Vocation to Orthodox Holy Priesthood

Through the sacrament of holy orders, an ordination to priesthood is performed by the bishop. … Orthodox priests consist of both married clergymen and celibate clergymen. In the Orthodox Church a married man may be ordained to the priesthood. His marriage, however, must be the first for both him and his wife.

A call to become an Orthodox Clergy is a special call by Christ himself. You can be an Orthodox Witness or Theologian if you are not called to the Holy Priesthood.

Presbyter is, in the Bible, a synonym for bishop (episkopos), referring to a leader in local Church congregations. Its literal meaning in Greek (presbyteros) is “elder.”

Holy orders

Through the sacrament of holy orders, an ordination to priesthood is performed by the bishop. But this requires the consent of the whole people of God, so at a point in the service, the congregation acclaim the ordination by shouting Axios! (He is worthy!)

Orthodox priests consist of both married clergymen and monastic clergymen. In the Orthodox Church a married man may be ordained to the priesthood. His marriage, however, must be the first for both him and his wife. He may not remarry and continue in his ministry even if his wife should die.

If a single, or unmarried, or celibate, man is ordained, he must remain celibate to retain his service, as did St John the beloved Apostle. All celibate priests, although celibacy does not automatically entail monasticism, though Orthodox monasticism does denote a call to celibacy. A priest-monk is called a hieromonk.

Married Priest are usually assigned to work in the Parish.


It is Church doctrine that the priesthood must strive to fulfill the grace given to them with the gift of the “laying on of hands” in the most perfect that they can. But the Church teaches that the reality and effectiveness of the sacraments of the Church, ministered by the presbyters, do not depend upon personal virtue, but upon the presence of Christ who acts in his Church by the Holy Spirit. The same as with bishops, it is Christ, through his chosen ministers, who acts as teacher, good shepherd, forgiver, and healer. It is Christ remitting sins, and curing the physical, mental and spiritual ills of mankind. The priest is an icon of Christ.

Priests normally exercise the function of pastors of parishes, a function which was normally done by the bishops in early times. They are rectors of the local congregations of Christians. They preside at the celebration of the liturgy and teach, preach, counsel and exercise the ministries of forgiveness and healing.

Since the presbyters are assigned by the bishop and belong to the specific congregations they have no authority or services to perform apart from their bishop and their own particular parish community. On the altar table of each parish, there is the cloth called the antimension signed by the bishop, which is the permission to the community to gather and to act as the Church. Without the antimension, the priest and his people cannot function legitimately.


The earliest organization of the Christian churches in Judea was similar to that of Jewish synagogues, who were governed by a council of elders (presbyteroi). In Acts 11:30 and 15:22, we see this collegiate system of government in Jerusalem, and in Acts 14:23, the Apostle Paul ordains elders (priests) in the churches he founded. Initially, these presbyters were apparently identical with the overseers (episkopoi, i.e., bishops), as such passages as Acts 20:17 and Titus 1:5,7 indicate, and the terms were interchangeable.

Shortly after the New Testament period, with the death of the Apostles, there was a differentiation in the usage of the synonymous terms, giving rise to the appearance of two distinct offices, bishop and presbyter. The bishop was understood mainly as the president of the council of presbyters, and so the bishop came to be distinguished both in honor and in prerogative from the presbyters, who were seen as deriving their authority by means of delegation from the bishop. The distinction between presbyter and bishop is made fairly soon after the Apostolic period, as is seen in the 2nd century writings of St. Ignatius of Antioch, who uses the terms consistently and clearly to refer to two different offices (along with deacon).

Initially, each local congregation in the Church had its own bishop. Eventually, as the Church grew, individual congregations no longer were served directly by a bishop. The bishop in a large city would appoint a presbyter to pastor the flock in each congregation, acting as his delegate.

Modern usage

The Orthodox Church often refers to presbyters in English as priests (priest is etymologically derived from the Greek presbyteros via the Latin presbyter).

Presbyters are often referred to as Father (Fr.), though that is not an official title. Rather, it is a term of affection used by Christians for their ordained elders. In this context, a priest’s first name is generally used after the word Father.

Priests are often styled as the Reverend (Rev.) and therefore referred to as the Reverend Father (Rev. Fr.). Higher in bestowed honor and responsibility, Archpriests and Protopresbyters are styled as the Very Reverend (V. Rev.), while Archimandrites can be styled as the Very Reverend (V. Rev.) or as the Right Reverend (Rt. Rev.). It is also appropriate and traditional to refer to a clergyman as “the Priest Name” or “Archpriest Name“.

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Ranks of Orthodox Clergy

An Orthodox CHurch is lead by a Patriarch or a Synod of Bishops with a Prelate

  1. Bishop (episkopos, ἐπίσκοπος)
  2. Presbyter (πρεσβύτερος, more commonly called priest, hiereus, ἱερεύς; literally “elder”)
  3. Deacon (diakonos, διάκονος)

There are also two minor orders:

  1. Subdeacon
  2. Reader

There were formerly other minor orders but most have fallen into disuse (such as doorkeepers, exorcists, and acolytes). The major orders can be further subdivided.


  • Patriarch. A bishop who is the head of an ancient or ethnic Church (originally there were only five in the early Church, comprising the Pentarchy). Otherwise, a Prelate of the Holy Synod.
  • Archbishop. The head of an Orthodox country or capital city (depending on the tradition, these may be above, below, or equal to metropolitans.).
  • Metropolitan. A bishop who is the head of a large city or a diocese (see note on archbishop).
  • Bishop. Oversees a diocese or special community of Orthodox Christians. Possesses the full priesthood and may ordain clergy. Chosen only from monastic priests (archimandrites).
  • Titular / Auxiliary Bishop. A bishop who is not in charge of a diocese. Assistant to a diocesan bishop. Sometimes also granted as a role of honor to those whose dioceses no longer exist.
  • ChoreBishop / or Choreepiscopos is a married Bishop with the dignities of a Bishop but have permission to ordain up to Minor Orders

Presbyter / Priest

  • Archimandrite. A title of honor given only to monastic priests. This originally referred to a supervisory abbot appointed over other abbots and/or monasteries, or to the abbot of a prominent monastery. It has come to more or less be an honorary title for hieromonks. Only archimandrites are eligible to be appointed as Bishops ( although in many ways they are equal to or below protopresbyters and/or archpriests).
  • Protopresbyter / Protopriest. A title of honor given only to non-monastic priests. It literally means “first elder” (some traditions do not distinguish between a protopresbyter and an archpriest).
  • Archpriest. A title of honor given only to non-monastic priests. A priest placed over several parishes may sometimes be appointed to this role (see note for protopresbyter).
  • Hieromonk. Literally, a “priest-monk.” A monk who is also an ordained priest.
  • Presbyter / Priest. An ordained elder who may administer the sacraments.


  • Protodeacon. A title of honor given only to non-monastic deacons. It literally means “first servant/server” (some traditions consider archdeacons above protodeacons).
  • Archdeacon. The senior deacon in a diocese, responsible for serving at hierarchical services (services with the bishop). Usually he travels with the bishop. Some traditions only give this title to monastic deacons (see note for protodeacon).
  • Hierodeacon. A deacon-monk. A monk who has been ordained as a deacon.
  • Deacon. An ordained servant who may assist the priest in the administration of the sacraments (as well as a variety of other duties).
  • Deaconesses were an order in the erly Christian Church. Information is sparse as to their activities at the time, though it is clear they were mostly involved with ministering to other women and girls.

Minor Orders

Concerning the minor orders, a subdeacon (also called a hypodeacon) may assist the bishop and/or priest in various ways (but not with the administration of the sacraments). The ordination to subdeacon is not performed during Divine Liturgy nor at the altar as it is a minor order. He may be assigned any of the other roles of the minor orders such as Reader (but also former minor orders that have fallen into disuse such as Cantor, Catechist, or other leadership roles in the community). While canon law does consider the ordination of subdeacons to be binding on their marital status, many do not enforce this or consider the ordination to be of a different sort. Thus the canon laws concerning the marriage or celibacy of candidates is generally only enforced for the major orders.

A reader (or lector) is ordained by the bishop to read during services and in the Divine Liturgy. This role developed due to low literacy rates in past history, so being able to read was a special gift. The only way scripture was normally heard by early Christians was when it was publicly read in the church. He may also be assigned any of the other roles of the minor orders other than subdeacon (such as Cantor, Catechist, or other leadership roles in the community).



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