Duties of Priests in the Greek Orthodox Church

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When Christ finished his ministry, died on the cross, resurrected, and ascended to heaven, he left his disciples waiting for the “Comforter,” the Holy Spirit, to come and give them power and authority. These disciples, now known as the apostles (since they were sent forth. Aποστλος, from αποστελλω, meaning to send), were sent out to spread the Church. Where they set up the Greek Orthodox Church they would leave a overseers or bishops. In Greek, Επισκοπος means overseer, and that is the term we use for our bishops in Greek, which eventually became the English word, bishop. The Apostles had already set up deacons in the 6th Chapter of the Book of Acts in the New Testament. Besides bishops we also find a group called presbyters in the New Testament.

Initially these presbyters and bishops were just different ways to call the person who presided over the liturgy. Once all the apostles died, we see that the name bishop is given to those in charge of the liturgy and presbyters were the elders that the bishops surrounded themselves with. Eventually bishops became in charge of multiple parishes and named presbyters as the leaders of the liturgy in the parishes. This was the creation of the dioceses.

Much of our worship is actually rooted in Ancient Judaic practices, such as reading and chanting Psalms, incense, and even priests. The priests of the Old Testament had to be descendants of Aaron, Moses’ brother, who was the first priest of Israel. This practice was held until the Destruction of the Temple in the year 70 AD. St. John the Baptist’s father, Zacharias was one of the priests and he was, of course, a descendent of Aaron. These priests were in charge of the sacrifices and other rituals of the rules of the Temple.

Not all of our worship comes directly from the traditions of Judaism. Our priests, if you haven’t noticed, are not required to be a descendent of Aaron. Jesus Christ is explained as having come as King, Prophet and Priest, the three major roles of the Old Testament. As priest, Christ is the one who presides over the end-all sacrifice, the sacrifice of Him, leading to the redemption of the world. This established a separate priesthood than that of Israel. Psalm 110 refers to the Messiah being a “priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.” (As a side note, Christ comes from the Greek, Χριστος, meaning the “anointed one,” which in Hebrew is Messiah.) This priesthood is passed on by ordination, or the “laying on of hands,” by a bishop with the approval of the people.

Today, we see our priests presiding over the mysteries of the Church, including Liturgies, Baptisms, Weddings, Unction, and Confession. Besides these mysteries, the priest also leads other services, such as the funeral, Paraklesis, Orthros, Vespers, and much more. Today, though our Metropolises might be very large, the connection of our Metropolitan Bishops and our Presbyters/Priests is still very real. The special cloth that has an icon of the burial of Christ, the Antimitsion, which must be present on the altar to offer the gifts up to God, is signed and distributed by the Bishops. Even though we don’t see them as often as our priests, our Bishops are still connected with them and us through this.

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This post was written by Greek Boston