Major Orders

Advanced Information

The Major Orders are the senior or higher ranks, classes, or grades of the ordained ministry in the church in contradistinction from minor orders (porters, lectors, exorcists, and acolytes). In the Roman Catholic Church there are three major orders, episcopacy, priesthood, and the diaconate. These are seen to be of divine origin: "Christ, whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, has, through his apostles, made their successors, the bishops, partakers of his consecration and his mission. These in their turn have legitimately handed on to different individuals in the church various degrees of participation in this ministry. Thus the divinely established ecclesiastical ministry is exercised on different levels by those who from antiquity have been called bishops, priests and deacons" (Vatican Council II, Constitution on the Church). Until 1972, when it was abolished, the subdiaconate had been included among the major orders.

All who are in major orders are required to be celibate. To be a priest it is necessary first to be ordained deacon; to be a bishop it is necessary to have been ordained deacon and priest.

In the Eastern, Orthodox, Anglican, and Old Catholic churches there is also agreement that the diaconate, priesthood, and episcopate are essential orders of ministry within the church. The Eastern and Orthodox churches also have various minor orders of ministry. Most Protestant denominations reject the idea of both major and minor orders and recognize only one basic form of ordained ministry.

BELIEVE Religious Information Source - By Alphabet Our List of 2,300 Religious Subjects
P Toon
(Elwell Evangelical Dictionary)

Major Orders

Orthodox Information

(This information may not be of the scholastic quality of the other articles in BELIEVE. Since few Orthodox scholarly articles have been translated into English, we have had to rely on Orthodox Wiki as a source. Since the Wikipedia collections do not indicate the author's name for articles, and essentially anyone is free to edit or alter any of their articles (again, without any indication of what was changed or who changed it), we have concerns. However, in order to include an Orthodox perspective in some of our subject presentations, we have found it necessary to do this. At least until actual scholarly Orthodox texts are translated from the Greek originals!)

Major Orders in the Orthodox Church refers to the three degrees of ordained clergy: bishop, presbyter, and deacon. Persons who hold these offices are charged with the celebration of the divine services and the administration of Church life. They have received the grace of the Holy Spirit to perform these jobs through the mystery of Holy Orders.

The first and highest degree of the clergy is the bishop (episkopos in Greek, which means overseer). He is the successor to the Apostles in the service and government of the Church. A bishop is responsible for and the head of all the parishes located in his diocese. All authority of the lower orders of clergy is derived from the bishop.

The second degree of the clergy is the presbyter, or priest. The presbyter governs a particular parish by the authority and with the blessing of his bishop. The presbyter blesses all of the divine services conducted in his parish and is authorized to celebrate all of the mysteries (sacraments) of the Church, with the exception of ordination, which is reserved to the bishop. The priest supervises all persons holding any office in his parish, including a deacon. The third and lowest degree of the major orders of clergy belongs to the deacons. The word deacon means server and originally it referred to a person who waited on tables. The deacon ministers to the priest and bishop in the Divine Services and assists in the celebration of the mysteries of the Church. A deacon may not, however, celebrate the mysteries by himself.

See also

Holy Orders
Minor orders
Major orders Bishop | Priest | Deacon
Minor orders Subdeacon | Reader | Cantor | Acolyte
Other orders Chorepiscopos | Exorcist | Doorkeeper | Deaconess
Episcopal titles Patriarch | Catholicos | Archbishop | Metropolitan | Auxiliary | Titular
Priestly titles Protopresbyter | Archpriest | Protosyngellos | Economos
Diaconal titles Archdeacon | Protodeacon
Minor titles Protopsaltes - Lampadarios
Monastic titles Archimandrite | Abbot - Igumen

Also, see:
Holy Orders

The individual articles presented here were generally first published in the early 1980s. This subject presentation was first placed on the Internet in May 1997.

This page - - - - is at
This subject presentation was last updated on - -

Copyright Information

Send an e-mail question or comment to us: E-mail

The main BELIEVE web-page (and the index to subjects) is at: BELIEVE Religious Information Source - By Alphabet