From OrthodoxWiki
Revision as of 04:01, August 6, 2005 by MariaCrabtree (talk | contribs) (Women's ordination)
Jump to: navigation, search
This article forms part of the series
Orthodox Spirituality
Holy Mysteries
Baptism - Chrismation
Confession - Eucharist
Marriage - Ordination
Holy Unction
Three Stages
Nepsis - Metanoia
Hesychia - Phronema
Mysticism - Nous
Chastity - Obedience
Stability - Fasting
Poverty - Monasticism
Humility - Generosity
Chastity - Meekness
Temperance - Contentment
Worship - Veneration
Prayer Rule - Jesus Prayer
Relics - Sign of the Cross
Church Fathers
Apostolic Fathers
Desert Fathers
The Philokalia
The Ladder of Divine Ascent
Edit this box

Ordination is the sacrament (or Holy Mystery) of holy orders. The Greek word used for ordination is cheirotonia, which means "the laying on of hands." Members of the major orders of the clergybishop, 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.

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).

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)

Minor orders



In preparation for the tonsuring, the candidate shall have a cassock by the day of the tonsuring. On the eve of his tonsuring, 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 the tonsuring. Married candidates shall refrain from marital relations during this time. He shall have his confession heard either after Vespers or during Matins on the day of the tonsuring.

On the day of the tonsuring, following the Great Doxology, but before the Troparion before the Divine Liturgy before the Divine Liturgy, the candidate is led by the Bishop’s Assistant to the center of the solea in front of the Bishop. He makes three (3) prostrations toward the Holy Altar. Then, he turns and makes one (1) prostration toward the Bishop and stops on his knees. The Bishop lays his hand on the candidate head.


Subdeacons are ordained during the Divine Liturgy immediately before "Blessed is the Kingdom", once the Great Censing has been completed. According to the canons, no one should marry after becoming a subdeacon, but the practice has almost universally changed to allow subdeacons to marry after being made subdeacons.

Major orders



During the service of ordination to the priesthood, a priest leads the candidate, 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 its consent 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.

Women's ordination

Advocates for changing this position argue that the essential icon image of Christ is his humanness, not his maleness. God became humna to show that both men and women could be saved and return to the divine image within them. Challengers also point out that Christ did not ordain his apostles. This was done at Pentecost by the Holy Spirit. Women were present at the time, and the Holy Spirit continues to descend on male and females alike. The Orthodox Church recognizes a number of women saints as apostles, including the "apostle of apostles," Mary Magdalene.

The role of women has been limited in other ways also. Despite extensive participation by women in the first century as deacons, apostles, evangelists, and teachers, in the second century the church offically adopted policies that forbade women from preaching and teaching. However, they served as deaconesses from the first to the twelfth century, reading prayers for the sick. The Orthodox service book still contains the service for ordination of women to the diaconate.


  • Blackwell Dictionary of Eastern Christianity (DEC), p. 117
  • Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (ODCC), 3rd ed., pp. 1188-89

External Links