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The Clergy and the Laity

The Orthodox Church consists of both clergy and laity. The ranks of the clergy are: bishop, priest and deacon. The clergy may be married or celibate, except in the case of the bishop who according to a long standing practice has been celibate. The deacons and priests must be married before ordination, and, once married cannot remarry.

The bishop is the head of the local Church. He is elevated to the episcopacy from the ranks of the celibate clergy. Each bishop can trace his ordination back to one of the original apostles! As head of the local Church he can perform all the sacraments of Church including the ordination of other bishops, priests and the consecration of churches. In the Orthodox Church, all bishops are equal. Special titles are given to bishops depending on the geographic size, population or historic prominence of their diocese. Thus we have titles such as: Metropolitan, Archbishop or Patriarch.

Candidates to the priesthood are ordained by at least one bishop. They are given the grace to perform all the sacraments except those performed by bishops alone. The priest represents the bishop at the parish level; and, like the bishop, can trace his ordination back to the Apostles.

Deacons cannot perform the sacraments, but can administer them. For example, once the priest or bishop consecrates the bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus Christ, the deacon can administer the sacrament to the faithful at the Divine Liturgy or, in case of the sick and elderly, to homes and hospitals.

The clergy are the sacred priesthood, where the laity are called the royal priesthood. One is not greater than the other but equal and distinct. Each play a very important role in the liturgical and administrative life of the Church. The clergy cannot conduct formal worship services without the participation of the laity; nor can the laity perform the same services without the clergy to lead them in prayer. The laity are called upon to live by the same Christian moral standards as the clergy. Both are expected to participate in all the worship services and keep the various days and seasons of fasting and feasting.

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