The commemoration of all the departed priests of the holy church

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Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

The above lines are quoted from the liturgical text of Holy Eucharist (Qurbanakramam) that highlight some insights concerning the order of priesthood and the picture above is the imagination of a painter who portrayed Christ, the Eternal High Priest questioned by the high priests of the earth on His trial before crucification. First of all, let all of us be blessed by the holy hands of the Eternal High Priest who left out the glories of the heavenly realms to redeem all of us from our sinful nature and be anointed 'once again' with the Holy Spirit into the tribe of the priestly image.

Why a Sunday, remembering all the departed priests of the holy church?

As we know, we are now on to the move of preparing ourselves for the Great Lent in two week's period. By the culmination of the three- days- lent the holy church aims at purifying herself through repentance and making herself prepared to participate in the passions of Christ and the joy of resurrection. Before the commencement of the great lent, the tradition of the holy church exhorts all of us to commemorate all the departed priests and also all the faithful departed for their blessings and prayers. By such an endeavour, she prepares herself for entering into the 50 days lent which takes her to the great day of resurrection with a purified body, mind and soul.

We know that when we move ahead with an adventure, we seek the asylums and blessings from experienced ancestors who have once gone through such situations. By the observation of lent we are entering into a battle with the forces of darkness and before entering into it, the holy church as a whole seeks the prayers and asylums of all the departed priests and the faithful departed. The next Sunday is specifically meant for the commemoration of all the departed priests of the holy church.

Concept of priesthood in the church

There are numerous controversies in the world of Christendom in the 21st century concerning the existence of priesthood in the church. Our brothers of recently evolved churches teach that the image of priesthood has been fundamentally and radically eradicated by Christ himself on the Calvary and therefore no more priests exist. The biblical verse taken to substantiate this concept is;

1 Peter 2:9
"But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people; that you may declare praises of Him who has called you out of darkness into his marvellous light"

At a glance, the literal meaning of the verses in question may lead us to a thought that everyone in the church is assigned with the duties of a priest. The holy church is restored with the priestly image of Jesus Christ, the High Priest and by thus, the believers are joined to the tribe of priesthood. This does not mean that everybody in the church is a priest.

For example, imagine of a nation ruled by a king. The king, as the hierarchical authority has specific assignments to be endeavoured by him only. Nevertheless, all the members of a royal family have the privilege to be proud of being in the royal / kingly tribe. Everybody, however, cannot be a king. Similarly, all believers are not priests, but they are in the priestly tribe. A profound study on the topic 'The priesthood of Christ' on the order of Melchizedek will reassign our thoughts in the proper manner.

Priesthood of Christ

But the normal doubt that can arise here is about the termination of priesthood happened on the cross or Calvary by the crucification of Jesus Christ. Some of our brothers teach that the priesthood was torn up on the cross and no more priests exist. According to the Word of God, it is true. Then why there are priests in the church if it is against the Word of God???

Priesthood on the order of Aaron and on the order of Melkizedek

It is true that the termination of priesthood happened on the cross by the crucification of Jesus Christ; however, it was happened on the priesthood on the order of Aaron. God had anointed Moses and Aaron as the priests. Aaron was anointed and ordained by Moses in accordance with the instructions from Yahweh.

Exodus 28: 41
"After you put these clothes on your brother Aaron and his sons, anoint and ordain them. Consecrate them so they may serve me as priests."

Moses was also a priest who has been anointed by Yahweh on the mount of Sinai. Some of the biblical verses to substantiate the priesthood of Moses are the following;

Leviticus 27:12
"And the priest shall value it, whether it is good or bad: as you value it, who are the priest, so shall it be."
Psalms 99:6
"Moses and Aaron among His priests, and Samuel among them that call upon His name; they called upon the LORD, and He answered them."

Therefore Moses and Aaron were priests of Yahweh and this priestly tradition was handed down from them through generations. The priesthood was instituted by Yahweh through Moses and handed down to posterity until John the Baptist in whom it ended. This priesthood is called the Priesthood on the order of Aaron with animal sacrifices. This order of priesthood was put to an end by the Crucification of Christ.

  • How was the culmination of the priesthood on the order of Aaron happened?
  • If so, what order of priesthood are we following now?
  • Did John the Baptist anoint Jesus Christ as a priest as chanted in the liturgical song quoted above?

Even though the termination of the priesthood on the order of Aaron with animal sacrifices was consummated on the cross, it was initiated on the time of the baptism of Jesus Christ before John the Baptist. The liturgical lines quoted above are meant to denote that the priesthood instituted by Yahweh is handed down to posterity through Moses and is still continuing. But during the baptism of Jesus Christ a mystery happened is prescribed by St. Paul in his letter to Hebrews.

We chant in the liturgical song that Jesus was given ordination by the hands of John the Baptist. Did John the Baptist anoint Jesus Christ as a priest as mentioned in the liturgical lines? Was there any necessity for Jesus, who was the High Priest to be ordained as a priest? If so, why do we sing like that?

The answer for these questions is to be conveyed through a reference in Hebrews.

Hebrews 7: 28
"For the law makes men high priests who have infirmity; but the word of the oath, which was since the law, makes the Son, who is consecrated for evermore".

St. Paul ascertains about a 'word of oath' which consecrated Jesus Christ. The 'word of oath' means the declaration of God the Father on the time of the baptism of Jesus. This word of oath was proclaimed by God the Father on the occasion of Jesus' baptism. The 'word of oath' was that;

"And there came a voice from heaven, saying, Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased (St. Mark 1:11)"

This 'word of oath' was first heard during occasion of the baptism of Jesus celebrated by John the Baptist. Of course, the anointment is being done by the Holy Spirit, but it happens through some human hands. Even though Jesus was the Eternal High Priest, he bowed His heads to receive the anointment by the 'word of oath' for the fulfilment of the Law. Thus the priesthood on the order of Melkizedek was reinstituted by 'word of oath' and took away the priesthood on the order of Aaron during His baptism. This is why the holy church fathers used to chant the above liturgical lines in such way as the priesthood was handed over to Jesus Christ by the hands of John the Baptist.

Jesus Christ, as the High Priest on the order of Melkizedek

Jesus Christ as the High Priest has handed down the priesthood not on the order of Aaron, but on the order of Melkizedek who has no beginning and end. Hebrews chapter 7 insists about who Melkizedek is. In the chapter St. Paul was trying to establish Melkizedek as all above Abraham in all respects. Melkizedek met with Abraham with bread and wine (Genesis 14 ). (Note that we use bread and wine for the celebration of Holy Eucharist, which is from the order of priesthood of Melkizadek. And with no doubt, Melkizadek was Jesus Christ!!!

Now, it is this order of priesthood that was handed over to his disciples by Jesus Christ. Priesthood on the order of Aaron was terminated at Calvary. But priesthood on the order of Melkizedek, who is Jesus Christ himself, is handed over to generations and it will never be terminated, since the priesthood on the order of Melkizedek is from the Eternal High Priest, Jesus Christ.

Let the prayers all the departed priests be a stronghold for the holy church.


Fr. John Samuel, St. Gregorios Indian Orthodox church, London

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