St. Mary and St. Joseph Coptic Orthodox Church

M01 Priesthood

All Christians share in a common “holy priesthood” offering “spiritual sacrifices” (1Peter 2:5) such as prayer, almsgiving (Heb. 13:15-16), and faith in Jesus (Phil 2:17).

But there is a special mission which Christ gave His apostles, their successors, and the priests they were to ordain. This special mission includes, among other functions, administering the sacraments, such as Baptism and the Eucharist. “for . . all the parts (of Christ’s body) do not have the same function” (Rom. 12:4).

It means that the Lord Jesus Christ is the one who established Priesthood in the New Testament. Remember that it was God who established priesthood in the Old Testament too. That is when God commanded Moses to ordain Aaron and his children to offer sacrifices for the people of Israel.

In the New Testament, there are three ranks of permanent ordained offices in the Church:

1.       Bishop (in Greek, episkopos). In the Coptic Church, it includes the Patriarch (Pope), Metropolitans and Bishops.

2.       Priest (presbyteros, from which we derive the English words “Presbyter” and “Priest”). The term presbyteros, usually translated “elder”, appears often in Scripture (for example, Acts 15:2-6; 21:18; 1 Pt 5:1; 1 Tm 5:17). In the Coptic Church, this rank includes Hegomens and Priests.

3.       Deacon (diakonos)

Nearly all Christians accepted this Mystery for the first sixteen centuries of the Church’s history.

Today, some non-orthodox denominations refer to 1 Peter 2:5, 9 and Revelation 1:6 to support their claim that if the church is “a kingdom of priests”, it cannot have a special ministerial priesthood as well. Nevertheless, in these texts, 1 Peter is quoting – and Revelation is echoing – the words of God to the ancient Hebrews recorded in Exodus 19:6. If the Lord could refer to that entire nation as priest, even though they had an ordained priesthood, then surely the same is true of the church.

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