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Bishop (Eastern Orthodox Church)

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Title: Bishop (Eastern Orthodox Church)  
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Bishop (Eastern Orthodox Church)

A Bishop in the Orthodox Christian Church is the highest spiritual office within the Universal Church. Unlike in some other Christian denominations, an Orthodox bishop cannot interfere with other dioceses that are not under his own jurisdiction.

Episcopal ministry

A bishop is the successor to the Apostles in the service and government of the Church. The bishop thus serves εις τόπον και τύπον Χριστού (in place and as a type of Christ) in the Church. No bishop in Orthodoxy is considered infallible, even the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople who is considered to be 'First-among-equals'. None has any authority over or apart from his priests, deacons, and people or the other bishops. A bishop holds the responsibility of maintaining the unity of the Church throughout the world by ensuring the truth and unity of the faith and practice of their diocese. The bishop represent his particular diocese to the other churches or dioceses, and represents the Universal Church to his own particular priests, deacons, and people.

According to Church Law, bishops of an area must meet in councils. When doing so, the metropolitan or patriarch presides administratively..

Male monastics only

In the Orthodox Church, from about the sixth century, it has been the rule that bishops are single men or widowers. Bishops are also usually in at least the first degree of monastic orders.

Holy orders

It is the belief of Orthodoxy that Christ is the only priest, pastor, and teacher of the Christian Church. He alone forgives sins and offers communion with God, his Father. Christ alone guides and rules his people. Christ remains with his Church as its living and unique Head. Christ remains present and active in the Church through his Holy Spirit.

Through the sacrament of holy orders bishops bring order to the Church. Bishops guarantee the continuity and unity of the Church from age to age and from place to place, that is, from the time of Christ and the Apostles until the establishment of God's Kingdom in eternity. Bishops receive the gift of the Holy Spirit to manifest Christ in the Holy Spirit to men and women everywhere. Bishops are neither vicars, substitutes, nor representatives of Christ. It is Christ, through his chosen ministers, who acts as teacher, good shepherd, forgiver, and healer. It is Christ remitting sins, and curing the physical, mental, and spiritual ills of humanity. This is a mystery of the Church and although firmly believed, there is reluctance to try to explain it in Orthodoxy.

Ruling bishop

A ruling bishop or diocesan bishop is responsible for and the head of all the parishes located in his a particular geographical territory, called a diocese or archdiocese. All authority of the lower orders of clergy is derived from the bishop. No divine services may be celebrated in any Orthodox building without the authorization of the appropriate bishop. Saint Ignatius the God-bearer of Antioch went so far as to state that "he who acts without the bishop's knowledge is in the devil's service."

A ruling bishop may have the title of Bishop, Archbishop, Metropolitan, Metropolitan Archbishop or Patriarch.

Rankings of bishops

Sacramentally, all bishops are equal, but there are distinctions of administrative rank.


Main Article: Patriarch

The title patriarch is reserved for the primate of certain of the autocephalous Orthodox churches. The first hierarch of the other autocephalous churches are styled metropolitan or archbishop.

The title patriarch was first applied to the original three major sees of Rome, Alexandria, and Antioch, and shortly after extended to include Constantinople and Jerusalem (cf. Pentarchy).

Much later the term was granted to the heads of other most significant churches. Significance for some churches now may be more historical than actual.

Archbishops and Metropolitans

The title of archbishop or metropolitan may be granted to a senior bishop, usually one who is in charge of a large ecclesiastical jurisdiction. He may, or may not, have provincial oversight of suffragan bishops and may possibly have auxiliary bishops assisting him.

In the Slavonic and Antiochian traditions, a metropolitan outranks an archbishop, whereas the reverse is the situation in the Greek tradition. The Antiochian tradition also uses the style 'metropolitan archbishop' to differentiate from metropolitan bishops in the Greek tradition.

The change in the Greek tradition came about in later Greek history, because the diocesan bishops of ancient sees (which in the Greek diaspora include most) came to be styled metropolitans, short for "metropolitan bishops."

The Slavonic and Antiochian churches continue to follow the older tradition, where an archbishop is a senior bishop in charge of a major see, and a metropolitan is a bishop in charge of a province which may include a number of minor and/or major sees.

In the Greek tradition, all diocesan bishops of autocephalous churches such as the Church of Greece (the Bishop of Patras being Metropolitan) are now metropolitans, and an archbishop holds his title as an indication of greater importance for whatever reason. The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America is the notable exception as all diocesan bishops carry the title of metropolitan. In other churches under the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate such as the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia the ruling bishop is the archbishop while the other bishops are auxiliary bishops with titles of the ancient sees.

Non-ruling bishops

A bishop who does not rule his own diocese is either a Patriarchal Vicar or an Auxiliary Bishop.

Patriarchal vicars

Main article: Vicar

In the Church of Antioch, a bishop who is in charge of a newly created diocese on behalf of, and under the supervision of, the Patriarch of Antioch is called a Patriarchal Vicar. The diocese is usually kept under the direct control of the patriarch until it becomes self-supporting. Patriarchal Vicars are not members of the Holy Synod, and do not answer to the Holy Synod.

When a diocese becomes self-supporting, it is usually granted a ruling bishop who becomes a member of the Holy Synod.

The equivalent title in some Orthodox jurisdictions is Exarch and in the Catholic Church (both Latin Rite and Eastern Rite) it is "Vicar Apostolic."

Auxiliary bishops

Main Article: Auxiliary bishop

Most Orthodox Churches allow themselves the capacity to appoint auxiliary bishops to assist ruling bishops within their own dioceses or archdioceses. Auxiliary bishops do not govern in their own right but act only as directed by their diocesan bishop.

Titular bishops

Main Article: Titular bishop

Bishops who are assigned a title of ancient dioceses that no longer function are called titular bishops. The Diocese of Sourozh, the diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) in Great Britain and Ireland, is an example. However, generally, titular bishops are auxiliary bishops.

Special forms

The Patriarch of the Church of Constantinople holds the title Ecumenical Patriarch. The patriarchs of the Church of Alexandria and Church of Rome have the title 'Pope', meaning 'father'. The Patriarch of the Church of Georgia has the title Catholicos.

Patriarchs are addressed "Beatitude", with the exception of the Pope of Rome and the Ecumenical Patriarch, who are addressed "Holiness". Archbishops are also addressed "Beatitude". Metropolitan bishops are addressed "Eminence" or "Reverence", with the exception of the Metropolitan Bishop of Thessaloniki, addressed "Holiness". In the Greek tradition, all bishops may be addressed directly as "Déspota" (despot, "Sire"), an unofficial but highly reverential form of address.

Hierarchical vestments

Main article: Vestments

The bishop wears a monastic garment called a mantiya when he arrives for a divine service. Unlike the typical monastic mantiya, which is black, that of the bishop is some other colour, purple for bishops and Greek metropolitans, blue for archbishops and non-Greek metropolitans, and green for a patriarch. Upon it are sewn the Tables of the Law, square patches at the neck and feet, characterizing the Old and New Covenants. In addition, strips of cloth, called fountains, are sewn horizontally around the mantiya, representing the streams of teachings which flow from the bishop's mouth.

In the Slavonic tradition, a ruling bishop is usually liturgically vested by others while he stands in the centre of his church. In the Greek tradition, bishops are often vested at the altar. In the Antiochian tradition, the bishop usually vests in the sanctuary.

Liturgically, except for the phelonion and the nabedrennik, a bishop wears the same vestments as a priest. The phelonion was at first part of the bishop's vestments but was replaced by a garment, similar to the deacon's sticharion, called a sakkos (also saccos), a representing humility. As Christ's robe was without seam, the bishop, as an icon of Christ, wears the saccos either sewn or buttoned at the sides.

Over the saccos, the bishop wears a wide shoulder covering called the omophorion. It hangs down in front and back, and symbolizes the wandering sheep which Christ took upon his shoulders as the Good Shepherd. In ancient times, it was made of sheepskin. At other times at services, the bishop may wear a shorter omophorion that has both ends hanging down the front called the small omophorion

The bishop wears a richly embroidered crown, called a mitre which symbolises the authority conferred upon a minister of the Church.

Sometimes together with his pectoral cross, the bishop also wears a small, circular icon of the Saviour or the Mother of God, called the panagia (All-Holy, after the Mother of Christ), or engolpion, over his heart. This is to remind the bishop that he must carry Christ and his Holy Mother in his heart, and thus his heart must be pure.

An episcopal staff called a crosier is carried by the bishop, as a shepherd's crook, to be reminiscent that he is a shepherd of Christ's flock. It has a cross at the top, just above a double crook. This double crook is sometimes in the shape of serpent's heads, symbolizing the serpent lifted up by Moses in the wilderness. (Now Christ lifted up on the Cross.)

Liturgical items

At services in the Slavic traditions, the bishop stands on a small round or oval rug, called orlets, upon which is represented an eagle hovering over a city. This symbolizes his rule over a city and the eagle reminds the bishop that by his teaching and life he must rise above his flock and be an example of one hopeful to the things of Heaven.

In the Greek traditions, the bishop sits or stands at the bishop's throne on the south side of the church, on the solea. The back of the throne has an icon depicting Christ the King, and the bishop will always venerate this icon before occupying the throne.

At times during the services, the bishop blesses the faithful, and any attending clerics, with two candlesticks, one with two candles called dikiri (symbolising the two natures of Christ) and the other with three candles called trikiri (symbolising the three persons of the Holy Trinity).

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