Priesthood and Hierarchy

Each Orthodox diocese is divided into lesser units, which organically belong to the same diocese or bishopric. At the head of each diocese is the bishop, first among the priests of a local Church. He chooses representatives who, with his empowerment and bless ing, serve the Church either at his side or independently. They are part of the local church hierarchy and are ordained as presbyters (priests) and deacons. These degrees of church hierarchy - bishop, presbyter and deacon - form the three degrees of Holy Orders.

For purely practical reasons, each diocese or bishopric is divided into two, three or more church congregations which are administered by specifically chosen, prominent, distinguished priests, each in the capacity of a bishop's delegate. They are given some measure of jurisdiction over other priests, and they carry the title of Episcopal Dean, or proto-presbyter. Each episcopal deanery consists of several church congregations, which further consist of several parishes. The parish is the smallest unit in the local church structure, signifying the local church in a town or a village, headed by a presbyter (priest). A parish and a church congregation may coincide, but not necessarily so, since a church congregation is usually considered to have a wider connotation. All bishops form the Holy Synaxis of Bishops, and this is the highest administrative, spiritual and legislative body within the Serbian Orthodox Church.

The Holy Synaxis or assembly of bishops convenes regularly at least once a year and solves all current questions of church life. If necessary, extraordinary assemblies may be convened, as well as the regular ones. Between each regular council of the Holy Synaxis of Bishops, the executive body of the Church is the Holy Synod of Bishops. Four bishops and the patriarch, or his representative, form it, and its main role is to put into practice all decisions made by the Holy Synaxis of Bishops.

The patriarch is first only in honour; he does not have the authority of a Roman pope, and he has no power whatsoever over other bishops. All he has is his high standing, and his voice is decisive only when cases cannot be resolved by the bishops comprising the Holy Synaxis. He is considered to be first among equals.

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