Some tend to attack the priesthood (hierarchy) as found in catholic churches (Orthodox, Oriental, Roman) as being something between the believer and Christ or God that somehow brings a separation of the believer from Christ. The claim is that every believer should have a direct relationship with Christ and not one through a mediator, other than Christ Himself. Because Christ has ascended then for them such a direct relationship is conceived in terms of only a “spiritual” relationship in the heart and/or mind. The thought of knowing Christ in the flesh is not seen as possible until the second coming. Christ is present only in spirit/thought.
In response, the hierarchy is not about putting something between the believer and Christ but something that enables the believer to have a direct concrete, in the flesh, relationship with Christ. It makes Christ present in fullness to the believer. The hierarchy in its wider sense, and in particular the Bishop, is an icon that enables the person of Christ to become present in a tangible manner. Meeting the Bishop or Presbyter and even other orders of the hierarchy, is having a direct encounter with Christ. The Bishop is the complete icon of this presence in a local church, the presbyter in a parish, an Abbot in a monastery, a husband in a family, and hence why he is shown particular honour and said to be “Master or Lord”. This is not to honour the Bishop (or others) as the man who is serving in the role but to honour Christ, who is present in the man serving this role. (A Patriarch is given the grandest titles because he is an icon of Christ among the Metropolitans, who in turn have grander titles than the Bishops in their regions.)
A direct relation with these various offices is a direct relation with Christ. A blessing from one is the blessing from Christ, sins forgiven by the Bishop or Presbyter are sins forgiven by Christ, the offerings given by them are the offerings of Christ. Joining with them is joining with Christ. Separating from them is separating from Christ and those who decry them as separating the believer from Christ are in reality separating themselves from Christ. Those setting up congregations apart from the Bishops are setting up congregations apart from Christ. One may claim to love Christ and be devoted to Him, even going to great lengths of self-sacrifice for this love, but if done so in rejection or apart from the hierarchy then it cannot bring one to union with Christ because one remains with his rejection apart from Christ, who has made Himself present to him but he does not believe and turns his back on Him, in effect seeking an image of Christ made in his own likeness.
The iconic nature of the hierarchy is such that should a member of the hierarchy fail to conform to the likeness of the icon then he is no longer able to continue his place in the hierarchy; he is deposed. The grace that enables him to make Christ present in his place in the hierarchy is removed and he no longer maintains the place. He does not receive some permanent power from God to exercise it on God’s behalf but acts as an icon in the likeness of Christ so that Christ acts in, through and with him in synergy. Once the icon loses its likeness then the grace is removed because Christ can no-longer be present in him. Thus, a priest who is in schism, or heresy, and so separated from the united hierarchy, which is only One because God is One, is no longer a priest.
So, the hierarchy (priesthood) is not something between the believer and God but is something that enables the believer to meet God. The priest makes Christ present as mediator. He is not a mediator to Christ but enables Christ, Himself, to mediate in concrete terms between the believer and God. Apart from the hierarchy we cannot come to have a complete personal relationship with Christ.