The Orthodox Faith
For St Paul Orthodox Youth Society - Brisbane
By Fr. John Abdel-Karim
29 – Holy Priesthood
This sacrament is also sent from God. It was established by Christ with the calling of His disciples, giving them the authority to loose and bind the sins of the people, and sending the Holy Spirit upon them on the day of Pentecost. The Apostles were the only ones to receive the priesthood. The Holy Spirit, which descended "as tongues of fire," did so only upon the Apostles on the day of Pentecost.
The Apostles have since then given the authority of the priesthood to their successors, as can be shown in many passages in Holy Scripture. Let me refer to some here: The Apostles "prayed and laid their hands upon them (Acts 6:6;13:3). St. Paul writes to Bishop Timothy, "Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophetic utterance when the council of elders laid their hands upon you"(1 Timothy 4:14). To the clergy at Ephesus, St. Paul writes, "Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God" (Acts 20:28).
All these prove that the priesthood is God-sent and an apostolic practice.
The priesthood has three ranks, namely: the diaconate, the presbyterate or priesthood, and the episcopate or hierarchs. These are the three ranks of the priesthood; all other names are mere titles and do not affect the rank.
Man has every right to desire the priesthood, but he cannot take it by himself. St. Paul tells us this very clearly when he says that "one does not take the honour (the priesthood) himself, but he is called by God, just as Aaron was" (Hebrews 5:4). How is one called by God? First he receives an inner call. He loves the priesthood, and wants to become a cleric. Secondly, he has the call from God which reveals itself through the call to priesthood that comes from the priest of the community or from the bishop. The priesthood cannot be taken. It is given. It is given freely. Priesthood by bribery is not priesthood, but simony, which is a great sin. Those who pay for and sell the priesthood are condemned and unworthy of the priesthood.
The sacrament of ordination is celebrated for all three ranks during the Divine Liturgy. It can be celebrated only by a bishop. As a matter of fact, for the ordination of a bishop three celebrating bishops are required. It is celebrated by the laying on of hands and the invocation of the Holy Spirit.
The priesthood is indelible. A clergyman is always a clergyman. The Church has the right to suspend the priesthood and limit it. An idle or defrocked clergyman, although he does not cease to be a clergyman, cannot be a steward of the sacraments of God. He cannot perform any sacrament. He cannot impart divine grace as long as he is being punished.
Regarding the issue of the indelibility of the priesthood, this teaching is a theologoumenon (i.e., theological opinion). When a priest is defrocked, he returns to the rank of monk or laity according to the wording of the letter of defrocking. Is this reality, however? Is the priesthood totally removed? It does not appear to be so. This can be seen from the fact that only by oikonomia is the defrocked priest allowed to marry, and in situations where the defrocking is lifted, the clergyman is not reordained but rather by decision of the Holy Synod he is returned to the rank of the priesthood from which he was defrocked. In my opinion, this is the indelibility of the priesthood. This is the practice of the Church and the practice of the Church is always the criterion.
The Priesthood is celebrated and is active here on earth. It has, however, a divine origin and works upon divine things. In essence, there is only one archpriest, Christ. The priesthood of Christ is, as it were, made present by all clergy, and especially by the bishop. The deacon and priest derive their priesthood from the bishop, just as the bishop derives his from Christ.
Priesthood does not exist when there is no canonical apostolic succession. Every priesthood that does not draw its source from the Apostles, and as a result from Christ, is not a true and genuine priesthood, but rather counterfeit. It is a false priesthood. It does not have grace and cannot give grace. It cannot sanctify and save. It is a pity and crime. False priests blaspheme the Holy Spirit and condemn their own selves and bring the naive to damnation.
Through ordination the bishop receives the offices of Christ: prophetic, royal, and priestly. With the prophetic office he teaches and correctly so the word of truth. With the royal office he administers and governs the Church. With the priestly office he celebrates the mysteries, sanctifies, and guides the faithful towards salvation.
Here we must repeat, as we said before, that the bishop has the fullness of the priesthood. This is why he is the only one who can celebrate all seven sacraments. The deacon and the priest derive their priesthood from the bishop and that is why they must be in canonical and continuous dependence on the bishop; otherwise their priestly works are not valid. The priest celebrates all the sacraments except ordination, while the deacon cannot celebrate any of them on his own. The deacon is the helper of the priest and bishop in the celebration of the sacraments and in the execution of the responsibilities and practices that originate from the Priesthood.
LET US PRAY
Christ, great Archpriest, sacrifice and sacrificer, only Messiah, true and only benefactor of man, we acknowledge that without the sacrament of the Priesthood, which celebrates and completes all the other sacraments, our salvation would not be possible. We thank You for this great gift of Yours. We thank You in the knowledge of our sins, with humility, and with true repentance. We Your clergy especially thank You, knowing our unworthiness. We ask You to open our souls and hearts to accept Your grace, to respect the priesthood, to respect the clergy, and to assist them in their salvific work. Do not withhold our purification. Lead us to our salvation. Your will be done. Glory be to Your Name, now and forever.