Today was the consecration to the episcopacy of Bishop Paul (Gassios) of Chicago and the Midwest. The Midwest Diocese is my canonical home, so I am happy that one of our own clergy has ascended to this ministry as archpastor! At his consecration as bishop, as at all Orthodox ordinations, the clergy, the choir and the people repeatedly proclaim “Axios! Axios! Axios!” This happens in every Orthodox Church ordination anywhere in the world, whether American, Russian, Greek, Finnish, Romanian, Ugandan, Mexican, Bolivian or Japanese Orthodox. For those who have never seen this or have no idea what it means, here is a short synopsis.
Axios (Greek: Άξιος, “he is worthy”), is an acclamation that is made by the faithful at the ordination of bishops, priests, and deacons in the Orthodox Church. The acclamation may also be made when a bishop presents an ecclesiastical award to a clergyman during the Divine Liturgy. This proclamation is kept in the original Greek to express continuity and identity with the Apostolic Church, which used vernacular Greek in its worship (and in writing the New Testament).
Also at the consecration of the bishop, he, the newly consecrated bishop himself at successive places in the Divine Liturgy, ordains both a priest (after the Great Entrance) and a deacon (after the Consecration of the Eucharist), so “Axios!” will be heard often!
The custom has its origins in the early church, when the clergy were elected by the entire church community, including the laity. This was based upon the precedent set in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 1:15-26; 6:2-61). It must be noted that election and ordination (Greek: cheirotonia, literally, “laying-on of hands”) are two separate actions. The election was accomplished by all, the laying-on of hands by the bishops only (1 Timothy 4:14). Because of the danger of politicizing the process, and electoral corruption, the clergy began to be appointed by the episcopate alone (a priest or deacon is appointed by the ruling bishop; a bishop is elected by a synod). However, the biblical participation of the laity is still fulfilled; when the newly-ordained is being vested and presented to the people by the bishop, they will exclaim,
“Axios! Axios! Axios!”
to show their approval.
There has been some discussion as to whether or not the withholding of “Axios” by the laity would somehow invalidate the ordination. However, the role of the laity in ordination has never been a sacramental one, and the teaching of the Church regarding the validity of the Holy Mysteries is that they are not dependent upon the worthiness of the minister (see Donatism). In any event, by the time “Axios” is appointed to be said, the cheirotonia has already taken place.
When a bishop wishes to confer an award or honor on a deacon or priest under his jurisdiction, this will normally be accomplished at the Little Entrance of the Divine Liturgy. At the end of the Third Antiphon (normally the Beatitudes), the procession with the Gospel Book will halt at the bishop’s Cathedra. The clergyman who is to receive the award will be presented to the bishop, who will remove his mitre, lay his hand upon the head of the clergyman and say the prayer for the particular award. He will then confer the award (a cross, kamilavka, mitre, etc.) and the people will exclaim,
“Axios! Axios! Axios!”
This exclamation does not indicate the same participation of the laity as it does at ordination; rather, it is simply an expression of their acknowledgment of the clergyman’s worthiness for the award, similar to applause at a secular awards ceremony.