Church Discipline and Etiquette in the Orthodox Church (Part IV)

The Icon of the Mother of God of Pimen

The Icon of the Mother of God of Pimen

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


God has provided us with the Mysteries (Sacraments) as a means of salvation. This is the thing which must be foremost in our minds. We are being seriously negligent of our souls if we refuse this help from God. Blessed Philotheos Zervakos, +1980, the spiritual Father of Metropolitan Cyprian of Oropos and Fili, lamented the deplorable attitude of many people towards Holy Communion when he said:

"Of this Heavenly Bread some people out of disbelief and impiety do no partake at all, while others out of ignorance, poverty of faith (St. Matthew 17:20), negligence and lack of pure love towards God, partake of it once, twice, or four times a year. Yet even during these few times they commune out of habit, because most of them draw near without fear, faith and love. ['With the fear of God and with faith and love draw near,' Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom]. It is sorrowful and worthy of many lamentations that the Priest often comes out to the beautiful gate, to invite the Christians to commune, and no one comes to commune...Where have we ended up! At least a few of the God-fearing Christians ought to commune at each liturgy...May the All-Good God enlighten, awaken and arouse everyone from the sleep of sloth and negligence. Then, when we have repented and been cleansed by repentance and confession, let us draw near with fear, faith and love to our Pure God and become worthy heirs of His eternal and unending life and Kingdom. Let no one who is unrepentant like Judas dare to approach the Mystical Table so that he may not be burnt up and handed over to the eternal fire..." (Elder Philotheos Zervakos, Paternal Counsels)



The following is a guide for properly addressing Orthodox clergy. Most of the titles do not exactly correspond to the terms used in Greek or other languages of the national Orthodox Churches, but they have been widely accepted as standard English usages.

Greeting Clergy in Person

When we address Deacons or Priests, we should use the title "Father." Bishops we should address as "Your Grace." Though all Bishops (including Patriarchs) are equal in the Orthodox Church, they do have different administrative duties and honors that accrue to their rank n this sense. Thus, "Your Eminence" is the proper title for Bishops with suffragans or assistant Bishops, Metropolitans, and most Archbishops (among the exceptions to this rule is the Archbishop of Athens, who is addressed as "Your Beatitude"). "Your Beatitude" is the proper title for Patriarchs (except for the Ecumenical Patriarch in Constantinople, who is addressed as "Your All-Holiness"). When we approach an Orthodox Presbyter (Priest) or Bishop (but not a Deacon), we make a bow by reaching down and touching the floor with our right hand, place our right hand over the left (palms upward), and say, "Bless, Father" (or "Bless, Your Grace," or "Bless, our Eminence," etc.). The Priest or Bishop then answers, "May the Lord bless you," blesses us with the Sign of the Cross, and places his right hand in our hands.  We kiss his hand.

We should understand that when the Priest or Bishop blesses us, he forms his fingers to represent the Christogram "IC XC," a traditional abbreviation of the Greek words for "Jesus Christ" (i.e., the first and last letters of each of the words "IHCOYC XRICTOS"). Thus, the Priest's blessing is in the Name of Christ, as he emphasizes in his response to the believer's request for a blessing. Other responses to this request are used by many clergy, but the antiquity and symbolism of the tradition which we have presented are compelling arguments for its use. We should also note that the reason that a lay person kisses the hand of a priest or bishop is to show respect to his Apostolic Office. More importantly, however, since both hold the Holy Mysteries (Sacraments) in their hands during the Divine Liturgy, we show respect to the Holy Eucharist when we kiss their hands. In fact, Saint John Chrysostom once said that if one were to meet an Orthodox Priest walking along with an Angel, that he should greet the priest first and kiss his hand, since that hand has touched the Body and Blood of Our Lord. For this latter reason, we do not normally kiss the hand of a Deacon. [It is, however, permissible to kiss the hand of a Deacon, just as we do that of an Abbot [Egoumenos or Geronda) (even if not a Priest) or Abbess (Egoumenisa or Gerondisa) of a Monastery or a revered monastic, out of respect or as a sign of dedication.] While a Deacon in the Orthodox Church holds the first level of the Priesthood (Deacon, Presbyter, Bishop), his service does not entail blessing the Mysteries (Sacraments).  When we take leave of a Priest or Bishop, we should again ask for a blessing, just as we did when we first greeted him.

In the case of married clergy, the wife or a Priest or Deacon is also informally addressed with a title i.e., Presbytera and Diakonisa. Since the Mystery (Sacrament) of Marriage binds a Priest and his wife together as "one flesh," (Genesis 2:24; St. Matthew 19:6; St. Mark 10:8), the wife shares in a sense her husband's Priesthood. This does not, of course, mean that she has the very Grace of the Priesthood or its Office, but the dignity of her husband's service certainly accrues to her. (See Presbytera Juliana Cownie, 'Share' in the Priesthood," Orthodox Tradition, Vol. 13). The various titles used by the national Churches are listed below. The Greek titles, since they have English correspondents, are perhaps the easiest to use in the West:

Greek: Presbytera (Pres-vee-te-ra)

Russian: Matushka (Ma-toosh, ka)

Serbian: Papaiya (Pa-pa-dee-ya)

Ukranian: Panimatushka (Pa-nee-ma-toosh-ka), or Panimatka (Pa-nee-mat-ka)

The wife of a Deacon is called "Diakonissa ('Thee-a-ko-nees-sa" in Greek. The Slavic Churches commonly use the same title for the wife of a Deacon as they do for the wife of a Priest. In any case, the wife of a Priest should normally be addressed with both her title and her name in informal situations (e.g., "Presbytera Eleni," "Diakonissa Sophia," etc.).

Greeting Clergy on the Telephone

Whenever you speak to Orthodox clergy of Priestly rank on the telephone, you should always begin your conversation by asking for a blessing: "Father, bless." When speaking with a Bishop, should say "Bless, Despota [Thes-po-ta]" (or "Vladika [Vla-dee-ka]" in Slavonic, "Master" in English). It is also appropriate to say, "Bless, Your Grace" (or "Your Eminence," etc.). You should end your conversation by asking for a blessing again.

Addressing Clergy in a Letter

When we write to a clergyman (and, by custom, monastics), we should open our letter with the greeting, "Bless, Father." At the end of the letter, it is customary to close with the following line: "Kissing your right hand..." It is not appropriate to invoke a blessing on a clergyman, as many do: "May God bless you." Not only does this show a certain spiritual arrogance before the image of the cleric, but laymen do not have the Grace of the Priesthood and the prerogative to bless their stead. Even a Priest properly introduces his letters with the words, "The blessing of the Lord" or "May God bless you," rather than offering his own blessing. Though he can do the latter, humility prevails in his behavior, too. Needless to say, when a clergyman writes to his ecclesiastical superior, he should ask for a blessing and not bestow one. 

As members of the Priesthood, Deacons must be addressed, as we noted above, as "Father" (or "Deacon Father").

Orthodox Priests are addressed as "The Reverend Father," if they are married Priests. If they are Hieromonks (monks who are also Priests), they are addressed as "The Reverend Hieromonk." Priests with special honors are addressed in this manner: an Archimandrite (the highest monastic rank below that of Bishop), "The Very Reverend Archimandrite"); and Protopresbyters, "The Very Reverend Protopresbyter." In a person address, as we noted, all Priests are called "Father," usually followed by their first names (e.g.. "Father John").

(To be continued)


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


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

+Father George