WHAT IS A BISHOP, PRIEST, DEACON
by Fr. Michael Buben
St. George — Lawrence, Mass.
Having an indispensable meaning in the life of the Church, the Sacrament of Holy Orders has a foundation from God. “And no man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron.” (Her.5:4). The first pastors of the Orthodox Church, the Holy Apostles, did not of themselves obtain the right to teach, to serve the Mysteries and Sacramentals, and to administer the Holy Church; but were inspired and granted this right by Our Lord Jesus Christ. “And when it was day, He called unto Him his disciples: and of them He chose twelve, whom also He named apostles.” (St. Luke 6:l3).
From the numerous disciples and followers, Christ chose only twelve of them to be pastors of His Church. Why? That they might constantly be at His side learning His teaching, and to witness miracles and be thoroughly convinced that He is the Son of God who was incarnate for our salvation, And being convinced they might teach others. (St. Mark 3:14-15).
With this purpose, Our Lord instructed the Apostles collectively and individually. “What I tell you in darkness, that speak ye in light: and what ye hear in the ear, that preach ye upon the housetops.” (St. Matthew 10:27). Our Lord lived among the Apostles for 40 days after His Resurrection and spoke to them about the Kingdom of God. He revealed to the Apostles mysteries which were not revealed to others: “it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given.”
Later, beside the twelve apostles Christ chose seventy disciples and told all of them: “Ye have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit (St. John 15:16). “As My Father hath sent Me, even so send I you. And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost: Whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whosesoever sins ye retain, they are retained. (St. John 20:21-23).
Duties of Pastors
Before His Ascension, Our Lord came to His Apostles and said: “All power is given unto Me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.” (St. Matthew 28:18-20).
With these words, Christ gave the Apostles the following powers in the Church: 1) to teach the truths of the Faith to all nations on earth. That’s why Orthodoxy is for all people. 2) to perform the Sacraments — Baptism, Communion, etc. “Do this in remembrance of Me!” (Holy Eucharist) (St. Luke22, 19), or “Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, stewards of the mysteries of God.” (I Cor. 4:1), says the Apostle about himself and other pastors of the Church: 3) to administer the Church, i.e. to govern the faithful in the paths of Christian living. (Matt. 28:20).
After granting this power to the Apostles, we must notice that He promised them a Comforter—Spirit of truth who would be with them even until the end of the World. On the day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit did come upon them in the form of fiery tongues and they went forth and began the work of the Church, and thousands were baptised even in one day. Now, since Christ offered to be with them until the end of the world, and they as mortal men were prone to death, it follows that Our Lord had instructed the Apostles to ordain successors to inherit apostolic powers even until the end of the world. The Apostles did this everywhere they established churches by the laying on of hands. This power of ordination is called—apostolic succession and can be traced to our day in an unbroken line of succession in the Orthodox Church. This apostolic succession will continue until the end of the world and in this light the words of Christ become clear: “Lo, I am with you, even unto the end of the world. Amen”. Apostolic Succession carries the living Church from generation to generation.
Deacons, Priests, Bishops
In the beginning the Apostles only needed assistants to perform minor duties. They chose seven deacons. Seven persons of strong faith were ordained. The apostles through prayer and by placing their hands on the seven persons transferred graces of the Holy Spirit to a minor degree. (Acts 6:6).
Later the apostles established PRESBYTERS (Greek word meaning priest in English). Presbyters or priests had more duties to perform than did the deacons. Finally the Apostles ordained BISHOPS for the Church. As examples there was ordained a bishop for the town of the Ephesians called Timothy (1 Tim.1,3), and another at Crete called Titus. (Titus 1:5). Only BISHOPS received the full graces and became replacements of the Apostles. Only Bishops could ordain Deacons, Priests, and other Bishops as the need arose. “For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain presbyters in every city, as I had appointed thee,” wrote St. Paul to Bishop Titus (Titus 1:5).
In our day, every priest is but an extension of his bishop. Every local parish priest performs his duties and receives his authority only from his bishop. In larger parishes, deacons are needed to perform lesser sacred duties than the priest by authority of the priest.
Beside the power to ordain, bishops also received power from the apostles to judge deacons, priests: “Against a presbyter receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses.” (1 Tim 5:19); to rebuke sinners: “Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear.” (1 Tim. 5:20); to honour the worthy: “Let the presbyters that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labor in the word and doctrine.” (1 Tim. 5:17); reject heretics: “A man that is an heretic after the first and second admonition reject.” (Tit. 3:10).
The Apostles gave Bishops and priests the right to teach in the Church: “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.” (2 Tim. 4:2). From the Apostles the Bishops and priests received the power and grace to perform the Sacraments, sacramentals and all other services: “Is any sick among you let him call for the presbyters of the Church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.” (James 5:14) or “I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; for kings and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty … For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior.” (1 Tim. 2:1-3).
The apostles also gave Bishops and priests the right to administer and govern the Holy Orthodox Church: “The presbyters among you I exhort, who am also a presbyter, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed; Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind.” (1 Peter 5:1-2).
No pastor can be a shepherd who follows the sheep. The sheep must follow the pastor and know his voice, and listen to it. Those falling from the truth must be lifted, and those following ungodly ways must be rebuked. The pastor himself must constantly be a good example to his flock: “These things speak and exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no man despise thee.” (Tit. 2:15).
After establishing the hierarchal structure of the Sacrament of Holy Orders, the Apostles commanded of the faithful obedience to the teaching and respect for the office of the deacons, priests, and bishops. The individual shortcomings of any pastor do not lessen the effects of any Sacraments performed by him. “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.” (Heb. 13:17). Or as St. Paul writes: “And we beseech you brethren, to know them which labor among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you; and to esteem them very highly in love for their works sake. And be at peace among yourselves.” (1 The. 5:12-13). For those who constantly find fault with pastors let this text wake them from their sleep: “Verily, verily I say unto you, he that receiveth whomsoever I send receiveth Me” (John 13:20), or “He that heareth you heareth Me; and he that despiseth you despiseth Me; and he that despiseth Me despiseth Him that sent Me.” (Luke 10:16).
And so deacons, priests, and bishops shall continue to be ordained and receive the graces of Pentecost in an unbroken line from the Apostles even unto the end of the world and wherever they are now or tomorrow, Christ will be there among them.
From Word Magazine
Publication of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America