The mystery of the priesthood bears the relation of authority and origination to the other mysteries, because the priesthood administers all the mysteries, including the mystery of the priesthood itself. The priesthood blesses marriage; the priesthood administers the mystery of baptism and of chrism; the priesthood celebrates the mystery of the transubstantiation of the bread and of the wine into the very body and into the very blood of Christ; the priesthood grants the forgiveness of confessed sins; the priesthood blesses the oil for the healing of sicknesses and for the forgiving of sins; the priesthood finally confers the order of the priesthood, being the source of all the mysteries, and of itself likewise. Wherefore we define the priesthood to be the mystery of mysteries, the primary and effectuative mystery of the six other mysteries, and of itself.
The priesthood derives its origin from Christ the High Priest, from whom also all the other mysteries originate, which He Himself first administered and prescribed, as being Priest forever after the order of Melchizedek, the first beginning of the priesthood and the highest, the supreme and only High Priest of the many priests and high priests.
Christ instituted the marriage of one man and one woman in accordance with the first and divinely created couple, from whom all the nations of the earth have descended. This only lawful marriage Christ blesses as the mystery for the propagation of men that is subservient to the will of God. Christ performed and instituted the two baptisms for regeneration, the baptism of water and the baptism of the Spirit. Christ first celebrated and instituted the mystery of the holy Eucharist. Christ first forgave with authority the sins of sinful men, and Himself delivered this authority also to His own disciples and Apostles, saying: “Receive ye the Holy Ghost. Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained,” (John 20:23). Christ commanded the Apostles to anoint with oil the sick and to heal them, as Mark the evangelist witnesses, saying: “And they went out, and preached that men should repent. And they cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many that were sick and healed them,” (Mark 6:12-13).
In one word, Christ as first High Priest and Prince of Religion administered and instituted all the mysteries of grace and salvation for sinful men, and Christ ordained the first high priests and priests, the twelve and the seventy Apostles, conferring on them the grace of the priesthood and the power to administer all the mysteries delivered to them and to confer the divine office of the priesthood upon worthy men.
Worthy of the priesthood are men eminent among Christians for virtue and knowledge of divine and human affairs, irreproachable and blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord, who are capable of guiding others, keeping the commandments of Christ and able to teach others in deed and in word. Unworthy of the priesthood are they who have committed crimes, who have become stained after holy baptism through crimes derogatory to the priesthood or through crimes taking away the right of the priesthood; the unlearned and blind, who are unable to become guides for other, because if the blind lead the blind, according to the word of Christ both will fall into the ditch.
The worthy receive the office of priesthood according to the law by which Christ received it from God the Father, and according to the law by which the Apostles received it from our Lord Jesus Christ, and the law to which the Apostle Paul refers, writing in the epistle to the Hebrews: “And no man taketh this honor unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron. So also Christ glorified not himself to be made an high priest; but he that said unto him, Thou art my Son, today have I begotten thee. As he saith also in another place, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek,” (Heb. 5:4-6). And as Christ received the Priesthood from the Father who called Him to the office and exercise of it, a work of sacrifice and of propitiation and of forgiveness of sins, so also the Apostles received it from Christ, who called them, and said to them: “As the Father hath sent me, even so send I you. And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost. Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.” (John 20:21-23).
From the Apostles the office of priesthood passed over, according to the same law, to the first hierarchies of the Church, and from the first hierarchies to their successors, and from their first successors until it has arrived even unto our days to the worthy and to the unworthy, transmitted both lawfully and unlawfully.
From the epoch of the Apostles to our days the office of the priesthood has been conferred through the laying on of hands and prayer at the time of the celebration of the mystery of the Eucharist. From the beginning this office has been distinguished into three degrees: (I) into the office of high priest. (2) into the office of priest, who administers the mysteries under the authority of and in obedience to the high priest, (3) into the office of deacon, who is a helper to the priest in the administration of the mysteries. Both deacons and priests are ordained by the laying on of hands by one high priest, but a high priest is ordained by two or three high priests. One high priest cannot ordain a priest to become a high priest, but he can ordain a layman to become a deacon, and a deacon to become a priest.
The priest administers all of the mysteries in the Church, with the exception of ordination to the priesthood and the administration of holy Chrism, which the first high priest in the Church performs. But the priest also administers the chrism immediately after baptism. The deacon celebrates no mystery without the priest, but is an assistant to the priest in the administration of the mysteries.
Out of these three degrees of the priesthood were formed also three orders of the clergy in the church, that of the high priests, that of the priests, and that of the deacons. Also they in the Churches who are ranked as readers and singers are named clerics, from the number of whom, formerly, candidates were ordained to the office of priesthood, in accordance with its three separate degrees.
Such is the mystery of the priesthood, coming down from Christ the High Priest, with the other mysteries, and such is its virtue in administering the other mysteries and itself also, the mystery of the priesthood. Therefore the priesthood contains in itself and holds together all the mysteries and, when the priesthood is set aside, al1 of the mysteries administered by it are annulled also. But no one can annul the priesthood and the mysteries administered by it, because Christ is the Priest forever after the order of Melchizedek, and he who annuls the priesthood and its mysteries ought first to set aside Christ, the eternal Priest and High Priest of God. But since no one can set aside Christ, the eternal High Priest of God, no one can annul the priesthood which originates with Christ, or the mysteries which are by it administered.
But as much as the annulling of the priesthood and of the mysteries administered by it in the midst of the Church of Christ is impossible, so much is the forgery and the counterfeiting of it and trafficking in the mysteries possible by men unworthy of the priesthood who have unlawfully taken it upon themselves and who celebrate the mysteries for pecuniary considerations. For this reason the priesthood is to be distinguished as canonical and anti-canonical, as genuine and as counterfeit, as true and as false. The canonical and genuine and true priesthood originates from Christ the High Priest, is imparted canonically to those who are worthy of it and administers the mysteries canonically for the sanctification and salvation of believing participants; but the anti-canonical and counterfeit and false priesthood, in external form only and in appearance, is supposed to originate from Christ, whereas in reality and in truth it originates from the Devil, who transforms himself into an angel of light. It is transmitted unlawfully and uncanonically to the unworthy, who administer the mysteries for the sake of money and unlawfully, thereby incurring judgement and condemnation, first of themselves, and then of those who sin with them.
The anti-canonical priesthood has the following evident marks: first, it is sold for money by the unworthy, that is to say, by criminals not having from the canons the right of priesthood; secondly, it is exercised unlawfully and for money; thirdly, it does not condemn transgressions and crimes against the canons, but legalizes them, and persecutes those who censure it.
But the canonical priesthood is received in accord with. right; and the definitions of the canons administers the mysteries canonically, as Christ established them, and opposes the anti-canonical priesthood, passing judgement upon and annulling it. The history of the Church bears witness to the struggle between the canonical and the anti-canonical priesthood, and to the epoch wherein there prevailed the anti-canonical priesthood rather than the canonical, which latter never has been annulled, but originates from the eternal and indestructible priesthood of Christ.
From the epoch of the Apostles to the end of the seven Ecumenical Councils there prevailed rather the canonical priesthood in the Church, pursuing and deposing according to the canons the anticanonical priesthood, but never successful in entirely effacing it out of the midst of the Church. From the taking of Constantinople by the Turks and the dissolution of the Byzantine Christian empire to our days there has prevailed in the Church the simoniacal and anti-canonical priesthood, which has corrupted only the body of the priesthood, but not the mysteries of the priesthood, the formal administration of which has remained untouched, but deprived of the power and life which by nature exists in these mysteries of the regeneration and the spiritual life of man. But now is the time when the canonical priesthood, springing from Christ the High Priest, should relentlessly pursue the anti-canonical and simoniacal priesthood, and by wholly uprooting it out of the midst of the Church, re-form and mould Christians according to the will of God, restoring them to the life of holiness and righteousness, and shepherding them as the spiritual flock of Christ, led by the canonical pastors into pastures of salvation. This change for the better is the work and the duty of Christ the High Priest, who will not forever permit the priesthood and the mysteries to remain in the hands of simoniacal and unlawful false shepherds.
These are the mysteries to be celebrated, through which man is born and re-born, nourished and instructed, formed in accordance with the will of God, sanctified and saved with an eternal salvation. With these are associated also the commandments which are to be observed and to the investigation of which we have now come.