This is the second blog in which I am commenting on the book, THE CHURCH OF THE HOLY SPIRIT by Russian Orthodox priest and scholar Nicholas Afanasiev . The first blog is Baptism – Consecration to the Royal Priesthood.
Regarding the ordination of priests and bishops, Afanasiev says that neither the bishop nor the Church passes on the gifts of the Spirit to the ordinand. Rather, the Church through the bishop only recognizes that the ordinand already possesses the gifts of the Spirit. What the bishop/church does is to petition God asking Him to bless or confirm the ordinand in the position to which the Church is recognizing them as a minister. The prayer of the church is, according to Afanasiev that God will show that the candidate indeed possesses the gifts that the Church community believes it has recognized in him. Thus the prayer of ordination to the diaconate or priesthood or the consecration of a bishop is really asking God to show us that we discerned correctly; that we did recognized correctly the gifts of the Spirit active in this person. The bishop when ordaining a deacon says, “The divine grace…. ordains, N., …”. The divine grace or the Holy Spirit ordains, not the bishop. (See Acts 20:28 – it is the Holy Spirit who makes bishops, not other bishops). The bishop also says, “God… by Your foreknowledge send the gift of Your Holy Spirit on them that are foreordained…” Finally the bishop says, “for it is not by the laying-on of hands, but by the visitation of Your rich compassions, that grace is given unto them that are worthy of You.” The texts indicate it is God who does the choosing, the gifting and the ordaining. The Church is recognizing what God has already done. In the Acts of the Apostles, chapter 6:2-3, the Apostles instruct the people “to choose” (Greek: episkepsasthe) men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom – these traits are already to be obvious in the candidates to all believers. The Apostles are implying that the seven men who already have these traits are the ones chosen by God for this task. The people’s duty is not to train the men, nor to pray that they be given these characteristics, but rather to recognize/discern which men already possess these particular traits/gifts. The traits/gifts are the sign that they are chosen by God for the ministry. We are not approving of what God has revealed; we simply are ourselves ritually recognizing or disclosing God’s choice and will.
The divine will cannot depend on the human will or be subject to it. God sends the gifts of the Holy Spirit not upon those chosen by the bishops or the people of the Church but upon those whom He himself chooses. The bishop has the grace to celebrate the sacrament of ordination, but this does not mean that he manages the gifts of the Holy Spirit. … the bishop is not the one who has a depository of grace in order to distribute it to anyone he wills.
Just as God Himself appointed Saul to be an Apostle (Acts 26:16), so it is God, not bishop or council or people who appoints apostles, prophets, teachers, pastors and bishops in and for the Church. The Church for its part recognizes God’s choice of the person chosen for ministry within the local community. Ordination thus originally was the Church recognizing or showing who God had chosen for leadership within the community. The election of the person for episcopal ordination “by the local church is one of the ways to discover God’s will, for it is not the one who is pleasing to the people that is elected but the one who was already appointed by God for ministry.” However both the election by the community and the ordination itself both have the goal of seeking God’s will – who is it that God has chosen and ordained for ministry in the community?
It is not the human community who can make a man be a pastor or a bishop – this is God’s doing. The community’s role is to recognize what God is doing in the community and through whom. In the early church it was the entire community who endeavored to discern God’s will through the election of the bishop.
For the thinking of the primitive Church, the election by the Church meant the election by all the people. Clement himself spoke about this, pointing out that the bishops are ordained ‘with the consent of the whole church’ … Cyprian tells us … ‘And the bishop should be chosen (episcopus deligatur) in the presence of the people who have most fully known the life of each one, and have looked into the doings of each one as respects his habitual conduct.’
Thus discerning God’s will, determining who was ordained by God to be the bishop in the primitive church, was an act of the entire people of God. The bishops were to be chosen by the people not from strangers or distant holy men, but from their own midst – from the men they communally familiar with; men who by their own lives and example showed that they had been ordained by God for leadership in the Church.
Beginning in the Nicean era, the people are gradually deprived of the right to elect their own pastors. … At the time when juridical principles penetrated the Church and effected the deprivation of election by the people, the third aspect of ordination – the witness of the people—lost its meaning.
The Church says Afanasiev began following exactly its decreed canons for selecting bishops but no longer relied on the example of the candidate’s life as known by the local community to discern God’s will. Those who lacked any canonical impediments became the candidates of choice rather than those whose lives exemplified being chosen by God.