by Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos
1. Sacred (ordained) Priesthood
My book Orthodox Psychotherapy emphasizes the great value of the Mystery of the Priesthood. Priesthood is highly prized. It is described in the writings of the holy Fathers of the Church, particularly in the teaching of St John Chrysostom, who has been rightly called an expert on the priesthood. As well as observing and analyzing the value of the priesthood, however, we need to discuss the basic requirements that anyone receiving this great gift must meet.
Spiritual priesthood is a royal gift of grace and activates the grace of holy Baptism. It is the basis and essential prerequisite for priesthood (Bishop, Presbyter, Deacon). The tradition of the Church regarded the three degrees of priesthood as corresponding to the three stages of the spiritual life: purification (Deacon), illumination (Presbyter) and theosis (Bishop). This is analyzed in detail in Orthodox Psychotherapy.
It is impossible to overlook the great dignity of the (ordained) priesthood. However, according to the teaching of St John Chrysostom, many ordinations
“do not proceed from the grace of God, but are due to human ambition.”
That is to say, many candidates put themselves forward, rather than being called by God or at least by the people. St Symeon the New Theologian describes as “self-ordained” those Clergy who draw near and take the grace of priesthood without first having been purified and healed. He is not referring here to those who simply pretend to be Priests, but to those who have received the Mystery of Priesthood in spite of being impure. He is speaking about Priests who do not exercise this ministry in response to a divine calling, but are motivated by passions of vainglory and pride.
“They set themselves up as fathers and teachers and become self-ordained apostles, without having received the grace of the Holy Spirit as they did, or being illuminated by the light of knowledge.”
This teaching is linked with the teaching of St John Chrysostom, who writes,
“God does not ordain all, but He acts through all.”
The noble work of Priests is not to be underrated, but it should be emphasized, as St Symeon the New Theologian says, that there are two kinds of “laying on of hands”. One is on the human level; it comes “from men”. The other is divine and is the work of the Holy Spirit. Writing about his spiritual father, St Symeon the Pious, St Symeon the New Theologian says,
“I was a disciple of such a father who had not been ordained by men, but who by the hand of God, by the Holy Spirit, enlisted me as a disciple and ordered me to accept ordination from men according to the prescribed form — I who for a long time had been moved by the Holy Spirit to long for this.”
“became a partaker of His [Christ’s] grace and His gifts, and received from Him the power to bind and loose sins, inspired by the Holy Spirit.”
This passage makes clear two points. The first is that there are two kinds of “laying on of hands” and the second is that St Symeon the Pious himself did not undervalue the Mystery of Ordination. That is why, at the prompting of the Holy Spirit, he urged his spiritual child to accept the Mystery of Ordination.