All the members of the Church of Christ comprise a single flock of God All are equal before the
judgment of God However, just as the parts of the body have different functions in the life of the
organism, and as in a house building each part has its own use, so also in the Church there exist
various ministries. The highest ministry in the Church as an organization is borne by the hierarchy,
which is distinct from the ordinary members.
The hierarchy was established by the Lord Jesus Christ. He “gave some, apostles; and some,
prophets; and some, evangelists; and some pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints,
for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the Body of Christ; till we all come in the unity of
the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the
stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:11-13).
No one in the Church can take upon himself the hierarchical ministry, but only one who is
called and lawfully placed through the Mystery of Ordination. “No man taketh this honor unto
himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron” (Heb. 5:4). No matter how high a moral life
a man might lead, he cannot fulfill the hierarchical ministry without a special consecration. It is
not possible, therefore, to draw a parallel between the degree of one’s moral level and the degree
of his level in the hierarchy. Here a perfect correspondence is desirable but is not always attainable.
The Lord Jesus Christ during His earthly ministry chose from among His followers twelve
disciples — the Apostles (those “sent forth”) — giving to them special spiritual gifts and a special
authority. Appearing to them after His Resurrection, He said to them, “As My Father hath
sent Me, even so send I you. And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and with unto
them, Receive ye the Holy Spirit. Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and
whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained” (John 20:21-23). These words mean that it is essential
to be sent from above in order to fulfill the Apostolic ministry, as well as the pastoral
ministry that follows after it. The scope of these ministries is expressed in the final words of the
Lord to His disciples before His Ascension: “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing
them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe
all things whatsoever I have commanded you. And, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of
the world. Amen” (Matt. 28:19-20). In these final words the Saviour indicates the triple ministry
of the Apostles in their mission: 1) to teach, 2) to perform sacred functions (baptize), and 3) to
govern (“teaching them to observe all things”). And in the words “I am with you alway, even
unto the end of the world,” He blessed the pastoral work of their successors for all times to the
end of the ages, until the existence of the earthly Church itself should come to an end. The words
of the Lord cited before this, “Receive ye the Holy Spirit” (John 20:21), testify that this authority
of pastorship is inseparably united with special gifts of the grace of the Holy Spirit. The three hierarchical
ministries are united in a single concept of pastorship, in accordance with the expression
of the Lord Himself. “Feed My lambs … feed My sheep” (the words to the Apostle Peter in
John 21:15, 17), and of the Apostles: “Feed the flock of God” (1 Peter 5:2).
The Apostles were always citing the idea of the Divine institution of the hierarchy. It was by
a special rite that the Apostle Matthias was joined to the rank of the twelve in place of Judas whohad fallen away (Acts 1). This rite was the
choosing of worthy persons, followed by prayer and
the drawing of lots. The Apostles themselves chose successors for themselves through ordination.
These successors were the bishops.
The Apostle Paul writes to Timothy, “Neglect not the gift that as an thee, which was given
thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery” (1 Tim. 4:13). And in another
place the Apostle writes to him, “I put thee in remembrance, that thou stir up the gift of
God which it in thee by the putting on of my hands” (2 Tim. 1:6). To Timothy and Titus, Bishops
of Ephesus and Crete, is given the right to make priests: “For this cause I left thee in Crete, that
thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting and ordain presbyters in every city, as I
had appointed thee” (Titus 1:5). Likewise they are given the right to give awards to presbyters:
“Let the presbyters that rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially they who labor
in the word and doctrine. For the Scripture with, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out
the corn, and The laborer is worthy of has reward” (1 Tim. 5:17-18). Likewise, they have the
right to examine accusations against presbyters: “Against a presbyter receive not an accusation,
but before two or three witnesses” (1 Tim. 5:19).
Thus the Apostles . those precisely among them who were called to the highest ministry in
the Church by the Lord Himself . placed bishops as their immediate successors and continuers,
and presbyters as their own helpers and as helpers of the bishops, as the “hands” of the bishops,
placing the further matter of the ordination of presbyters with the Bishops.
Presbyters (literally “elders”) were both in Apostolic times and in all subsequent times —
and are today — the second degree of the hierarchy. The Apostles Paul and Barnabas, as the
book of Acts relates, going through Lystra, Antioch and Iconium, ordained presbyters in each
Church (Acts 14:23). For the resolution of the question about circumcision, an embassy was sent
to Jerusalem, to the Apostles and the presbyters at Jerusalem. (Acts 15:2). At the Council of the
Apostles, the presbyters occupy a place together with the Apostles (Acts 15:6).
Further, the Apostle James instructs: “Is any sick among you? Let him call for the elders
(presbyters) of the Church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the
Lord” (James 5:14). From the instruction of the Apostle James we see that 1) presbyters perform
the Church’s sacred rites, and 2) in the early Church there could be several presbyters in each
community, whereas only one bishop was appointed for a city and the region around it.
In the twenty-first chapter of the book of Acts, it is related that when the Apostle Paul returned
to Jerusalem after his third Apostolic journey and visited the Apostle James, all the presbyters
came, signifying that they made up a special Church rank. They repeated in the hearing of
Paul the decree of the Apostolic Council concerning the noncircumcision of the pagans; but they
asked him to perform the rite of his own purification, so as to avoid the reproach that he had renounced
the name of Jew.