The Nestorians and their Rituals/Volume 2/Chapter 27



"It is not lawful for any man to take upon him the office of public preaching, or ministering the Sacraments in the congregation, before he be lawfully called, and sent to execute the same. And those we ought to judge lawfully called and sent, which be chosen and called to this work by men who have public authority given unto them in the congregation, to call and send ministers into the Lord's vineyard."—Article XXIII.

§ 1. "That the bishops, presbyters, deacons, subdeacons, and readers, may not overstep the limits appointed them by Christ. We all ordain that every man shall abide in the degree conferred upon him, and not overstep the limits which have been fixed not by us but by God, since our Lord has said, 'Whosoever heareth you heareth Me, and whosoever heareth Me heareth Him that sent Me; and whosoever despiseth you despiseth Me, and whosoever despiseth Me despiseth Him that sent Me.' Now, if each of the different inanimate creatures keeps its own station and place, and if the night and day, the sun, moon, stars, the elements, the variations of the atmosphere, the months, weeks, days, and hours, are obedient to the limits appointed for their several operations, as it is written: 'Thou hast fixed his bounds so that he cannot pass;' and of the sea, 'and established My decree upon it, and set bars and doors, and said: Hitherto shalt thou come and no further;'—how much more is it your duty not to dare to disorder the least of those things which by the will of God have been ordered and settled for you? But many have been guilty of this, and have disturbed the ordinances, and the laying-on of hands given severally to each, and have dared to take to themselves degrees which were not committed unto them, and have also, with temerity, taken to themselves the things which they ought not to take, and have thereby provoked God to anger, as did Uzziah and the children of Korah, who, against the ordinance, and without God's permission, took unto themselves the high-priesthood, and the latter were burned with fire, and Uzziah was smitten with leprosy. And we know that those who do the like provoke Jesus Christ, whose are these ordinances, and despise the Holy Ghost, by making His witness void. Hence we are assured of the severe punishment of which those are worthy who do these things, and the contempt which is cast upon the Sacrifice and Eucharist by those who offer it in iniquity and unworthily, and who count the reverence due to the high-priesthood a trifling thing, but which in reality is an emblem of the high-priesthood of the Great High-Priest. It becomes us, therefore, to give warning of these things, since for some time past persons have been going after such vanities, and we decree as did Moses,—the man who pleased God, and with whom God spake face to face as a man speaks with his friend, and of whom it was said by the Lord, 'I know thee above all others,'—he to whom the Lord Himself spake, but not in dreams, or visions, or by angels, or by signs,—when He gave directions about the keeping of the divine Law, He declared severally what things should be performed by the high-priests, what by the priests, and what by the Levites, thus giving to each a proper and distinct function in the celebration of the service of God. And if any one dared to trespass upon that which was not committed to him, he was punished with death, which sentence was carried out in the trial of Saul, who dared to offer sacrifice without the prophet and high-priest Samuel, and thereby he drew down upon himself a sin and a curse, which is not loosed unto this day. … And God dealt in the same way with Uzziah, for He does not stay His vengeance, but pours it out upon such as transgress His law; and so he that coveted the priesthood was made a stranger to the sovereign power which had been committed to him. And you cannot be ignorant how that the things which concern us are ordered after the same manner, since you must know that those constituted by us bishops, presbyters, and deacons, by prayer and the laying-on of hands, have attained unto different functions by this change of name. Moreover, with us it is not every one who desires it that can lay on hands, as was done in the days of the vile calves of Jeroboam when the priesthood was cut off, but he alone who is called thereto by God Himself. Now if there were no law determining these things, and if there were not different functions to be performed, one name [or degree] would suffice for the execution of the whole; but since we have heard from the Lord how all things should be disposed, we have committed to bishops the functions which appertain to the high-priesthood, to presbyters the functions of the priesthood, and to deacons the office of ministering to the above two, in order that every thing belonging to the ministry might be performed in righteousness. The deacon is not permitted to offer the oblation, or to baptize, or to bless with a great or lesser benediction; nor is the presbyter permitted to lay on hands, since it is unlawful to confound these ordinances; and God is not the author of confusion to allow those who are in an inferior degree to take unto themselves temerariously the functions peculiar to those who are in a higher degree, thus creating new laws of their own to their own soul's hurt, and not discerning that it is hard for them to kick against the pricks. Those who are guilty of such things do not war against us, or against the bishop, but against Him who is the Bishop over all, the great High-Priest, our Lord Jesus Christ. Moses, the friend of God, appointed the high-priests, the priests, and the Levites, and we the thirteen apostles were appointed by our Saviour. And, by the Apostles, I Clement, and James, and all the others with us, whose names it is needless to enumerate. And by us all [were appointed] the presbyters, deacons, subdeacons, and readers." Canon XIX. of the Apostolical Constitutions as contained in the Sinhadòs.

§ 2. "Christ the Only-begotten is before all, and pre-eminently the High-Priest; yet even He did not take this honour to Himself, but was appointed thereto by the Father. And He, having become man for us, and having offered to God the Father a spiritual sacrifice before His passion, gave a special commandment to us [the apostles] alone to perform the same, although there were with us others who truly believed on Him. From which it is clear, that not every one that believed became a priest, or became fit to exercise the authority of the highpriesthood. After His ascension, we, according to His commandment, offered up a pure and unbloody oblation, and appointed bishops, presbyters, and seven deacons, of whom one was the blessed martyr Stephen, who came behind none of us in his love to God. … This man, who was full of the Spirit, and who saw Christ seated on the right hand of God, and the doors of heaven opened, never performed any functions not appertaining to the diaconate, for he did not offer the oblation, neither did he lay hands on any, but he kept his diaconate to the end according to the will of Christ. Should any persons, however, take umbrage from the act of Philip the deacon, and from the act of Ananias the believing brother, the one having baptized the Eunuch, and the other me Paul, they forget what we have already said, viz., that no man can take the authority of the priesthood unless it be given to him of God, as it was to Melchizedek and to Jacob, or unless it be given by the high-priest, as it was to Aaron by Moses. So that Philip and Ananias did not take this [function] to themselves, but were elected thereto by Christ, the incomparable High-Priest of God." Canon XX. from the same.

§ 3. "It hath seemed good to the Holy Ghost to ordain, that none of the faithful shall be permitted to give orders to the deacons or presbyters in the Church, or to give any directions respecting divine service, or the times thereof, or to enjoin that any thing should be added thereto or taken therefrom. Nor is it allowed that any who are such shall direct by whom this or that portion is to be read, or by whom this or that function is to be performed; but everything is to be done according to the accustomed and proper order, drawn up and appointed in the Church by the holy Fathers. It belongs to the archdeacon, or the head of the presbyters, or the head of the deacons, appointed by the Ordinary, to direct what all the deacons are to do, and what functions they are to exercise. As to the faithful, they have no permission or authority whatever to meddle with that which is above their degree; therefore let every one keep to his degree, and strictly abide in the lot which God has allotted to him. It is not for a presbyter to order a bishop, nor a deacon a presbyter, nor one of the faithful a deacon, or any other of the priesthood. For there is but one Head, and He is sufficient for all the members of the body, and to Him belongs sovereign power. And these things we have ordained by the canon of our Lord's word." Par. VI. entitled: That it doth not belong to laymen to interfere with the Divine service; from the canons of a provincial synod convened by Mar Yohanan, as contained in the Sinhadòs.

§ 4. "None is to be made a chief-priest, bishop, presbyter, or deacon, before he be first tried and examined in many things. He must be strong in faith, and in the doctrine of our Lord, and well known for his fear towards God, and noted for his humility, love, good conversation, and wisdom, and further endowed with the three virtues mentioned in the canons, viz. a sound mind, a perfect knowledge of the Holy Scriptures, and of the theory of the orthodox faith, and well reported of for good works pertaining to sanctification. Let those who are such be first examined, and then be permitted to minister, being found blameless, according to the commandment of the Apostle, and as it becometh those who are raised up to be lords in God's house, the salt of the earth, and the light of the world, for 'whosoever shall thus do and teach, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.' For history and experience bear witness how much confusion, how many tumults, and how many doubts, have been begotten in the Church of Christ through the election of such as are unworthy, and the consecration of such as are without good works, without a knowledge of the truth, and without competent instruction Therefore great care should be exercised in this respect; a care corresponding to the greatness and excellence of the priesthood; and whosoever shall act differently let him be under the sentence of our Lord's own word." Canon V. entitled: That without election none are to be ordained to any degree; from the canons of a provincial synod convened by Mar Timatæos, [a.d. 1317,] Patriarch of the East, as contained in the Sinhadòs.


Amidst the many errors which have sprung up in the Eastern churches, and which continue to exist among them, the priesthood has ever been kept sacred from unlawful invasion on the part of the laity; and the Nestorians, though greatly fallen from the knowledge, faith, and zeal, possessed by their ancestors, still maintain pure and undefiled the apostolical doctrine as contained in Article XXIII. of the Church of England.