This study of Fr. Patrick sheds light on the proper appreciation towards the hierarchy of the Orthodox Church, specifically: the relations within the hierarchy, the relations between the hierarchy and the laity, the relations between the Local Churches and the relations between Archdioceses and Patriarchates and the See of Rome in the first millennium. This study explains how the See of Rome has as its founder the Holy Apostle Peter, the first among the Apostles. Peter considered himself a co-presbyter, together with the other presbyters of the Church (1 Peter 5:1) and this is why the types of relations in the Church are neither one of subordination nor pyramidal, and neither despotic nor dictatorial. They are not the type of relations as found with the papists (Roman Catholics) where the Pope has supreme authority in every archdiocese and diocese. The type of relations in the Church is a collegial and harmonious (symphonic) one, where the primate always respects and gives freedom to each diocese. There is no bishop of bishops. The relations between all the members of the Church are, as Fr. Patrick masterfully names them, theotic relationships (Θεοτικές Σχέσεις). The freedom of a bishop to judge and tο lead is valid as long as he is not oppressive and he does so according to the Gospel and the Church Canons.

As the Incarnate Christ is a real and tangible Person who is physically present with His body, so is the hierarchy of the Church real and tangible. The Church can only be where Her hierarchy exists. Where the succession of Her hierarchy is not present, the presence of the Church of Christ is not there. This means that there is no “invisible church” or a “church under construction”, and that the Church is identified only with the One and Unique Orthodox Church.

The Church hierarchy does not replace Christ, but it is an icon of Christ. Christ is present through the hierarchy. When we partake of the Kingdom of God on earth, which is the Divine Liturgy, the synthronos (co-throne) is present. On the synthronos, it is the bishop together with the presbyters who form the choir of the Apostles and they take counsel of each other in Church matters. The Bishop is not an autocrat; he cannot make decisions alone, but only together in council with the presbyters.

This work presents a firm stand against clericalism but also against any anti-hierarchical movements, because it shows that belonging to the Church means being in relationship with the presbyters of the Church and with the bishop of the Local Church, and the bishops in relationship with their metropolitan and the metropolitans in relationship with their patriarch, and at a universal level, the patriarchs in relation to the First Throne. Clericalism is a misunderstanding of the Church hierarchy based on the idea that a patriarch is a ‘super bishop’, where all the grace of the priesthood would be vested only in the Pope who gives it to the cardinals, bishops and priests, who are his vicars. This theory according to the papist model is unfortunately also currently found in some local Orthodox Churches, where it is considered that only the bishop is endowed with grace and the priest is only the bishop’s hand in the parish, meaning that the presbyters would be the bishop’s vicars.

Fr. Patrick shows in this work that the bishop is entirely equal to the priest and the only thing that differentiates the two orders is that the bishop is endowed by the Church with the grace of ordination. The office of the presbyters and the episcopate are essentially equal in service. Thus, there is no superiority in the grace of the episcopate to the grace of the presbytery; both the presbyter and the bishop celebrate the same Divine Liturgy. The bishop is the head of the presbyters as the first among equals, where the bishop rules together with the presbyters, just as the Holy Apostle Peter considers himself a co-presbyter with all the presbyters of the Church.

The relationship between the leader of an episcopal council (synod) and the other bishops is related to the relationship between a bishop and presbyters, which must be one of synodality (conciliar). The episcopate and the order of presbyters exist because they are united around a primate; they are not self-sufficient in the absence of the leader of the synod. The parish with the presbyter and the flock is the type of organisation inherited from the life of the early Christians. The parish represents the Church in Her catholicity when it is in communion with the other parishes and with the bishop, whose role is not to control but to help the parish.

This work also makes a stand against the ethno-phyletic heresy by demonstrating that the hierarchy is not limited to a specific ethnicity, and a Local Church can only remain in the Universal Church by relating to the other Local Churches. The Church transcends nationalism. The Protestant theory regarding hierarchy is also disproved by showing that the Church cannot be seen as an abstraction but as a physical presence in a certain place and that the presence of the bishop or presbyter in that place is necessary.

Within the context of theotic relationships, a parish remains in the Church as long as it is united with the bishop of the diocese where the parish is a part of. This is in order to preserve the unity of the Church as the Church is complete (perfect) in every place. However, when the bishop teaches a heresy condemned either by the Ecumenical Councils or by the Holy Fathers, we should fence ourselves off from him according to Canon 15 of First-Second Council of Constantinople (861). Note that this fencing off is done only towards the local bishop who teaches heresy, not towards the Church.

We want to emphasise that the author also discusses the Eucharistic theory of Zizioulas and shows that Zizioulas turns the relationship with Christ into a relationship with an object (the saints, objects, Eucharist), instead of relationship to a Person, namely the Son of God. This is evidenced in the text of the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, where the phrase “The Holy Things are for the holy” is currently preserved. However, the correct wording of this phrase should be “The Holy One of the Saints”.

Fr. Patrick also highlights the fact that the Mystery of Baptism, as well as the Mystery of the Eucharist are exclusive mysteries of the Orthodox Church. He also demonstrates the position of Saint Cyprian of Carthage and bishops at the Council of Carthage, prescribed that all heretics are to be received by baptism. The canons from this council have been adopted at an ecumenical level through Canon 2 of the Council of Trullo (Fifth-Sixth Ecumenical Council). St. Basil the Great also states that the position of St. Cyprian is the position of the Church. A heretic cannot baptise; since he is not united with Christ, he cannot bring someone else into communion with Christ, and reception into the Church is only possible through baptism.

This study also describes the model of the Church hierarchy in the First Covenant (Old Testament), where Moses led the people of Israel together with 70 elders (presbyters). Likewise the parish as a form of local Church organisation from the dawn of Christianity is led by a presbyter.

Each bishop is in the place of the Holy Apostle Peter, and the bishop judges and rules together with the presbyters, sitting together on the synthronos (co-throne). 

The goal of relationships in the Church is the deification of man and, according to Fr. John Romanides, this is achieved by therapists or spiritual doctors. The bishop and the presbyter must have the healing method of the Holy Fathers, unaltered by false dogmas. The three stages of man’s union with God are purification from passions, enlightenment and deification.

Man, as an icon of God, has freedom and authority. The hierarchy of the Church must respect this freedom because true obedience does not exist outside the Gospel. Each one rules his own house, each bishop rules in his diocese and each presbyter rules in his parish.

As I have stated earlier, the existence of the hierarchy is for the purpose of uniting humanity with Christ. The episcopal sees founded by the Holy Apostle Peter are Rome, Alexandria and Antioch. Rome was not leading alone but together with Alexandria and Antioch. Due to a misunderstanding and a desire to minimise the role of the Bishop of Rome in the Church of the first centuries, some church writers tried to deny the Petrine See. This has unfortunately led many sincere seekers of truth, who misunderstand the relationship between Peter and the other Apostles, to look for the Church in papism (Roman Catholicism).

Fr. Patrick then sheds light on the relationship between Peter and the Apostles, respecting the thought of the Church in this matter. His honesty brings the correct appreciation and a clear vision of primacy in the Church. The non-Orthodox are not members of the Church because they do not have communion with the Orthodox hierarchy. They are thereby deprived of theotic relationships which require unity in the One God. Even if they have orthodoxy of faith, the form of baptism by triple immersion and the Eucharist but due to their lack of hierarchy, they do not partake in deification and do not have communion with Christ. Some say that the interruption of communion with presbyters and bishops of the hierarchy who alter the Gospel and the Orthodox dogmas would also mean the interruption of theotic relationships, lacking deification, but on the contrary, in this case theotic relationships are actually preserved as per Canon 15 of the First-Second Council of Constantinople and Church experience through the saints who defended the Orthodox dogmas.

I wholeheartedly recommend reading this study that sheds light on the proper appreciation towards the hierarchy!

Protopresbyter Matthew Vulcănescu