This post is part of a series about the sacraments of the Orthodox Christian Church. In this post, we will look at the Orthodox Christian Sacrament of ordination, or Holy Orders.
The Orthodox Study Bible defines ordination as “The sacramental act setting a man apart for the ministry of the church by the laying on of hands of a bishop.” (1, p. 1784) Fr. Thomas Hopko’s writings about the sacrament of the Holy Orders begin by reminding his readers, first and foremost, that the Holy Orthodox Church believes and teaches that “Christ is the only priest, pastor, and teacher of the Christian Church. He alone guides and rules His people. He alone forgives sins and offers communion with God, His Father.” (2) These statements do not in any way downplay the importance of the “sacramental setting apart” mentioned above: rather, they help to clarify the role of the one set apart. Christ is continually active in the Church through the Holy Spirit, and He is manifested through these men who have been set apart for His service. “The sacramental ministry of the Church—the bishops, priests, and deacons—receive the gift of the Holy Spirit to manifest Christ in the Spirit to men. Thus, through His chosen ministers, Christ exercises and realizes His unique and exclusive function as priest, perpetually offering Himself as the perfect sacrifice to the Father on behalf of His human brothers and sisters.” Through them, He also teaches, shepherds, oversees, and serves. (2)
Why is this sacrament of ordination also called the sacrament of Holy Orders? Fr. Thomas says it is because those who are ordained give order to the church. “They guarantee the continuity and unity of the Church from age to age and from place to place from the time of Christ and the apostles until the establishment of God’s Kingdom in eternity.” (2) The Holy Spirit is given to them in a special way that helps them to do this work, and “manifest Christ’s presence and action in the churches.” (2)
Ordinations have been a part of the Church’s life from the start. Already in the book of Acts, we read, “So when they had appointed elders in every church, and prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed.” (Acts 14:23, OSB) The Orthodox Study Bible’s footnote on that verse offers this insight: “Elders are presbyters (priests) ordained by the apostles to nurture and lead the churches they established. The word translated ‘appointed’ (Gr. cheirotoneo) means ‘to ordain by the laying on of hands.’” (1, p. 1495) So, from the very beginning of the Church, per the book of Acts, priests have been ordained by the laying on of hands so that they can carry on the work they have been set apart to do.
“Through ordination, men who have been chosen from within the Church are set apart by the Church for special service to the Church. Each is called by God through His people to stand amid the community, as pastor and teacher, and as the representative of the parish before the Altar. Each is also a living icon of Christ among His people… the process of ordination begins with the local congregation; but the bishop alone, who acts in the name of the universal Church, can complete the action. He does so with the invocation of the Holy Spirit and the imposition of his hands on the person being ordained.” (3)
Ordained leaders have numerous important tasks, and the work varies from order to order. “In the Orthodox Church to this day, the bishops and presbyters are called to focus on prayer and the ministry of the word, with the other ministries being accomplished by the deacons and the laity.” (1, footnotes on Acts 6:2-4, p.1478) The tasks to which those who receive the sacrament of Holy Orders are called are not easy. They cannot be taken lightly, but the Holy Spirit’s extra empowerment enables these men to undertake all that is set before them.
Let us thank God for those who have offered themselves through the sacrament of ordination. Let us support and help them in whatever way that we can. And let us keep them in our prayers, for we know that we are always in theirs.
Glory to God for His gift of the sacrament of ordination!
- Various editors. (2008). The Orthodox Study Bible. USA: St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology. (available here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/osb-hardcover )
- Hopko, Fr. Thomas (2011, October 5). The Sacraments: Holy Orders. Retrieved from https://oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith/worship/the-sacraments/holy-orders
- Fitzgerald, Rev. Fr. Thomas (1985, June 11). Understanding the Sacraments of the Orthodox Church. Retrieved from https://www.goarch.org/-/the-sacraments
Here are some resources and lessons on ordination that you may find interesting and helpful as you prepare to teach your students about this sacrament. What resources have you found helpful? Comment below and share them with the community!
The Teaching Pics ( http://ww1.antiochian.org/christianeducation/teachingpics) offer a series of pictures on that can be very helpful as you teach a lesson on ordination and/or the holy orders. Pictures S17-S19 show three aspects of the holy orders: first, the diaconate, then the priesthood, and finally, the laying on of hands. The text accompanying each picture explains the process well at a level that even young children can understand. Find the teaching pics here: http://orthodoxchristianed.com/files/4114/9885/4473/ocec2017_2018.pdf
Although these activities are suggested for parents to do at home, Sunday Church School students of various levels will benefit from the matching game about each of the holy orders; and the paper doll deacon/priest/bishop can be a useful way to teach about the various vestments of each of the orders. http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/epistles-feasts-and-sacraments/3-5-years-old/ordersordination
Find lessons on ordination for students at every level, here:
These three videos related to ordination and the clergy will be excellent additions to a lesson on the sacrament of ordination.
Episode #116 of “Be the Bee” talks about hierarchy and why the church is set up that way: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B1Hnqj-6_Eg
We learn about clergy vestments with this episode #117 of “Be the Bee:” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PlO02rQDQ6o
This episode #118 of “Be the Bee” reminds us that all of us are a royal priesthood: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=THyitPa5ZVE
Older students who listen to this podcast will get to hear what it is like to be a priest. Do you think any of your students may be headed for ordination? You could share this podcast and discuss it as a class. https://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/orthodixie/priesthood_you_dont_wanna_do_that (Don’t worry, contrary to the title, it is a positive – but realistic – view of the priesthood!)
Older students can read this article to learn more about the Holy Orders. http://www.antiochianarch.org.au/Holy-Orders.aspx
After they read the article, discuss the different Orders, and allow your students to create something to help them remember the different Orders. They could write about it or create a sketch or sculpture that represents first the laity, then the Minor Orders, then the Major Orders.