The Holy Mysteries (Sacraments): The Mystery (Sacrament) of Priesthood

Hieromartyr Abibus, Bishop of Nekresi in Georgia

Hieromartyr Abibus, Bishop of Nekresi in Georgia

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


"Election" and "Ordination" in the Ancient Church

What has been said brings one to the undoubted conclusion that the Holy Apostles, by the authority of Christ, established three hierarchical degrees, and that for the raising up of selected persons into these degrees there was established ordination, which communicates to them the active grace of God which is indispensable for their ministry. It goes without saying that the successors of the Holy Apostles, the bishops, had to fulfill precisely what had been decreed by the Holy Apostles: that is, ordination through laying on of hands, joining to it the same exalted meaning and the same significance that were given by the Holy Apostles.

And so it has been in actual fact in the Church in later times. Although in the early Church ordination to the rank of Priesthood occurred after a general election, with the agreement of the church community or the local church, this "ordination" itself was an act totally separate and distinct from the agreement or election, and it was performed by persons equal in their authority to the Holy Apostles, and who were their successors: the Bishops. So it has remained up to our days. Among the earliest testimonies of this we may indicate the homily of Saint Irenaeus of Lyons (2nd century), which says: "One must follow those presbyters (in this sense of the 'eldest' in the Church, that is, bishops) who are in the Church and who, as we have indicated, have the apostolic succession from the Holy Apostles, and who, together with the succession of the episcopacy, by the good disposition of the Father, have received the reliable gift of the truth." The expression, "with the succession of the episcopacy they have received the gift of the truth, speaks evidently of the gift of Grace received through their ordination. The same idea may be found also in Tertullian. In St. Clement of Alexandria (3d century) there is already a definite indication that the "election" is not at all what is given by ordination through the laying on of hands, just as the election by Christ of the Holy Apostles, among whose number was Judas, was not the same thing as the "ordination" which the Holy Apostles subsequently received through the breathing of Christ (St. John 20:22). The election of certain persons for the Priesthood is the work of men; but the ordination of them is not the work of men, but the work of God (St. Clement, Stromata).

The Holy Apostolic Canons command: "Let a bishop be ordained by two or three bishops. Let a Presbyter, Deacon, and the rest of the clergy be ordained by one bishop' (Canons 1 and 2; Seven Ecumenical Councils): "If any bishop, presbyter, or deacon shall receive from anyone a second ordination, let both the ordained and the ordainer be deposed; unless indeed it can be proved that he had his ordination from heretics" (68th Canon: Seven Ecumenical Councils). Thus the Grace given in the cheirotonia of the Priesthood is acknowledged to be just as unchanging and ineffaceable as the Grace given in Baptism. However, the Grace of Cheirotonia is special and distinct from the Grace which is given in Baptism an in the Mystery (Sacrament) of Chrismation.

The Essence and Effectuating Words of the Mystery (Sacrament)

Thus the Mystery (Sacrament) of Priesthood is a sacred action which, through the prayerful laying on of the hands of a bishop upon the head of the chosen person, brings down upon this person the Divine Grace which sanctifies and ordains him to a certain rank of the Church hierarchy and later cooperates with him n his passing through the hierarchical obligations. The prayer of cheirotonia is the following:

"The Divine Grace which always healeth that which is infirm and completeth that which is wanting, elevateth (name) the most devout subdeacon, to be a deacon (or deacon, to be a priest). Wherefore, let us pray for him, that the Grace of the All-Holy Spirit may come upon him."

The Mystery (Sacrament) of cheirotonia is always included in the rite of the Divine Liturgy. Distinct from the Mystery of cheirotonia is ordination by prayer to the lower ranks of the clergy (reader, subdeacon); this is called Cheirotonia (from a Greek word that has a purely Christian ecclesiastical meaning and came into use relatively late).

Roman Catholicism practice of mandatory celibacy for priests and deacons was rejected. See Canon 13 of the Quinisext Council. The decrees of this Council are accepted by the Orthodox Church as continuation of those of the Sixth Ecumenical Council.

Protestants have rejected the priesthood as a "sacrament." Their pastors or ministers are only elected and appointed by the people, but do not receive any kind of special consecration, and in this sense they are not to be distinguished from ordinary members of their communities…We see from the teaching and practice of the Holy Apostles, and from the constant belief of the Church, that cheirotonia from the beginning was a sacramental, Grace-giving sacred action, and therefore the fact that in a later period it began to be called a "Mysterion" or "Sacrament" did not introduce anything new, but only expressed its essence more precisely in a single word. In a similar way, for example, the term homoousios, accepted at the First Ecumenical Council, did not introduce anything new into the ancient Church teaching of the Divinity of the Son of God, but only defined it more precisely and confirmed it. Unfortunately, Protestant scholars, defending the false position of Protestantism, continue stubbornly, but without proof, to deduce the very concept of the Christian Mysteries (Sacraments) from the practice of the pagan mysteries.

Next: The Mystery (Sacrament) of Marriage



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.


"Glory Be To GOD For All Things!"


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

+Father George