Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Priesthood

From here.


The Priesthood
By: Fr. Anthony Alevizopoulos
PhD. of Theology, PhD. of Philosophy

Through Holy Baptism all are incorporated into the "royal" and "priestly" nation which is the people of God (Ex. i9,5-6. Is. 61,6. I Peter 2,5. Rev. 6,5). They are summoned to offer to God their bodies as "a living sacrifice, pleasing unto God"; their entire selves and God's entire creation. In this way the faithful regain the royal priestly ministry which they possessed before the fall (Rom. 12, 1. Gen. 1, 28- 30).

The Christian also offers his love and the fruit of his labor to God through the brethren (Prov. 29,17. Matth. 25, 40). Without this offering, no other offering is acceptable to God. When, however, man offers his labor to the Lord, through the brethren: "Then shall he call, and God shall hear him, and when he prays, He shall say to him, Behold, here I am", I am present, I am near you (Is. 58, 7-9).

Whatever a Christian does, he does it with his heart, as the Lord's work (Col. 3, 23-24). Everything in man's life, even the fruits of his labor, are God's gifts. This is why he must offer his works that they may be blessed, and he must never make egotistical use of them. He must always be mindful of, and exercise his "royal and priestly" ministry.

Within the framework of this ministry he is called to become a proclaimer of God's rule or kingdom, not only through his words, but also by the manner of his life (Matth. 5, 16, Lk. 9, 60). The fact that during the Baptismal Service the Evangelical lesson containing the phrase: "Go ye forth and teach all nations" (Matth. 28, 19) is read, demonstrates that this mandate is addressed to every baptized Christian. Every one must be ready "to give account" - when it shall be demanded of him - "for the hope that is within us", "with meekness and fear" (I Peter 3, 15-16).

But the existence of a general priesthood within the Church does not exclude the simultaneous existence of a special priesthood. We see this in the Old Testament: along with the "royal priesthood" there exists simulta­neously the Aaronite priesthood (Ex. 28, 1, 37-38. 29, 9. 30,30. 40, 11- 13. Lev. 8, 1-13), which was indeed inviolate; those who usurped it were severely punished (Num. 16, 31-33. II Chron. 26, 16-21).

Christ was not a priest according to the order of Aaron; it was not necessary that He offer up each time new sacrifices; His priesthood and His sacrifice were unique (Heb. 7, 23-27). It is for this reason that the priesthood of the bishops and the other clergy of the Church is considered as ministry of the Mysteries [Sacraments] which Christ performs and is not independent of Christ's priesthood. But in this sense, however, it is a real priesthood, just as the Eucharist is a real sacrifice.

The priesthood in the Church, in the new Israel, was already prophesied in the Old Testament (Is. 66, 21). In the New Testament the Holy Eucharist, which is charac­terized as a sacrifice, is contrasted with the Jewish and idolatrous sacrifices, and it is underlined that the Chris­tians possess an altar from which "those who worship the tent [of witness]" do not have the right to eat (I Cor. 10, 16-21. Heb. 13, 10). It is at this altar that the Christian priests serve.

Only the bishop, who is "in the image" [βίς τύτον] of Christ and who holds "the place"[top τοίγορ] of Christ, has the fullness of the priesthood. Just as Christ was sent by the Father, in like manner He Himself sent forth His disciples; whoever listens to them listens to Christ Himself, and whoever receives them, receives Christ (Jn 20,21. 13, 20. Matt. 10, 40. Lk. 10, 16). The Apostles were shepherds, yet they were at the same time "sheep", who had Christ as their shepherd. A hymn of the Church states:

"Apostles who saw God, true,

reason-endowed shepherds,

and sheep and grazing animals of the Lamb,

our Redeemer and God,

unceasingly intercede

that I be redeemed from the noetic wolf [Satan] and from the painful lot of the goats [the damned]".

The work of the Apostles is today carried on by the bishops of the Church. They are in continuous and direct Apostolic Succession and are surrounded by the presby­ters and deacons. The bishop ordains the deacons and the presbyters and he instates them into the Church's ministry. However, he has the feeling that he acts as God's servant and not of his own authority. This is why when he lays his hand on the head of the candidate who is to be ordained to the diaconate he says: "...for it is not in the laying on of my hands that grace is given to those who are worthy of You, but in the visitation of Your rich mercies".

The task of the presbyter is thus defined by the prayer read at his ordination: "Fill with the gift of thy Holy Spirit this man whom it hath pleased Thee to advance to the degree of Priest; that he may be worthy to stand in innocency before Thine Altar; to proclaim the Gospel of Thy kingdom; to minister the word of Thy truth; to offer unto Thee spiritual gifts and sacrifices; to renew Thy people through the laver of regeneration..."

During the bishop's ordination, his responsibility to preserve "the unity of the faith in the bond of peace" is underlined. This is why he who is to be ordained a bishop confesses belief in the dogmas of the Church and promises neither to add nor subtract from them in any way "adding nothing, subtracting nothing, changing nothing, neither in the dogmas, nor the traditions but remaining steadfast in these, and with fear of God and a good conscience teaching and proclaiming them; and all that She [the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church] has condemned and rejected as foreign teachings, these do I also condemn and reject once and for all".

The ordaining bishop prays for the ordained; "...Do Thou, Ο Christ, make this man to be an imitator of Thee, the true Shepherd, who didst lay down Thy life for Thy sheep; to be a leader of the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, a reprover of the unwise, a teacher of the young, a lamp to the world; that, having perfected the souls entrusted unto him in this present life he may stand unashamed before Thy throne..."

This position of responsibility which the bishop holds helps us to understand the words of St. Ignatius of Antioch: " Look to the Bishop, the presbyterate and the deacons ...become imitators of Jesus Christ as He was imitator of His Father". The bishop, St Ignatius adds, possesses the "mind of Christ", i.e. his teaching and his actions must reveal the mind of Jesus Christ. And St. Ignatius continues, "Wherever the Bishop appears, let the multitude be there, just as wherever Christ is, there too is the Catholic Church". And of course the Holy Eucharist performed by the bishop or by him whom the bishop has authorized, i.e. a presbyter from the "presby­terate" is genuine.

The priests therefore in the Church are stewards of Christ's Holy Mysteries, and in this sense participate in the unique and "inviolate" priesthood of the one "Priest", Jesus Christ (Heb. 7,27); The Holy Eucharist performed in Church by the Christian priests is a sacrifice "according to participation" in the sacrifice of Golgotha. Thus all Christians throughout the ages become partakers of the Body and Blood of Christ and partake of His life. This is the work of the Christian priests.

THE ORTHODOX CHURCH Its Faith, Worship and Life
Rev. Antonios Alevisopoulos, Th.D., Ph.D
Translated by Rev. Stephen Avramides

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