While questions about ordination are ultimately to be considered directly by the Diocesan Bishop in his role as Archpastor, the Chancellery regularly receives communications about the beginning stages of these matters, and so here provides some general information on ordination into the Holy Orthodox Church in the context of this God-preserved Diocese. (Если Вы предпочитаете читать эту информацию на русском языке, нажмите здесь.)

A general note

Ordination is a calling from the Church to an individual, to serve in the Holy Altar and in the pastoral life of the Church in various specific roles and functions. It is not a ‘right’ of any person to seek or obtain ordination at any level, but rather a charism of the Holy Spirit, bestowed in and through the Church which is the Body of Christ, determined by her in concert with the willingness of heart in an individual to serve when so called. In all matters relating to ordinations, the Diocese is guided by the grace bestowed upon her archpastors in the Apostolic administration of these offices, and by the Holy Canons of the Church relating to ordination to ecclesiastical ministry.

Factors considered in ordination

The chief factor in determining whether a specific individual might be ordained into Holy Orders is the discernment, by the Bishop in concert with the individual’s Spiritual Father and in discussion with the individual himself, of God’s divine Will regarding the intention to serve in Holy Orders. As service in such Orders is not a matter of personal ambition but of the calling of God’s Church, to whose faithful all clergymen are appointed as ministers, certain factors relating to the needs of ministry within our Diocese are always considered in decisions relating to the possibility of ordination. These include:

  • Evidence of a pious and Godly life, lived in accordance with the teachings of the Orthodox Church, both personally and as relates to the individual’s family (wife, children, etc.).
  • The absence of any canonical impediments to ordination or reception, which question is addressed preliminarily with the individual’s Spiritual Father, but ultimately determined by the Diocesan Bishop. In addition, the individual’s express vow to adhere wholly to the prescriptions and proscriptions of the Holy Canons, in faithful obedience to the canonical hierarchy of the Church Abroad, for the remainder of his life.
  • For individuals who have been received into Holy Orthodoxy from other religious backgrounds, an ample period of life as a layman within the Orthodox Church prior to ordination. Ordination as Reader or Subdeacon is generally not considered prior to the passage of at least a year since reception into the Church; ordination as Deacon or Priest is not considered before the passage of at least three years, except in the most exceptional of circumstances.
  • The ability to speak the local language of the parish of ordination or appointment (English in England, French in France, Italian in Italy, etc.), or assurance that this can be learned to a proficient level within no more than one year of ordination.
    • The ability to speak Russian is not a requirement, but in practical terms, in our Diocese, is a strong help in ministerial life, since there are generally Russian-speakers in most parishes; and in some parishes (e.g. where there are a majority of Russian speakers) this may be deemed a necessity. Those capable of beginning to learn Russian are strongly encouraged to do so.
  • Formation in liturgical practice commensurate with the Holy Order being considered. Our liturgical life is essential to our ministry in Christ’s Church, and therefore all candidates must demonstrate a knowledge of liturgical service fitting to the practices of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia — or undertake training in this as part of their preparation for tonsure / ordination. Those being ordained as Deacon or Priest (as well as those being received into the Diocese in these ranks from other dioceses or Local Orthodox Churches) will always be expected to spend a period of at least 10 days, immediately or very swiftly following ordination, at either the Diocesan Cathedral in London or the Cathedral in Geneva, serving daily, so as to be properly instructed in the precise liturgical customs of our Diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia.
    • The majority of our parishes serve the Divine Services in Church Slavonic, either in whole or in part, and thus an ability to serve in this sacred language is a profound pastoral help. In some cases (depending on the specific considerations of a given parish), individuals are ordained who do not yet know Church Slavonic, but it is always an expectation that study will be undertaken to be able to serve at least portions of the services in this language (and instruction in this can be arranged through the Diocese).
  • Evidence of theological education commensurate with the degree of Holy Orders being considered. All candidates for higher Orders (Deacon, and especially Priest) are expected to have undertaken, or newly to undertake, a programme of theological instruction approved by the Diocesan authorities. This matter can be discussed with the Bishop to find a format and means of such study that fits an individual’s circumstances and situation (e.g. residential seminary, distance-learning programmes, etc.). Those who have already undertaken a seminary, academy or other theological degree must make this known to the Bishop as part of the process of consideration for ordination; those who have not yet undertaken such studies must make this known, and a suitable programme of study will be determined. The Diocese does not ordain as Deacon or Priest those who have not undertaken appropriate theological studies, or who do not begin such studies as part of this process.
  • For those transferring into the Diocese from other territories, evidence of a legal right to reside and, if required, work in the country of appointment (i.e. any necessary visa or work permits, etc.).
    • Together with this, a clear understanding that in our Church Abroad the majority of clergy are not paid a salary by their parishes that is sufficient to cover the full costs of daily life, and therefore clergy must also be prepared to find and hold secular employment sufficient to meet these needs.

A note for men who are clergy in heterodox churches

The Orthodox Church recognises only those ordinations performed within the Orthodox Church. Men who are ordained in heterodox traditions (e.g. Roman Catholic priests, Protestant pastors) are not received into the Orthodox Church in the clerical ranks of their previous traditions, but as pious laymen. If, after an appropriate time has passed following reception into Holy Orthodoxy, such a man is called towards ordained service in the Orthodox Church, he must begin with tonsure as Reader and progress through the normal ascent of Holy Orders within Orthodoxy. The same holds true for those ordained in non-canonical or non-chalcedonian churches.

Practical step: Examination of Candidates, before tonsure or ordination to any rank of the clergy

If, at the request of your Spiritual Father, the Bishop has blessed the further examination of the possibility for you to be tonsured or ordained, you will need to complete the Examination Questionnaire for Candidates for Ordination, which gathers essential information about you for the records of the Diocesan Chancellery (e.g. personal details, educational history). There is a space at the beginning of this form to write a letter to the Bishop, stating your reasons for seeking ordination. This should be completed even if you have spoken to the Bishop previously about these matters, as a written testimony of your desire to approach higher divine service in the Lord’s Church. The Church Administration will then be in communication with you about further steps.

Ordination Vows

Prior to tonsure or ordination, the candidate makes a life confession before his Spiritual Father (who for this purpose is always a senior cleric of the Diocese), and then, following the longstanding custom of our Church Abroad, makes an Ordination Vow before the Gospel and Cross of the Saviour, together with the Confessor, which is then signed by both. This vow is generally printed and provided by the Spiritual Father on the occasion, but these vows can be viewed on-line, for those wishing to read them beforehand.