Written by Vladimir Moss



     One of the marks of the Antichrist is that he will attempt to take upon himself the functions both of king and of high priest. This combination is strictly forbidden by Church tradition: king-priests are commonly found in pagan religions, but never in Christianity. Occasionally, bishops have been forced by circumstances to take upon themselves some of the functions of the secular ruler. This was the case, for example, in Montenegro during the early nineteenth century; and under the Turkish yoke the Ecumenical Patriarch was also appointed as head of the Orthodox nation under the Sultan. In general, however, any self-willed assumption of both powers was severely punished by the Church authorities. Thus when, in 796, Eadbert Praen, an English priest, assumed the crown of the sub-kingdom of Kent for himself, he was immediately rejected by the Archbishop of Canterbury and later anathematized by Pope Leo III. Such a priest-king, he wrote, was like Julian the Apostate…[1] 

     Julian was a pagan, and pagan kings very often combined the roles of kingship and priesthood (not to mention deity). But God’s true kings can never be priests. The only man known to have combined the roles of king and priests with God’s blessing is Melchizedek, the mysterious king-priest of Salem, who blessed Abraham on his return from the slaughter of the Babylonian kings. However, Melchizedek was the exception that proved the rule; for he was more like God than man, being both the first and the last man in the history of the People of God lawfully to combine the roles of king and priest[2]. Indeed, he was the first recorded true king and “priest of the Most High God”, who was called “Possessor of heaven and earth” (Genesis 14.18). This title shows, according to St. Paul (Hebrews 7.3), that he was the type, not of any merely human king, but of Christ God, the Supreme King and Chief High Priest.[3] Like Christ in His Divine generation, he was “without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days not end of life, but made like the Son of God, remaining a priest continually” (Hebrews 7.3). Again like Christ at the Last Supper, Melchizedek offers Abraham bread and wine, which is why Christ is called “a priest after the order of Melchizedek” (Hebrews 7.17). So Abraham is blessed by Christ Himself, the true King of Peace, in the person of Melchizedek, the “king of peace”…

     When the Holy Fathers began to develop the Orthodox teaching on the relationship between the monarchy and the priesthood, they returned to the figure of Melchizedech. Paradoxically, in view of the later heresy of papism, it was some of the earlier, Orthodox popes who developed the dogma that the kingship and the priesthood cannot be combined in a single person – although their words were aimed rather at emperors who wanted to be popes (caesaropapism) rather than popes who wanted to be emperors (papocaesarism). Thus“before the coming of Christ,” wrote Pope Gelasius (492-496), “there existed people… who were, according to what sacred history tells us, at the same time both kings and priests, such as Melchizedek. This example was followed in his domain by the devil, who always, in a tyrannical spirit, claims for his own that which is fitting for divine worship, to the extent that the pagan emperors were also called pontiffs. But when there came He Who was in truth both King and Priest, from that time the emperor ceased to give himself the name of pontiff and the pontiff to lay claim to the royal pomp. For, although we say that the members of Christ, the true King and Priest, have, by reason of their participation in the glorious nature, received both the one and the other dignity through the sacred generosity [of Christ], so that they are at the same time ‘a royal and a priestly race’, nevertheless Christ, remembering the weakness of men..., has divided the spheres of the two powers by means of a distinction of duties and callings..., desiring that His own [children] should be guarded by grace-filled humility and should not once again become victims of human pride. So that the Christian emperors need the pontiffs for eternal life and the pontiffs conform to the imperial laws as regards the course of temporal things. Thus spiritual activities have been separated from carnal activities…. He who is entrusted with secular matters should not appear to preside over divine things, so that the modesty of the two orders should be respected…. ”[4] 

     And so, as he wrote to the Emperor Anastasius, “there are two powers which for the most part control this world, the sacred authority of priests and the might of kings. Of these two the office of the priests is the greater inasmuch as they must give account even for kings to the Lord at the Divine Judgement. You know that although by your rank you stand at the head of the human race, you nevertheless bend your will before the leaders of Divine affairs, you turn to them in matters relating to your salvation, and you receive the heavenly sacraments from them. You know, consequently, that in matters of the faith you must submit to their lawful decisions and must not lord it over them – not submit them to your will, but be yourself guided by their judgements.” But “in matters touching public order, the Church hierarchs know that the emperor’s power has been sent down on you from above, and are themselves obedient to your laws, for they fear to be shown as opponents of your will in worldly affairs.”[5]

     Another Pope who took up the image of Melchizedech in order to humble a too-ambitious emperor was Nicholas I. But his motive was ambition of a no less pernicious kind: he wanted to bring down the emperor’s supposed caesaropapism in order to vaunt his own papocaesarism. Moreover, he wanted complete control over the Church in both East and West. However, if the papacy could cite some precedents for claiming supreme power over the Church in the West, in the East it had no jurisdiction.

     Nevertheless, in 863 Nicholas defrocked even St. Photius, Patriarch of Constantinople. The Frankish Annals of St. Bertin for 864 responded cuttingly by speaking of “the lord Nicholas, who is called pope and who numbers himself as an apostle among the apostles, and who is making himself emperor of the whole world”.[6] Nothing daunted, in 865 Nicholas declared that the Pope had authority “over all the earth, that is, over every other Church”, “the see of Peter has received the total power of government over all the sheep of Christ”. As he wrote to Emperor Michael III: “The judge shall be judged neither by Augustus, nor by any cleric, nor by the people… The First See shall not be judged by any… Before the coming of Christ it was the case that there existed, in a type, men who were at once kings and priests: sacred history tells us that the holy Melchisedech was one of these. The devil, as one who ever strives, with his tyrannical spirit, to claim for himself what belongs to the worship of God, has imitated this example in his own members, so that pagan emperors might be spoken of as being at the same time the chief pontiffs. But He was found Who was in truth both King and Pontiff. Thereafter the emperor did not lay hands on the rights of the pontificate, nor did the pontiff usurp the name of emperor. For that one and the same ‘Mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus’ (I Timothy 2.15), so separated the functions of the two authorities, giving each its own proper activities and distinct honours (desiring that these properties should be exalted by the medicine of humility and not brought down again to the depths by man’s arrogance...”[7]

     This would suggest that Nicholas supported the Orthodox teaching on the separation of the secular and ecclesiastical powers. And indeed, his treatment of the traditional theme of Melchizedek is Orthodox. However, while it was useful for him to preach the Orthodox doctrine in order to limit the power of the emperor, he accepted few, if any, limitations on his own power. He even hinted that the Byzantine emperors might not be legitimate emperors of the Romans, which would imply that the only legitimate emperor was the Frankish one, or, if the Donation of Constantine was to be believed, the Pope himself! Thus he said that it was ridiculous for Michael to call himself Roman emperor, since he did not even speak Latin![8]

     The Roman papacy fell into several heresies, but the most fundamental of them, the heresy that gave it its specially antichristian character, was its assumption of supremacy, not only in the Church, but also in the State. It began by the papacy acquiring “the Papal States”; it continued, in 1059, with the papacy being crowned for the first time in a quasi-royal coronation (of Nicholas II), followed by the papacy taking upon itself the right to appoint and remove kings (the Norman invasion of England in 1066 and the centuries-long struggle with the German “Holy Roman Emperor”); and it reached its climax in megalomaniac documents such as Gregory VII’s Dictatus Papae (1075) and Boniface VIII’s Unam Sanctam (1302), which declared the papacy’s absolute authority over all churches, all states and all individuals. Not for nothing, therefore, did several saints call the Pope “the forerunner of the Antichrist”.

     The true Divine order – the separation but at the same time “symphony” of powers between king and high priest - was indicated already in the Old Testament by King Jehoshapahat of Judah, who said: “Take notice: Amariah the chief priest is over you in all matters of the Lord, and Zebadiah the son of Ismael, the ruler of the house of Judah, for all the king’s matters” (II Chronicles 19.11). However, when King Saul, tired of waiting for Samuel, transgressed against the Divine order by carrying out the appointed sacrifice himself, he lost his kingship (I Kings 13.13-14).[9] Again, during the reign of King Uzziah the kingship began to encroach on the altar. Blessed Jerome explains: “As long as Zachariah the priest, surnamed the Understanding, was alive, Uzziah pleased God and entered His sanctuary with all reverence. But after Zachariah died, desiring to make the religious offerings himself, he infringed upon the priestly office, not so much piously as rashly. And when the Levites and the other priests exclaimed against him: ‘Are you not Uzziah, a king and not a priest?’ he would not heed them, and straightway was smitten with leprosy in his forehead, in accordance with the word of the priest, who said, ‘Lord, fill their faces with shame’ (Psalm 82.17)… Now Uzziah reigned fifty-two years… After his death the prophet Isaiah saw the vision [Isaiah 6.1]… While the leprous king lived, and, so far as was in his power, was destroying the priesthood, Isaiah could not see the vision. As long as he reigned in Judea, the prophet did not lift his eyes to heaven; celestial matters were not revealed to him.”[10]

     These were isolated instances, and the sin was always corrected. But from the time of the Maccabees, the error became systemic – with disastrous results for the Israelite autocracy. For from the time of Simon Maccabeus the Hasmonean rulers, who were of the priestly tribe but not of the kingly one, combined the roles of king and high priest (I Maccabees 13.42), thereby undermining the lawfulness of the leadership of the people of God. Finally Herod the Great, the closest of all forerunners of the Antichrist, came to power.

     Now Herod was not only not of the line of David: he was not even a Jew by race. Tom Mueller writes: “His mother was an ethnic Arab [from Nabataea], and his father was an Edomite, and though Herod was raised as a Jew, he lacked the social status of the powerful old families in Jerusalem who were eligible to serve as high priest, as the Hasmonaean kings had traditionally done. Many of his subjects considered Herod an outsider – a ‘half Jew’, as his early biographer, the Jewish soldier and aristocrat Flavius Josephus later wrote – and continued to fight for a Hasmonaean theocracy.”[11] 

     Pious Jews inevitably wondered how the promises made by God to David about the eternity of his dynasty (Psalm 131.11-15) could be fulfilled now that the Davidic line appeared to have died out. Perhaps the time had come for the appearance of the Messiah, whose kingdom would be eternal… After all, the “seventy times seven” prophecy of Daniel (9.24-27) indicated that his coming would be in the first half of the first century AD.[12] Moreover, had not the Patriarch Jacob, declared: “The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto Him shall the gathering of the people be” (Genesis 49.10)? Now that the sceptre, in the form of the Jewish kingship, appeared to have departed from Judah, was it not time for the appearance of Shiloh? [13] 

     Herod tried to remedy the fault of his non-Hasmonaean blood by marrying the Hasmonaean princess Mariamne, the grand-daughter of King Aristobulus and Hyrcanus II on her mother’s side. But his Jewish faith was superficial at best, if not completely feigned – he was more inclined to Greco-Roman culture and religion. Moreover, he proceeded to a frightful blood-letting of the leaders of Jewish society, killing most of the Sanhedrin and all of the Hasmonaean family, not excluding his own wife Mariamne and their sons Alexander and Aristobulus.

     In view of the virtual extinction of the kingly line and the profound corruption of the priestly line, it was time for the only true King and Priest, the Lord Jesus Christ, to come to earth and restore both lines, combining them in His own Person. In Zachariah chapter 6, we have a striking messianic prophecy about Him Who would combine the roles of king and priest within Himself. For as crowns are placed on the head of Joshua, the high priest, the Lord says: “Behold the Man whose name is the Branch; and He shall grow up out of His place; and He shall build the Temple of Jehovah; even He shall build the Temple of Jehovah; and He shall bear the glory, and shall sit and rule upon His throne; and He shall be a priest upon His throne; and the counsel of peace shall be between them both.” That this refers primarily to Jesus the Messiah rather than Joshua the Jewish high priest is evident from several facts. First, “crowns” are not placed on the heads of priests, but of kings (it may be that only one crown is meant here, but made out of two materials, gold and silver). Secondly, the phrase “Behold the man” was later to be used by Pilate of Christ, and the name “Jesus” is in fact the same as “Joshua”. Thirdly, the “Branch” is a name for the Messiah in several Old Testament prophecies (cf. Isaiah 4.2, 11.1; Jeremiah 23.5, 33.15). Earlier, the Lord had said to Joshua that He would bring forth His servant, the Branch (3.8), so Joshua and the Branch are not in fact the same person. It is the Branch, not Joshua, Who will build the Temple, not of the Old Testament Church, but of the New Testament Church, the Body of Christ. He will “sit upon His throne”, which is not a normal thing for a priest to do: the reason is that He is not only a priest but also a king. That is, He is both the King of the Jews, and the High Priest of the Temple that is His Body, offering the Sacrifice of His Body and Blood for the salvation of all men. He is the only Person (except for Melchizedek) ever rightfully to combine the two roles in one Person. Normally, the attempt to combine the two roles leads to disaster, as it did at the beginning of history, when Nimrod tried to combine them, and as it will again at the end of history, when the Antichrist will try to imitate Christ in assuming supreme power in both Church and State. But Christ, being the only rightful King and Priest, brings “the counsel of peace” between God and man and between Jews and Gentiles… “For He is our Peace, Who hath made both one. And hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in decrees, for to create in Himself of twain one new man, so making peace. And that He might reconcile both unto God in one Body by the Cross” (Ephesians 2.14-16).


June 22 / July 5, 2017.

St. Alban, Protomartyr of the British Isles.



[1] A.W. Haddan & W. Stubbs, Councils and Ecclesiastical Documents relating to Great Britain and Ireland, Oxford: Clarendon, 1869, 1964, vol. III, p. 524.

[2] Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow, Zapiski rukovodstvuiuschaia k osnovatel’nomu razumeniu Knigi Bytia (Notes Leading to a Fundamental Understanding of the Book of Genesis), Moscow, 1817, 1867, p. 78.

[3] Melchisedek’s combining the roles of king and priest may also signify the Divine origin of both offices. See Protopriest Valentine Asmus, “O monarkhii i nashem k nej otnoshenii” (“On Monarchy and our Relationship to It”), Radonezh, N 2 (46), January, 1997, p. 4.

[4] Gelasius, Tractatus IV.

[5] Gelasius, quoted in Fomin S. and Fomina T., Rossia pered Vtorym Prishestviem (Russia before the Second Coming), Moscow, 1994, vol. I, p. 74.

[6] Quoted in Louth, Greek East and Latin West, p. 168.

[7] Nicholas I, in Bettenson and Maunder, Documents of the Christian Church, pp. 103, 104-105.

[8] Charles Davis, “The Middle Ages”, in Richard Jenkyns (ed.), The Legacy of Rome, Oxford University Press, 1992, p. 81.

[9]The example of Saul was quoted by Patriarch Nikon of Moscow: “Listen to what happened to Saul, the first king of Israel. The Word of God said to Samuel: ‘I have repented that I sent Saul to the kingdom, for he has ceased to follow Me.’ What did Saul do that God should reject him? He, it is said, ‘did not follow My counsels’ (I Kings 15.10-28)…This is the Word of God, and not the word of man: ‘I made you ruler over the tribes of Israel and anointed you to the kingdom of Israel, and not to offer sacrifices and whole-burnt offerings,’ teaching for all future times that the priesthood is higher than the kingdom, and that he who wishes for more loses that which is his own.” (M.V. Zyzykin, Patriarkh Nikon, Warsaw: Synodal Press, 1931, part II, p. 17)

[10] St. Jerome, Letter to Pope Damasus.

[11] Mueller, “Herod: The Holy Land’s Visionary Builder”, National Geographic Magazine, December, 2008, p. 41.

[12] Bishop Alexander (Mileant) of Argentina (“On the Threshold”, Orthodox America, vol. XVIII, N 5 (161), January, 2000, p. 12) writes: “Daniel’s prophecy so explicitly and synonymously points to Jesus Christ as the promised Messiah, that the Gemaric rabbi forbids his compatriots to calculate the dates of the Daniel septenaries, saying, ‘Those who calculate the times will hear their bones rattle’ (Sanhedrin 97).”

[13] Bishop Alexander recounts a tradition from the Midrash “that when the members of the Sanhedrin learned that they had been deprived of the right to try criminal cases (in AD 30), they put on sackcloth and, tearing their hair, gathered and began to cry out: ‘Woe to us, woe to us: it has been a great while since we had a king from Judah, and the promised Messiah is not yet come!’ This occurred at the very beginning of Jesus Christ’s ministry” (ibid.).

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