Intro to Orthodoxy: Ecclesiology and You

We are all the royal priesthood, chrismated to serve, but the Church also has tonsured, ordained, and consecrated to specific ministries. Tonight we talk about bishops, priests, deacons, subdeacons, and readers and what they do.

Ecclesiology and You: 
An introduction to the tonsured and ordained orders and what they do

“I believe … in one holy catholic and apostolic Church…” – the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed

Ephesians 2:19-20.  So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, [part of a temple that is] built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.

1 Peter 2:4-5.  Come to him, to that living stone, rejected by men but in God’s sight chosen and precious; and like living stones be yourselves built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

Revelation 1:5b-7.  To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.

Orthodoxwiki.  It is the belief of Orthodoxy that Christ is the only priest, pastor, and teacher of the Christian Church. He alone forgives sins and offers communion with God, his Father. Christ alone guides and rules his people. Christ remains with his Church as its living and unique head. Christ remains present and active in the Church through the Holy Spirit.

The Consecrated Episcopacy.  Bishop is from episkopos (overseer).  A bishop is the successor to the Apostles.  They are responsible for maintaining the unity of the Church by insuring the truth and unity of the faith and practice of their diocese and the parishes in it.  They are consecrated by at least three bishops (or two in a pinch) during the Divine Liturgy.  All bishops are equal, but Patriarchs and Metropolitans (or Archbishops) have special administrative duties.  There are also auxiliary bishops.  They are called “Vladyka” in the Ukrainian and “Sayedna” in the Antiochian vernacular. 

The Ordained Priesthood.  From presbyter (elder).  Biblical.  Ordained by a bishop during the Divine Liturgy by the laying on of hands.  The service of the priest is tied to that of his bishop.  The primary priest people interact with is their parish priest (aka rector or pastor).  The parish priest shall:

  • Promote the religious and moral life of the parish
  • Conduct all liturgical services and celebrate all the Mysteries for the faithful of his parish
  • Instruct and educate the faithful in the teachings of the Holy Orthodox Church…
  • Visit and minister to parishioners who are ill, incapacitated, or shut-in
  • Render pastoral services to all in need
  • Determine the time and order of Divine Services
  • Attempt to visit the homes of his parishioners at least once a year
  • Participate in the life of the broader Church and community
  • Have the right to attend all parish meetings and access and oversee finances
  • NOT jeopardize the well-being of the parish by his own behavior or actions
  • Be remunerated according to the schedule put forth by their diocese.

While the parish priest should be the primary confessor and pastor of his flock, traditions on this vary.  I am the pastor/rector of Holy Resurrection but NOT at Christ the Savior. 

There are different ranks of priest (e.g. proto, mitered), but the main distinction is the actual assignment.

The Ordained Diaconate.  From diakonos (servant).  Biblical.  The deacon:

Does nothing without the blessing of his bishop or priest

Assists in the celebration of the mysteries of the Church

Leads the people in corporate prayer/litanies

Reads from the Scriptures during the divine services

Any tasks of the subdeacon or reader

Other tasks related to Church life, with the blessing and direction of his priest or bishop.

Additional liturgical duties vary by parish and diocese. It can include distributing communion (but never consecrating the gifts) and leading services (without priest parts).

Deacons often head educational programs and youth groups, perform hospital visitation, missionary work, and conduct social welfare projects.

In the UOC-USA; “Deacons assigned to parishes shall, in the performance of pastoral or liturgical duties, act at the direction of and in assistance to the parish priest alone.”

The “Minor Orders”.

The Subdeacon coordinates the activity of altar servers, keeps the altar and vestry clean and stocked, and serves as the lead server during worship.  He is tonsured/set aside before the Divine Liturgy.  Other duties as assigned.  Note that the parish priest can give a blessing for other men to serve in the altar without their being set aside as a subdeacon.

The Reader chants/reads/sings the Old Testament, Epistle, Psalms, and appointed hymns at services.  Learns the tones and the construction of services.  Other duties as assigned.  Note that the parish priest can give a blessing to others to serve these duties without their being set aside as a reader.

The Other Roles

Choir director


Lay leader