ΟΙΚΟΣ ΤΗΣ ΕΛΛΗΝΙΚΗΣ ΒΙΒΛΟΥ ΘΗΣΑΥΡΟΣ ΤΗΣ ΚΑΙΝΗΣ ΔΙΑΘΗΚΗΣ
Christos Sp. Voulgaris
The Sacrament of Priesthood in Holy Scripture
In recent decades, we witnessed to dynamic pressures on behalf of various feministic organizations in Europe and America, upon different Christian denominations requesting that Sacramental Priesthood be granted also to women. Motivated by purely sociological presuppositions and based on the principle of equality between the sexes, this request found fertile soil among the Protestant denominations and more recently in the Anglican Communion which decided in its favor by a majority vote, thus putting at stake its integrity and unity. Equaly strong pressure is put also upon the Latin Church on behalf of lay people and clergy alike and also by feminine monastic centers. Of special importance in this respect is the open antithesis of “The Catholic Theological Union” of Chicago against the declaration of the relevant Vatican Commission issued on October 15, 1976 and entitled “Declaration on the Question of Admission of women to Ministerial Priesthood” approved by Pope Paul VI.
This phenomenon is not new in the history of the Christian church. As early as the 2nd century and up to the 4th century, various Gnostic sects admitted women into all ranks of Priesthood[i], after the example of pagan religions in which, as is known, female deities were worshipped, as well. The Church’s reaction to this was mainly restricted to reminding of the absence of any indication in Scripture and tradition in favor of admitting women to priesthood and to the fact that our Lord Jesus Christ and his apostles after him elected only men as their successors, although a number of important women and especially Mary the Theotokos were members of the primitive Church[ii].
The Orthodox (Catholic) Church stays outside this turmoil considering the issue to be definitely resolved[iii], although sporadic voices are echoed from time, mainly by women, with no substantial theological argumentation, in favor of it[iv]. Even so, however, the Orthodox Church can not remain indifferent to the ongoing debate. In this respect, the Orthodox Church is forced to re-interpret and confirm its tradition in unbroken continuity with the tradition and practice of the ancient undivided Church considering as its task “to give an account to everyone” (1 Pet. 3, 15) and show “earnestness in realizing the full assurance of hope, until the end” (Heb. 6, 11). To this end, the Ecumenical Patriarhate of Constantinople organized a Panorthodox Consultation in Rhodes in 1988 to discuss the issue under the title “The place of woman in the Orthodox Church and the question of the ordination of women”. The present study was a contribution to that Theological Consultation written with the hope to help those interested in the matter to get a better understanding of it.
II. Priesthood as a Sacrament.
The Orthodox Church counts Priesthood among its seven Sacraments. Not conveying the exact significance and content of the Greek equivalent “Μυστήριον”, the English word “Sacrament” designates generally any religious act or performance with no specific connotation. On the contrary, widely used in Mystery Religions, the Greek term “Μυστήριον” designates specific acts performed in and by the Church itself during which individual believers receive from God in a mystical (mysterious) way the power and ability to experience the Church’s very mystery in the context of divine revelation as God’s agent for the salvation of the “cosmos”, the entire universe. In other words, at the “Mysteries” the partaker does not acquire a knowledge of God and his grace. As such, the importance of these Mysteries does not stem from the external functional and ceremonial form, but from what it provides or mediates to provide, i.e. the supernatural and so the mystical reality offered to the partaker through the Church which performs this act. Thus the individual experiences the divine reality and grace through and within the reality of the Church. Therefore, objectively considered, Church Mysteries are rituals at which the redemptive work of Christ, which took place in history at a specific time in the past, is continued and extended within history until the end of time[v]. Subjectively experienced, however, Church Mysteries offer the remission of sins and renew sinful man within the context of Christ’s new creation (2 Cor. 5,17-Gal. 5,15) and so grant to him the life of Christ’s body “which is the Church” (Col. 1,24. Ephes. 1, 23), or the life of Christ himself (Gal. 2,20).
In considering Church Mysteries, however, we must keep two things in mind. First, that they are rooted in history in a way that they can not be understood apart from Christ’s historic person and redemptive work. In fact, through and in them the performing Church repeats specific historic acts of Christ himself for the saving benefit of its members. Under this spectrum then, the description of these rituals as “Mysteries” has no connection with theoretical mysticism. Instead, they denote the mysterious and hidden divine reality and energy which operates in them. Thus, on account of their being rooted in saving history the individual partaker of the Mysteries comes to communion with specific redemptive events of that past saving history. For example, in the Mystery of Baptism the partaker comes to communion with Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection[vi], and in the Mystery of Unction he partakes of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, thus appropriating to himself the benefits of the historic event of Pentecost, while at the Mystery of the Eucharist the participant comes to communion with the body and blood itself of Christ, in accordance with his instructions to the disciples that, when this Mystery is celebrated his very sacrifice on the cross is repeated in a real though mystical way (Matth. 26,26-28 par. 1 Cor. 10.16. 11,23-36). In the same manner, the participant in the Mystery of Priesthood partakes of Christ’s double role as highpriest and victim which brought about the remission of sins in an objective way (cf. Heb. 2, 14-17. 5,9.9,11 ff.10,5-10 etc.!).
Second, the Church’s Mysteries are not an end in themselves as acts of “theosis”, but a way to it. As such Church Mysteries have no relation with similar rituals performed in Mystery Religions where, it was thought, the participant was absorbed by and identified with the divine. The goal of Church Mysteries is not the participant’s complete absorption and identification with Christ but the participant’s unity with him in the realm of his human nature. This means, furthermore, that Church Mysteries have an ecclesiological connotation for the additional fact that in them the individual is also united through Christ with the other members of his body, the Church (Rom. 12,4-5. 1 Cor. 12,12ff. Ephes. 4,25. 5,20). Thus, f.e. through the Mystery of Priesthood, the participant is united with Christ and through him with all those who like himself had partaken of Christ’s priestly function at his passion. Thanks to them, i.e. to the new priests who will partake of Christ’s priestly office to the end of time, his passion and sacrifice will be repeated a new in a mystical way “until he comes again” (1 Cor. 11,26)[vii]. The Christian priest acts in Christ’s stead and in his name when offering the bread and the wine, i.e. those very elements which he himself blessed at his Last Supper and gave them to his disciples to eat and drink as his real flesh and blood. And it is Christ himself who is invisibly present each time the priest offers the bread and the wine in his name and stead who turns them into his own flesh and blood in a mystical way. The idea of representation is from the outset the fundamental factor that lies at the bottom of the Mystery of Priesthood.
III.Priesthood in the Old Testament.
In the Old Testament, sacramental Priesthood, like all other institutions, originated with the Covernant and the Law which defined its nature, form and scope. The term itself occurs very rarely in the canonical books (1 Chron. 29,22. 1 Macc. 2,54. 3,49. 7,9,21. 4 Macc. 5,36. 7,6), but it is more frequent in the Apocrypha, Philo and Josephus. Even so, however, the authors of the books in question refer to the work and the duties of the Highpriest and the priests.
The Greek term “ιερωσύνη” comes from the word “ιερός” (Hebrew “qadosh”) signifying someone invested with the power of the deity and thus dedicated to it. The term is used both of persons and things. As such then the term “ιερωσύνη” denotes the office of the priest and so his function performed in the divine power and authority which the priest bears upon himself. Thus, the priest, appointed to office by God is dedicated to Him, as God’s servant or agent and so his duty and function is to mediate to men God’s will, power and grace. In other words, the priest («ιερεύς») is not man’s mediator to God, but God’s mediator to man, for the sake of man’s salvation and so God’s representative and man’s spiritual guide and shepherd.
According to the Old Testament, this special, sacramental priesthood is beyond and above the general priesthood of all Israelites, called «a royal priesthood and holy nation» (Exod. 19,6. 23,22. 2 Macc. 2,17.cf.1 Pet. 2,9. Rev. 1,6-10) in the sense of their special place in God’s plan of salvation and as members of His own community («Kahal Jahwe»). Israel enjoys this place on account of her election by God as well as on account of God’s continuous saving activity for her, as a result of which Israel is set apart from among all other nations. Thus, all Israelites participate (in a broad sense) in God’s functions and offices revealed in sacred history[viii].
Alongside this general (royal), so to speak, priesthood of all Israelites we also find in the Old Testament the special or sacramental priesthood conferred by God upon specific persons through the mediation of Moses (Exod. 28,4. Num. 6,5). This took place immediately after the establishment of the Covenant and the giving of the Law (Exod. 19-20. Deut. 5,6 ff.), which stand in confirmation, so to speak, of Israel’s election as God’s people and so «a royal priesthood and holy nation»[ix]. In other words, sacramental priesthood was instituted after the formation of Israel as «Kahal Jahweh», and this means that sacramental priesthood has an «ecclessiological» (i.e. communal) dimension, a fact that determines from the outset its place in the history of the Covenant, i.e. in the history of God’s Economy with Israel. Instituted within «Kahal Jahweh» as one of its institutions, sacramental priesthood aimed at promoting the moral purity of the members of the community[x].
God’s mediator, as we said, in this respect was Moses the «servant of the house» (Num. 12,7. Heb. 3,3-5) and mediator of His Covenant with Israel (Cal. 3, 19-20. 1 Tim. 1, 5), a position unique in the entire history of the Covenant. Appointed by God to carry out His dealings with the elect people (Exod. 3ff) he was equipped with all the necessary power and authority as His representative, as it is clear from his function as the leader of the people «par excellence» (the royal office), as their teacher (prophetic office) and priest (priestly office). In other words, in the person of Moses we find the condensed Israel’s subsequent religious life. Indeed, he alone had an immediate and direct access to God, and God only to him spoke «person to person as if one speaks to his friend» (Exod. 33,11. Num. 12,7-8). To Moses also God revealed His name and glory (Exod. 33,18-23) and after him «there appeared no prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew person to person» (Deut. 34,10). At God’s command, Moses, His mediator, inaugurated the Covenant with an animal sacrifice (Exod. 24,8. Cf. Heb. 9,19-22), an act which was an indication of his priestly office. And when shortly after its inauguration the Israelites broke it, Moses «made expiation for their sins» (Exod. 32) and begged God to show His mercy upon them, God renewed His Covenant again through him (Exod. 34).
All these indicate two things: a)that Moses’ authority and power, which he exercised in his dealings with Israel, were given him by God whom he represented in all respects; and b) the fullness of his authority and power proved him to be God’s mediator (a kind of general administrator) with Israel or, speaking more theologically, during the first period of God’s Economy of salvation, for, as we shall have occasion to stress further down, even after Moses’ death, the functions of the priests were carried out in his name.
Indeed, this is exactly what we observe at the very act of the institution of the sacramental priesthood, when at God’s command, whom he represented, Moses entrusted the priestly office to his brother Aaron and to his four sons, Nadab, Aviud, Eleazar, and Ithamar (Exod. 28 and 41. Num. 6), «to administer to him» (God). In addition to this, he entrusted the service inside and outside the Tabernacle («to carry out the works of the Tabernacle») to the male members of the tride of Levi (Num. 3). From the outset, sacramental priesthood included the rank of the highpriest (Aaron) and the rank of the priests (his four sons) while both were assisted by the Levites whose task consisted in maintaining order during worship service, helping the highpriest and the priests with their duties, and reading the law at worship service[xi]. That the highpriest was marked off from among the priests is clear from the following facts: a) at their consecration, the highpriest’s head was completely anointed with oil, while the priest’s was anointed only their forehead (Exod. 29,7. 1 Kings 10,1. 16,13); b) the highpriest alone entered the inner part of the tabemacle (the holy of holies), and this only a year, during the day of Expiation (Lev.16,3-34); and c) the vestments of the highpriest different from those of the priests’ (Exod. 28,4-39. Lev. 8,7-9), and after the highpriest died his vestments were handed over to his successors together with the office of which the vestments were a Symbol (Exod. 29,29. Num. 20,25-28). The «great priest» therefore was from the very beginning distinguished from «his brothers» (Lev. 21,10. Num. 35,25-28), while his death marked the end of a period and the beginning of another.
The duties of the highpriest and the priests consisted in guarding the Tabernacle and the sacred vessels there in, performing the worship, and teaching the Law. Thus the nature and function of the sacramental priesthood was clearly connected with the double sense of the term «ιερός» which we mentioned before, indicating one filled with the power of God and so dedicated to Him. This means, furthermore, that the nature of the priest’s consecration is absolutely determined by God’s grace upon him who from that moment belongs to the sphere of the divine presence[xii].
The consecration of both, the highpriest and the priests, was ruled to take place in the Tabernacle itself which was God’s dwelling place, and in front or in the presence «of the whole congregation» of the people (Lev. 3,8). The ritual consisted in : a) washing the candidate with water; b) clothing him with special garments; c) washing the entire head of the highpriest with olive oil and anointing the priest’s forehead with it; d) anointing both the highpriest’s and priest’s right ear, right hand, and right foot with the blood of a sacrificed animal; e) sprinkling the candidate and his garments with the same blood; and finally f) «the filling of the candidate’s hands» with the parts of the slaughtered animal which subsequently was burnt upon the altar of the burnt offerings[xiii]. The last act indicated that the consecrated highpriest or priest was authorized to offer animal sacrifices. This concluded the whole ritual and so the new highpriest or priest, consecrated to perform the worship due to God and purify the members of the community (Kahal Jahweh), were themselves purified and set apart from everything that was regarded morally and religiously profane[xiv], they alone having the right «to approach the Lord God» (Exod. 19,22.Lev. 10,3 etc.).
Summing up the evidence we observe the following. First, God Himself is the source of priesthood and He grants it to those whom He chooses (cf. Heb. 5,4 «και ουχ εαυτώ τις λαμβάνει την τιμήν, αλλά καλούμενος υπο του Θεού, καθώσπερ και Ααρών»). Therefore no priest (or highpriest) is a priest by his own power and authority, but depends absolutely on God for his office and function, in whose priestly office he simply participates by grace. Second, the priestly office was functioned for the first time in the history of salvation by Moses the mediator of the first Covenant who on account of that[xv]inaugurated it with an animal sacrifice and when Israel transgressed it he «made expiation for the sin of the people». Also, on his priestly office and at God’s command and presence, Moses consecrated his brother Aaron as highpriest and Aaron’s sons as priests in a specific ceremony who after that became Moses’ fellows and successors in this specific function of his[xvi]. Through them and their successors Moses’ sacramental priesthood extended into the history of first Covenant. Third, Moses’ superiority with respect to priesthood is stressed at the consecration of Aaron and his sons when, after placing the parts of the slaughtered animal in their hands in order to authorize them to offer animal sacrifices, he (Moses) received them back again and placed then himself upon the altar to be burnt. This means that the sacrifices of the Old Covenant were offered to God through Moses His mediator[xvii]. Fourth, sacramental priesthood in the Old Testament aimed at the purification of the flesh of the people of Israel (Heb. 9,13), stressed also by the institution of various ritual cleansings. The often used term «αγιασμός» with reference to the people, indicates God’s power to free man from the bondage of sin and corruption, indicated by the «common» and «unclean» elements of human nature; it also indicates the new condition of the purified person as a restoration of natural order and life in the sphere of divine condition: «For I am the Lord your God; you shall therefore sanctify yourselves, and you shall be holy; for I am holy; neither shall you defile yourselves with any manner of creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth...» (Lev. 11,44-45. 19,2. 20,7)[xviii].
[i] See f.e. Irenaeus, Haer. I, 13, 2-3. III, 23;25. Epiphanius, Haer. 49, 2-3. Cf. Also 78, 23. 79, 1-3. Gregory Nazianzen, Oratio 35, 3. Tertullian, De Praesr. Haer.41,5. De Baptismo 17, 4. Cyprian, Epist. 75, 10.
[ii] F.e. see what is said on this by Epiphanius, Haer. 79, 3. Generally speaking, concerning these «Feminist Organizations» we can still apply the comments of St. John Chrysostom, On Priesthood, 3, 9:»Divine law excluded them (i.e. women) from this function, but they try to put themselves into it by force; and since they are unable to achieve it by themselves, they use others; in this way they have acquired such power that they approve or disapprove of priests as they will and so things turned upside down».
[iii] See f.e. canons 19 of the Council of Nicea; 11, of the Council of Laodicea; 15, of the Council of Chalcedon; 14, of the Sixth Ecumenical Council.
[iv][iv] Cf. the main article in «The Orthodox Observer» (published by the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America, in New York), May 11, 1988, p. 12 (The same in English on p. 16), about an unnamed lady.
[v] Cf. 1 Cor. 11,26. 10, 16-17. Rom. 6,3. Gal. 3,27. Col. 2,12; 19. Eph. 4,5.
[vi] Rom. 6,1-11. Cf. Matth. 28,19-20. John 3,3f. Gal. 3,27. Col. 2,12-15. 3,1-4. Heb. 10,15f. 1Pet.1,3-8.3,21.
[vii] More on this in my book, The Unity of the Apostolic Church, Athens 1984, p. 194f. (in Greek).
[viii] See the comments by Didymus of Alexandria and Severianus of Gabala in J.A.C r a m e r, ed. Catenae Graecorum Patrum in Novum Testamentum, Hildesheim 1967, vol. VIII, p. 53f. Cf. C. S. V o u l g a r i s, A Commentary on the First Epistle of Peter, Athens 1984, pp. 145-154 (in Greek).
[ix] Cf. Exod. 6,7. 19,5-6. 23,22. 24,7. 33,13. Etc.
[x] Cf. f.e. Gal. 3,19. Rom. 3,20. 4,15. Heb. 9,15 etc.
[xi] According to the Apostolic Constitutions, II, 26,3-4, these three ranks correspond to the three ranks in the N.T.
[xii] Cf. G. Schrenk, «ιερός etc.», Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (ThDNT), III, 221f.
[xiii] Exod. 28,41. 29,22-34. 32,29. 40,12-16. Lev. 8,22-33. Num.3,3 etc.
[xiv] Exod. 28,36. Lev. 10,10.21,6.
[xv] Cf. Cyrill of Alexandria, De Adoratione et cultu...,XII. Migne, P. G. 68,805: «Moses also was a priest» («ιερουργός»).
[xvi] Exod. 28,1; «Then bring near to you Aaron your brother, and his sons with him, from among the people of Israel, to serve me as priests». Cf. Heb. 7.
[xvii] Cf. Cyrill of Alexandria, Op. Cit. Xi. 760; «And those with Aaron bring the gifts placed on their own hands, and Moses receives and offers the sacrifice». See also idem 761; «Those with Aaron bring the gifts of sacrifice, but Moses, representing God Himself, receives them, signifying by this, too, God’s presence».
[xviii] See O. Procksch, «άγιος, etc.»,ThDNT. I, 88f., 113f.
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