Patheos Watermark

You are running a very outdated version of Internet Explorer. Patheos and most other websites will not display properly on this version. To better enjoy Patheos and your overall web experience, consider upgrading to the current version of Internet Explorer. Find more information HERE.

Religion Library: Eastern Orthodoxy


Written by: Beth Davies-Stofka

Priests are divided into two groups, married clergy and monastic clergy. A priest may be married as long as the marriage is the first for both himself and his wife. If the priest outlives his wife, he is not allowed to remarry. Monastic clergy, or celibate priest-monks, are called hieromonks, and senior hieromonks are called archimandrites. Bishops must be single or widowed, and are often drawn from the ranks of hieromonks. Deacons assist priests or bishops in the administration of the sacraments, but are not allowed to administer the sacraments on their own. Among the orders of deacons are the deacon-monks, or hierodeacons. Abbots, the heads of male monastic communities, and abbesses, the heads of female monastic communities, are not always clergy. It is possible for an abbot to be a presbyter, and for an abbess to first be a deaconess.

There are ways to serve in the church without being ordained, for example by acting as readers during the Divine Liturgy, or on rare occasion as cantors, those who sing liturgical responses. These offices are not occupied by clergy, but are referred to as the minor orders. Ordination is not required to join one of the minor orders, but there is a ceremony of commitment called the tonsure. Traditionally, this commitment was signified by a shaved head, but beginning in about the 16th century, only a small part of the crown of the head was shaved. Now the act is more symbolic, where only a small bit of hair is cut, and is burned in the censer, the container in which incense is burned.

Almost all clergy of the major orders are male. There is a role for deaconesses in several of the autocephalous churches, but the deaconess is not a female deacon, meaning that her official role is different than that of the male deacon. While a great deal of research remains to be done on the role of the deaconess in the early church, it appears that one of her important roles was to assist the priest in administering sacraments such as baptism or the anointing of the sick.

The general duties of Eastern Orthodox clergy include administering the sacraments, teaching, and otherwise helping to spread the doctrines and practices of the Orthodoxy, and to help faithful Christians to consecrate the important passages in their lives, such as birth, marriage, sickness, and death. Clergy are found both in churches and without, as they can also serve in the military, seminaries, hospitals, nursing homes, and other places where they might be needed.

Study Questions:
1.     How did early Roman politics influence the hierarchy of the church’s leadership?
2.     What is meant by the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople?
3.     How are priests organized? Describe each of the groups.
4.     Is leadership limited to the ordained? Explain.


Recommended Products