Apostolic Succession


For the first three days of this week (Mon-Wed) I will be in Jacksonville, FL, along with my brother clergy from the diocese to meet with our hierarch, Archbishop Dmitri. It is always a joy to be with the Bishop.

For years as an Anglican, I almost always dreaded such occasions. I rarely got along with other clergy, and I found myself either ill-treated by bishops or simply the butt of jokes. It was not a place to be pious, or to care about theological matters. I am sure it was otherwise for other Anglican priests.

But today, I am also aware that not all Orthodox priests delight in their bishops – some of that may just be the accidence of personalities. But more seriously, you can hear some who speak as though Apostolic Succession were something that was carried by “Spirit-bearing Elders” rather than by the Bishops of the Church.

Monasticism has a very important role historically and today in Orthodoxy, but Elders do not ordain, nor govern the household of God. I have said before that Orthodoxy has an extremely weak ecclesiology and that I thought that this is a good thing. Our ecclesiology is the Cross of Christ itself. If we do not love one another and submit ourselves to one another, then there will not be much of a Church about which to speak.

Today’s crucial issues, whether calendars, jurisdictions, and many other things of importance, will only be, and can only be settled by Bishops who are at one with one another. All the Elders in the world cannot do this.

Throughout the ages, in the history of the Church, though there have been many teachers, none of been more important than teaching hierarchs. They, after all, comprise synods and ecumenical councils.

There is a reason that there is a petition specifically for Bishops in the liturgy, but little emphasis on anything that would substitute for them. When the Bishops of the Church are weak, the Church is weak. If the love between people and their bishop is weak, the Church is weak. If priests fail to show proper respect to their Bishops then they are pouring dirt on their own head.

May God keep the successors of the Apostles. May He make them to rightly divide the Word of Truth. Pray for me and my brothers (who, I will quickly add, love their Archbishop!). Pray that we be refreshed in our ministries through the prayers of our hierarch and the mercies of God!

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.





11 responses to “Apostolic Succession”

  1. fatherstephen Avatar

    The picture is of my beloved Archbishop, Dmitri, Archbishop of Dallas and the South (OCA). He is stand in the midst of a bunch of Texas bluebells. I can’t imagine who convinced him to pose for his shot!

  2. Don Bradley Avatar
    Don Bradley

    Preach it!

    If an atheist asked me why I believe, I would cite the resurrection of Christ. If asked why I believe in the resurrection of Christ, it would be that He was seen. That witness is alive and well in the Bishops (Acts 1:22). In Acts 1:22, it’s not that they were a witness, but they became one by being called to the episcopate (witness to the resurrection is one of their actual titles). I do believe we still sing that in the Liturgy when the Bishop is present. The witness has been passed down, a special “charism” in the episcopate as witnesses of the resurrection. I’ve had two Bishops in my life (Maximos and Dmitri), both of which I happen to personally like, which is a major bonus.

  3. sethearl Avatar

    have a good time this week Fr Stephan. Archbishop Dmitri is coming to Atlanta at the end of the month and it really is one of the highlights of the year for me. He is such a wonderful bishop to have! God grant him many years…

  4. Kirk Avatar

    Don’t mean to pour dirt on your head or my head for that matter, but as a Texas, I must inform you that those are bluebonnets, not bluebells. The bluebonnet is the state flower of Texas. Blue Bell is a famous ice cream from a little creamery in Brenham, Texas. Y’all have a blessed time in Florida, y’hear!

  5. Kirk Avatar

    Oops. That should say ‘Texan’ not ‘Texas’.

  6. Alice C. Linsley Avatar
    Alice C. Linsley

    Ecclesiology is only as strong as the Bishops’ understanding of the nature of the Church. Orthodoxy’s view of the Church is more profound and biblical than that of Anglicanism. The fundamental problem in Anglicanism is that bishops hold irreconcilable definitions of the Church. To listen to some Anglican bishops, the Church is an agent of socialism.

  7. fatherstephen Avatar

    There are probably some slight differences of ecclesiology within Orthodoxy – nothing as extreme as in Anglicanism. Mostly just issues surrounding the exact jurisdiction of the Ecumenical
    Patriarch and the like…

  8. Steve J. Avatar

    I am coming down from Valdosta, GA to attend the session with Archpriest Michael Oleska, Vespers, and the talk by Archbishop Dmitri with the parishioners of St. Justin Martyr Church. I am looking forward to seeing Vladyka and many of the clergy from our diocese, and I hope to meet you at the conference this afternoon.

  9. Jason Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,

    Would you time to give some serious (i.e. scholarly as opposed to popular) reading recommendations regarding Apostolic Succession from an Orthodox perspective?

    Thank you for your time and consideration.


  10. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Fr. Stephen, while I understand what you are getting at when you say we have a “weak” ecclesiology and I agree with it, it think a better adjective is dyanmic. Western ecclesiologies tend to be rigid and legalistic and therefore can and do change (or break). To worldly eyes they may seem strong because they are so specific and dogmatic in nature. Western ecclesiologies also tend to be dialectic in content putting things in opposition that we hold antinomically as part of the fullness of the truth. Such dialetic extends even to the fundamental antinomical truth of the Church that she is both human and divine just as is our Lord. It is through the sacramental charism of the bishiops that the human and the divine meet and where the human is transformed by the divine.

    Such is my understanding at any rate.

    When I was first entering the Church, a new catechumen, a bishop came to my parish to whom I took an instant dislike personally. He conducted the liturgy primarily in Arabic and then gave a homily on the importance of the use of English in our services. His personal demeanor was gruff and anti-social and somewhat crass. Nevertheless, when he preached, the power of Christ was evident and palpable. He was “rightly dividing the word of truth”. It was an important early lesson that whether we like our bishops personally or not, they are still bishops and we are wise when we honor them.

  11. Fatherstephen Avatar

    On ecclesiology do read my earlier posts on “the ecclesiology of the cross.” Bishops can indeed be very surprising.

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