The Morning Offering:
Misty Isle Farms, the largest privately owned property on Vashon Island with more than a hundred acres, sponsors an annual Sheep Dog Trials every Autumn. The dogs are judged according to their ability to quickly herd sheep through fenced gates and around obstacles. Like many Vashon Islanders, I’ve found this annual event to be fascinating and I’ve been attending the event for some years now. Especially interesting is to observe the synergy between the dogs and their handlers.
For those of you who have never watched such an event, the dogs dart back and forth, herding the sheep and, by intimidation, keep the sheep together. This is quite different from the herding that takes place when a shepherd is involved. Shepherd’s herd their sheep in a completely different way. A shepherd will make little sounds particular to himself and recognized by his sheep. The hearing of these familiar sounds has a comforting and calming effect upon the sheep and they willingly follow their shepherd.
In the Gospel, Christ describes Himself to his disciples as “The Good Shepherd” Who willingly lays down his life for His sheep. Like any good shepherd, Jesus lovingly calls his sheep and bids us to come forth, follow Him, and enter into the “green pastures” of eternal life. There is no intimidation, as with the sheep dogs, but only the loving sounds of the shepherd whose sheep recognize a voice that is comforting and draws them into a safe place.
Bishops and priests, as representatives of the Good Shepherd, are called, as icons of the Christ they serve, to act in the very same manner. Bishops and priest are not, if they be true to their vocations, to lead by intimidation but with pastoral love and gentle shepherding. There is no place in the Theology of Priesthood in the Orthodox Church for shepherding by intimidation. Bishops, abbots, and priests in the Orthodox Church have never been, as was common in the Latin Church, “lords” over their people but rather servants and loving shepherds.
In Orthodox monasteries where the abbot occupies his office for life (much like a bishop), his rule is one of fatherly leadership. The abbot does not give commands to his monks to do this or that, but rather suggests. The obedience of the monks is, therefore, not one of obedience as to an overlord but obedience to a loving father, because the monk is loved by his abbot and in return loves his abbot.
Christ even directed husbands to love their wives in much the same manner, for he told husbands they must love their wives just as Christ has loved His Church. No medieval lordship over an Orthodox Christian wife. Husbands, like bishops, abbots and priests, are to follow Christ’s example and imitate the Good Shepherd. Within Orthodoxy there is no room for abusive husbands, tyrannical bishops, and clericalist priests.