Orthodox Outlet for Dogmatic Enquiries Essays about Orthodoxy

The successors to the Apostles // General and specialized clergy

The status of Priesthood in the officiators of the Lord’s Church

I recently read a book with the theme: “Who are priests?” which supposedly proves that the way the Orthodox Church functions is erroneous.  So, I would like to submit some observations on some of the arguments of this book.

It is during worship – and especially during the Eucharist – that the Church truly lives under the influence of an absolute theocracy.  Worship per se may be something that takes place “on earth”; however, it in fact constitutes a replica of “celestial” worship, where God’s Throne is dominant. Consequently, every authority within the Church likewise concentrates around the Person of Christ.  He is the only Lord; in other words, the only One Who has authority over everything, given that He was the One Who was “elevated” to the “right-hand side” of the Father. Therefore, the unity under one Lord is firstly expressed during worship, and especially during the Eucharist.  “Being the sole Lord, Christ is also the only ruler”.  And He is acknowledged as a ruler, again during the Eucharist. Because of this precise place of His in Eucharist worship, Christ concentrates all of the existing functions of the Church in His Person.  He is the par excellence officiator (Hebrews 8:2), priest (Hebrews 5:6, 8:4, 10:21, 2:17), apostle (Hebrews 3:1), deacon (Romans 15: 8, Luke 22:77, ref. Philip. 2:7, Matthew 12:18, Acts 3:13 and 4:27), bishop (1 Peter 2:25, 5:4, Hebrews 13:20), teacher (Matthew 23:8, John 13:13). He is the One Who «is all-predominant, in everything” (Colossians 1:18)

Christ is a major paradox, with regard to His association to the Church. Although He is worshipped in heaven, He is simultaneously present on earth and in the Eucharist. (According to Saint John the Chrysostom, He is “the One Who is above, co-seated with the Father, and here, with us, invisibly present”).  In this way, He transforms the celestial condition into a terrestrial and historical one; thus, “the Eucharist worship that takes place on earth does not constitute a parallel reality of the celestial worship. It is that very same celestial worship (its secret identity).”

In the same manner, this paradoxical association between Christ and the Church extends through to the other functions as well. In the Church, the various functions are always referred to with humility as “ministries”. This however does not mean that they are deprived of authority. “Just as celestial worship is expressed in actual reality during the terrestrial Eucharist, so is Christ’s authority.  It is in the same manner, that Christ’s authority is actually reflected in the officiators of the Church.”  This is the reason that it is inconceivable for the ecclesiastic functions to exist in parallel with Christ’s authority, because it is those same functions that express the authority of Christ.

Christ, as the sole Lord and master of the Church, does not govern in parallel with a terrestrial ecclesiastic administration. On the contrary, “He governs through it and in it”. The existing functions are replicas and secret radiances of that very authority of Christ. “Christ is the sole and par excellence officiator”. Let us examine the following example: The office of “Apostle” was not perceived in the ancient Church as an authority that existed in parallel to Christ.  It was perceived as Christ’s authority per se. There was a mystical association between the Apostle (=the one who is sent forth) and the sender, Christ.  It was from within that Apostle and through him that Christ Himself acted: “whosoever listens to you, is listening to Me and whosoever disregards you, is disregarding Me” (Luke 10:16. see also 1 Thess.4:8). It is in a similar sense that the matter of the priesthood is also understood.

It is understood that the Bishop is “in a place of God” and is “an image of Christ”. In this way, Christ remains the only officiator and master of the Church. “Officiators have no authority and priesthood of their own”. They are only representatives of Christ as images. This is what renders the Church a theocratic unity. But “this authority of Christ is expressed only through the officiators of the Church”.  The Church’s justice does not only have a divine character; it also has a human one. This is made possible, mainly thanks to the Divine Eucharist, because it is the Eucharist that relates the celestial to the terrestrial worship, and Christ to His Church, in a mystical yet real manner.

Thus, it was thanks to the Divine Eucharist (and within it, for that reason), that the various functions formed in the Church; It was those functions that eventually gave rise to the various “orders” in the Church and also gave birth to ecclesiastic justice, as a strictly Christ-centred reality.  In the Church, all of Christ’s offices/functions are reflected as historical realities; and this is done in a way that creates order - and consequently “orders”.  Christ relates to the entire Church, which is His Body.  That is why all of the members of the Church are “partakers of Christ”. However, the authority and the functions of Christ are not expressed through every single member, but only through certain of them. Thus, although Christ is regarded as “the Apostle”, that does not signify –for example- that in the first Church, those who were of His Body were all apostles.  “Is everyone an apostle?” asks Paul (1 Cor. 12:29).  Christ was also “the Teacher”; but in the Church there were not “numerous teachers”.  Indeed, “everyone can be taught by God” (John 6:45), but “not everyone is a teacher” (1 Cor. 12:29 and James 3:1).  Christ was also a Deacon, however, this status of His was also expressed though a certain order only: an order that received a special gift/charisma for its special function (Acts 6:1-6). The same applies, for all of Christ’s functions, which are all reflected within the Church.

The same must be said of Christ’s status of priesthood also.  He is “the Priest”, in exactly the same way that He is “the Apostle” or “the Teacher”. And the members of His Church likewise constitute “a priesthood”, because they comprise His offered Body during the Eucharist, via the officiating priests. (Tracts 1 Peter 2:5-9 and Revelation 5:10 are the ones that mention a “regal priesthood”. Let it be noted here, that both these excerpts are found in the texts of the Eucharist!). Thus, just as not everyone partakes of the apostolic or other attribute of Christ, the same thing applies in the case of priesthood. In the same manner, not everyone can partake of His hieratic function.  A “general priesthood” would have been equally palpable to original Christianity as would a “general apostolicity” or a “general ministry”, etc.  In this way, the unity of the Church is rendered a unity of a single body; however, this is achieved thanks to the variety of charismas in the Church, which is equivalent to a unison of justice and hierarchy.

Thanks to the Divine Eucharist, Christ is joined to the Church, to the point of His very relating to it, and it is because of this, that the delegation of charismas is distributed. But now, the Divine Eucharist not only becomes the source but also the chief area of expression of canonical unity. As we are know from 1 Cor., the variety of charismas was displayed during the Eucharist congregation, at the time of the first Church. But it was also there, that the unity of order was displayed, which Paul endeavored to reinforce. And he endeavored to reinforce the unity even more, by challenging the prominence of the charismatics. Paul strove to harness the charismas, within the unity of the Church – something that for Paul signified a unity of order. (1 Cor. 14:40).

Quite frequently, a segregation of spiritual charismas and order has been attempted. This is a segregation that reaches the point of opposition between the two. Thus, order had been seen as the destroyer of the spirit in the original Church. However, this attempted segregation cannot be based on sources of ancient Christianity; a segregation of this kind conflicts with the fact that even permanent officiators received the charisma of the Holy Spirit, and it was for this reason that they too were considered charismatics (1 Tim.3:2, 5:17, 2 Tim. 2:2, Titus 1:9, Hebr.13:7, James 5:14, etc.). Besides, the very act of ordination – by which they were rendered officiators – was nothing more than the placing of hands for the transmission of a charisma!  Especially when “installing” someone in a specific function/office, ordination was a commonplace thing during Apostolic times. Thus, for example in Acts 13:1-3 and also in Acts 6:6 and 14:23; similarly in 1 Tim. 4:14 and 2 Tim. 1:6, the term “rendered”  (Titus 1:5) must also include or presuppose the act of ordination, albeit its significance is specific. “In fact, ordination was the transmission of a charisma that remained permanently with the ordained.”

In the Church, neither are charismatics projected before all other supposed leading hieratic orders, nor are priests projected before any supposed charismatics. Priests are also charismaticsIn 1 Cor. 12:28, if the excerpt is examined in the light of the entire section of that Epistle, it becomes obvious that the said section of the epistle pertains to the Eucharist gatherings of Corinth:

28 And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues.

This testifies as to how Paul did not have in mind any such hierarchy, in which the charismatics would be placed above the permanent officiators. On the contrary! His overall attempt consists of subjugating all charismatics to the “order” of the Church! (see 1 Cor. 14:16 and 23 onwards, in conjunction with 14:40). This is why Paul placed the (much favored by the Corinthians) charisma of speaking in tongues at the end of the list of charismas. Besides, the fact that Paul is not concerned with such a classification is evident elsewhere also.  It can be seen in many other excerpts, where he places the so-called “charismatics” after the permanent officiators, who are considered to be “administrators”. This is the reason that in Rom.12:6 the deacons are mentioned before the teachers. In Ephesians 4:11, the pastors are placed before the teachers, etc.

Consequently, the Eucharist gatherings of the Church recognize no antithesis between spirit and order. They recognize no antithesis between charisma and hierarchy. This is because “hierarchy and order that are independent of a spiritual charisma are unthinkable in the Church of Christ”.


Text: J. Z.

Translation by A.N.

Article published in English on: 13-6-2007.

Last update: 13-6-2007.