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Extensive Definition

This article is about the process of ordaining clergy. For other meanings, see ordination (disambiguation).
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

In the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox 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 Christi, 'in the name of' or 'on behalf of Christ'. Ordination allows a priest validly to administer sacraments, most notably giving that individual the authority to celebrate the Eucharist. It would be proper to think of a priest as acting as a living conduit for Christ, with sacraments being dispensed solely from God through the priest, an imperfect but divinely accepted tool.
In Catholic, Anglican and Orthodox thought, the validity of an ordination is of the utmost importance. While debate exists in many Protestant communities about the number and nature of the sacraments, and about the particulars of the Eucharist, generally speaking, Roman Catholics recognize Eastern Orthodox ordinations and, consequently, all Orthodox Sacred Mysteries (sacraments), while only viewing Protestant communities' Trinitarian Baptism and Matrimony as valid sacraments (these are the only two sacraments which, in Roman 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 Roman Catholic Church does not.
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.
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

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.
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."

Latter Day Saint movement

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 Melchezidek 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. (Deacon and also Teacher)
Ordination to the Melchezidek 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 Melchezidek Priesthood to which one could potentially be ordained:
  • Elder
  • High Priest
  • Patriarch
  • Seventy
  • Apostle

Community of Christ

Prospective priesthood members of Community of Christ (a denomination of the Latter Day Saint movement) are called by God through local officials (pastors), regional officials (mission center presidents) or World Church officials (such as apostles), depending on the office being called to. Offices include: deacon, teacher, priest (the Aaronic Priesthood) as well as elder, seventy, evangelist, bishop, apostle, president and prophet (the Melchisedec priesthood). Deacons and teachers cannot preside over sacraments/ordinances of the church, but priests can preside over baptisms, communion, marriage and ordination. Members of the Melchidesic priesthood can perform the aforementioned, as well as administration to the sick, blessing of children & confirmation. Additionally, evangelists can preside over evangelical blessings. The actual act of ordination is performed by the laying on of hands. Generally, two people place their hands upon the head of the candidate, although for more senior priesthood members, sometimes three or four people participate. One person, the spokesman, offers the actual prayer of ordination. It is a simple, humble rite lasting usually no more than a few minutes. The priesthood has been open to women since 1984. A similar process, generally termed a "setting apart prayer" is used to install pastors and other administrative leaders but does not involve actual ordination. The bulk of the priesthood is self-sustaining, working in secular jobs in order to have an income.


Semicha (, "leaning [of the hands]"), also semichut (, "ordination"), or semicha lerabanim (, "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. The imam serves as a spiritual leader and religious authority.


The tradition of the ordained monastic community (Sangha) began with Buddha, who established orders of monks and later, after an initial reluctance, 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:


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].”
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.” 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.” 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

Within Buddhism, the legitimacy of ordaining women as fully ordained nuns has become a significant topic of discussion in recent years among Buddhist tradition which does not have Sangha for nuns. Sutras pass 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 Mulasarvatavadin lineage, the procedure and lineage of full ordained nuns wasn't brought to Tibet by the Indian Vinaya masters, that's why there is no full nun's ordination within it. However HH the XIV. Dalai Lama has engaged since years to improve that. In 2005 he asked full ordained nuns in the Dharmaguptaka Lineage, especially Jampa Tsedroen (Carola Roloff, see also, for engaging to improve that subject matter 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:

New Kadampa Tradition

In the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT), practitioners can take an ordination from Geshe Kelsang Gyatso. This ordination is described by some as being different from the ordination followed by monks and nuns in the Buddha's lineage as laid down in the Vinaya and Pratimoksha Sutras. However, it comprises the 8 commitments of rabjung or 'basic' ordination as set out in the Vinaya - to refrain from killing, stealing, lying and sexual activity, and to abandon the life of a lay person by changing one's mind, physical aspect and name. In addition to this, NKT monks and nuns receive a further 5 commitments. According to Waterhouse NKT monks and nuns are simply described as ‘ordained’, and usually take the name ‘Kelsang’ from Geshe Kelsang. For more see: NKT ordination.

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 fulfils, 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.
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, 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 judgements on contentious issues in private, not teaching publically , neither did she lead the military. Her message to her fellow judge Barak in fact affirmed the male leadership of Israel.
ordainment in Danish: Ordination
ordainment in German: Ordination
ordainment in Indonesian: Penahbisan
ordainment in Japanese: 叙階
ordainment in Polish: Ordynacja (religia)
ordainment in Portuguese: Ordenação (religiosa)
ordainment in Russian: Священство
ordainment in Swedish: Prästvigning
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