Clergy is the generic term used to describe the formal religious leadership within the Orthodox Christian Church. The term comes from Greek κληρος (a lot, that which is assigned by lot (allotment) or metaphorically, heritage).
Clergy in the Orthodox Church are those individuals set aside to perform certain tasks and/or exercise certain authority in the life of the Church. Orthodox clergy take care of the ritual aspects of the religious life of the Church, teach or otherwise help in spreading Orthodox doctrine and practices. They often deal with life-cycle events such as child birth, baptism, marriage, and death. Clergy work both inside and outside houses of worship, and can be found working in hospitals, nursing homes, missions, armed forces, etc.
There is a significant difference between clergy and theologians; clergy have the above-mentioned duties while theologians are scholars of religion and theology, and are not necessarily clergy. A lay-person can be a theologian. The two fields, of course, often overlap. The clergy status in the Orthodox Church is reserved for males.
In countries and societies where Orthodoxy has special status governed by special laws, i.e., are state religions. the clergy may be financed (or co-financed) by the state, but usually they are supported financially by donations of individual Orthodox Christian members.
The term clergy as generally used in the Orthodox Church applies to those who are members of the major orders and are ordained. Those who assist the clergy in the services of the church and are tonsured are referred to as members of the minor orders.
Those of the major orders are the bishops, priests, and deacons, the same offices identified in the New Testament and found in the early church. Bishops include archbishops, metropolitans, and patriarchs. Priests (also called presbyters or elders) include archpriests, protopresbyters, hieromonks (priest-monks) and archimandrites (senior hieromonks). Deacons also include hierodeacons (deacon-monks), archdeacons, and protodeacons.
Bishops are usually drawn from the ranks of the monks and are required to be celibate. A non-monastic priest may be ordained to the episcopate if he no longer lives with his wife (following Canon XII of the Quinisext Council). In contemporary usage such a non-monastic priest is usually tonsured to the monastic state at some point prior to his consecration to the episcopacy. Priests and deacons may be married, provided that they are married before their ordination to the diaconate. If they are later divorced and then desire to remarry, they are not permitted to remarry unless they first leave the clergy and return to lay status. All Orthodox clergy must be male.
There are records of deaconesses in the New Testament and in the early church The consensus today is that this office was never equivalent to that of deacon, but had separate responsibilities. The ancient office of deaconess was subsumed by the office of abbess.
Those in the minor orders are subdeacons and readers who are tonsured and attendants (acolytes). These offices are not proscribed by marriage.
The typical progression of ordination is: reader, subdeacon, deacon, priest, bishop. Each ordination must take place in order, although it is possible to ordain a layman to all five offices in the course of three days.
The organization of the Orthodox Church is both hierarchical and conciliar (or synodal). It is hierarchical in that priests, deacons, and laymen are expected to follow their bishop and to do nothing without their bishop, and in that Jesus Christ is the head of every bishop. It is conciliar or synodal in that there is no single superior position whom all the bishops follow, but rather the bishops meet together in synods or councils and reach binding agreements through consensus. A bishop, even the patriarch, is bound to obey the decisions of his synod. A council with representatives from all the churches is an ecumenical council.
Although Orthodox clergy are given considerable honor by the Orthodox Church, each ordination is also viewed as a kind of martyrdom. The Orthodox cleric agrees to be a servant of both Jesus Christ and of the people of the church; many of the vestments are intended to remind him of this. Much is expected of the clergy, both practically and spiritually; consequently, they also have a special place in the litanies that are prayed, asking God to have mercy on them.
There is no set universal rule for the training of clergy, and there is some variation among the local churches. Traditionally, candidates for the priesthood either reside with their bishops for a certain period and are given personal instruction by him, or, if they are monks, receive instruction by obedience to their monastic superiors. Modern practice in most places is for them to be trained at a seminary, which may or may not be associated with a monastery. The course of study generally runs for about three years and an undergraduate degree is often a requirement for admission. Instruction is given in dogmatics, theology, ecclesiastical history, canon law, liturgics, Biblical studies, and other subjects, although emphasis varies from institution to institution. Graduation from a seminary is no guarantee of ordination however, which is solely at the discretion of the diocesan bishop. Requirements for the training of those who intend to remain in the diaconate are often less rigorous than for priests.