Some days ago I watched some video containing a debate concerning priesthood. Tell me please, was there any sacramental priesthood in the early centuries and where is the practice of ordination taken from (they say that only they have the right to lead church services, to preach, etc.). What is the meaning of these things?
I would like to watch the debates on the priesthood to which you made reference. If, somehow there is a video on the Internet, please send me the link so I can watch it. To give an answer, we must first define …
What is sacramental priesthood?
This is not a biblical term, but is often used by Orthodox and Catholic Churches and therefore, we must see at the definitions that these churches give us. Sacrament is the name given to each of the seven sacraments in the Catholic Church. When the Orthodox Church uses this term regarding priesthood, it refers to the sacrament of the priesthood, as one of the seven sacraments of the Orthodox Church. Father Ioanichie Balan, giving an interview, gave the following definition:
Sacramental or sanctifying priesthood is one of the seven sacraments of the Church and the most important, because it fulfills them all, and without it no Sacrament is available. As it was mentioned, this priesthood is established by the Savior Christ, the heavenly High Priest, on the day of His resurrection, through the breath of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles, when He gave them power to forgive sins.
The Religion textbook of the IVth grade gives the following definition:
Priesthood is the Holy Sacrament through which, those called by God, who are prepared to serve His Church through the laying of the hands of the high priest, receive the power to teach, to sanctify the believers by committing the Sacraments and to lead to salvation. (Orthodox Christian education, textbooks for grade IV, page 43)
Based on these two definitions we can point out some important things believed and taught in the Orthodox Church on the sacramental priesthood:
- It is one of the Seven Sacraments of the Church
- Only those who are ordained in this priesthood can officiate the Sacraments and if one of the sacraments is made (marriage, baptism, Eucharist, etc.) by someone who was not ordained in sacramental priesthood, that sacrament is not valid.
- Those who are consecrated to sacramental priesthood have power to forgive people’s sins.
- This priesthood is transmitted only by laying of the hands of the high priest.
The confusion created by the doctrine of “sacramental priesthood”
Before I go on addressing the question, I want to share about the funeral of a man who was baptized in the Orthodox Church as a child, but despised the Church, always mocked the Word of God and the believers, and did many other things who are not met even among the unbelievers, and on the day of his death (he did not know he would die then) in the morning he cursed God. When the funeral day came, I was deeply saddened to see how the priest started to sing that God forgave the sins of that man and he would enter the Kingdom of God. Here is a sequence of the funeral service held in the Church.
What was it that gave the priest and singers the boldness to say such words? Maybe the belief that he was a sacramental priest and had power to forgive anyone’s sins. Far from Apostle Paul to have written or have taught that to people. Here’s what he said to those who professed that they were Christians and lived in sin:
Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-10)(NASB)
But exactly this doctrine about “sacramental priesthood” that “empowers the priest to forgive sins” makes nominal Christians (most of them baptized while infants, but who know nothing or have no interest in the teaching of Jesus) to live in sin all their life and be convinced that if they confess to the priest and he holds service when they die, they will enter the kingdom of heaven. Este mare, foarte mare înşelăciune. It’s great, great deception.
What does the New Testament say about sacramental priesthood?
Nothing. Church leaders and ministers have not held the title of priest, as something distinctive from the rest of the believers. All believers are called priests, but the ordained ministers are never called this way. They are called apostles, bishops, elders, deacons (or deaconesses) but there is not the term of a priest. I’m sad to see how some replace Greek terms πρεσβυτέρους (elder) and ἐπίσκοπος (supervisor) with priest, which is ἱερεύς the Greek.
Here’s an example. The Orthodox Bible intentionally gives the translation into Romanian of the word πρεσβυτέρους as “priest”:
Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the priests (the original says πρεσβυτέρους not ἱερεύς) of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. (James 5:14)
Here it is the original Greek text of the New Testament:
ἀσθενεῖ τις ἐν ὑμῖν; προσκαλεσάσθω τοὺς πρεσβυτέρους τῆς ἐκκλησίας, καὶ προσευξάσθωσαν ἐπ ‘αὐτὸν ἀλείψαντες [αὐτὸν] ἐλαίῳ ἐν τῷ ὀνόματι τοῦ κυρίου: (James 5:14)
What other reason would the translators of the Orthodox Church Bible have had to translate the word πρεσβυτέρους as “priest” (ἱερεύς), than the one to justify the teaching of the sacramental priesthood?
I invite you to come back tomorrow on the site to read the article where I will present what the Bible says about ordination.
Translated by Felicia Rotaru