Sunday, August 5, 2012

Who's who in the Orthodox Church; a preamble

Inspired by Official Wife Tina's question about the difference between a priest, an abbot, and a bishop, we enclose within the confines of this post some definitions of the categories of persons within the Orthodox Church.  Please note: some of these designations are official, while others are apocryphal or otherwise deuterocanonical.  Also: there are no female clergy in the Orthodox Church.  If this offends you, you should probably stop reading now.

Visitor: I have been told that megachurches no longer call visitors 'visitors.'  Someone who has been to an Orthodox church once; alternatively, a wandering Orthodox Christian on vacation who found your church in the phone book.

Inquirer: Someone, non-Orthodox, who has been to the same Orthodox church twice and has said, "Now this is interesting."

Catechumen: An inquirer who is officially interested in becoming part of the Orthodox Church and has begun the process of entry into the fullness of the faith.

Cradle: Born into an Orthodox family and baptized shortly after forty days of age.

Convert: An envelope.  Alternatively, a visitor who became an inquirer, then a catechumen, and was received into the Church.

Hyperdox: He's more Orthodox than you.

Parishoner: An Orthodox Christian who lives within an hour's drive of the church and can be relied upon to make his way to church four times a year.

Member: An Orthodox Christian who lives within an hour's drive of the church and comes to church enough times each year to feel guilty enough to tithe and thus is entitled to vote for the parish council, but is smart enough to stay off the council.

Parish Council Member:  A member who got voted onto the Parish Council.  Also, a sucker.

Altar server: Men who assist the priest and deacon in the altar.  They wear a robe called the sticharion.

Monk: A celibate Orthodox Christian who serves the church in a life of prayer and seclusion from the world, whether alone (heremetical) or in a monastery (coenobitical).  Female monks are called nuns.

Reader: The guy who chants in the church.  Technically, a reader should be tonsured by the bishop.  If your church belongs to a diocese that has a bishop and you are a male church member, you will have to work very hard to avoid being tonsured.  If your reader is hyperdox, he will wear his cassock to and from church even when he is visiting a parish.

Subdeacon: The lowest of the minor orders of the clergy.  Subdeacons serve in the altar, and can be distinguished from altar servers by the stole worn crossed over their shoulders, worn over the sticharion.

Deacons: Following Pentecost, the Apostles designated assistants to minister to the needs of the people.  The first deacon was the first martyr, St. Stephen.  In liturgical services, the deacon helps the priest lead the parish in the public prayers, and also censes the church while the priest recites the private and mystical eucharistic prayers.  Deacons wear the sticharion, the stole, and epimaniki (cuffs).

Protodeacon: The deacon who travels with the bishop.  Usually, the bishop travels with a Protodeacon and at least one subdeacon; the protodeacon knows the hierarchical liturgy and its prayers backwards and forwards, and he advises the parish priest on the liturgical practices of the bishop.  He has a booming voice and imperious manner.

Priest: The priest is the member of the clergy most Orthodox Christians can recognize immediately.  He's the guy wearing the long black dress outside of church with a pectoral cross, and the one dressed like a priest in the church.  He is overworked, underpaid, and if he's married and in the OCA, he's required to have five children.  If your priest is a monk, he is called a hieromonk.

Archpriest: The archpriest is a priest who has done enough time (I mean, who has performed sufficient faithful service) to get a fancy hat he can wear in church.  George Constanza wanted to become Orthodox because of the hats.  If your archpriest is a monk, he is called an archimandrite.

Bishop:  If a monk is unfortunate enough to be highly respected by his peers, to show competence in administration, leadership, and dealing with people outside of the monastery, he will eventually become a bishop.  Some monks really want to be bishops.  This may be the singular disqualification for being a bishop: if you want the job, you're probably the wrong man for it.

Archbishop: A bishop who has done enough time to be assigned to a troublesome administrative post in the Church.

Metropolitan:  In the ancient church, the Metropolitan was a bishop assigned to important cities to administer the local churches, and to inform the local faithful of the decisions of the Church on doctrine and administration.  In the OCA and ROCOR, the Metropolitan is the head of the church.

Patriarch: The branches of the Orthodox Church are headed by a Patriarch.  Patriarchs are bishops who are put in charge by other bishops who don't want to be in charge.

Synod: All of the bishops in your branch of the Orthodox Church.  Questions of doctrine, church direction, and anything that no single bishop wants to be responsible for is the responsibility of the synod.  May be Holy or unholy, depending on your opinion.

1 comment:

  1. In Pennsylvania, technically speaking, visitors are referred to as "strangers."