These arguments are good; thank y'all. I do not mean they persuade us dyed-in-the-wool Baptists to turn Orthodox, because I genuinely believe our arguments are good also. In both cases I mean good as arguments; I do not mean irrefutable. The benefit of your posting them here is this: we usually assume that the whole idea of priesthood as you hold it is a later importation (post the 'in hoc signo' victory of Constantine) from paganism brought into the church by the huge influx of unconverted pagans who outwardly joined the church so as to get on in Roman society after Christianity became officially approved - as well as being a throw-back to a pre-Christian idea of priesthood as found in the OT. The arguments you set forth may not convince us, but they do show that it is possible to be both Orthodox and intellectually coherent and honest - something which (I suspect) many Evangelicals would doubt.
Such improved mutual understanding was my initial motive for joining the forum: not to convince you to become Baptists, nor myself to be converted in the opposite direction, but to move towards better bilateral understanding and thus (one hopes) mutual respect.
yet we see in the earliest christian writings this same understanding of the bishop as presiding over the eucharistic gathering, while eucharist is understood in the manner of a sacrifice.
"Assemble on the Lord’s day, and break bread and offer the Eucharist; but first make confession of your faults, so that your sacrifice may be a pure one. Anyone who has a difference with his fellow is not to take part with you until he has been reconciled, so as to avoid any profanation of your sacrifice [Matt. 5:23–24]. For this is the offering of which the Lord has said, ‘Everywhere and always bring me a sacrifice that is undefiled, for I am a great king, says the Lord, and my name is the wonder of nations’ [Mal. 1:11, 14]" (Didache 14, AD 70-100).
"Our sin will not be small if we eject from the episcopate those who blamelessly and holily have offered its sacrifices. Blessed are those presbyters who have already finished their course, and who have obtained a fruitful and perfect release" (Letter to the Corinthians 44:4–5 [St. Clement, A.D. 80]).
"Make certain, therefore, that you all observe one common Eucharist; for there is but one Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, and but one cup of union with his Blood, and one single altar of sacrifice—even as there is also but one bishop, with his clergy and my own fellow servitors, the deacons. This will ensure that all your doings are in full accord with the will of God" (St. Ignatius, Letter to the Philadelphians 4 [A.D. 110]).
"God speaks by the mouth of Malachi, one of the twelve [minor prophets], as I said before, about the sacrifices at that time presented by you: ‘I have no pleasure in you, says the Lord, and I will not accept your sacrifices at your hands; for from the rising of the sun to the going down of the same, my name has been glorified among the Gentiles, and in every place incense is offered to my name, and a pure offering, for my name is great among the Gentiles . . . [Mal. 1:10–11]. He then speaks of those Gentiles, namely us [Christians] who in every place offer sacrifices to him, that is, the bread of the Eucharist and also the cup of the Eucharist" (Dialogue with Trypho the Jew 41 [St. Justin Martyr, A.D. 155]).
So we see, rather than being a foreign export sometime after the 4th century, this understanding was there from the very beginning and to be understood in this sense; with the faithful gathered around their bishop celebrating the eucharistic sacrifice.