The Episcopacy and Apostolic Succession
within the
Orthodox and Catholic Faith Tradition

In Orthodox Catholic theology, the doctrine of apostolic succession is that the apostolic tradition - including apostolic teaching, preaching, and authority - is handed down from the college of apostles to the college of bishops through the laying on of hands, as a permanent office in the Church.

We of The Evangelical Orthodox Catholic Church in America, wish to publish and proclaim our accord with the ancient understandings of the undivided Church, both East and West, of the importance and authority of the apostolic succession and the validity of the episcopate both in terms of sacramental validity and jurisdictional authority as acknowledged by both the Eastern and Western Church both prior to and after the great schism in 1054.

We publish this statement in accord with our tutelary responsibilities as bishops of the church. We do so not to point out where we differ from others, so much as to proclaim our adherence to the apostolic understandings and doctrines that have gone before us in regard to the episcopacy of the Church both East and West since apostolic times.

It would unfortunately, be all to easy to point out the inconsistencies of adherence to Canons, Form, and Order by all branches of the Church at one time or another. That is not our purpose in this teaching. It is our belief that eventually coming to "agreement" on what we "believe" jointly and mutually, will eventually lead the church to move upon the strands of agreement based upon the Faith we hold jointly and mutually, along with belief and practice, to a more united, co-operative place in the Holy Spirit guided prompting toward unity with those sister churches and jurisdictions that adhere to that same apostolic faith, belief, and practice.

We of course must begin with : The Great Apostolic Commission -- found in the Holy Gospel of John.

John 20:21-23"

As the Father has sent me, I also send you. And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven if you retain the sins of any, they are retained."

The Holy Scriptures say that He breathed on them, granting them the Most Holy Spirit of God, thereby unifying their life and their mission with that of the Holy Trinity -- with God.

This consecration of the Apostles, and likewise their successors, is not merely a legal transaction, like the sending of an ambassador to a foreign country, or even appointing someone to hold an office. No, this gift of Consecration to the Episcopate is truly charismatic in the fullest sense of that word. There is a process, a flow of Grace and authority directly from God in this process. The Church in reality, can never really even be described as an organization, for it is in truth a living breathing organism.

The Life of God flows from the Father to the Son in and via the Holy Spirit, and from the Son to the Apostles and from the Apostles to their successors via the Holy Spirit. And through the Apostles and their successors that same authority flows through the Apostolic Ministry, that same Life of God, into the Church. [e.g., Only God can forgive sins but forgiveness is experienced through the Apostolic Ministry of the Apostles and their successors within the Church].

There is, and will always be, a Heavenly connection between Christ, Who is the Head of the Church, and the Church which is His Body. It must be understood as the union between head and body. In Colossians 2:9 we read: "In Him [Jesus Christ] dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily."

If we are the Body of Christ, all the fullness of deity is dwelling in the Church to which we are joined. The Church is not merely an earthly organization or even an association of like minded Christian people. It is an ontological union of being between Christ and His people.

It is therefore within the Sacramental life of the Church, within the Holy and Divine Eucharistic Liturgy of the Church, that the fullness of Christ in His Church is expressed. Once again we move to the Sacred Scriptures as found in:

1 Corinthians 10: 16-17

"The Cup of blessings which we bless, is it not the communion [or participation - the word here is koinonia, commonality of life] of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion [koinonia] of the body of Christ? For we though many, are One Bread and One Body, for we all partake of that one bread."

As we are joined with the Body of Christ, and the bread is the Body of Christ, then it is by our participation in the Holy Eucharist that we establish our very identity, who we are, and who we are when we gather together in the Eucharistic Community. We express ourselves in that unity within the Body of Christ by partaking of the Holy Eucharist. It must be understood that the very essence of the Church and the continuity of the Church is tied to the Holy Eucharist and to the Sacraments/The Holy Mysteries and the Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The apostolic succession of the "Successors to the Apostles" [e.g., the Apostolic Bishops of the Church] as expressed by the undivided Church before the great schism between East and West, involved the continuing existence and continuation of the Eucharistic Community. It is to that basic understanding that the Church must always return to bring sanity to the issue of validity, jurisdictional authority, and apostolic understanding of the episcopacy.


First, we will look at the Western understanding of the Order of Bishop. In that perspective, we first will look at what Tertullian had to say: "Tertullian," is considered to be the first great Latin theologian. Tertullian says and we quote: "We hold communion [i.e., shared communion] with the apostolic churches because our doctrine is in no respect different from theirs. This is our witness of truth." Tertullian's twofold test of apostolicity includes:

1. The apostolic succession of Bishops, and

2. The apostolic FAITH as held and taught by the Apostles.

It further becomes incumbent upon us, to state publicly that in the western tradition of the apostolic church, the following proofs of valid apostolic order and heritage that have been held as the norm for valid apostolic succession and that have been witnessed to for centuries within the Church, are, as Rome has always believed and taught, represented by the following three main points:

1. That Old and Independent Orders are valid if apostolic succession can be proven, and upheld and

2. That the Scholastics, notably Aquinas, drew upon Tertullian and Irenaeus to distinguish between the "material" validity of Orders, whereby there is a proven and valid reception of the Sacrament of Orders, and the "formal" validity of orders, wherein there are valid orders, as well as communion with the college of Roman bishops under the Pope, and

3. That the "regularity," or "licitness" of orders has no bearing whatsoever upon their validity. The former is a purely political and jurisdictional judgment while acknowledgment of the latter is in keeping with both the Augustinian canon and the Nicene Creed.

For the "licit" conferring of the Episcopal Order from the western or Roman perspective and understanding it is necessary that a consecration to the episcopacy be performed by three bishops. For valid conferring, however, a single bishop suffices, since the individual bishop possesses the full power of ordination.

If the co-consecrating bishops are not merely witnesses, it is necessary that they form the "intention of consecrating and of conferring the Sacrament conjointly with the consecrator, not only by imposing their hands conjointly with him, but also by pronouncing the prayer of consecration (softly) with him, together with the Preface of Order.

- In 1896, the various powers of the Bishops were once again addressed in the Papal Encyclical "Satis cognitum," of Leo XIII. "Bishops have immediate power, that is, it is not practiced via the permission of a superior. Thus bishops can never be simply delegates (agents) or vicars (representatives) but are indeed independent pastors of the flocks entrusted to them."

- "They have power appointed by God for the Apostles, on the grounds of Divine ordinance, whether in the immediate commission of Christ, or on the direction of the Holy Spirit (Acts 20:28) have passed on their pastoral office to the bishops. The bishops are the successors of the Apostles, not in such a manner that an individual bishop is a successor of an individual Apostle, but that the bishops in their totality (together) are the successors of the College/Gathering of the Apostles."

The issues of continuity and accountability are extremely important. Thus the following must be within the Consecration of a Bishop:

1. FORM: The rite of consecration to the Order of Bishop takes place with the imposition of hands and prayer. [2 Timothy 1:6 and 1 Timothy 4:14]. The Consecration must be done in the context of the Eucharistic Liturgy to be valid. This emphasizes the connection of the Ordination / Consecration with the Eucharistic Community. A consecration done secretly, out of the context of the Eucharistic Liturgy or privately away from the Church and its worshiping community would or could therefore be considered flawed or invalid.

2. MATTER: There must be an actual laying on of hands by a Bishop during the Eucharistic Liturgy. Prayer is not sufficient in and of itself.

3. MINISTER: The one who performs the consecration must himself be a validly consecrated Bishop within the Apostolic Succession, and possess jurisdictional authority to pass along not only Sacramental Consecration but also to pass jurisdictional authority [i.e. what territory/Diocese/Archdiocese] which already exists, will this Bishop be consecrated for].

4. INTENTION: The intent of the Laying On of Hands and the prayer within the Eucharistic Liturgy must be to ordain or consecrate the person to Holy Orders. One could conceivably lay hands on someone during the Eucharistic Liturgy for prayer for healing, for blessing, or for some other worthy propose, without the intent to ordain or consecrate. This criterion removes the possibility of someone claiming to be a Bishop or priest simply because he had received the "Laying On of Hands" in the Liturgy. The intent must be to ordain or consecrate and to so state the same in the Ordination or Consecration documents.

Note: According to the precepts of the undivided church, the Continuity [Apostolic Succession] must be always viewed within the context of Eucharistic Community [i.e. thus leading also to valid jurisdiction and authority via Bishops functioning only in their own Dioceses or other designated territories. The Order of Bishop, Priest, and Deacon are intrinsically tied to the Holy Eucharist and its celebration -- in community.


Within our Orthodox Catholic and Apostolic Faith, there rests the core of understanding about what our Worship within the Eucharistic Community really means. When the Eucharistic celebration proclaims the Kingdom of God is at Hand, it is not just proclaiming practical or physical achievements, but also a real vision of the Divine Presence of God in our midst. From the Eastern Churches perspective, the emphasis is also very much placed within the Eucharistic understanding of Community.

The following represents the Eastern perspective of validity and core of jurisdictional authority. The following four points of clarity must be present in order for validity and jurisdictional authority to be maintained and passed from generation to generation within the Church:

- ELECTION: PROTOCOL FROM THE FAITHFUL: A Bishop must be properly elected by the Diocese he is to administer.

- APPROVAL BY RULING SYNOD/OR COLLEGE OF BISHOPS: A Bishop must also have and obtain the approval of the legitimate governing synod to which he will be accountable, in order to be consecrated a bishop.

- CONSECRATED BY VALID BISHOPS: A bishop must receive valid consecration from Bishops within the Holy Synod to which they will be accountable, or by Bishops, serving with permission of the synod [i.e., other valid bishops within the Apostolic Succession].

- REMAIN LOYAL TO THE APOSTOLIC FAITH AND THE CHURCH: A bishop must remain loyal and faithfully remain in communion with the Church. Once a Bishop leaves the Church in "schism," the Church is not obligated to recognize any consecrations or ordinations performed, until resolution of the seeming separation takes place.


The great reality of these two perspectives of the One, Holy, Catholic, Orthodox, and Apostolic Church, both East and West are the two core elements of the Order of Bishop, though they have become a matter of argument and battle between Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox brethren, are not mutually exclusive of each other.

One is meant to be united with the other. Both aspects, both the Western and the Eastern understanding, doctrine and Faith, of the undivided church comprise the whole truth of what Apostolic Succession was, and is, to the church as a whole.

Tragically, Rome abrogated the authority of the Bishops to act without papal permission and authority, but we must remember that sacramental validity is also a very important part of the episcopacy.

When we look at the tragedy of a divided Church and Christendom, we can still often say where the Church "is." We can do that by looking to see what is being taught, believed, and practiced in terms of the traditional Faith of the One, Holy, Orthodox, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.

It can also be said, however that it is "impossible" and that we cannot always say, with confidence, where the Church is not.

The One, Holy, Catholic, Orthodox, and Apostolic Church of our Lord, Savior, and God Jesus Christ can never be de-constituted as the Church because she is divided, weak and/or failing in some part or in some aspect. What does constitute her as the Church of our Lord Jesus Christ is her total union with Christ, her visible continuity with His Apostles and their successors -- in the Faith that they taught, and in her participation in the Holy Eucharistic Liturgy within community.

In summary, we pray that through this "statement" on the episcopacy of the Church and what we believe and hold as central truths concerning the ancient understanding of the Holy Order of Bishop, that others also who are of a like mind with us, who find themselves in agreement with our published doctrinal positions on the apostolic faith will better know and understand who we are through what we teach, proclaim, and confess within: The Evangelical Orthodox Catholic Church in America, via its National Synod of Bishops, Clergy and faithful.