06 February 2007

Observations on the Byzantine Ordination Rite(s)

In 1999 I purchased and studied Ordination Rites of the Ancient Churches of East and West by Paul F. Bradshaw. Following that study, I then looked into medieval and post-medieval ordination rites. I was struck by the fact that, in nearly all pre-Reformation rites, the man ordained as deacon or priest took no vows. Bishop-candidates often did, but not priest-candidates. In fact, the candidates for deacon or priest rarely said a word during the ordination rite.

I was reminded of this while preparing myself for the ordinations the Church will graciously confer upon me through the agency of my Bishop. I'm reminded of these two facts, plus one more--how brief the rite truly is.

In Byzantine rites, the form for conveying any sacrament is not said in the first person (e.g., absolvo te). The same is true of the ordination rite. On Saturday and Sunday, the bishop will declare:

The Grace Divine, which always healeth, that which is infirm, and completeth that which is wanting, elevateth, through the laying-on of hands, (NAME), the most devout Subdeacon [Deacon] to be a Deacon [Priest]. Wherefore, let us pray for him, that the Grace of the All-Holy Spirit may come upon him.
After the usual ektina led by the Deacon, the bishop then says a prayer beseeching the grace of the Holy Spirit. That's it. That's the rite: a declaration of what Grace Divine does, and a prayer that Grace Divine Himself will accomplish in this man what He does.

In all of this, I take great comfort in these words: "which...completeth that which is wanting." Those words specifically do not call into question, nullify, or abbrogate the baptisms, absolutions or communions that, by the Holy Spirit, I was undeservedly graced to administer for 16 years. Rather, those words declare that the Holy Spirit will make up, no doubt with unspeakable groanings, whatever is lacking in this unworthy candidate. And then will come these words of even greater comfort:

Do thou, the same Lord, fill with the gift of thy Holy Spirit this man whom it hath pleased thee to advance to the degree of Priest, that he may be worthy to stand in innocence before Thine Altar, to proclaim the Gospel of thy Kingdom, to minister the word of thy truth, to offer unto thee spiritual gifts and sacrifices, to renew thy people through the laver of regeneration.

The ordination of a Deacon
The ordination of a Priest


Fr. Andrew said...

As one recently ordained, let me say that it is truly an awe-inspiring experience. May the Lord bless you and strengthen you for His ministry!

William Weedon said...

Similarly, of course, in the Wittenberg 1539 - vows are utterly absent. The laying on of hands with the Our Father and then a prayer for the Holy Spirit. Sadly, that has become overlaid with all sorts of vows in our current orders.

christopher3rd said...

As to the secondary issue of sacraments and how they may be 'lacking' when administered outside of the Orthodox Church, it is useful to note that Orthodox itself labels certain of its own baptisms as incomplete and lacking. For instance, a deathbed baptism by pouring, if the person is unable to be immersed, is considered to be 'lacking' and yet salvific. However, if the person so baptized survives, the strict rule is for that person to undergo the entire Baptismal Rite specifically to fulfill the rite. A rite, sacrament, etc. cannot be boiled down to the minimum required - it is all required. Yet, while the rule remains the same, exceptions can be lovingly and wisely accepted for the sake of salvation. The Words of Institution and Epiklesis are not the minimum that the Orthodox Church requires for the Eucharist - the Orthodox Church requires the entire Divine Liturgy. A similar economia (pastoral dispensation) can be seen in the rectification of various non-canonical acts both inside and outside of the Orthodox Church. I know of a non-canonical Orthodox monastery that was received back into the Church. Those monks tonsured during that period of time, with no blessing from the bishop to do so contrary to the canons, were given the choice to either be accepted into the Church as monks (which strictly speaking they were not) having their improper tonsure accepted (and the Church filling what was lacking) or they could live as laymen. St. Basil the Great counseled similar care for those rejoining the Church from schism and heresy. [See http://orrologion.blogspot.com/2006/01/on-rebaptism-and-acceptance-of-non.html]. I also know of a frail Orthodox bishop who was unable to immerse a child thrice and simply moved on. This child's baptism is definitely 'lacking' in one sense, but accepted in another.

fr john w fenton said...

Pr Weedon,

My notes are buried somewhere, but I seem to recall from my study that vows for priests and deacons are introduced post-Reformation. Of course, a modern-day Lutheran would justify (as I once did) such vows for pastors as most fitting since all pastors are ordained as bishops ("ordain and consecrate" in the LCMS formula). I'm no longer convinced that such a view is implicit in the Book of Concord, and the Wittenberg formula suggests that the view of "pastors = bishops" was not understood in the earliest days of Lutheranism, especially within Luther's home territory in his own heyday.

Fr. Andrew said...

The notion that a person given a "pouring" baptism by necessity could later undergo rebaptism by immersion is not what they teach us in seminary. Once you're baptized, you're baptized. The only thing that might happen later is a chrismation if it was not able to be done immediately.

Baptisms done in less than ideal conditions are not "lacking" in any important really sense. Certainly, they do not in any way impinge upon the norm, but they also do not need to be "fixed" by remedial ritual later on. The key element is being received by the bishop, no matter how that may be done.

FredricJEinstein said...

Again, I'm going to open my big mouth of rabbinical scholarship and it's going to go waaayyy above your heads (except for soon-to-be-Fr. Fenton who GETS IT), but I'm going to risk it anyway....

Why would a deacon or priest need to take vows at the time of their ordination? How could such a concept of "vows" even be considered or brought to mind by ANYONE???

Aharon and his sons were "mah'shach" (see Vay'i'kra 6.13) into the priesthood after which they presented their specific sacrifices as commanded by God. Being "mah'shach" or "annointed" is a totally passive act on the part of the one being annointed (ha'nim'shach).

Nowhere in Scripture nor in the teachings of the pre-Incarnation rabbinical schools does it mention that the priest in the Holy Temple would take any vows. Since the Holy Catholic Church is the true fulfillment of the practices in the two Holy Temples, one would not expect that innovations such as "priestly vows" would be permitted by The Holy Spirit in His completed and totally fulfilled Mish'kan.

The guy whose being "nim'shach" (passively being annointed into the descendents of Aharon and his sons by the hands of the Apostles) is annointed by the "High Priest", he doesn't participate except perhaps to stand there in fear and dread of his unworthiness. Afterwards of course, he brings the most-beloved-by-God meal-offering sacrifice -- that is, The Holy Eucharist (E-mail me about our monthly Midrashic Leviticus study if you want to know why the sacrifice given by Aharon and his sons is most-beloved).

The ordination rite of God's Holy Catholic Church doesn't seem to be much of a mystery if looked at in the light of Torah....

Fredric Einstein

Flame away!!!!

mwidunn said...

Congratulations on moving forward to ordination! I offer my prayers. However, I think your comment that the Church will confer priesthood on you through the agency of the bishop requires some nuance. First, the Church does not confer priesthood as if it were the Church's own property: Christ is the great High Priest and only Mediator, who extends His unique priesthood through the medium of the Sacrament of Orders. That, I think, is the teaching of scripture, of Presbyterorum Ordinis, and of the text of the ordination rite. Secondly, "agency of the bishop" sounds almost magical to me. (I could be overly scrupulous here.) In fact, in the ordination preface the bishop never says explicitly that he ordains anyone. Rather, he prays for God to raise the man to whatever ministry is being conferred. As I am sure you know already, that reality is even MORE apparent in the prayers of the Byzantine churches where there is more emphasis on the bishop as an "unworthy servant" through whom God himself act as the only agent. Just for your consideration.