I hope it's ok to do this, but below, I have included an online chat between two friends of mine - one Catholic, one Anabaptist. I have edited the conversation only to make it easier to read.
The discussion centres on the ministerial priesthood, and though it originated on a Catholic Forum of which we are all members, my Anabaptist friend has included the Orthodox in his points. I would be grateful if our more learned members could clarify the Orthodox claims regarding the ministerial priesthood.
God be with us all.
A: Exactly why do Anabaptists reject the idea of a ministerial priesthood?
J: In a nutshell - we don't think it is mentioned in the New Testament and it appears late in the Patristics - after the third century. Early Anabaptists typically referred to the first three centuries as being a prime source for apostolic tradition.
A: Doesn't Saint Ignatius of Antioch deal with bishops & presbyters?
J: Yes, but he does not mention priests. Even Anabaptists recognise bishops and presbyters, but the presbyter in Ignatius is not a priest. Later Greek usage made the presbyter a priest - and then retrojected that later meaning back into the earlier text
A: Presbyter means elder.
J: Yes, presbyter indeed means elder but that does not make a presbyter a priest.
A: Hieros is a priest. St Paul speaks of his ministry to the gentiles as priestly; when he says that he uses hieros.
J: Yes, hieros is nowhere used of either the bishop or the presbyter in the New Testament or early patristic literature. Christians have a priestly role, but that is not an argument for a ministerial priesthood. The first record of hieros to designate the presbyter does not occur until the mid-third century.
A: It is an example of the NT using hieros for an apostle, isn’t it?
J: Yes, and hieros and its cognates are used of Christians generally - but that is still not an argument for a ministerial priesthood. The presbyter replicates the structure of the synagogue where the elders had oversight of the synagogue - it is borrowed directly from that structure into the primitive church. And the Timothy letters refer to elders, both male and female. I don't think a ministerial priesthood is necessarily incompatible with the Christian faith.
A: I don’t find that convincing, because (1) Christian priesthood is hieros, (2) Saint Paul speaks of his ministry of the gospel as a hieros, (3) some Christians serve as presbyters which is a ministerial role, (4) presiding in the Eucharist is a presbyterial role, (5) the Eucharist is seen as sacrificial very very early, (6) the hieros serves at altars whereon sacrifice is made and the presbyter is the one making the sacrifice.
J: Most of your argument relies on retrojection, since there is not a single mention of any Christian priesthood in the New Testament apart from the general priesthood of all believers - trying to argue from the general to the non-mention of a specific is illicit. And that some Christians serve as presbyters in a ministerial role is also not documented in the New Testament either. Again this is an argument from retrojection.
A: NT usage is not determinative on this issue because as you say, it is not widely used in the NT at all
J: it is not even widely used - it is never used period
A: It is used by Saint Paul of himself
J: And that the Eucharist has sacrificial overtones does not mean that it entails a sacrificing priesthood. That Paul uses it does not mean he identifies himself as part of a ministerial priesthood - he does not for instance in any of his list, list a priest as one of the offices of the church.
A: Not a convincing argument.
J: I don't find your arguments convincing either. You are retrojecting rather than taking the New Testament and early patristic literature in their historical sense. You retroject later usage back into earlier texts - which is anachronistic.
A: The NT is not the sole source for Christian beliefs.
J: I never said it was, but the early patristic literature does not support your arguments either - except by recourse to retrojection.
A: The NT says little about this aspect of Christian community & worship because the NT says rather little about the details of Christian worship. Tradition, however, says rather more about Christian worship.
J: That is indeed correct - but that still does not alter the witness of early Patristic literature.
A: Tradition does identify ministerial priesthood quite early
J: After the third century
A: Which is early
J: Early, but not apostolic
A: While the church is still under persecution
J: Again, still not apostolic
J: Now if the Orthodox and Catholic argument wishes to claim that it follows the logic of the New Testament and early patristic thought, then I would have no issue with the idea, but the Orthodox and Catholic claim something quite different.
A: I am presuming that you have some working definition of apostolic?
J: Namely, that it is apostolic because it is directly instituted by Christ himself. In other words, the Catholic/Orthodox claim is that Jesus himself instituted the apostles as priests
A: So a priestly ministry is not instituted by Christ?
J: Correct - it is not. At best, it is a subsequent development. Which I have no problem with - but Catholics and Orthodox flatly refuse to admit that.
A: The catechism observes "Christians share in the priesthood of Christ" and Christ's priesthood is sacrificial; that there are those among Christians who minster to other Christians; and some minister in the gospel, some "on tables" in a deaconal work, some preside at the meetings. What exactly, in your opinion, is missing? Aren’t those who minister by presiding in the meeting ministerial priests acting as Christ in the matter of consecrating the Eucharist?
J: What is missing is the claim that it is an intrinsic part of the church (viz that it is directly instituted by Christ) rather than it is a function that has been instituted at some point because it somehow serves the good of the church (whether it does is another issue - I think it does not necessarily do so for both ecclesial and Trinitarian reasons)