Friday, August 11, 2006

Once a Priest , Always a Priest?

An interesting discussion in the Orthodox Converts web list has been going on today on the subject of the different understanding of the nature of Holy Orders between Orthodoxy and the Roman Catholic Church. The initial question was...

Glory to God in all things! Always and Forever!

The Roman Catholic church has a canon, I'm not sure from which of it's
many councils, which states once a man has been endowed w/ the
Sacrament (Mystery) of Holy Orders this is something that can be never
taken away. He can be forced by his Bishop or superior to no longer
publicly exercise his function, but the intrinsic ability, or power (I
hestitate to use the term), remains.

Is this the same in the Orthodox Church? Once invested w/ the ability
to sanctify the gifts, and all the other functions/actions of the
priesthood, this is something indelible?

Thankx for the time.

Yr brother in Christ,


A particularly well written reply came from Julio and I reproduce it below.

"Is this the same in the Orthodox Church? Once invested w/ the
ability to sanctify the gifts, and all the other functions/actions
of the priesthood, this is something indelible?"

Absolutely not. A priest's sacerdotal function is contingent upon
the blessing of his bishop on whose behalf he serves (bishops are
the successors of the Apostles and the "distributors" of Apostolic
grace). A bishop's presbyters fulfill a sacerdotal function that is
really the bishop's... however he delegates some of these to the
priests who serve under his authority and with his apostolic
blessing. The grace and ministry (which I think is a more accurate
term than power ;) ...) of the priest also depends on his being
grafted into the Body of Christ, actively and obediently. There is
no "indelible mark" for us. That is why we don't struggle with the
issue of whether a schismatic or a heretic has the ability to give
sacraments that are "valid but illicit" or fit into other
categories. Outside of the life of the Church, we proclaim
agnosticism concerning the status of other sacraments.

A vagante bishop who went renegade from his synod after ordination,
was deposed by his synod, and is not recognized by the other synods
can consecrate new priests... but they might as well be Anglicans or
Old Catholics. All we can say is that this bishop put himself
outside the Church, and to speak of his sacraments' "validity" makes
no sense to us.

Also, the priest does not "perform" the sacraments. He does not
stand in the "person of Christ" and bring them about by an indelible
gift given to him. He prays with the Church, on behalf of the
Church, as a leader figure, and he serves as an icon of Christ, yes,
but all sacraments are brought about by the descent and action of
the Holy Spirit who is expressly invoked in our sacraments. If it
was something he did, it would make sense that the "moment of
change" in the Eucharist would be when he utters the words of Christ-
"this is my Body". He would be standing in "in Persona Christi" and
would make the change by uttering the words of Him in whose place he
stands and whose presence he is making manifest. Instead, we focus
on the Epiclesis, when the Holy Spirit comes down and takes what the
whole Church (not just the priest) has offered and makes it
something Holy. That is why most early litrugies have some form of
an epiclesis.

I was reading a study on Western liturgices one time, and it
mentioned that in certain Gallican mass books, the rubrics called
for the priest to fold his hands on his chest and bow during the
epiclesis to show that his hands were "tied" and that the miracle
taking place was not of his doing. Many liturgists believe that the
Roman Canon (the Gregorian/Tridentine one, not the post 1960's one)
once had an explicit epiclesis. However, from an early date it was
reduced and blended into the subsequent prayer. What remains of the
Roman epiclesis is the prayer "Supplices te rogamus" after the words
of institution. In fact Nicholas Cabasilas called this prayer "the
Western epiclesis.

An interesting side not... This does not mean that there was a
complete consensus before the schism as to when the Eucharistic
gifts "changed". Even in the fourth century there was a Roman
opinion concerning the moment of change that is very similar to what
Roman Catholic theology teaches today. St. Ambrose of Milan said:

"The Lord Jesus himself declares: 'This is my body'. Before the
blessing contained in these words a different thing is named; after
the consecration a body is indicated. He himself speaks of his
blood. Before the consecration something else is spoken of; after
the consecration blood is designated. And you say: 'Amen', that
is: 'It is true'. What the mouth utters, let the mind within
acknowledge; what the word says, let the heart ratify."

But that doesn't mean that they believed this for the same reasons
that Roman Catholic theology believes this nowadays. It is easy to
find early references to the gifts being changed at the words of
institution. It is comparitively harder to find early references
concerning the indelible mark of the priesthood- a belief which
the "words of institution" theory has apparently been attached to.



Anonymous said...

Orthodox Convert is the spot! I'm famous now! I actually sent the brother a message after that response telling him how sharp he came off.


The young fogey said...

The Augustinian vs Cyprianic views of orders are a West/East difference but both sides agree that what matters is orders must be seen and used in the context of the church. Whatever they are in theory outside the church, the faithful are to stay away from them - treating them like they're invalid.

The Cyprianic view of the Orthodox in theory nicely gets rid of the silliness of 'independent Catholics' - vagantes, or fake denominations with bishops - tracing their 'lines of succession' (for which one can blame the generous Augustinian view) but what of the intra-Eastern schisms such as nationalist or calendrical ones, or the Old Believers, who have their own churches completely separate from the Orthodox including one under its own Metropolitan of Moscow to this day but retain Orthodox beliefs and practice intact? When they're out of the Orthodox communion their orders are treated as null and void but such can easily be reinstated without reordination thanks to economy, and I'm fairly sure those ordained by such bishops, if they were real Orthodox bishops before they left, are also accepted in their orders economically.

(In the 1920s and 1930s it was a mainstream Orthodox opinion, held by the first hierarch of ROCOR, Metropolitan Anthony, that if all the Anglicans unprotestantised and then became Orthodox they too could be received in their orders economically!)

Huw Raphael said...

In the OCA RC clergy are accepted by vesting. Which is a far cry from implying nullity and sounds rather much more like "illicit".

I think it's hard to draw a modern "Roman/ORthodox" split here.

Fogey, what theology is taught among ER Catholics?

Also I've seen writers go both ways on the Alter Christus. Some very clearly say the priest is not in persona christi. Some say, very clearly, he is. Kh Frederica Matthewes-Green says he's there as God the Father (which is even trippier).

But on *any* of these questions, you'd be hard pressed to find an Orthodox voice that "speaks with authority" that everyone hears. Its a collection of (t)raditions rather than Canons or even (T)raditions.

Ad Orientem said...

I know of no Orthodox Church which accepts Roman sacraments as valid per se. Indeed the very term "valid" is not one that we use often. It would be more accurate to say that we do not know if the Roman Church's mysteries are devoid of grace or not. The simple fact is that outside of canonical Orthodoxy we don't know what happens. It is a doctrine of the church that there are no mysteries outside of the church. But the exact boundaries are not always clear (though in some cases they are). Where the Roman Church is concerned it needs to be noted that some Orthodox jurisdictions do NOT accept any Roman sacraments and require converts to be received via baptism. While others, as you noted, are less restrictive. St. John Maximovitch once commented that the Roman Church was like a house with all of its electrical wiring correct and preserved, but a house that was no longer connected to the power company. To fill the Roman Church's sacraments with grace one needs only to reconnect them to the power company (the Holy Spirit). This is one of the reasons why many jurisdictions receive Roman converts by Chrismation. Any grace lacking in heterodox Baptism and Holy Orders is filled by the Holy Spirit through Chrismation which heals all wounds and fills with grace sacraments which were lacking in it.

Huw Raphael said...

I didn't mean to refute your comments, only to point out the, um... the Rabbis are still debating these points. I know there are some that do not do it so, but the point being the some who do. Orthodox praxis and theology is wide - and deep - on these matters.

We do our mother, Church, a disservice to pretend the variations do not exist.

Ad Orientem said...

It is certainly true that there are some differences in the discipline of the church with regard to how we approach heterodox mysteries. And the exact boundaries of the church are not always clearly defined as noted in Florovsky's excellent essay on the subject. But the basic tenant that there are no mysteries outside the church is pretty much settled doctrine within Orthodoxy.