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The degrees of holy orders

The Apostles instituted three orders in the priestly hierarchy: the episcopate, the priesthood and the diaconate. In the Sacrament of Holy Orders the sacred ministers receive the grace of the Holy Spirit for the service of the Church, to teach people the Christian faith and piety (a devout way of life), to perform services in church and at home and to direct the life of the Church.

Bishops (hierarchs) receive the highest degree of grace. All bishops are equal in respect of the grace they have received, but they are divided into various ranks according to their administrative responsibilities: bishops, vicar bishops, archbishops, metropolitans and patriarchs. Besides celebrating divine services and preaching the word of God, bishops have the power to ordain priests and deacons; to consecrate chrism, antimensia and churches; and to direct church affairs in the parishes which are subject to them. In modern times it is the practice of the Church to select candidates for the episcopate exclusively from among monks.

Priests, or presbyters, receive the grace to celebrate the services and sacraments of the Church with the blessing of the bishop (although they cannot ordain other priests); they also preach the word of God and administer the affairs of their own parishes. Senior priests are called archpriests. Priests who are also monks are called hieromonks. The more senior hieromonks are called abbots, and the most senior are archimandrites.

Deacon comes from a Greek word meaning "servant." Deacons assist bishops and priests in performing the divine services; they cannot perform such services independently. The participation of a deacon adds beauty to the service, but it is not absolutely necessary, and in many churches services are carried out without the assistance of a deacon. A deacon who is senior in the service of his bishop is called a protodeacon, or, if he is a monk, an archdeacon.

Others who take part in the divine services are the reader, who reads prayers, and the chanter, who not only reads but also sings. Often parishioners who are able to read and sing from the church service books also form part of the choir. The choir and its director contribute to the solemnity of services for the feasts of the Church.

The sacred ministers and the people who pray with them form one spiritual family, a little church. All the members of this Church family ought to have one goal: to save their own souls and to further the salvation of others. Those who regularly pray in a particular church are called its parishioners. They confess their sins and receive the Sacrament of Holy Communion in their parish church; they enter holy Matrimony there; they bring their children there to be baptized and they bring their deceased family members to be buried.

Every Orthodox Christian should be a parishioner of a particular church. He should consider it a holy place and take care of its decoration and maintenance, and should also offer material support to those persons who serve the church.

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