BASIC DOGMATIC TEACHING
An Orthodox Handbook
by Protopresbyter Fr. Anthony Alevizopoulos (1931 – 1996)
Dr. of Theology, Dr. of Philosophy
Chapter 16 – The special charisma of Priesthood
1. Special Priesthood in the Old Testament
God had chosen Israel and had separated it from the other nations to be a regal priesthood and a holy nation (Exod.19:5-6, Deut.14:2, 26:19). This however does not mean that there was no appointed hieratic order in God’s people, to whom was assigned a special ministry.
Aaron and his sons belonged to this hieratic order, having been ordained by Moses by the pouring of chrismating oil over their heads, after being washed with water and dressed with hieratic vestments. (Exod.28:1, 37-39, 29:9, 30, 40:11-13; Levit.8:1-13).
We also see in the Old Testament the instituting of the order of Levites, to whom was assigned a special ministry (Num.8:5-26).No-one was allowed to transgress the order that God Himself had placed. On this point we are given a tragic lesson with the punishment of Kore.
From within the Holy Bible we are informed that Kore belonged to the tribe of Levi. However, he did not settle for the immense honour of offering sacred services in the Lord’s tabernacle (Num.8:22); he also sought to misappropriate hieratic authority. He revolted against Moses and against Aaron:
«….because the whole congregation—all are holy, and the Lord is among them…» “Everyone is holy”, Kore declared to Moses and Aaron; and «…why do you rise up against the congregation of the Lord?» “Why are you raising yourself above the people of God?” (Num.16:3) Moses in vain tried to bring Kore to his senses, underlining that God Himself chooses His Priests (Num.16:5-11; cmp.also Levit.8:1 etc.) and that consequently, Kore’s conspiracy was not turned against people but against God Himself:
«And when Moyses heard it, he fell face down, and he spoke to Kore and to all his congregation, saying, “God has enrolled, and He recognized the ones who are His and who are holy, and He brought them to Himself, and those whom He chose for Himself He brought to Himself. This do: Take for yourselves fire-pans, Kore and all his congregation, and put fire on them, and put incense on them before the Lord tomorrow. And it shall be, the man whom the Lord chooses, he shall be holy; let it be sufficient for you, sons of Levi!” And Moyses said to Kore, “Listen to me, sons of Levi! This is not a small thing for you, is it, that the God of Israel has separated you from the congregation of Israel and brought you to himself to minister in the services of the tabernacle of the Lord and to stand before the congregation to serve them? And He brought you forward, and all your brothers, the sons of Levi with you—are you also seeking to serve as priests? Thus are you and all your congregation that has gathered together against God. And as for Aaron—who is he that you are complaining against him?» (Isn’t Aaron the one who was chosen by God?)
The punishment of the mutineers and usurpers of the hieratic authority was an exemplary one:
«Now as he stopped speaking all these words, the earth underneath them was split apart. And the earth was opened and swallowed them down, and their households and all the men who were with Kore and their cattle. And they went down, they and as much as was theirs, alive into Hades, and the earth covered them, and they perished from the midst of the congregation» (Num.16:31-33. cmp. Num.17:16-28; Sirach 45:6-22).
At a later date, King Ozias also attempted to usurp hieratic authority. His punishment was likewise exemplary, as immediately after, leprosy appeared on his forehead and he remained a leper until the day of his death (2 Chron.26:16-21; cmp. 1 Chron. 13:9-10).
2. “You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchisedek.”
The Apostle Paul makes reference to the Psalm excerpt: «The Lord swore and will not change His mind; “you are a priest forever according to the order of Melchisedek”.» “(Psalms 109:4).
He explains that Melchisedek was king of Salem and a “Priest of God Most High” (Gen.14:18). His name meant “king of righteousness and peace”. It was said of him that he is «without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but, made like the Son of God, remains a priest continually» – that is, forever (Hebr.7:3).
The Apostle further underlines that, even though Abraham was a man belonging to the promise of God, it was not he who blessed Melchisedek, but instead, was himself blessed by Melchisedek (Gen.14:19) and had even offered him one-tenth (tithe) of all the spoils of the enemy which he had conquered (Gen.14:20). This signified that Abraham – albeit a patriarch according to the order of Aaron – had recognized the uniqueness of Melchisedek’s Priesthood (Deut.14:22-23). «Now beyond all contradiction the lesser is blessed by the better», as the Apostle mentions (Hebr.7:7).
Therefore just like Melchisedek, likewise Christ was not a priest according to the order of Aaron and was not descended from the tribe of Levi. « For He of whom these things are spoken belongs to another tribe, from which no man has officiated at the altar. For it is evident that our Lord arose from Judah, of which tribe Moses spoke nothing concerning priesthood» (Hebr.7:13-14). As such, He could not therefore be counted among the Priests of the Old Testament; He is a Priest of another, «better», that is, a superior Testament (Hebr.7:22).
«Also there were many priests, because they were prevented by death from continuing. But He, because He continues forever, has an unchangeable priesthood. Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them. For such a High Priest was fitting for us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and has become higher than the heavens; who does not need daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the people’s; for this He did once for all when He offered up Himself. For the law appoints as high priests men who have weakness, but the word of the oath (Psalms 109:4), which came after the law, appoints the Son who is perfected forever.» (Hebr.7:23-28).
He entered «once and for all the Holy of Holies» and «with His own blood» secured «eternal redemption» (Hebr.9:12).
The Apostle delves deeper into the prophetic texts of the Old Testament and refers to the passage of Psalms: «Sacrifice and offering You did not want, but ears You fashioned for me. Whole burnt offering and one for sin You did not request. Then I said, “Look, I have come; in a scroll of a book it is written of me. To do Your will, O my God, I desired.”» (Psalms 39:7-9).
The Apostle says that the Psalmist is referring here to the Body of Christ « …By that will we have been sanctified – through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all» (Hebr.10:5-14).
«Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. […] not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together (=the Divine Liturgy), as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching» (Hebr.10:19-25).
All the above prove that in the New Testament there is one and only High Priest: Christ. He is always present in every Christian congregation (Matth.28:20), even if it is comprised of only two or three persons (Matth.18:20). He is the Shepherd of the one and only Fold (John 10:16); the shepherd and the guardian of our souls (1 Pet.2:25); the «great Shepherd of the sheep» (Hebr.13:20); the «Head Shepherd» (1 Pet.5:4). He is – as we mentioned – the «Great High Priest» (Hebr.4:14), Who «entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption […] offered Himself without spot to God, to cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God» (Hebr.9:12-14. Cmp.Ezek.34:15-24; 37:24).
On this point there are no chasms in the History of the Church. Wherever “two or three” (Matth.18:20) congregate in His Name in a Eucharist congregation, there also is the “Great” and only “Arch-priest”, Christ. The same applies when the Gospel is preached – when the faithful unite in labours of love and they live in a brotherly bond. He is the “offerer and the offering”; He effects “everything, in everyone” (Col.3:11, 1 Cor.12:6)
3. The living bread, Who descended from heaven.
«Then the Lord said to Moyses, “Look, I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out, and they shall collect the day’s portion for a day… » (Exod.16:4). «And you shall strike the rock, and water will come out of it, and the people will drink.» (Exod.17:6; Num.20:7-11).
It is the following two events from the life of the Israelites in the desert that the Apostle Paul is referring to. «…all our fathers […] ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ. » (1 Cor.10:1-5)
It was Christ, therefore, Who was following the people that were travelling to the Promised Land through the desert. He was the One Who provided the Manna that satisfied their hunger and the water that quenched their thirst. The Lord Himself – after His Incarnation – had proclaimed that those events in the Old Testament were a pre-imprint and depiction of the “bread of life” – that is, of the Divine Eucharist.
«Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, Moses did not give you the bread from heaven, but My Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” Then they said to Him, “Lord, give us this bread always.” And Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen Me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day. And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.” The Jews then complained about Him, because He said, “I am the bread which came down from heaven.” And they said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How is it then that He says, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” Jesus therefore answered and said to them, “Do not murmur among yourselves. No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day.It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Therefore everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me. Not that anyone has seen the Father, except He who is from God; He has seen the Father. Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.” The Jews therefore quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can this Man give us His flesh to eat?” Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me. This is the bread which came down from heaven—not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats this bread will live forever.” These things He said in the synagogue as He taught in Capernaum. Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this, said, “This is a hard saying; who can understand it?” When Jesus knew in Himself that His disciples complained about this, He said to them, “Does this offend you? What then if you should see the Son of Man ascend where He was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life. But there are some of you who do not believe.”» (John 6:32-64).
All these testify that Christ – the only High Priest – had provided and continues to provide to the faithful the true bread of life, which is none other than His Body. This is not about a dead Body – that is, dead flesh. The Disciples had not comprehended the words of the Lord correctly. That is why Christ clarified that dead flesh – that is, the flesh which has no spirit in it – does not profit man in any way. But that the bread which Christ provides does have the Spirit inside it, Who rejuvenates and renders Him the source of life eternal. In other words, it is not the Body of the Lord in its dead state; it is His resurrected, deified Body. This is the Body into which the bread offering of the Divine Eucharist is transformed – not into a dead Body, which would not benefit us in anything.
4. Priesthood in the Church
In the New Testament it is said that God’s promise to Abraham «I shall give to your seed this land» (Gen.12:7) is a reference that pertains to Christ (Gal.3:16-17) and to the «sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus» and holy Baptism (Gal.3:26-27; cmp.3:7-9). These are the genuine descendants of Abraham (Gen.21:12; Rom.9:6-8). Amongst this new “God’s people” there are of course no differences; they are all members of the same worth; they are all «one man, in Christ Jesus» (Gal.3:28; 1 Cor.12:13; Col.3:11). However, in this, one body, there is a distinction – in regard to the ministry, the function of each individual within that common body. It is a functional distinction of the charismas, which reinforces even more the unity of the one and only corpus of the Church. This distinction between the ministries but also the unity of the Body of Christ is described by the Apostle Paul:
«There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all» (1 Cor.12:4-7).
We have already mentioned that Christ is “the shepherd of the sheep”. Furthermore, that He is the only “teacher”; in which context, no-one is permitted to be called “Teacher” (Matth.23:8), just as no-one can be called “Father” in the context that we call God our Father (Matth.23:9).
However, among the charismas that God Himself distributes, there is also the charisma of “shepherd” and “teacher” – «for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ”»(Eph.4:11-12; 1 Cor.12:27-29). Those very Apostles themselves characterize themselves as spiritual father to those whom the grace of God rendered them reborn through their preaching (1 Cor.3:15; 2 Cor.6:13 and 12:14; Gal.4:19; Philemon 10; 3 John 4; cmp. also 1 Kings 2:12, 6:21 and 13:14), and they order honour and obedience to spiritual labourers (1 Cor.16:16; Phil.2:29-30; 1 Thess.5:12-13; Hebr.13:17).
We also observe the same thing about the only sacrifice, which the One and Only High Priest had offerred “once only” (Hebr.7:27) for the sake of the people of God. In other words, we can see that the Lord reassured the disciples that the bread and the wine which He had blessed during the Last Supper, were transformed into Body and Blood of His (Matth.26:26-28; Mark 14:22-24; Luke 22:19-20). He further hinged man’s partaking of eternal life to communing the Mystery of consuming His Body and the drinking of His Blood (John 6:48-69). Which is why He gave His disciples the instruction that they too should perform that salvific mystery (Luke 22:19; 1 Cor.11:24-25).
The performing of that sacred mystery of course constitutes a commemoration and a proclamation of the Lord’s unique sacrifice (Luke 22:19; 1 Cor.11:26), however its significance is not limited to the commemoration alone – as certain heretic people assert. During the sacred Mystery, there is an actual transformation of the bread into the Body and the wine into the Blood of the Lord. There was absolutely no doubt about this fact in the minds of the Apostles and in the first Christian Church:
«The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we, though many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread» (1 Cor.10:16-17).
It is for this reason, that the Apostle instructs the Christians of Corinth to regard the Apostles as «servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God» (1 Cor.4:1). But apart from the authority to perform the divine Eucharist, the Lord also gives His disciples the authority to forgive or to bind the sins of the people (Matth.18:18; John 20:21-23) – an authority which according to the perception of the Scribes, only God has. This is a point of view however which we do not have any difficulty in accepting. It was because the Scribes had not believed in the divinity of the Lord that they had maintained that Christ was blaspheming when He assumed such an authority as being His (Matth.9:3; Mark 2:7)
All the aforementioned do not signify that Christ cedes His unique Priesthood to anyone; He remains «a priest forever, according to the order of Melchisedek» (Ps.109:4; Hebr.7:21).
But – just as every Christian through holy Baptism becomes a member of the one and only Body of Christ and just as he partakes of Christ’s holiness and is personally sanctified through his participation in the life of the Body of the Church, likewise, the Priesthood bestowed on people constitutes a partaking in the Priesthood of Christ. This way, the Apostles and their successors become the tangible images of Christ’s presence in the Church, thus securing the unity within the body of Christ. In this sense, Apostolic succession is not a personal authority belonging to those who have been called upon by Christ to become the instruments of His Grace; rather, it is a liturgical (functional) authority, which relates internally to the Church, which is “Christ in His entirety” – i.e., the Head and the Members.
The fact that this authority pertains to the relationship with Christ and with the entirety of the Church is clearly witnessed in the Holy Bible. «Just as the Father sent Me, thus I also send you» (John 20:21), Christ tells His disciples; and then adds that whoever shall accept you and listen to your words, accepts Me and listens to Me (Matth.10:40; cmp.Luke 10:16; John 13:20). The disciples had no doubt that the Lord is «the same God who works all in all» (1 Cor.12:6). «If we confess our sins», says John the Apostle characteristically, «He (Christ) is trustworthy and just, and can forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness» (1 John 1:9; cmp.Prov.28:13). As such, the Apostles did not have any words of their own; they preached the words of Christ. That is, they were “the mouth of Christ” (cmp. Matth.10:40; 28:20) and they pronounce those things that «the Holy Spirit taught them» (1 Cor.2:13; cmp.Acts 15:28). That authority was not their own; it was Christ’s (1 John 1:9), which is why they did everything in the name of Christ (Col.3:17). «…but we have the mind of Christ», the Apostle Paul characteristically says (1 Cor.2:16).
The priesthood, therefore, of the Apostles constituted a partaking in the Priesthood of Christ, and their presence constituted a guarantee of Christ’s presence and the activity of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor.12:3) inside the Church. It was the supreme mystery of this presence.
5. The place of the Bishops in the Church
The place designated by the Holy Bible for the Apostles was assigned to the Bishops in the post-Apostolic era. Clement, Bishop of Rome, wrote towards the end of the first century that the Apostles had proclaimed the “Kingdom of God”, baptized those who had believed in their kerygma, and had moved on to organizing the Churches by installing “Bishops and deacons”. “And this, was not as something new” – he continued – “for many years ago it was written about Bishops and deacons: ‘I will appoint your rulers in peace and your overseers in righteousness‘…”
This passage that Clement invoked is found in the prophet Isaiah. The prophet was speaking about the glory of New Jerusalem – the Church – which was to become «an everlasting gladness, a joy for generations of generations» (Isaiah 60:15) and adds: «…And I will appoint your rulers in peace and your overseers in righteousness. And injustice shall no more be heard in your land, nor destruction or wretchedness within your borders…» (Isaiah 60:17-18).
But this testimony by the first Church is not the only one. A few years later, Saint Ignatius wrote that Bishops stand “in the place of God” and are surrounded by the presbyters/elders, who are referred to as “God’s convention (presbyterium)” and are “in the place of the Apostles’ convention (presbyterium)”. It is for this reason that he urges: «heed the bishop and the presbyters and the deacons… become the emulators of Jesus Christ, just as He heeded His own Father”.
These are proof that in the first Church the authority of the Bishop was the authority of Christ and of the Church, and not a personal authority of the Bishop. Just as the Apostles had “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor.2:16) and the decisions that they took on ecclesiastic matters were not their own but those of the Holy Spirit (Acts 15:28), likewise the Bishops were obliged – as Saint Ignatius underlined – to abide “in the mind of Jesus Christ”; that is, to not impose their own personal views but to always reveal the opinion of Jesus Christ.
«Take care therefore to stand firm in the teaching of the Lord and of the Apostles, so that everything you do will be crowned with success», he said. It was for the same reason that Isaiah had prophesied that the dignitaries of the Church would guide in peace and judge with justice (Isaiah 60:17; cmp. Psalms 81:1-7).
Inside the corpus of the Church the Bishop does not only express the opinion of Christ, but also the presence of the invisible and unique Bishop, Jesus Christ, and is the guarantor of that presence. As such, the Bishop is the guarantor of the Lord’s presence in the mysteries of the Church and the charismatic energy of the Holy Spirit within Her. For this reason it is mentioned in the Orthodox confession of Dositheos that without the office of Bishop, “nothing can be, or be called Church or anyone a Christian, at all”.
That is why Saint Ignatius also says that «wherever the Bishop may appear, let the multitude stand there, just as wherever Christ may be, there the full Church is”. And of course the divine Eucharist is both certain and guaranteed if performed by the Bishop or the one who has been authorized by him – that is, a certain Presbyter, who belongs to the “presbyterium” of the Bishop, which Saint Ignatius refers to as “a worthily-knit spiritual wreath”.
However, no matter what the Bishop’s privileges may be, he is not placed above the Church but rather is among the people of God, who, together with Christ, is the church in Her fullness. As mentioned by a contemporary theologian, the authority of the Bishop is the authority of the Church, and his ministry is a ministry within the Church. The Bishop and the faithful constitute an organic unity which cannot be separated. «Without a Bishop there would be no Orthodox faithful, but also, a Bishop cannot exist without any Orthodox faithful».
«The Bishop is in the Church, and the Church is in the Bishop», says Saint Cyprian and writes to the clergy of his Church that he does not attempt to do anything without their advice, or without the consent of the laity. This is reminiscent of that lovely phrase in Acts, which relates to the first Church, in which the heart and the soul of the faithful was one (Acts 4:32).
According, therefore, to these words by the Fathers of the Church, the Bishop is always understood as being in relation to the Body of the Church and – especially – to Her Head, Christ: «In Jesus Christ’s opinion» (Ignatius; cmp.also 1 Cor.2:16, Acts 15:28). This is the reason that the Bishop is called upon to become a man of love, a servant of everyone, according to the model of Christ (Matth.20:26-28 and 23:11; Mark 9:35 and 10:43-44; Luke 22:27). «If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you», instructed the Lord (John 13:14-15). Thus, during his ministry, the Bishop is required to become a servant. He is required to always take the place of the weak ones, the ones who suffer, and become a father to them. His weapon and his power do not resemble the powers of the rulers of this world. He is called upon to impose himself through love, persuasion and martyrdom.
«Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted (overpowering those allocated) to you,but being examples to the flock; and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away.» (1 Pet.5:2-4; cmp. also Ezek.34:1-31). What is more, during the ordination of Bishop, the one officiating beseeches Christ: «…Thou, o Christ, render this nominee for the stewardship of Hierarchic grace an emulator of You, the true Shepherd, who will deposit his life for the sake of Your sheep – to be a guide to the blind, a light to those in darkness, an educator to orphans, a teacher to infants, a light in the world… for it is You, God, Who shows charity and salvation to us…».
«And you, son of man, I have given you as a sentinel to the house of Israel, and you shall hear a word from my mouth.» And you, son of man, I have installed as a guard over the Israelite people, so that you might hear a word from My own mouth, says God to the prophet Ezekiel (Ezek.33:7).
6. Apostolic succession
If the Bishop constitutes the guarantee of Christ’s presence in the Church, then this would be a permanent institution, not a temporary one, because Christ remains with us, «until the end of the world» (Matth.28:20).
But what is the criterion that secures the continuity of the office of Bishop, so that every kind of adulteration is excluded at this point? Well, it is the so-called “Apostolic succession” – that is, the “descent” of today’s Bishops from the Apostles, on the basis of their ordination (through the laying on of hands). One could say that this is the “skeleton” of the Church’s body, while at its top as the Head is always Christ. This Apostolic succession is the instrument that secures the identity and the unity of the living body of the Church throughout the ages.
Let’s observe this basic matter of Apostolic succession in the New Testament, in order to determine that it is not a later concoction, but is the will of Christ and of His Apostles.
In the New Testament we see the Apostles preaching in various places, baptizing those who believed in their kerygma, and organizing the life of the Churches that they founded. They elected a capable person among the faithful, and installed it as the head of a local Church. Afterwards, they give him the instruction to elect other capable faithful in order to install them in each city, as “presbyters (elders) and deacons”.
It was in this manner that the Apostle Paul for example elected and installed Titus in the Church of Crete, and wrote to him that: «For this reason I left you in Crete, that you should set in order the things that are lacking, and appoint elders in every city as I commanded you» (Titus 1:5). In the same epistle, he spoke of the prerequisites that every Presbyter should have.
It was for the same purpose that Paul also left Timothy in Ephesus and reminded him that he should «stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands» (2 Tim.1:6; cmp. 1 Tim.4:14).
From the above, we notice that the Apostles installed responsible individuals in the local Churches and assigned to them the task of shepherding of the faithful. They had in fact installed them after the “laying on of their hands”, thanks to which, those ordained received the “gift of God”, under the provision that they would likewise impart it to others, in the manner taught to them by the Apostles: «as I commanded you» !! (Titus 1:5)
The fact that ordination was not a simple ritual, but actually had a charismatic-mystical character, is made evident by the Apostle’s exhortation to Timothy: «Do not lay hands on anyone hastily!» (1 Tim.5:22; cmp. Acts 14:23, 20:28).
This, therefore, is Apostolic succession:
The imparting of “the gift of God” by the Apostles to the heads of the Churches and they in turn to others, in an unbroken succession through the ages, to this day.
It is in this manner that the Priesthood of Bishops of the Orthodox Church as well as of the remaining clergy of our day date back to the Apostles, and through them, to Christ Himself.
It is by this means that the identity of the Church is preserved, so that She may also have visible signs that can reassure us of that continuity and not be in danger of becoming misled by the presence of heresies.
With Apostolic succession, the Bishop is a specific person and his veridicality can be corroborated, just as his unity with the Church can be corroborated, throughout the ages.
Consequently, we are able to recognize who the Bishop is – that is, the person who expresses the presence of Christ and the unity of the Church throughout the ages. And since we recognize who the Bishop is, we can also know where the holy mysteries of the Church can be found, and where the true Church is.
Just as Christ had the Apostles together with Him, in like manner the Bishop – that visible representation of Christ – is surrounded by the Presbyters (Elders) and the Deacons. Together with them, all of God’s people are united in one, unbroken unity. All of them together comprise the Church, with Christ as the Head.