St. Matthew 28:20). The Savior taught that He, as the Good Shepherd, had to bring in also those sheep who were not of this fold, so that there might be one flock and One Shepherd (St. John 10:16). "All power is given unto Me in heaven and in earth. Go ye, therefore, and teach all nations" (St. Matthew 28:18-19). In all these words there is contained the idea that the highest Shepherd of the Church is Christ Himself. We must be aware of this so as not to forget the close bond and the inward unity of the Church on earth with the Heavenly Church.

The Lord Jesus Christ is also the founder of the Church: "I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail." Christ is also the foundation of the Church, its cornerstone: "Other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ" (I Corinthians 3:11).

He also is its head. God the Father "gave Him to be the head over all things to the Church, which is His Body, the fullness of Him that filleth all in all" (Ephesians 1:22-23). The Head is Christ, from Whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love" (Ephesians 4:16). As all the members of our body comprise a full and living organism which depends upon its head, so also the Church is a spiritual organism in which there is no place where the powers of Christ do not act. It is "full of Christ" (Saint Theophan the Recluse).

The Orthodox Church of Christ refuses to recognize yet another head of the Church in the form of a "vicar of Christ on earth," a title given in the Roman Catholic Church to the Bishop of Rome. Such a title does not correspond either to the Word of God or to the universal church consciousness and tradition; it tears away the Church on earth from immediate unity with the Heavenly Church. A vicar is assigned during the absence of the one replaced; but Christ is invisibly present in His Church always.

The rejection by the ancient Church of the view of the bishop of Rome as the head of the Church and vicar of Christ upon earth is expressed in the writings of those who were active in the Ecumenical Councils.

The holy Apostles, departing from this world, put off the earthly body, but have not put off the Church body. They not only were, but they also remain the foundations of the Church. The Church is built "upon the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone" (Ephesians 2:20). Being in heaven, they continue to be in communion with believers on earth. (Source: Orthodox Dogmatic Theology by Father Michael Pomazansky).


The role of the Orthodox Christian laity is to keep the faith, maintain the beliefs of the Church, sustain its sacred traditions, observe its practices and rituals, and in every perfect manner persist in a spiritual life pleasing to the lord in accordance with the teachings of Jesus Christ, the Holy Apostles and Holy Fathers of the Church. Furthermore, the role of the Orthodox Christian faithful requires that its members support one another as one body of believers; they should help one another, give guidance and advice to one another; and in every good way, they should act as members of one body feeling the pain of the other members, rejoicing in their joy, and expressing full solidarity with one another in words and deeds.

The Church is not a democracy; it has a hierarchical system (bishop, priest, deacon, laity). However, it requires a deeper involvement of its members in its spiritual progress. It requires that all should conform to the Divine Teachings and Commandments of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Since we believe that God is love so should the Church that He founded and established should be a Church of love.

Just as the famous analogy of the different parts of the body compared to the different gifts of the Holy Spirit used by Saint Paul in 1 Cor. 12. We are all given various gifts and talents that are used together to help build up the Body of Christ, the Church. As various parts of the body have specific functions so do we in the life of the Church. Each member has a function and mission that helps the body function as a whole. We are all united then to each other. Just as the Church is one, so we are one, sharing in the same experience and reality of our condition before God. What is important to know is that we all have special gifts given to us by the Holy Spirit. For the Bishop, Priest, and Deacon, our Ordination to the clergy is our gift given to us by God the Holy Spirit. Our function as such is then is our 'diakonia or service' in the Church. We make up one of the many important parts of the one 'Body' of Christ.

Orthodox Christians who share a common faith, a common diakonia, a common goal, a common direction and a sense of community can get where they are going more quickly and easily, because they are traveling on the thrust of one another. We are all heading in the same direction in the Church, towards salvation. Our role then is to work together and build a sense of community koinonia, helping one another to grow and reach their full potential in Christ Jesus. There is no room for personal agenda's in the Church. The only agenda is that of Christ's.

If one was to summarize the role of Orthodox Christian laity in our Church, I believe that all that has been said can be summed up by these words from our Lord and Savior Himself in the Gospel of Saint Mark 12: 30-31: "And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, and with all your strength. This is the first Commandment. And the second, like it, is this: you shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no Commandment greater than these."



The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.

With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George