Rev. John Welch, M.S.
Once the early Christians realized that Christ's coming in glory was delayed, there was a need to provide for the
governance and everyday needs of the church. The various "orders" within the church carried forward
the apostles' ministry, but also allowed for a measure of creativity. The sacrament we call "holy orders"
evolved somewhat slowly.
At first, it made sense for Christians to use the forms they knew, adapting them to new situations. Synagogues,
for example, were administered by a board of "elders," translated into Greek as presbyteros. We know from the Acts of the Apostles that a system of presbyters was a normal feature of church life from earliest days. They stood in relationship to another order, that of "overseers," translated into Greek as episkopos, giving us the English "bishops." The bishop was the shepherd, the faithful tender of the flock, one who offered the Eucharist, forgave sins, and maintained the bond of charity.
Just as the deacons were the chief advisers for the charitable life of the church, so were the presbyters meant to advise the bishop
on the spiritual life of the faithful. They were trusted advisers at first, not pastors or priests as we understand those terms today.
--Rev. James Field, Copyright (c) J. S. Paluch Co