Consecration of a bishop

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The consecration of a bishop is the process during which a candidate for the episcopate receives the fullness of the grace of the priesthood through the Sacred Mystery of ordination by the laying of hands (in the Greek: χειροτονία, Cheirotonia) in succession from the Holy Apostles. The office of bishop is the highest clerical rank in the Orthodox Church. While some bishops may receive titles such as Patriarch, Metropolitan, or Archbishop, all bishops are equal and the titles are administrative ranks and marks of dignity and honor. At his consecration, a bishop receives grace not only to perform the Sacred Mysteries but also to bestow the grace of ordination on others.

The Scriptural foundation for Cheirotonia is found in the Acts of the Apostle (Acts 1:15-26; Acts 6:2-6) and the Epistles to Timothy (1 Timothy 4:14; 2 Timothy 1:6). The procedure leading to the consecration of a new bishop involves two stages: first, the selection of the candidate, usually referred to as the election, and second, the consecration ritual of Cheirotonia during a divine liturgy.

The election process may be one of a number of different techniques depending on the traditions and rules of a diocese or local church, such as through a council of the diocese or local church, a committee of bishops of a local church (i.e., a Synod of Bishops), or by appointment by the senior bishop of the local church. While any male believer is eligible to be a candidate for election, the candidate before consecration must no longer be living with his wife (in the Russian church, he must also be a monk). Thus, the wife of a married candidate may take monastic vows and become a nun, though, canonically, it is only required that she consent to separation (but not divorce) from her husband. In the Russian tradition, the candidate, if not a monk, must take monastic vows and become a monk. If not a priest, he must receive ordination as a deacon, if not already a deacon, then as a priest. The person elected to the episcopate must voluntarily accept his nomination before the consecration can proceed.

Because the Acts of the Apostles describes the Cheirotonia being accomplished with prayer, the Consecration is always performed within a Divine Liturgy. Normally, this on a Sunday or feast day which has an All-Night Vigil. During the Vigil (or before the beginning of the Divine Liturgy), the bishop-elect must make a formal and public Profession of Faith to ensure the Orthodoxy of his belief. During the Divine Liturgy, after the Trisagion the bishop-elect kneels before the Holy Table, touching his forehead to it while the Gospel Book is opened and laid, with the writing down, upon his neck. All of the consecrating bishops place their hands on the Gospel and say the Prayer of Consecration, during which the Holy Spirit descends upon the new bishop and imparts the grace of the episcopate upon him. The bishop is then clothed in the vestments of a bishop and presented to the people. The ancient participation of the laity in the consecration of bishops is retained in their triple acclamation of Axios ("He is worthy") at the time the omophorion is placed on the new bishop's shoulders.

According to the Canon I of the Apostolic Canons, the consecration of a bishop must be accomplished by three or more bishops. Under unusual circumstances a consecration may be conducted by two, and occasionally by one bishop as a serious exception (though this last is usually considered uncanonical).

See also