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Ordination or Holy Orders is one of the important sacraments of the Church. Through ordination men receive the power and grace to perform the sacred duties of a minister of the Church. It is true that by Baptism all Christians are endowed with the "priesthood" of laymen, who have thus the obligation to offer up to God the spiritual sacrifices of thanksgiving, prayers and acts of faith, hope, and charity. But only those men who receive the sacrament of Holy Orders are ministers of God in the full sense of the word.
The sacrament of Ordination is administered always by a bishop. There are various orders in the Church, and consequently, there are various forms of ceremonies by which each one of these orders is conferred. However, the one act that is common to all of these various orders is the imposition of hands by the bishop. That is why Ordination is also called "the Laying on of Hands," "Tzernatroutiun" in Armenian.
In the beginning the Apostles were the sole ministers in the Church. They were teachers, sanctifiers and rulers in the Church. They even used to administer the material needs of the faithful. However, as the membership of the Church increased, the Apostles created other officers to assist them.
The first order thus established was that of deacons. The first deacons were elected by the faithful and were appointed and ordained by the Apostles to distribute alms, as well as to serve the public dinner tables at which Holy Communion was administered (Acts. ch. 6).
The Apostles also chose, appointed and ordained other assistants to help them in baptizing the converts, in administering the Holy Communion and for other functions in the Church. These men were called Elders. They were the predecessors of our present day priests. (The Greek word for elder is Presbyter from which the English word priest is derived).
The Apostles did not stay permanently in a town or country. There were ordered by our Lord to go to all parts of the world to preach the Gospel. Therefore, before leaving a town or country, where they had already established a flourishing church, they used to appoint an able and dependable person to supervise the Christian communities of the area and to act with full authority in the name of the Apostles. These men were the successors to the Apostles in their own locality, such as a large town, a province, or even a state. They were called Bishops, Episcopos, which is a Greek word meaning "overseer."
There are, therefore, basically three main orders in the Church: Those of Deacons, Priests, and Bishops. These three orders have been instituted in the Church since the time of the Apostles.
At present Deacons assist the bishop and priest in the church during the divine offices, by singing, censing, and bringing the gifts to the holy altar during the Divine Liturgy.
The Priests administer all the sacraments except the Holy Orders and are the shepherds and the leaders of local churches under the bishop.
Bishops, with the full power of the Apostles, are the governors of various Dioceses of the Church. They alone administer the Holy Orders.
According to the canons of the Armenian Church, Bishops alone are authorized to consecrate churches, altars and baptismal fonts. In addition to these three basic orders, there are in the Church, many other ranks and offices: some of them are higher, others lower.
The higher ranks are those of Archbishop, Patriarch and Catholicos.
They have higher authority and jurisdiction in administrative matters.