August 30, 2023

Homilies on the Commonwealth of the Church - The Presbyter (Metr. Hierotheos of Nafpaktos)

 The Commonwealth of the Church

The Presbyter

By Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou

In each Metropolis there is a Metropolitan and many Presbyters, who are the Clergy/Priests, who have been ordained and placed in each Parish of the Metropolis by the Metropolitan, to shepherd the Christians, with his command and guidance.

The term "presbyter" perhaps comes from the presbyters of the Jews, as the leaders of the Jewish people were called and we see it in the sacred Gospels. Christ Himself foretold His death and Resurrection to His Disciples, that He would "go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the presbyters and chief priests and scribes" (Matt. 16:21), and elsewhere it is written that "the chief priests and the presbyters of the people came to Him" (Matt. 21:23).

Because Christianity appeared in Palestine, at first among Jews, that is why this name was adopted to denote those Clergy who were ordained by the Apostles to shepherd a smaller flock.

Of course, the word "presbyteros" is Greek, which denotes a person of older biological age, who should be respected, and by extension this word characterizes the Priest, that is, the second degree of the Priesthood, who is ordained by the Bishop, who is the third degree of Priesthood.

In the New Testament, there does not seem to be a clear distinction between Presbyters and Bishops, since the terms are used interchangeably, that is, Bishops are also called Presbyters and Presbyters are characterized as Bishops. This distinction came after the holy Apostles lived, who ordained Bishops, Presbyters and Deacons.

It seems that from the early Church there was a distinction between Bishops and Presbyters, but the confusion was with the terms. However, when the Apostles disappeared, then, especially in the Apostolic Fathers and especially in Saint Ignatius the God-bearer, a clear distinction is made between the three ranks of the Priesthood, that is, the Bishop, the Presbyter and the Deacon.

The Presbyter is also called a Priest. The word "Priest" comes from the sacrifices, he is the one who performs the sacrifice, who sacrifices, and by extension the Bishop is also characterized as Hierarch, because he is the head of the Priest and the Priests. Moreover, the Presbyter is also called Cleric, like all the ranks of the Priesthood, because they are the Lot of God (Κλῆρο τοῦ Θεοῦ).

Each Metropolis for its good operation and pastoral ministry is divided into several Parishes, in which one or several Priests are placed, according to the number of Christians who make up the Parish. At the same time, the Chancellor and the Preachers are also Presbyters/Priests, to whom the Metropolitan assigns corresponding responsibilities, either administrative or preaching.

In order to become a Presbyter, one must possess the appropriate canonical qualifications, which are evaluated by the Metropolitan. Thus, the Metropolitan, as Saint Epiphanios the Bishop of Cyprus writes, with the Mystery of ordination gives birth to fathers in the Church, while the Presbyters cannot ordain, therefore with the Holy Baptism they perform they give birth to children in the Church and not fathers.

After the election of a Christian by the Metropolitan, his ordination as a Presbyter takes place. This is not an appointment, but a sacramental act. In fact, during the central moment of the Mystery, the Metropolitan says aloud: "The divine grace, which always heals that which is infirm and completes that which is lacking, ordains the most devout Deacon (name) to be a Presbyter. Let us therefore pray for him, that the Grace of the Holy Spirit may come upon him."

Here, we are talking about divine Grace, which ordains a Deacon to be a Presbyter, and which heals the infirm and makes up for what is lacking. No one is perfect to undertake this work, therefore God is asked to send His Grace, to empower him in this multi-responsible work.

Because the Parish is the smallest cell of ecclesiastical life, it is the place where every Christian is baptized and enters ecclesiastical life, that is why we all got to know the Church first in our Parish. We entered it on the fortieth day after our birth, with the sacred Service of the Sarantismos; in it we were baptized and chrismated; in it we were ministered from our young years, and we received communion of the Body and Blood of Christ; we even confess in it when we sin. From there a family begins with the Mystery of Marriage and there also the funeral service of Christians takes place, when the soul is separated from the body.

This means that the Presbyter/Priest has a great spiritual responsibility, he is the spiritual father of the Christians of the specific Parish and consequently he has an important liturgical, spiritual and administrative task to accomplish.

Certainly, no work is autonomous in the Church, no one is autonomous within the synodical and hierarchical commonwealth of the Church. The Presbyter has a spiritual superior, the Metropolitan, whom he calls father, is ordained by him, refers to him and works in the specific Parish based on his orders and the decisions of the Sacred Synod.

This is clearly seen in the way in which he liturgizes and performs the Mysteries of the Church. Always, in all services he mentions his name, and especially in the Divine Liturgy: "First of all, Lord, remember our Archbishop (he mentions the name) who you granted your holy churches, in peace, safety, honor, and health, unto length of days, rightly dividing the word of Your truth." When a Divine Liturgy is performed without mentioning the name of the Bishop, then the Divine Liturgy suffers in its canonicity.

If a Presbyter has been deposed from the Church and continues to officiate or perform various Mysteries, all these are invalid, even if he mentions the Metropolitan's name uncanonically.

The Presbyter obeys his Metropolitan and the Metropolitan obeys the Sacred Synod and in this way there is unity in the Church and God is glorified.

It is a great honor to be a "Priest of the Most High God", to be a Presbyter and to be a spiritual father of the Christians of the Parish he presides over. Along with honor comes great responsibility, because he will give an account of his actions to God. That is why he must perform this work with faith, purity of life, prayer, selfless love and obedience to his Metropolitan and the tradition of the Church.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

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