In a general sense, the term Holy Orders refers to those in the Christian religion who have been ordained in Apostolic Succession. As a more theologically technical term in the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Anglican, Old Catholic, Independent Catholic and Assyrian churches, it is a Sacrament or Holy Mystery in which the candidate is ordained as a bishop, priest or deacon.
Historically, the word "order" (Latin ordo) designated an established civil body or corporation with a hierarchy, and ordinatio meant legal incorporation into an ordo. The word "holy" refers to the Church. In context, therefore, a holy order is simply a group with a hierarchy that is set apart for ministry in the Church.
Other offices such as Pope, Cardinal, Monsignor, Archbishop, Archimandrite, Archpriest, Protopresbyter, Hieromonk, Protodeacon, Archdeacon, etc., are not sacramental orders. These are simply offices and titles and thus, though they are usually imparted with a blessing of some sort, their reception is not an instance of the sacrament of holy orders.
The purpose of the Sacrament is to constitute a person as a minister within the Church.
Deacons are ministers of service, delegated to act in the name of the Church and therefore are able to witness marriages (the Sacrament of Matrimony is actually conferred by the couple on each other, with the deacon as witness), to baptize solemnly (any human being may baptize in an emergency but a deacon may do so on ordinary occasions with full ceremony), and to preach.
Bishops receive the "Spirit of governance" and are the successors of the Apostles, as a group (that is, the "college" or body of bishops is the successor body to the college of apostles; in Roman Catholic theology, there is a belief that the apostle Peter had a role of leadership in the college of apostles, which the pope retains today among the bishops; this is often accepted by the Orthodox churches, but with significant modifications). Bishops, since they have the "fullness of orders," may confer all seven of the sacraments and are empowered to lead the Church in terms of sound doctrine and pastroal administration. Bishops are governors of the church to the point where a bishop in the Catholic Church, even if not given authority over a functional diocese, will be given a "titular" diocese (a diocese that no longer exists on earth) as a sign of the leadership with which all bishops are charged.
Priests, as cooperators of the bishops in their sacramental ministry, may confect all of the sacraments except Holy Orders, the sacrament of governance, itself.
Until 1972 the Catholic Church also had four minor orders leading up to the major order of subdeacon, which were conferred on seminarians pro forma before they became deacons. The minor orders and the subdiaconate were not considered sacraments and, for simplicity, were suppressed under Pope Paul VI as part of the implementation of the Second Vatican Council. They were, however, retained by the Eastern Catholic Churches and by Traditionalist Catholics, including papally-approved Indult priestly associations. Only the sacramental orders (deacon, priest, bishop) were retained in the Latin Rite, but seminarians are "instituted" in "ministries" called acolyte and reader or lector, which replace the former "minor orders."
The Eastern Orthodox Church considers Ordination to be a Sacred Mystery (what in the West is called a sacrament). This Mystery is limited in that it may only be conferred by a bishop, and not by a priest (all of the other Mysteries may be performed by a priest). Certain archimandrites may be given permission to bestow minor orders, but only a bishop may ordain a priest, deacon or, normally together with at least one or two other bishops, another bishop.
It was the mission of the Apostles to go forth into all the world and preach the Gospel, baptizing those who believed in the name of the Holy Trinity (). In the Early Church those who presided over congregations were referred to variously as episcopos (bishop) or presbyteros (priest). These successors of the Apostles were ordained to their office by the laying on of hands, and according to Orthodox theology formed a living, organic link with the Apostles, and through them with Jesus Christ himself. This link is believed to continue in unbroken succession to this day. Over time, the ministry of bishops (who hold the fullness of the priesthood) and presbyters or priests (who hold a portion of the priesthood as bestowed by their bishop) came to be distinguished. In Orthodox termology, the terms priesthood and sacerdotal refer to the ministry of bishops and priests. All of the ordination ceremonies take place during the Divine Liturgy.
A bishop is the Teacher of the Faith, the carrier of Sacred Tradition, and the living Vessel of Grace through whom the energeia (divine grace) of the Holy Spirit flows into the rest of the church. A bishop is consecrated through the laying on of hands by other bishops, normally at least two or three, but in emergency situations, such as times of persecution, a single bishop may ordain another. His consecration takes place before the Little Entrance of the Liturgy. A Gospel Book is laid over the head of the one being ordained, and the consecrating bishops lay their hands upon the Gospel Book, while the prayer of ordination is read, after this, he ascends the synthranon (bishop's throne in the sanctuary) for the first time.
A priest may serve only at the pleasure of his bishop. A bishop bestows faculties (permission to minister within his diocese) by giving a priest chrism and an antimension; he may withdraw faculties by demanding the return of these items. The ordination of a priest takes place at the Great Entrance of the Liturgy. He is taken three times around the Holy Table (altar) and then kneels on both knees, resting his forehead upon the Holy Table. The ordaining bishop then places his omophorion over the ordinand's head and reads the prayer of ordination. He will then be vested as a priest. Later, after the Epiklesis of the Liturgy, the bishop hands him a portion of the Lamb (Host) and says the words:
Receive thou this pledge, and preserve it whole and unharmed until thy last breath, because thou shalt be held to an accounting therefor in the second and terrible Coming of our great Lord, God, and Saviour, Jesus Christ..
A deacon is ordained after the epiklesis. He is taken three times around the Holy Table and then kneels on one knee, resting his forehead on the Holy Table. The ordaining bishop then places his omophorion over the ordinand's head and reads the prayer of ordination. He will then be vested as a deacon and given an hexateryga (liturgical fan). An Orthodox deacon is not permitted to perform weddings or baptisms (except, in the case of baptism in extremis, under which circumstances any Orthodox layman may do the same). An Orthodox deacon will not normally preach, unless he has the bishop's explicit permission to do so.
The Orthodox Church has two minor orders, those of reader and subdeacon. Altar servers are normally not invested with a special service, though the rank of "taper-bearer" has been incorporated into the rite of blessing for readers. Candidates for ordination receive the clerical tonsure prior to being ordained by the laying on of hands to these minor orders. There is a distinction between the laying on of hands for minor orders (chirothesis) and that for major orders (chirotony). Those in these lesser orders are not considered clergy in the same sense as those in major orders.
The sequence in which holy orders are received are: minor orders, deacon, priest, bishop.
For Catholics, it is typically in the last year of seminary training that a man will be ordained to the diaconate, called by Catholics in recent times the "transitional diaconate". This is to distinguish men bound for priesthood from those who have entered the "permanent diaconate" and do not intend to seek further ordination. Deacons, whether transitional or permanent, are licensed to preach sermons (under certain circumstances a permanent deacon may not receive faculties to preach), to perform baptisms, and to witness Catholic marriages, but to perform no other sacraments. They assist at the Eucharist or the Mass, but are not able to consecrate the bread and wine. Normally, after six months or more as a transitional deacon a man will be ordained to the priesthood. Priests are able to preach, perform baptisms, confirm, witness marriages, hear confessions and give absolutions, anoint the sick, and celebrate the Eucharist or the Mass.
Orthodox seminarians are typically tonsured as readers before entering seminary, and may later be made subdeacons or deacons; customs vary between seminaries and between Orthodox jurisdictions. Some deacons remain permanently in the diaconate, many go on to be ordained priests. Orthodoxy has two types of clergy: married (known as "white clergy") and monastic (known as "black clergy"). Monastic deacons are called hierodeacons, monastic priests are called hieromonks. Orthodox clergy must either marry or be tonsured as monks prior to ordination to the diaconate (according to some jurisdictions, before the subdiaconate), though some bishops may make economia (dispensation) to allow a candidate to marry after his ordination to the diaconate. But once a man has been ordained a priest he may not marry. If his wife dies, he may not remarry, and must remain celibate. Often, widowed priests will take monastic vows. Orthodox bishops are taken from among the monks.
For Anglicans, a person is ordained a deacon once they have completed their training at a theological college. They then typically serve as a curate and may be ordained as a priest, at the discretion of the bishop, following a period of time. Other deacons may choose to remain in this order. Anglican deacons can preach sermons, perform baptisms and conduct funerals, but, unlike priests, cannot conduct marriages or celebrate the Eucharist. In most branches of the Anglican church, women can be ordained as priests, and in some, can be ordained a bishop.
Bishops are chosen from among the priests in churches that adhere to Catholic usage. In the Roman Catholic church, bishops, like priests, are celibate and thus unmarried; further, a bishop is said to possess the fullness of the sacrament of Holy Orders, empowering him to ordain deacons, priests, and- with papal consent-other bishops. If a bishop, especially one acting as an ordinary- a head of a diocese or archdiocese- is to be ordained, three bishops must usually co-consecrate him with one bishop, usually an archbishop or the bishop of the place, being the chief consecrating prelate.
Among Eastern Rite Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches, which permit married priests, bishops must either be unmarried or agree to abstain from contact with their wives. It is a common misconception that all such bishops come from religious orders; while this is generally true, it is not an absolute rule. In the case of both Catholics- (Western and) Eastern Catholic, Oriental Orthodox and Eastern Orthodox, they are usually leaders of territorial units called dioceses (or its equivalent in the east, an eparchy). Only bishops can validly administer the sacrament of holy orders.
Anglican churches, unlike Protestant churches, claim to maintain apostolic succession. The succession of Anglican bishops is however, not universally recognized. The Roman Catholic Church judged Anglican orders invalid when Pope Leo XIII in 1896, wrote in Apostolicae Curae that Anglican orders lack validity because the rite by which priests were ordained was not correctly performed from 1547 to 1553 and from 1558 to the time of Archbishop William Laud, thus causing a break of continuity in apostolic succession. Eastern Orthodox bishops have, on occasion, granted "economy" when Anglican priests convert to Orthodoxy. Changes in the Anglican Ordinal since King Edward VI, and a fuller appreciation of the pre-Reformation ordinals suggest that the correctness of the enduring dismissal of Anglican Orders may be questioned. In order to reduce doubt concerning Anglican apostolic succession, since the 1930 Bonn agreement many Anglican bishops have been consecrated by bishops of the Old Catholic Church whose holy orders are recognised by the Holy See.
Neither Roman Catholics nor Anglicans recognize the validity of ordinations of ministers in Protestant churches that do not maintain the apostolic succession. Rome also does not recognize the apostolic succession of (high church) Lutheran Protestant denominations.
Anglicans accept the ordinations of those denominations in full communion with the Anglican Communion such as some Lutheran denominations. They may preside at services requiring a priest if one is not available.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) accepts the legal authority of clergy to perform marriages but does not recognize any other sacraments performed by ministers not ordained to the Latter-day Saint priesthood. Although the Latter-day Saints, who developed from private revelations and Protestantism, do claim a doctrine of a certain spiritual apostolic succession, it is significantly different from that claimed by Catholics and is not recognized by the Holy See.
Married men may be ordained to the diaconate as Permanent Deacons, but in the Latin Rite of the Roman Catholic Church generally may not be ordained to the priesthood. In the Eastern Catholic Churches and in the Eastern Orthodox Church married deacons may be ordained priests, but may not become bishops. Bishops in the Eastern Rites and the Eastern Orthodox churches are almost always drawn from among monks, who have taken a vow of celibacy. They may be widowers, though; it is not required of them never to have been married.
In some cases widowed permanent deacons have been ordained to the priesthood. There have been some situations in which men previously married and ordained to the priesthood in an Anglican church or in a Lutheran Protestant church have been ordained to the Catholic priesthood — never sub conditione (conditionally), as there is no recognised true priesthood in the Protestant denominations — and allowed to function much as an Eastern Rite priest but in a Latin Rite setting; however, this may only happen with the approval of the priest's Bishop and a special permission by the Pope.
Anglican clergy may be married and may marry after ordination.
Ordination ritual and procedures vary by denomination. Different churches and denominations specify more or less rigorous requirements for entering into office, and while the process of ordination is likewise given more or less ceremonial pomp depending on the group. Many Protestants still communicate authority and ordain to office by having the existing overseers physically lay hands on the candidates for office over them.
In the United Methodist Church, for instance, seminary graduates are examined and approved by the Conference Board of Ordained Ministry and then the Clergy Session, at which time they are accepted as "probationary members of the conference" and then commissioned by the resident Bishop to full time ministry. This is referred to as receiving "deacon's orders", and probationary ministers hold the title of deacon. (Before 1996, the graduate was ordained as a transitional deacon at this point, a provisional role which has since been done away with; the order of deacon is now a separate and distinct clergy office in the United Methodist Church.) After serving the probationary period consisting of a minimum of two years, the probationer is then examined again and either continued on probation, discontinued altogether, or approved for ordination. Upon final approval by the Clergy Session of the Conference, the probationer becomes a full member of the Conference and is then ordained as an elder or deacon by the resident Bishop. This commonly known as receiving "elder's orders;" and probationer is known as an elder minister.
At the present time, the British Methodist Conference does not have bishops but just the two distinct orders of presbyter and deacon.
Elders are usually chosen at their local level, either elected by the congregation and approved by the Session, or appointed directly by the Session. Some churches place limits on the term that the elders serve, while others ordain elders for life.
Presbyterians also ordain (by laying on of hands) ministers of Word and Sacrament (sometimes known as 'teaching elders'). These ministers are regarded simply as Presbyters ordained to a different function, but in practice provide the leadership for local Session.
Some Presbyterians identify those appointed (by the laying on of hands) to serve in practical ways (Acts 6.1-7) as deacons (diakonos in Greek, meaning "servant"). In many congregations, a group of men or women is thus set aside to deal with matters such as congregational fabric and finance, releasing elders for more 'spiritual' work. These persons may be known as 'deacons', 'board members' or 'managers', depending on the local tradition. Unlike elders and minister, they are not usually 'ordained', and are often elected by the congregation for a set period of time.
Other Presbyterians have used an 'order of deacons' as full-time servants of the wider Church - but who, unlike ministers, do not administer sacraments or routinely preach. The Church of Scotland has recently begun ordaining deacons to this role.
Unlike the Episcopalian schemes, but similar to the United Methodist scheme described above, the two Presbyterian offices are different in kind rather than in degree since one need not be a deacon before becoming an elder. Since there is no hierarchy, the two offices do not make up an "order" in the technical sense, but the terminology of Holy Orders is sometimes still developed.
Community of Christ has a largely volunteer priesthood, and all members of the priesthood are free to marry (as traditionally defined by the Christian community). The priesthood is divided into two orders, the Order of Aaron, and the Order of Melchisedec (commonly known as the Aaronic priesthood or Aaronic Order; and the Melchisedec priesthood or Melchisedec Order). The Aaronic order is the “lesser priesthood” and the Melchisedec order is the “greater priesthood”. The Aaronic order consists of the offices of deacon, teacher and priest. The Melchisedec Order consists of the offices of elder (including the specialized office of seventy) and high priest (including the specialized offices of evangelist, bishop, apostle, & prophet). The Melchisedec priesthood is also commonly termed the “high priesthood”, but as noted, not all members of this priesthood are actually high priests. Paid ministers include “appointees” and the general officers of the church, which include some specialized priesthood offices (such as the office of president, reserved for the three top members of the church leadership team). As of 1984, women have been eligible for priesthood, which is conferred through the sacrament of ordination, by virtue of the laying-on-of-hands. While there is technically no age requirement for any office of priesthood, there is no automatic ordination or progression as in the LDS Church. Young people are occasionally ordained as deacon, and sometimes teacher or priest, but generally most priesthood members are called following completion of post secondary school education. Priesthood offices are not generally termed “orders of priesthood”, but certain offices constitute orders. For example, all bishops belong to the Order of Bishops. All evangelists belong to the Order of Evangelists. Other offices belong to quorums (seventies and high priests) or councils (apostles). The three presidents of the church form the First Presidency, which is sometimes termed council, and other times termed quorum. Deacons, teachers, priests and elders do not belong to permanent bodies, but may organize local quorums for all members of a given office within a particular city or region. In March 2007 a woman was ordained for the first time to the office of president.
Other unaffiliated religious organizations, such as Rose Ministries, feel that everyone has the right to the distinction of being ordained who show a willingness to pursue and share the truth. Their ordination process is one way of accommodating this belief.
Still others, such as Spiritual Humanism, believe that religion must be able to adapt to new knowledge about the universe without rejecting the deep spiritual connections to human history and the natural world that we are a part of, and that all humans have an inalienable right and duty to practice their own religious traditions.
The Roman Catholic Church does not ordain women to any of the orders and has officially declared that it does not have authority to ordain women as priests or bishops. Ordaining women as deacons, however, appears to remain a possibility, but not in any sacramental sense of the diaconate. Many Orthodox, Old Catholic, Anglican and Protestant churches ordain women, but in many cases, only to the office of deacon or deaconess. Whether the Catholic Church historically ordained, or simply "set apart", women as deaconesses is a matter of theological and historical investigation. Various branches of the Orthodox churches, including the Greek Orthodox, currently ordain woman as deaconesses. Some churches are internally divided on whether it is scripturally permissible to ordain women. When one considers the relative size of the churches (1.1 billion Roman Catholics, 300 million Orthodox, 590 million Anglicans and Protestants), it is a minority of Christian churches that ordain women. Protestants constitute about 27 percent of Christians worldwide and most which do ordain women have only done so within the past century.
In some traditions women may theoretically be ordained to the same orders as men. In others women are restricted from certain offices. The Church of England (in the Anglican Communion), for example, does not permit the consecration of women as bishops, though the Episcopal Church USA (the United States denomination that is part of the Anglican Communion) does. Similarly, in some Protestant denominations, women may serve as assistant pastors but not as pastors in charge of congregations. In some denominations women can be ordained to be an elder or deacon. Some denominations allow for the ordination of women for certain religious orders. Within certain traditions, such as the Anglican and Lutheran, there is a diversity of theology and practice regarding ordination of women.
The Roman Catholic Church, in accordance with its understanding of the theological tradition on the issue, and the definitive clarification of the issue found in the encyclical letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis (1994) written by Pope John Paul II in 1994, officially teaches that it has no authority to ordain women as priests and thus there is no possibility of female priests at any time in the future.
Controversy associated with the consecration of Gene Robinson to the order of bishop in the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire, and the planned consecration of Jeffrey John (who was to be ordained Bishop of Reading) in the Church of England, led to the formation of the Eames Commission by the Archbishop of Canterbury, spiritual head of the Anglican Communion. Its findings, published as the Windsor Report, recommended that the consecration of individuals in same-sex relationships as bishops cease, although it conspicuosly avoided discussing gays and lesbians ordered as priests and deacons. In response, the Episcopal Church placed a moratorium on confirming the consecrations of all bishops.
The ordination of gays and lesbians is not a new thing, but their open ordination has come to light. In the past, ordinands who were gay or lesbian did not admit their sexuality, and were ordained. Upon the ordination of Gene Robinson, Episcopal Bishop J. Neil Alexander of the Diocese of Atlanta said he voted for the ordination because Robinson was open about his sexuality and honest, whereas in the past known gay clergy were ordained to the episcopate only because they lied about it.
In many churches this is a very volatile issue, as is the ordination of women in many churches. It is not likely that a resolution will be swift. Within mainline churches the Confessing Movement has been a vehicle for the opposition to the ordination of non-celibate gays and lesbians.
The Roman Catholic Church allows the ordination of men who have, in the past, experienced same sex attraction, but only on the condition that they have lived without engaging in homosexual culture or acts for several years and can be psychologically verfied as having their same-sex attraction under control. Previously ordination of these homosexually inclined males was strictly forbidden, even though this discipline was often not observed by local bishops after the 1960s.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints only ordains men to the priesthood that have covenanted not to have sex with anyone besides their wife. Some gay men have chosen to remain celibate, while others have chosen to get married. However, a man must be married in order to become a bishop, regardless of orientation. Transgendered persons who were born men may only receive the priesthood if they have not had, and are not planning to have an operation.(1999 Church handbook.) Women are not ordained to the priesthood.