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Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky
Orthodox dogmatic theology

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Concerning the pastoral ministry in the Church we have spoken already in the section on the

Church hierarchy (ch. 7). It was shown there that the hierarchy was established in the Church bythe 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 exceptional 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(John 10:14, 11). Here we find a standing before the Lord in prayer not only for oneself,

but also for 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 of Cheirotonia.

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 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 also were ordained in the early Church. Speaking of

how the apostles Paul and Barnabas went preaching through the cities of Asia MinorDerbe,

Lystra, Iconium, and Antiochincreasing 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) 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 it 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 preciselytestified 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 al lthe flock over which the Holy Spirit hath made you

overseers (bishops), to feed the Church of the Lord and God, which He hath purchased it 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).

Finally in the epistles of the Apostle Paul to Timothy we have a direct and clear indication

of ordination as a grace-giving sacred action through which bishops were appointed. Thus, in the

first epistle to Timothy, who was bishop of the Church of Ephesus, the Apostle writes, Neglect

not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of

the presbytery(1 Tim. 4:14). In his other epistle to him he writes: “I put thee in remembrance,

that thou stir up the gift which is in thee by the putting on of my hands(2 Tim. 1:6). By putting

together these two passages, we see that Timothy was ordained to the priesthood by the Apostle

Paul Himself, or what is the same thing, by an assembly of the eldest clergy under the presidency

of the Apostle Paul; and likewise, that in this sacred action there was communicated to Timothy

the gift of God and this gift of God is to remain with him forever as his inheritance, Of him is

demanded only one thing: not to neglect it, but to keep it warm. That the laying on of hands here

means nothing else than episcopal ordination is entirely confirmed by the further instructions to

Timothy: from them it is evident that he was clothed with the authority to ordain others (1 Tim.

5:22), to have supervision over those presbyters who were in his jurisdiction (1 Tim. 5:17, 19),

and in general to be a builder “in the house of God which is the church of the Living God(1

Tim. 3:15).

Election’’ and “Ordination” in the Ancient Church.

What has been said brings one to the undoubted conclusion that the Apostles, by the authority

of Christ, established three hierarchical degrees, and that for the raising up of selected persons

into these degrees there was established ordination, which communicates to them the active grace

of God which is indispensable for their ministry. It goes without saying that the successors of the

Apostles, the bishops, had to fulfill precisely what had been decreed by the Apostles: that is, ordination

through laying on of hands, joining to it the same exalted meaning and the same significance

that were given by the Apostles.

And so it has been in actual fact in the Church in later times.

Although in the early Church ordination to the rank of priesthood occurred after a general

election, with the agreement of the church community or the local church, this “ordination” itself

was an act totally separate and distinct from the agreement or election, and it was performed by

persons equal in their authority to the Apostles, and who were their successors: the bishops. So it

has remained up to our days. Among the earliest testimonies of this we may indicate the homily

of St. Irenaeus of Lyons (second century), which says: “One must follow those presbyters (in the

sense of the “eldest” in the Church, that is, bishops) who are in the Church and who, as we have

indicated, have the succession from the Apostles, and who, together with the succession of the

episcopacy, by the good disposition of the Father, have received the reliable gift of the truth.”

The expression, “with the succession of the episcopacy they have received the gift of the truth,”

speaks evidently of the gift of grace received through their ordination. The same idea may be

found also in Tertullian. In Clement of Alexandria (third century) there is already a definite

indication that the “election” is not at all what is given by ordination through the laying on of

hands, just as the election by Christ of the Apostles, among whose number was Judas, was notjust as the election by Christ of the Apostles, among whose number was Judas, was not the same

thing as the “ordination” which the Apostles subsequently received through the breathing of

Christ (John 20:22). The election of certain persons for the priesthood is the work of men but the

ordination of them is not the work of men, but of God (Clement, Stromata).

The Apostolic Canons command: “Let a bishop be ordained by two or three bishops. Let a

presbyter, deacon and the rest of the clergy be ordained by one bishop” (Canons 1 and 2); (Eerdmans

Seven Ecumenical Councils. p. 594). Here also is established the unrepeatability of the

cheirotonia (ordination): “If any bishop, presbyter, or deacon shall receive from anyone a second

ordination, let both the ordained and the ordainer be deposed; unless indeed it can be proved that

he had his ordination from heretics” (68th Canon; Eerdmans, p. 598). Thus the grace given in the

cheirotonia of the priesthood is acknowledged to be just as unchanging and ineffaceable as the

grace given in Baptism. However, the grace of cheirotonia is special and distinct from the grace

which is given in Baptism and in the Mystery of Chrismation.

The essence and effectuating words of the mystery.

Thus the Mystery of Priesthood is a sacred action which, through the prayerful laying on of

the hands of a bishop upon the head of the chosen person, brings down upon this person the Divine

grace which sanctifies and ordains him to a certain rank of the Church hierarchy and later

cooperates with him in his passing through the hierarchical obligations. The prayer of cheirotonia

is the following: “The Divine grace which always healeth that which is infirm and completeth

that which is wanting, elevateth (name) the most devout subdeacon, to be a deacon (or deacon, to

be a priest). Wherefore, let us pray for him, that the grace of the All-Holy Spirit may come upon


The Mystery of Cheirotonia is always included in the rite of the Divine Liturgy. Distinct

from the Mystery of Cheirotonia is ordination by prayer to the lower ranks of the clergy (reader,

subdeacon); this is called cheirotesia (from a Greek word that has a purely Christian ecclesiastical

meaning and came into use relatively late).

The celibacy of Bishops.

For a bishop there exists the obligation of celibacy. In the first centuries of Christianity such

a demand was not obligatory, but even in apostolic times it was allowed for bishops to avoid

marriage for the sake of the ascetic struggle of continence. This custom became strengthened and

the Sixth Ecumenical Council made it a canon. As regards priests and deacons, the Church regarded

that such a burden should not be laid upon them as obligatory, and that the ancient canon

should be followed which forbids clergy, after receiving ordination, to enter into marriage, but

which allows to the Mystery of Priesthood persons who were already bound by marriage, even

regarding this as natural and normal. A second marriage, as well as having a wife who has been

married before, are hindrances to ordination. In the Roman Church in the fourth to sixth centuries,

celibacy began to be introduced likewise for priests and deacons. This innovation was rejected

by the Sixth Ecumenical Council; but this prohibition was not heeded by the Roman


The Protestants have rejected the priesthood as a “sacrament.” Their pastors are only elected

and appointed by the people, but do not receive any kind of special consecration, and in this

sense they are not to be distinguished from the ordinary members of their communities. Historically

this is explained by opposition to the abuses of their rights by the Latin clergy at the end ofthe Middle Ages. The Protestants made as their theoretical justification the opinion that ordination

to the priesthood began to be called by the fixed name of “sacrament” only in more recent

times. But of course such a justification has no value whatsoever. We see from the teaching and

practice of the Apostles, and from the constant belief of the Church, that cheirotonia from the

beginning was a sacramental, grace-giving sacred action, and therefore the fact that in a later period

it began to be called a “sacrament” did not introduce anything new, but only expressed its

essence more precisely in a single word. In a similar way, for example, the term homoousios, accepted

at the First Ecumenical Council, did not introduce anything new into the ancient Church

teaching of the Divinity of the Son of God, but only defined it more precisely and confirmed it

Unfortunately, Protestant scholars, defending the false position of Protestantism, continue stubbornly,

but without proof, to deduce the very concept of the Christian Mysteries from the practice

of the pagan mysteries.

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