Addressing Clergy and Monastics in the Church
To many modern people, etiquette seems like an outdated term dating back to an age before enlightenment and equality.
Yet in our society, the spirit of "equality" has deeply eroded respect between people, and has almost totally destroyed the notion of reverence for holy things - including the grace of God, His servants, and the providence of His mercy through His Body, the Church.
Modern people living in the Orthodox Church must often undertake to rediscover the etiquette of the historic Church which would have been part of everyday life for centuries, even up to the Second World War. For us, rediscovering and practicing this spiritual discipline is part of the exercise of our spiritual muscles, the way of life we must follow to form ourselves in a way which is different than the world - even if the world finds it profoundly different - which it inevitably will!
Greeting Clergy in Person.
When we address Deacons or Priests, we should use the title "Father." Bishops we should address as "Your Grace", Archbishops as "Your Eminence", and Metropolitans as "Your Beatitude" (Greeks reverse the latter two forms of address). Patriarchs are addressed as "Your All Holiness". When we approach an Orthodox presbyter or bishop (but not a Deacon), we make a bow by reaching down (Russian typically touch the floor with their right hand), place our right hand over the left (palms upward), and say: "Bless, Father" (or "Bless, Your Grace," or "Bless, Your Eminence," etc.). In some cases, such as a busy crowd or a particularly friendly meeting, the action implies the request. The priest or bishop then answers, "May the Lord bless you," blesses us with the Sign of the Cross, and places his right hand in our hands. We kiss then his hand.
We should understand that when the priest or bishop blesses us, he forms his fingers to represent the Christogram "ICXC" a traditional abbreviation of the Greek words for "Jesus Christ". Thus, the priest's blessing is in the Name of Christ, as he emphasizes in his response to the believer's request for a blessing. Since both hold the Holy Mysteries in their hands during the Divine Liturgy, we show respect to the Holy Eucharist when we kiss their hands, as well as respect for the apostolic office. In fact, Saint John Chrysostomos once said that if one were to meet an Orthodox priest walking along with an Angel, that he should greet the priest first and kiss his hand, since that hand has touched the Body and Blood of our Lord. For this latter reason, we do not normally kiss the hand of a deacon. When we take leave of a priest or bishop, we should again ask for a blessing, just as we did when we first greeted him.
In the case of married clergy, the wife of a priest or deacon is also informally addressed with a title. Since the Mystery of Marriage binds a priest and his wife together as "one flesh," the wife shares in a sense her husband's priesthood. The various titles used by the national Churches are listed below. The Greek titles, since they have English correspondents, are perhaps the easiest to use in the West:
• Russian: Matushka (Má-toosh-ka)
• Greek: Presbytera (Pres-vee-té-ra)
• Arabic: Khoria (Hoo-rée-ah, with the first syllable voiced in the throat)
• Serbian: Papadiya (Pa-pá-dee-ya), Protinitsa (Pro-tin-éet-sa - used for the wife of a protopriest)
• Bulgarian: Popadia (Po-pa-dée-ya)
• Ukrainian: Dobrodika (Do-bró-di-ka - most common in Canada), Panimatushka (Pa-nee-má-toosh-ka), or Panimatka (Pa-nee-mát-ka)
A few English-speaking priest wives have now adopted the title "Mama". The wife of a deacon is called "Diakonissa [Dee-á--ko-neets--a]" in Greek or Serbian. Most Slavic Churches commonly use the same title for the wife of a deacon as they do for the wife of a priest. In any case, the wife of a priest should normally be addressed with both her title and her name in informal situations (e.g., "Presbytera Mary," "Diakonissa Sophia," etc.).
Greeting Clergy on the Telephone.
Whenever you speak to Orthodox clergy of priestly rank on the telephone, you should always begin your conversation by asking for a blessing: "Father, bless", or "Your blessing, Father". When speaking with a bishop, you should say "Bless, Despota [Thés-po-ta]" (or "Vladika [Vlá-dee-ka]" in Slavonic, "Master" in English). It is also appropriate to say, "Bless, Your Grace" (or "Your Eminence," etc.). You should end your conversation by asking for a blessing again.
Addressing Clergy in a Letter.
When we write to a clergyman (and, by custom, monastics), we should open our letter (a blessing is always asked for at the beginning of a letter or email, not as an afterthought) with the greeting, "Bless, Father." At the end of the letter, it is customary to close with the following line: "Kissing your right hand....". It is not appropriate to invoke a blessing on a clergyman, as many do: "May God bless you." Not only does this show a certain spiritual arrogance before the image of the cleric, but laymen do not have the grace of the priesthood and the prerogative to bless in their stead. Even a priest properly introduces his letters with the words, "The blessing of the Lord" or "May God bless you," rather than offering his own blessing. Though he can do the latter, humility prevails in his behavior, too. Needless to say, when a clergyman writes to his ecclesiastical superior, he should ask for a blessing and not bestow one.
Deacons in the Orthodox Church are addressed as "The Reverend Deacon," if they are married Deacons. If they are deacons who are also monks, they are addressed as "The Reverend Hierodeacon." If a deacon holds the honor of Archdeacon or Protodeacon, he is addressed as "The Reverend Archdeacon" or "The Reverend Protodeacon." Deacons hold a rank in the clergy and are, therefore, not laymen. This is an important point to remember, since so many Orthodox in North America have come to think of the deacon as a kind of "semi-priest." - either confusing the deacon for a priest and assuming he may serve as one, or treating the deacon as a simple layman. This is the result of Latin influence and poor teaching. As members of the clergy, deacons must be addressed, as we noted above, as "Father" or "Father Deacon".
Use of Surnames.
A bad practice has filtered in among some who are new to the Orthodox Church, of addressing clergy using their surnames, as if one is meeting a stranger for a business meeting. Thus, instead of greeting "Father John", one incorrectly says or writes "Father Smith". This is a Latin custom, common among Roman Catholics, which has found usage especially among Uniate Catholics, some of whom later enter the Orthodox Church. This practice is foreign to the historic Orthodox Church, and treats members of the clergy as if the priesthood is a profession, rather than a vocation of spiritual fatherhood. It should be avoided at all costs.
Orthodox Priests are addressed as "The Reverend Father," if they are married Priests. If they are hieromonks (monks who are also priests), they are addressed as "The Reverend Hieromonk." Priests with special honors are addressed in this manner: an Archimandrite (the highest monastic rank below that of Bishop), "The Very Reverend Archimandrite" (or, in the Slavic jurisdictions, "The Right Reverend Archimandrite"); archpriests as "The Very Reverend Archpriest", and protopresbyters, "The Very Reverend Protopresbyter." In personal address, as we noted above, all priests are simply called "Father," usually followed by their first names (e.g., "Father John").
Hierarchs and Monastics.
Bishops in the Orthodox Church are addressed as "The Right Reverend Bishop," followed by their first name (e.g., "The Right Reverend Bishop John"). Archbishops, Metropolitans, and Patriarchs are addressed as "The Most Reverend Archbishop" ("Metropolitan," or "Patriarch"). Because they are also monastics, all ranks of Archpastors (bishops, archbishops, metropolitans, or patriarchs) are addressed by their first names or first names and sees (e.g., "Bishop John of San Francisco"). It is not correct to use the family name of a bishop - or any monastic for that matter. Though many monastics and bishops use their family names, even in Orthodox countries like Russia and Greece, this is improper and a violation of an ancient Church custom.
All male monastics in the Orthodox Church are called "Father," whether they hold the Priesthood or not, and are formally addressed as "Monk (name)," if they do not have a Priestly rank. If they are of Priestly rank, they are formally addressed as "Hieromonk" or "Hierodeacon" (see above). Monastics are some-times addressed according to their monastic rank; for example, "Rasophore-monk (name)," "Stavrophore-monk (name)," or "Schemamonk (name)." The Abbot of a monastery is addressed as "The Very Reverend Abbot," whether he holds priestly rank or not and whether or not he is an archimandrite by rank. Under no circumstances whatsoever is an Orthodox monk addressed by laymen as "Brother." This is a Latin (i.e. Roman Catholic) custom. The term "Brother" is used in Orthodox monasteries in two instances only: first, to designate beginners in the monastic life (novices), who are given a blessing, in the strictest tradition, to wear only the inner cassock and a monastic cap; and second, as an occasional, informal form of address between monastics themselves (including bishops).
Again, as we noted above, a monk should never use his last name. This reflects the Orthodox understanding of monasticism, in which the monastic dies to his former self and abandons all that identified him in the world. Lay people are also called to respect a monk's death to his past. (In Greek practice, a monk sometimes forms a new last name from the name of his monastery. Thus a monk from the Saint Gregory Palamas Monastery [Mone Agiou Gregoriou Palama, in Greek] might take the name Agiogregorites.
The titles which we have used for male monastics also apply to female monastics. In fact, a community of female monastics is often called a "monastery" rather than a convent (though there is nothing improper, as some wrongly claim, in calling a monastery for women a "convent"), just as the word "convent," in its strictest meaning, can apply to a monastic community of males, too. Women monastics are formally addressed as "Nun (name)" or "Rasophore-nun (name)," etc., and the abbess of a convent is addressed as "The Very Reverend Abbess." Though traditions for informal address vary, in most places, rasophore nuns are called "Sister," while any monastic above the rank of rasophore is called "Mother." Novices are addressed as "Sister."
There are, as we have noted, some differences in the way that Orthodox monastics are addressed. What we have given above corresponds to a reasonably standardized vocabulary as one would find it in more traditional English-language Orthodox writings and among English-speaking Orthodox monastics. The influx of Latin converts into Orthodox monasticism and the phenomenon of "monasticism by convenient rule, instant tradition, and fabrication," as one archbishop has called it, are things that have also led to great confusion in the use of English terminology that corresponds more correctly to the vocabulary of traditional Orthodox monastics.
- This article is reprinted from the September 2005 parish newsletter of All Saints of North America Orthodox Church. It is based on an original article by Father David Cownie and Presbytera Juliana Cownie, et. al., which originally appeared in A Guide to Orthodox Life
(Etna, CA: Center for Traditionalist Orthodox Studies, 1996), pp. 90-96. It has been expanded to reflect typical traditional usage in various North American jurisdictions today.