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Ordination is the sacrament (or Holy Mystery) of holy Orders. The Greek words used for ordination are cheirotonia and cheirothesia, both of which mean "the laying on of hands." Members of the major orders of the clergy—bishop, priest, and deacon—are ordained during the Divine Liturgy by the bishop, who is usually assisted by several priests. According to Orthodox teaching, 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. The ordination itself for those entering the major orders takes place within the altar.
Those who are placed into the minor orders (subdeacon, reader, and in some traditions, cantor) are done so by cheirothesia, which also means "laying on of hands," but has come to be a technically distinct term from cheirotonia, which is used only for the major orders. According to the DEC, cheirothesia is not regarded as part of the Holy Mystery of ordination (p. 117). The ordination for those entering the minor orders takes place within the nave of the church.
Cheirotonia and cheirothesia formerly were used almost interchangeably, but came to acquire distinct meanings. Bishops are also referred to as being "consecrated" rather than "ordained," but such a distinction was not present in the early Church (ODCC, p. 1189). As "consecration" is a weaker term (one can consecrate some land or a piece of cloth) and its use in the Orthodox context perhaps reflects western (Anglican) usage, some contemporary Orthodox have tended to speak of "ordination" of bishops as the stronger term and more precise rendering.
The candidate shall have an inner cassock, (podriasnik) by the day of his ordination. It is a sign of submission of his own personal tastes and desires, and of his canonical obedience to the Church and his bishop. From the time of his ordination, he must not appear in church without the cassock. The tonsure is similarly a sign of his offering of self and of dedication to God. It is customary that, on the eve of his ordination, the candidate shall attend Vespers, and, after having a light supper, begin his Eucharistic fast. During that time, he shall interact as little as possible with anyone and spend that time praying and preparing himself for ordination. This period would usually include making his confession, either the evening before, or on the day of ordination. Married candidates shall refrain from marital relations during this time.
On the day of the ordination, during the Third Hour, the candidate is led by the bishop's assistant to the center of the solea. He makes three prostrations toward the holy altar. Then, he turns and makes one prostration toward the bishop. He stands before the bishop with his head bowed and, after a prayer, the bishop tonsures him by in the form of a Cross. The candidate is vested in a foreshortened version of the phelon, then the bishop lays his hand on the candidate's head and prays the prayer of ordination. Afterwards, the Apostol is opened over the candidate's head and presented to him, for him to read a portion of the Scriptures. The short phelon is removed, he is vested in the stikhar, and the exhortation of his office is read to him by the bishop.
Subdeacons are ordained either during the Third or Sixth Hour at the bishop's discretion. The orar is put on him, crossed back and front, then the bishop lays his hands upon his head and prays the prayer of ordination. The subdeacon then takes part in the washing of the bishop's hands, and remains standing on the solea, before the icon of the Saviour, holding the ewer and basin, until they are again required at the washing of the bishop's hands at the cherubikon. According to the rubrics, the bishop then blesses the water and the newly-ordained subdeacon carries it into the midst of the church, among the people, for them to bless themselves with it. However, this is not followed in many jurisdictions today.
If the candidate is to marry, he must do so before ordination to the subdiaconate as it is canonically forbidden for a subdeacon to marry. The canons require all who do so to be deposed. (Apostolic Canon 26, Canons 3 and 6 of the 6th Ecumenical Council). However, in some places, this requirement is relaxed in particular circumstances, at the discretion of the bishop.
There are different traditions about the precise time for ordinations to minor orders. Some authorities place the ordination of a reader before the Divine Liturgy, after the final psalm of the Third Hour, with the rubrics suggesting that ordination to the subdiaconate, (if it is to take place), follows immediately. Other books place the ordination to the subdiaconate after the final psalm of the Sixth Hour. The bishop's decision is the final authority in such matters. However, ordination to minor orders always takes place outside of the Divine Liturgy, as this is one of the distinctions between them and major orders, which are always conferred during the Divine Liturgy.
During the service of ordination to the priesthood, a priest leads the candidate, who then kneels and rests his head on the altar. The bishop puts his stole and right hand over the candidate's head as the candidate receives the Holy Spirit. The entire congregation witnesses the ordination and proclaims the work of the Holy Spirit by shouting in unison "Axios!" (Greek word meaning 'worthy'). The bishop bestows sacred vestments on the new priest, who receives communion and recites a special prayer. Through ordination, men who have been chosen from within the Church are set apart by the Church for special service to the Church. Much of the time, a candidate for ordination will pursue preparatory studies at a seminary.
Candidates for the episcopacy are consecrated by three bishops (or at the very least two) to be bishops. A bishop's non-liturgical vestments include the kamilavka and epanokameloukion (veil) (which are joined together as the klobuk in the Russian tradition), along with the mantiya, all of which are monastic garments.
- Blackwell Dictionary of Eastern Christianity (DEC), p. 117
- Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (ODCC), 3rd ed., pp. 1188-89
- The Holy Sacrament of Ordination to the Priesthood (text of the liturgical service)
- Requirements that lead to Priesthood
- Sacrament of Ordination
- The Sacrament of the Holy Priesthood by Fr. Peter Orfanakos
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