The Mystery (Sacrament) of the Priesthood in the Orthodox Church

Venerable Macarius the Great of Egypt

Venerable Macarius the Great of Egypt

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


Concerning the pastoral ministry in the Church we have spoken already in the section on the Church hierarchy (chap. 7). It was shown there that the hierarchy was established in the Church by the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, that it has been with the Church from its very beginning, and that in the Apostolic period it received an organization in three degrees (bishop--priest--deacon).

But the hierarchical ministry in the Church, especially that of bishop and priest, is a special ministry, an exception one: it is a ministry of Grace. Here we find the shepherding of the flock of God, the highest example of which was given by the Lord in His earthly Ministry. "I am the Good Shepherd, and know My sheep, and am known of Mine. The good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep" (St. John 10:14, 11). Here we find a standing before the Lord in prayer not only for oneself, but also for the people. Here we find the guidance of the souls of men on the path to their attainment of the Kingdom of Heaven. The clergy, on behalf of the whole people, offer the Bloodless Sacrifice in the Divine Liturgy. And if in every good work we ask the blessing of God and the help of God, can we imagine entering upon such an exalted and responsible pastoral ministry--entering upon it for one's whole life--without the invocation of God's Grace which blesses this labor, which cooperates with it and strengthens the future pastor? This blessing does indeed take place. It is brought down upon the one who approaches with sacred trembling to the reception of the gift of sacred ministry in the Mystery of Priesthood, through the laying on of hands by a bishop who himself bears by succession the Grace of the priesthood, accompanied by the prayer of the entire congregation of clergy and people who are present at the Divine service. It is called likewise the Mystery (Sacrament) of cheirotonoia.

The Sacred Scripture gives direct and clear indications that the placing in the rank of priesthood is the communication of a special Grace-giving mystical gift, without which this ministry cannot be fulfilled.

Cheirotonia (Ordination) in the Ancient Church

According to the expression of the Acts of the Apostles, when the Apostles, who acted in everything according to the instruction of Christ and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, found it necessary to place deacons in the Church in order to serve tables--first ordinary tables, and later also the Lord's Table--in order to lighten the services of the Apostles themselves, they first of all offered to the gathering of their disciples to choose from amongst themselves seven tested men filled with the Holy Spirit and wisdom. And when they had been chosen and placed before them, "when they had prayed, they laid their hands on them" (Acts 6:2-6). Here with absolute clarity and distinctiveness are set apart from each other, as two distinct acts, the election of certain persons for the ministry of deacon and the laying on of hands over them with prayer. The election is something merely human, while the laying on of hands is a sacred action especially intended for this aim, and an act of Divine Grace.

In the same Book of the Acts of the Apostles we find an indication of the laying on of hands as a sacred act by means of which presbyters (priests) also were ordained in the early Church. Speaking of how the Apostles Paul and Barnabas went preaching through the cities of Asia Minor--Derbe, Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch--increasing in them the number of Christians, the writer of the book, the Holy Apostle Luke, informs us: "and when they had ordained (cheirotonisantes) for them elders (presbyters [priests]) in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord" (Acts 14:23). Here the laying on of hands is presented, on the one hand, as a sacred act known to all, by means of which presbyters were ordained for one church or another, and on the other hand as a sacred act which had a special importance, as is apparent from the fact that is was performed by the Apostles Paul and Barnabas themselves. It is clear from this that this ordination was not merely a rite or a sign, but was the communication of a special gift. And this is precisely testified to later with full emphasis by the same Apostle Paul, when in his farewell conversation with the presbyters of the Church of Ephesus he thus expresses himself concerning them: "Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over which the Holy Spirit hath made you overseers (bishops), to fee the Church of God, which He hath purchased with his own blood" (Acts 20:28). That this placing by the Holy Spirit was through the Apostolic laying on of hands or ordination is evident from the above-cited text (Acts 14:23). (Source: Orthodox Dogmatic Theology by Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky)

(To be continued)

Please note: I am bringing this most important Mystery (Sacrament) of Priesthood to your attention to see and understand the great importance of the Priest. It seems some of you have no regard for the Priest or Priesthood, although it is an indispensable ministry. There can be no church or parish without a priest. We are not Protestant or a Secular organization or club. This is why according to the holy canons of the Church and the Uniform Regulations of our Holy Archdiocese of America the head of the parish is the priest. He and his Priesthood must be respected and all those under his guidance must be willing to be lead by him.


"Glory Be To GOD For All Things!"--Saint John Chrysostom


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

+Father George