It is hoped that when His Grace, Bishop Ambrose of Methoni, visits England in the Autumn for the feast of Saint Edward the Martyr (Tuesday, 16th September, n.s.), he will ordain Father Deacon Borislav Popov to the priesthood. With his customary light touch, His Grace has suggested the feast of the Beheading of St John the Baptist (Thursday, 11th September, n.s.) as an appropriate day for the ordination. It seems fitting, therefore, to give some teaching regarding the priesthood and the Mysterion of Ordination.
In reiterating the teaching of Saint Dionysius, Simeon of Thessalonica tells us that the priest is the celebrant of the Holy Mysteries of Communion and Baptism but does not have the grace to ordain another, which thing is reserved for the episcopate. Also an ordinand to the priesthood must be thirty years of age, having come to maturity, and as a figure of Christ who began His teaching ministry at that age, for the priest is also a teacher.
On the day of the ordination, the ordinand serves as a deacon until the Cherubic Hymn, thus completing his diaconal ministry. As a sign of this, during the Great Entrance he is left in the centre of the church and holds the Aer (the largest chalice veil) over his head. When he gives it up, so that it may cover the gifts offered on the Holy Table in the usual way, it signifies that he gives up his diaconal service. After the Cherubic Hymn, he is led by the other deacons to the Royal Gates. There they leave him, signifying that he is going on from them to a higher ministry, and the priests receive him into the sanctuary. The candidate bows down before the Bishop, who signs his head with the sign of the Cross. The priests then take him around the Holy Table, and as he processes he kisses the four corners of the Table, and coming to the Bishop again kisses his hand and knee. This is repeated twice more. By his kissing the Holy Table the candidate dedicates himself always to serve there, and by kissing the Bishop’s hand and knee he signifies both his gratitude to him and his godly obedience to him. As these three processions are made the choir chants first a hymn to the Martyrs, then one to Christ, The Apostles’ boast and Martyrs’ joy, and lastly one based on the prophecy of Esaias concerning the Virgin being with child and bearing a Son. The first of these reminds the candidate that his commitment must be like that of the Martyrs: unto death; the second that his ministry, like that of the Apostles and Martyrs, must be to our Saviour; and the third that the foundation of the priestly ministry itself is the incarnation of the Word of God. The Bishop then stands, and the candidate kneels on both knees. A man being ordained deacon kneels on one knee, but a deacon being ordained priest kneels on both, signifying the fuller ministry. He places his palms crossways on the edge of the Holy Table and lays his forehead upon his hands. The Bishop then blesses him three times, signifying the strength he will need to fulfil his ministry, for he is strengthened by the power of the Cross. The Bishop then lays his hand on the candidate’s head and prays that that which is infirm or wanting Grace Divine might heal, and he calls upon us to pray for him.
The clergy and then the people chant a threefold Lord have mercy slowly while the Bishop reads the prayer of ordination quietly over him. The Protodeacon then intones a litany praying for the Bishop and the new priest, and during this the Bishop, keeping his hand on the candidate’s head again prays for him. After the ending of this prayer and the litany, the newly-ordained priest is raised to his feet and the Bishop takes from him his orarion (stole), and replaces it with the double priestly stole (epitrachelion), crying out three times: Axios! (Worthy!). The clergy repeat this acclamation, and then so do the choir. Then the Bishop gives him the cincture, and again the thrice threefold Axios is chanted. In the same way he is vested in the priestly phelonion, and he is given the priestly service book (hieraticon). The newly ordained priest in turn kisses the Bishop’s omophorion and his hand, and then greets the concelebrating clergy with the kiss of peace and takes his place by the side of the Holy Table so as to participate in the most important part of the Divine Liturgy, the consecration of the Divine Gifts.
When, later the Lamb is consecrated the Bishop breaks the portion marked XC and gives it to the new priest, saying: Receive thou this pledge, and preserve it whole and unharmed until thy last breath, for thou shalt be held to an accounting therefor in the Second and Dread Coming of our great Lord, God and Saviour, Jesus Christ. The new priest does not then partake of that Bread, but stands with head bowed at the east end of the Holy Table holding It in his cupped hands which he rests on the Table, and reciting to himself silently the fiftieth psalm. He also silently prays for all the faithful, living and departed, whom he can remember, calling to mind that in his hands he holds the very Body of our Lord. At the elevation of the Gifts, he returns the portion entrusted to him to the diskos, and he receives the Holy Mysteries in due order with the other priests.
At the end of the Divine Liturgy, being the junior priest, the newly ordained priest reads the Prayer Beyond the Ambon, O Lord, Who blessest those that bless Thee…. This is to indicate that he is now a father among his children, interceding for them. After ordination, the priest is referred to and called Father (with or without his Christian name), and is not referred to by the Orthodox faithful by his Christian name alone. His wife, if he is married, is also addressed with similar respect, either as Presbytera (Greek and English), Matushka (Russian), Preoteasa (Romanian), Khouria (Arabic) or Popadija (Serbian), again with or without her Christian name. And again, recognising her share in the ministry and honouring the ministry of her husband, she is not disrespected and referred to by the Orthodox faithful by her Christian name alone. From his ordination, a priest always wears his cassock (except perhaps when his secular employment precludes this), and when out and about he wears the cassock and rason and a clerical hat. In this way, he confesses that he is a minister of the Church at all times, as was promised by his kissing the four corners of the Holy Table three times during his ordination, and he does not simply wear his clerical habit when he goes to church or is about specifically church business. From this time also he wears his hair and beard uncut, or, if his secular employment precludes this, only trims them slightly to be tidy. In the Russian practice, he is also given a pectoral cross to wear, but in other national Churches this is usually only granted to the most senior priests.
Please pray for Fr Borislav, his diaconissa Marina, and their children, Marina, Sophia, Paul and Anna that they all be strengthened and protected as Fr Borislav’s ordination approaches.