Holy Orders, or Ordination, is one of the Mysteries of the Orthodox Church by which the Bishops, as succesors of the Apostolic witness, canonically select and ordain individual members of the Church to serve the Body of Christ.
Though all Orthodox Christians become members of the "Royal Priesthood" of Christian believiers, each with a calling and a responsibility to reconcile creation with it's Creator, to share the gospel of Jesus Christ, to make sacrifices and offer one's self totally for the work of Christ's Church, some are called to serve the faithful of the Orthodox Church as part of the "Ministerial Priesthood."
Since in one sense all Orthodox Christians are called to be "priests," that is all Orthodox Christians are called to serve and minister to the people around them, offering prayers for them and pointing them towards Christ, an Orthodox priest is, essentially, a priest for priests. Orthodox clergy are ordained to serve God and the Church in a specific and special way by devoting their life to the building up of the Body of Christ through tending the flock of Christ through leadership, prayer, performing the Sacraments of the Church, teaching and preaching, administration, and other duties according to the needs of the Faithful. Though priests are given the authority to celebrate Baptism, Chrismation, the Holy Eucharist, Holy Matrimony, hear Confessions, and perform the rite of Unction, only Bishops can ordain other members of the clergy. Before one may be ordained in one order, they must also be ordained to the order below it.
The Orders of Clergy in the Orthodox Church are as follows:
Bishops: From "Episkopos," which means "overseer." Those charged with holding steadfastly to the canons and teachings of the True Faith of the Apostles and ensuring the Unity of the Orthodox Church through Orthodox teaching, preaching, and administration within the Church; also selects and ordains priests, deacons, subdeacons, and readers for service to the Church. Bishops must be celibate men who have been tonsured (or are willing to be tonsured) to the first order of Monasticism. Widowed men may also be consecrated as Bishops.
Priests: From "Presbyteros," which means "elder." Those assigned by the local bishop to administer and lead a local Eucharistic community in the Faith as pastors, leading worship during the Divine Services, preaching and teaching the Faithful, and performing the Mysteries of the Church and other Services of Need under the guidance and with permission of the Diocesan Hierarch. This permission is seen in the antimension or corporal, a specially decorated cloth with iconography on which the Liturgy is served. It is signed by the bishop and is unfolded during the Liturgy; without it, no services may be held in the parish. The Orthodox Church ordains both married and celibate men as priests, however priests may not marry after ordination to the diaconate.
Deacons: From "Diakonos," which means "servant" or "minister." Those who are ordained to assist the priest and/or bishop in the Divine Services, and the work of the Church. The deacon proclaims the Gospel, assists in the preparation and distribution of Holy Communion, censes, calls people to prayer, and leads litanies. A deacon may not perform any Mystery of Sacrament of the Church on his own, and indeed may not vest without permission from a bishop or priest. Deacons are an important part of the ministry in the Orthodox Church. The Diaconate is not simply a "step" or "transitional point" towards the priesthood, but is a vital liturgical and ministerial role in and of itself. The Orthodox Church ordains both married and celibate men as deacons, however deacons may not marry (or re-marry) after ordination.
Subdeacons: From "Ipodiakonos," which means "under - servant/minister." Those who are ordained to assist the Bishop, Priest, and Deacons. They are, essentially, tasked with serving in the Altar and are blessed to touch the Holy Altar, as necessary, with the blessing of the Bishop or Priest.
Readers: Those who are ordained to read and chant the Epistle, prokeimenoa and Alleluia, the Psalms, and other responses. This is the first order of the Priesthood and part of the service includes a tonsuring, or cutting of the hair, to set them apart as members of the clergy.
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