The Apostles called on devoted persons to serve as deacons, presbyters and bishops. The Fathers also observed that verification of both Baptism and the Priesthood are not dependent on or affected by the moral character of the ordainer (bishop) or the candidate; that the priestood imparts divine Grace which cannot be purchased; that the priesthood constitutes a worthy office and authority in which there are gifts of the Holy Spirit from God Himself. These gifts were imparted by the sacred ceremony of ordination.
The perceptible signs of the Sacrament of Ordination are the laying of hands by the bishop on the candidate and the prayers offered in the ceremony. The laying of hands is acknowledged by Scripture and Sacred Tradition. The second perceptible sign, the reading of prayers, is seen in Scripture in Acts 6:6 and Acts 14:22. For the degree of deacon and presbyter one bishop is sufficient; at least 3 bishops are necessary for the degree of bishop.
The first degree of priesthood, the office of bishop, is the highest and most responsible. The duties of the bishop as overseer are to keep the truths of the Christian religion undefiled, administer the sacraments, shepherd the flock and participate in synods for the formulation of teachings and canons.
The second degree of priesthood is the office of presbyter (priest). The responsibilities of the presbyter are to preach the truths of the Christian religion, administer the sacraments except ordination and chrismation and assist the bishop in the governing of the Church.
The third degree of priesthood is the office of deacon. His responsibilities are to assist the bishop and the presbyter in all the services and ceremonies of the Church. These 3 degrees are the higher rank of the priesthood. The lower rank of the priesthood consists of sub-deacon, readers (altar boys) and cantors (choir members).
The 3 degrees of ordination - bishop, presbyter and deacon - are distinct, but they constitute the one Sacrament of Ordination. The Sacrament of Ordination is designated for men only.
The qualifications for the priesthood are specific and significant in that a "calling" is for the preaching of the Gospel and for the administration of the sacraments. The candidate should be Orthodox, not selected from recent converts, and irreproachable in faith and conduct. The candidate should know Scripture and the canons of the Church, be in good health and without physical shortcomings which would prevent the completion of his duties. Minimum age for the degree of bishop is 35, for presbyter 30 and for deacon 25, or as the need of the Church demands by dispensation.
Candidates for the degrees of deacon, presbyer and bishop can be married or unmarried. However, since the eighth century, only unmarried men or widowers have been accepted for the degree of bishop for the most part. There have been some exceptions to this tradition. After ordination of the three degrees, marriage has been forbidden by the canons of the Church.
The Sacrament of Priesthood is considered indispensable for the sanctification of all sacraments and ritual prayers, especially for the Holy Eucharist, which is the center of worship. The 7 sacraments are of the same validity and dignity, for they impart divine Grace for the sanctification of members of the Mystical Body of the Church.
Inasmuch as the administering of the sacraments and other ritual services are perceptible signs for the sanctification of believers and must be officiated by an ordained priest or bishop, the Sacrament of Ordination is the first and foremost sacrament. The early Church declared that wherever there is a bishop, there the parish church will be, for without the bishop or priest no sacrament can be officiated. Thus the Sacrament of Ordination-Priesthood is the Sacrament for the sacraments of the Church.