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In general religious use, ordination is the process by which individuals are consecrated, that is, set apart as clergy to perform various religious rites and ceremonies. The process and ceremonies of ordination itself varies by religion and denomination. One who is in preparation for, or who is undergoing the process of ordination, is sometimes called an ordinand. The liturgy used at an ordination is sometimes referred to as an ordinal.


Eastern, Roman, and Anglican Christianity

A Catholic ordination of a priest by a bishop, carried in the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite. Here seen is the third imposition of hands of the ordination rite according to the traditional, pre-1968 Pontificále Románum.

In the Roman Catholic, Eastern Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Old Catholic and Anglican churches, ordination is identified with the sacrament of Holy Orders and is the means by which one is included in one of the three major orders: bishop, priest, or deacon. In those churches, ordination can be administered only by a bishop in Apostolic Succession; that is, a historical line of succession of bishops dating back to the Twelve Apostles. These churches hold that ordination to the priesthood enables a person to act in persona Christa, "in the person of Christ." Ordination allows a priest validly to administer sacraments, most notably giving that individual the authority to celebrate the Eucharist.

In Catholic, Anglican, and Orthodox thought, the validity of an ordination is of the utmost importance. While debate exists in many Protestant churches about the number and nature of the sacraments, and about the particulars of the Eucharist, generally speaking, the Catholic Church recognizes Eastern Orthodox ordinations and, consequently, all Orthodox Sacred Mysteries (sacraments), while only viewing Protestant churches’ Trinitarian Baptism and Matrimony as valid sacraments (these are the only two sacraments which, in Catholic theology, do not require a priest, but merely faith and intent). The Eastern Orthodox Churches vary in their recognition of the baptism and matrimony of Western churches (whether Roman Catholic or Protestant). While some Eastern churches recognize Anglican ordinations as valid, the Catholic Church does not.

Eastern Orthodox subdeacon being ordained to the diaconate. The bishop has placed his omophorion and right hand on the head of the candidate and is reading the Prayer of Cheirotonia. Meanwhile, the other clergy are saying a litany among themselves, and the people are chanting Kyrie eleison (Lord, have mercy).

In Roman Catholic and Anglo-Catholic churches, ordinations have traditionally been limited to Ember Days, though there is no limit to the number of clergymen who may be ordained at the same service. In the Eastern Orthodox Church, ordinations may be performed any day of the year (except weekdays during Great Lent), but only a single clergyman may be ordained to any ministry at a single Divine Liturgy. That is to say, a maximum of one priest, one deacon, and one bishop at the same Liturgy, but no more than one of each rank. In some Orthodox Churches, deacons may be ordained at the Divine Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts, but priests and bishops may only be ordained at the full Divine Liturgy.

A newly-ordained Orthodox deacon holding the ripidion (liturgical fan) above the consecrated elements during the Divine Liturgy.

In the Eastern Orthodox Church, a distinction is made between the ordinations to lesser ministries such as reader and subdeacon (which are merely blessings, known as chirothesis), and the cheirotonia or ordination through “Laying-on of hands” for a deacon, priest or bishop (which is a Sacred Mystery or sacrament).

Ordination should not be confused with becoming a member of a religious order, which makes one a monk, friar, brother, nun, or sister (see Tonsure and Monastic vows).

Protestant Christianity

A Presbyterian ordinand making his ordination vows.

In most Protestant churches, ordination to the pastoral office is the rite by which their various churches:

  • recognize and confirm that an individual has been called by God to ministry,
  • acknowledges that the individual has gone through a period of discernment and training related to this call, and
  • authorizes that individual to take on the office of ministry.

For the sake of authorization and church order, and not for reason of 'powers' or 'ability', individuals in most mainline Protestant churches must be ordained in order to preside at the sacraments (Baptism and Holy Communion), and to be installed as a called pastor of a congregation or parish.

Some Protestant traditions have additional offices of ministry to which persons can be ordained. For instance:

  • most Presbyterian and Reformed churches maintain a three-fold order of ministry of pastor, elder, and deacon. The order of Pastor, the only one of the three orders considered "clergy", is comparable to most other denominations' pastoral office or ordained ministry. The order of elder comprises lay persons ordained to the ministries of church order and spiritual care (for example, elders form the governing bodies of congregations and are responsible for a congregation's worship life). The order of deacon comprises lay persons ordained to ministries of service and pastoral care.
  • in the Methodist tradition, deacons are also ordained.[1]

For most Protestant denominations that have an office of bishop, such as Lutheranism and Methodism, this is not viewed as a separate ordination or order of ministry. Rather, bishops are ordained ministers of the same order as other pastors, simply having been "consecrated" or installed into the "office" (that is, the job) of bishop. However, some Lutheran churches also have valid apostolic succession.

Some Protestant (especially Pentecostal/Charismatic) Churches also have an informal tier of ministers. Those who graduate from a Bible College or take a year of prescribed courses are Licensed Ministers. Two more years of courses or graduation from a seminary or theological graduate school, as well as an exam by senior ministers, will result in one becoming an Ordained Minister. Both Licensed and Ordained ministers are entitled to "Reverend."

Non Denominational Christianity

In Christianity, the term non-denominational refers to those churches that have not formally aligned themselves with an established denomination, or remain otherwise officially autonomous. This, however, does not preclude an identifiable standard among such congregations. Non-denominational congregations may establish a functional denomination by means of mutual recognition of or accountability to other congregations and leaders with commonly held doctrine, policy and worship without formalizing external direction or oversight in such matters. Some non-denominational churches explicitly reject the idea of a formalized denominational structure as a matter of principle, holding that each congregation must be autonomy.

Non-denominational is generally used to refer to one of two forms of independence: political or theological. That is, the independence may come about because of a religious disagreement or political disagreement. This causes some confusion in understanding. Some churches say they are non-denominational because they have no central headquarters (though they may have affiliations with other congregations.) Other churches say they are non-denominational because their belief structures are unique.

Members of non-denominational churches often consider themselves simply "Christians". However, the acceptance of any particular stance on a doctrine or practice (for example, on baptism), about which there is not general unanimity among churches or professing Christians, may be said to establish a de facto credal identity. In essence, this would mean that each non-denominational church forms its own unofficial "denomination" with a specific set of tenets as defined by the beliefs and practices of its own congregation.

Jehovah's Witnesses

Jehovah's Witnesses do not have a separate clergy class, but consider an adherent's qualified baptism to constitute his ordination as a lay minister.[2] Governments have generally recognized that Jehovah's Witnesses' full-time appointees (such as their "regular pioneers") qualify as ministers[3] regardless of sex or appointment as an elder or deacon ("ministerial servant"). The religion itself asserts what is sometimes termed "ecclesiastical privilege" only for its appointed elders,[4][5] but the religion permits any baptized adult male in good standing to perform a baptism, wedding, or funeral.[6]

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a rite of ordination is performed to bestow either the Aaronic or Melchizedek Priesthood upon a worthy male member. As in the Anglican, Roman Catholic and Orthodox traditions, great care is taken to assure that the candidate for priesthood is ordained by those with proper authority and ordained properly and validly; thorough records of priesthood ordination are kept by the church. Ordination to the office of priest in the Aaronic Priesthood renders unto the ordained the authority to

  • baptize converts and children over the age of 8 into the church
  • bless and administer the Sacrament (the Lord's Supper)
  • participate in ordinations of others to the Aaronic Priesthood
  • collect Fast Offerings for the Bishop. (ordained Deacons and Teachers can also perform this)

Ordination to the Melchizedek Priesthood includes the authority to perform all the duties of the Aaronic priesthood, as well as ordain others to the office of priest, bless and anoint the sick with oil, bless and dedicate graves, and other such rites. There are five offices within the Melchizedek Priesthood to which one could potentially be ordained:

  • Elder
  • High Priest
  • Patriarch
  • Seventy
  • Apostle


Semicha (Hebrew: סמיכה‎, "leaning [of the hands]"), also semichut (Hebrew: סמיכות‎, "ordination"), or semicha lerabanim (Hebrew: סמיכה לרבנות‎, "rabbinical ordination") is derived from a Hebrew word which means to "rely on" or "to be authorized". It generally refers to the ordination of a rabbi within Judaism.


Muslims do not formally ordain religious leaders. Ordination is viewed as a distinct aspect of other religions and is rejected. Religious leaders are usually called Imams or Sheikhs or Maulana. An Imam is referred to someone that leads in prayer and can also be used in a linguistic sense for anyone that leads other Muslims in congregational prayers. Sheikh is an Arabic word meaning old man and is used as an honorable title for a learned man or Shaikhah for a learned woman in Islamic issues. This title is usually more prevalent in the Arabic countries. The word Maulana is a title bestowed upon students that graduate from Madrasah throughout the Indian subcontinent region. Although different Muslim schools, universities or madrasas might follow different graduation ceremonies upon a student's complete of a 4-year B.A. of Islamic Studies or a 7-8 Alim Course, these ceremonies do not in any way symbolize ordination.


Novitiate Buddhist ordination

The tradition of the ordained monastic community (Sangha) began with Buddha, who established orders of monks and later of nuns.

The procedure of ordination in Buddhism is laid down in the Vinaya and Patimokkha or Pratimoksha scriptures. There exist three intact ordination lineages nowadays in which one can receive an ordination according to the Buddha's teachings:

  • Dharmaguptaka Lineage
  • Mulasarvastivadin Lineage
  • Theravada Lineage


Pabbajja is an ordination procedure for novice Buddhist monks in the Theravada tradition.

Posthumous ordination

In Medieval Sōtō Zen, a tradition of posthumous ordination was developed to give the laity access to Zen funeral rites. Chinese Ch’an monastic codes, from which Japanese Sōtō practices were derived, contain only monastic funeral rites; there were no provisions made for funerals for lay believers. To solve this problem, the Sōtō school developed the practice of ordaining laypeople after death, thus allowing monastic funeral rites to be used for them as well. For a lay person, the posthumous ordination part of the ritual was the most vital, because without ordaining the deceased as a Zen monk, the other funeral rites could not be performed.

The ordination ceremony itself was a symbolic ritual which mirrored pre-existing monastic ordination rites. First, the precept administrator would shave the deceased's head, representing acceptance into the priesthood. The precept administrator and his assistant would then chant a special verse that proclaims the nonexistence of an individual self. For each precept, the administrator asked the deceased three times if he or she intended to observe the Buddhist teaching. A corpse could obviously not answer the administrator's questions, but the Japanese Sōtō Zen tradition solved this problem with a koan, a paradox to be meditated upon with Zen insight. One initiation document on the matter is based on the idea that the inability to answer either “yes” or “no” was proof of enlightenment:

How can one posthumously become a monk?
Answer: “Neither saying ‘No’ nor ‘Yes’”
A phrase?
“No self appearance; no human appearance.”
Explain [its meaning].
Answer: “When [something has] absolutely no appearance, it can become anything.”
Teacher: “But why does it become a monk?”
Answer: “Not saying ‘No’ and ‘Yes’ is truly to become a monk (shukke).”
A phrase?
“The sagely and the ordinary know of themselves [who they are].”[7]

Another initiation document states that “not making an outward show of cultivating the precepts while inwardly not clinging to false views truly is to become a monk.”[8] These texts pondering the meaning of silence assert that the dead actually make ideal Zen monks, “simply by having departed from the bounds of worldly distinctions.”[9] It was only after solving this problem of the silence in the case of a corpse that posthumous ordinations could be a legitimate Zen tradition. The innovation of posthumous ordinations then gave Japanese laypeople access to monastic funeral rites, thus popularizing Sōtō funeral practices throughout the Medieval Japanese countryside and fueling the rise of the Sōtō school in general.

Fully ordained nuns

The legitimacy of fully ordained nuns (bhikkhuni/bhiksuni) has become a significant topic of discussion in recent years. Texts passed down in every Buddhist tradition record that Buddha created an order of fully ordained nuns. But the tradition has died out in some Buddhist traditions such as Theravada Buddhism, while remaining strong in others such as Chinese Buddhism (Dharmaguptaka Lineage). In the Tibetan lineage, which follows the Mulasarvastivadin lineage, the lineage of fully ordained nuns was not brought to Tibet by the Indian Vinaya masters, hence there is no full nuns ordination. However HH the XIV. Dalai Lama has endeavored for many years to improve this situation. In 2005 he asked fully ordained nuns in the Dharmaguptaka Lineage, especially Jampa Tsedroen (Carola Roloff, see also [2]), to form a committee to work for the acceptance of the bhiksuni lineage within the Tibetan tradition, and donated €50.000 for further research. The "1st International Congress on Buddhist Women’s Role in the Sangha: Bhikshuni Vinaya and Ordination Lineages" was held at the University of Hamburg from July 18–20, 2007, in cooperation with the University's Asia-Africa Institute. Although the general tenor was that full ordination was overdue, the Dalai Lama presented a pre-drafted statement saying that more time was required to reach a decision, thus nullifying the intentions of the congress (for more see: [3])

New Kadampa Tradition

The Buddhist ordination tradition of the New Kadampa Tradition-International Kadampa Buddhist Union (NKT-IKBU) was developed by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso in accordance with the changing needs of modern society. Unlike most other Buddhist traditions, including Mahayana schools such as Tibetan Buddhism, which follow the Hinayana ordination tradition as laid down in the Vinaya and Pratimoksha Sutras, the NKT-IKBU ordination is based on the Mahayana Perfection of Wisdom Sutras.

Ordination of women

The ordination of women is a controversial issue in religions where either the office of ordination, or the role that an ordained person fulfills, is traditionally restricted to men, for various theological reasons. Many Protestant denominations now ordain women. The United Church of Canada has ordained women since 1932. The Evangelical Lutheran Church of America ordains women as pastors, and women are eligible for election as bishops. The Episcopal Church in the United States of America, ordains women as deacons, priests and bishops. The Lutheran Evangelical Protestant Church ordains women at all levels including deacon, priest and bishop. Whereas other denominations leave the decision to ordain women to the regional governing body, or even to the congregation itself, these include the Christian Reformed Church in North America and the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.

A woman named Deborah was a judge of the ancient Israelites according to the biblical book of Judges. Based partially upon this precedence, other Protestant and non-denominational organizations, such as Rose Ministries,[10] grant ordination to women. Other denominations refute the claim of a precedent based on Deborah's example because she is not specifically described as ruling over Israel, rather giving judgments on contentious issues in private, not teaching publicly,[11] neither did she lead the military.[12][13] Her message to her fellow judge Barak in fact affirmed the male leadership of Israel.[14][15] Policy regarding the ordination of women differs among the different denominations of Judaism.

See also


  1. Order of Service: Ordination of a Deacon and Ordination of a Minister of the Word, Uniting Church in Australia
  2. "Beliefs—Membership and Organization", Authorized Site of the Office of Public Information of Jehovah's Witnesses, As Retrieved 2009-09-01, "Jehovah's Witnesses have no clergy-laity division. All baptized members are ordained ministers"
  3. For example, the U.S. Supreme Court case Dickinson v. United States found that Dickinson should have been considered a minister by his draft board because of his ordination by baptism as a Jehovah's Witness and his continued service as a Jehovah's Witness "pioneer". Online
  4. "Russian Federation Federal Law", Chapter 1, Article 3, Paragraph 7, as cited by Authorized Site of the Office of Public Information of Jehovah's Witnesses, As Retrieved 2009-09-01, "Ecclesiastical privilege is protected by the law. A clergyman may not be prosecuted for refusal to testify on circumstances that became known to him during confession."
  5. "Who Are Jehovah's Witnesses?", Authorized Site of the Office of Public Information of Jehovah's Witnesses, As Retrieved 2009-09-01, "Who Are Jehovah's Witnesses?...The worldwide organization is directed by an unpaid, ecclesiastical governing body serving at the international offices in Brooklyn, New York."
  6. "Question Box", Our Kingdom Ministry, November 1973, page 8, "Weddings and funerals may be conducted by any dedicated, baptized brother as permitted by law."
  7. William M Bodiford, Soto Zen in Medieval Japan (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1993), 195-96.
  8. Bodiford, Soto Zen in Medieval Japan, 196.
  9. Bodiford, Soto Zen in Medieval Japan, 196.
  10. [1] Rose Ministries
  11.;&version=47 Judges 4:5
  12.;&version=47 Judges 4:6, 10, 14
  13. Grudem, Wayne (2004). Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Truth: An Analysis of more than 100 Disputed Questions. Sisters, Oregon: Multnomah Publishers, Inc.. pp. 864. ISBN 157673840X. 
  14.;&version=47 Judges 4:6-7 & 14
  15. Grudem, Wayne (2004). Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Truth: An Analysis of more than 100 Disputed Questions. Sisters, Oregon: Multnomah Publishers, Inc.. pp. 864. ISBN 157673840X. 

External links