The Orthodox Church, like the Roman Catholic Church, the Anglican Church and some others is a hierarchy of bishops, priests and deacons who conduct the services, preach and so on. So the hierarchy of bishops, priests and deacons are the three orders of the church. Actually, the laity are also an order of the church without which there would be no church, but discussion of this issue will be left aside for now.
Of course, we know that in addition to the 3 above–mentioned clergy there are also archbishops, metropolitans and patriarchs. However, these all belong to the order of bishops. An archbishop is usually the bishop of a large diocese, and an archbishop can be an honorific title. Our bishop is Archbishop Michael, leader of the Diocese of New York, consisting of the states of New York and New Jersey. A metropolitan (the word comes from the Greek word for a large city) is, in principle, a bishop who in some sense the superior of the bishops of smaller dioceses. In our Orthodox Church in America, the highest ranking bishop is Metropolitan Tikhon, Archbishop of Washington and Metropolitan of All-America and Canada. A Patriarch is the leader of an autocephalous church. In some churches the Metropolitan is the leading bishop, in others an archbishop is the leading bishop and in some others a patriarch. It is important to realized that archbishops, metropolitans and patriarchs are all members of one order of bishops. A metropolitan, archbishop or patriarch cannot go to another bishop’s diocese without the permission of that bishop.
In the Roman Catholic Church, in addition to the above-mentioned orders of the clergy, there are the cardinals and the pope. The cardinals are “princes of the church” who help and advise the pope. Interestingly enough, cardinals are usually bishops. Theoretically a priest, deacon or even a layman or lay woman could become a cardinal.
The Pope is a different matter. In the Roman Catholic Church the Pope is the superior of all other bishops, priests and laity. The Pope is infallible in certain circumstances. In other words, if he is speaking on a matter of faith and morals with full authority he can declare a dogma which binds every member of the Roman Catholic Church. In practice, the Popes have exercised infallibility only a few times, but he does possess this authority.
The Pope also has immediate jurisdiction over every person, clergy or lay, in the Catholic Church. For example, the Pope can appoint or depose every member of the Catholic Church. Of course, we as Orthodox reject this.
Before the schism in 1054, the Pope was honored as “first among equals”. This is not because Christ gave the Pope any special powers, but rather because the Pope was the bishop of Rome, the first city of the Roman Empire. When Emperor Constantine moved the capital of the Roman Empire, the Patriarch of Constantinople became the second Patriarch of the Roman Empire.
Having spoken of the four orders of the Church, bishop, priest, deacon and the laity, we have to realize that many Protestant Churches completely reject the notion of a hierarchy. When they read the New Testament, they say that they don’t see such a hierarchy. Many of these churches have the kind of hierarchy the Orthodox church has. They may have pastors, deacons, elders or something similar. They strongly oppose the kind of hierarchy we have. However, we will see the biblical basis of our hierarchy in the next article.