The 20th Biennial Clergy Symposium for the Antiochian Archdiocese was convened by His Eminence Metropolitan Joseph July 16-20, 2018 at the beautiful Antiochian Village in Bolivar, PA. The theme was The Holy Priesthood - Our Life and Calling. Plenary talks were given by each of the bishops on the following topics:
Metropolitan Joseph - The priest as administrator: Let all things be done decently and in order. St. Paul to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 14:40) and The priest as a husband and a father to his family.
Bishop Basil - The High Calling of the Priesthood.
Bishop Anthony (for Bishop Alexander) - The Integrity of the Priesthood.
Bishop Thomas - What It Means to Call the Priest Father.
Bishop Anthony - Priesthood and the The Meaning of the Apostolic Succession.
Bishop Nicholas - The Priest as the Servant of Christ and His Church.
Bishop John - The Priest As Minister of the Sacraments, the Holy Mysteries.
This morning, we learned that Bishop Alexander, who is in our prayers, is ill. Bishop Anthony will be giving his address on “The Integrity of the Priesthood.”
The Right Reverend Bishop Anthony: Your Eminence, Your Graces, and all of our beloved clergy, it’s my honor to be with you and to deliver this lecture that was originally planned by His Grace, Bishop Alexander. He called me with the perspective that he would like the integrity of the priesthood, but these notes are mine from the seminary and from my own reflections over the time. I’m going to present them today. They come from Professor Verhovskoy, Fr. Hopko, Fr. Meyendorff, Fr. Schmemann, and from various sources I’ve read, so I don’t want to claim them all for myself, although as a bishop I could claim them… But I don’t want to claim them for myself!
You know, the priesthood, even as I will speak more on the moral side on the priesthood, since His Eminence talked more about the administrative, administerial side and also the families of the priest, and Bishop Basil talked about the high calling and the theology of the priesthood, and they did that so well. I will put it more on the level of how the living-out of the priesthood is done according to the canons of the Church and the services of the Church, and hopefully with a lot of Scripture references as well.
What I would like to say to begin with is the priesthood essentially is the mystery of the presence of Christ’s high priestly presence. What does that really mean? I think a good analogy would be: there was a Southern poet called Allen Tate, and he actually understood the Eastern Church in a certain way. I’ll take from his poem and reflection something. He said, “If you were to describe a horse, you would call it as a quadruped and it would have a certain weight, and you could see a picture of it. You could even know the details of its anatomy. But until you see Secretariat run, you don’t know what a horse is; until he wins the Belmont by 31 lengths. You don’t know the glistening of the sun, the hearing of the crowd, the wonderful Pegasus-like victory of that horse.”
And that really is the priesthood in the whole Orthodox Church. It’s not so much an explanation of things; it’s an entrance into, it’s a personal experience, it’s something imbibed more than described. That’s the priesthood, and all of you carry it in your own unique way for Christ himself.
Before I begin formal remarks, I would like to say that I think the pastorate is in four ways. First thing, it’s collegial, because it’s a fraternity of brethren. Next, it’s congenial, because it contains the joy of Christ for all people. Next, it’s congenital, because it’s been given to us by Christ himself. Lastly, it’s constructive, because it builds up the body of Christ. These four items I kind of put in alliteration, because I love alliterations. Collegial, congenial, congenital, and constructive—these four elements make up a pastoral presence in the communities we live in.
Now I would like to start with the references to the priesthood itself and the integrity of the priesthood. There is no job description for a priest, because holy orders have to do, as Metropolitan Joseph said, with the fact that the priest has no job, but he gives a job to everybody else by making their lives priestly. In that way, I would like to quote from Fr. Schmemann’s book, in his chapter “On the Mystery of Love for the Holy Orders,” because it’s so beautifully put. He said:
And there must be priests, because we live in this world, and nothing in it is the kingdom of God, not in this world. The Church is in the world but certainly not of the world, because only by not being of the world can it reveal that world which is to come, the beyond, which alone reveals all things as old—makes all things new. Therefore, no vocation in this world can fulfill priesthood of Christ. There must be someone whose specific vocation is to have no vocation…
And I may add: so that we can discover where the location of that kingdom could be, which is in heaven. I also could not resist that.
...to be all things to all men, and to reveal that the end and meaning of all things is still in the future. It’s still dynamic, and still waits its completion in the anticipation we have by offering the holy gifts on the holy table, now and ever, and to ages of ages. Amen.
That’s really all I need to say on the priesthood, but isn’t that a beautiful way of explaining the presence of the mystery of the priesthood?
There are a lot of things in the service itself that tell us about the integrity of the priestly life. There is an emphasis on the examination of the candidate before ordination: on a strict life lived, with the call of the Holy Spirit. In fact, if you read the canons in general, which give us a framework for understanding the mind of the Church, and not exhaust the Church with rules—it’s not an exhaustive rule, but it’s a prescient framework that gives us an opportunity to find our own experience in Christ. It’s this theme that the strict life is united to the call of the priest to Christ for the Holy Spirit. The canons insist on a continent and a strict life in its ideal for the candidates of priesthood. I’ll get to that more later on, because there’s a clarity and a transparency about the priest’s heart in his own person that reveals Christ as the icon of the Father and of himself. The more clear we are and the less burdened we are by the weight of accumulated transgression, the more open we will be to Christ’s intercession.
According to the design of God a priest is made. “O Lord our God, who by thy foreknowledge dost send down the fullness of the Holy Spirit upon those who are ordained by thine unscrutable power to be thy servers…” Instantly we find, quoting Allen Tate, the mystery of that, that someone is chosen—and if I may say, Your Eminence and my brothers here, as we know: if there is a personal qualification or talent or ability, I don’t really know if God can be put in the stricture and put in the narrowness of our definition of our capabilities, because, as we were talking a few days ago, God can do anything with our abilities. He needs our availability.
I mean, Moses tried to figure every way he could not to serve, not to go back to Egypt. “I can’t speak.” [God] said, “I’ll send your brother to help you.” “I can’t go. I had a terrible thing happen to me.”—as we know, the killing of the Egyptian. But he didn’t care. God knew that his heart was made for him. In the 12th chapter of Numbers, it says, “With other men, I speak as a prophet, but with Moses I speak face to face, because he is the humblest man who has lived on the earth.” So I think the capability of priesthood is exactly that availability. I promise not to use too many alliterations. I just think in iambic pentameter. Nothing more I can do about that.
We begin with this foreknowledge of God sending down, knowing the candidate maybe even before the candidate knows that himself will be a priest. So it’s something we grow into over time. This is a little off the topic right now, but the idea of having mentors that help us realize what God is already speaking to us, that he can confirm that which is in our conscience by their conscious explanation to us. We will then have an idea of priesthood. The priesthood itself is part of koinonia. It is part of the synaxis and ecclesia. It is a Church act, and it is not a personal decision.
So then also it says in the ordination of a priest: “We deign to preserve pureness of life.” You hear that over and over: strictness of life, pureness of life, openness to God. These phrases are used over and over in my examination of the canons. Many of the canons, especially the African Codex canon in the second century, which go back to St. Irenaeus of Lyons and also St. Polycarp and have that whole St. John tradition, it’s interesting that the Roman patriarchate was in charge of North Africa, but it was very close to Antioch, so the patriarchate of Antioch knew very much about these codes. They’re very ancient.
I’m just digressing a little, and I may go back later, but during the time of the great pagan emperor, Diocletian, who was persecuting the Church, the Church experienced a great flux and fluidity with its norms and canons for priesthood. So, in that, there had to be a code and something to follow so people would know who would be a worthy candidate. Also, at the Second Quinisext Council of Trullo in the seventh century A.D., we had to do the same thing in the East. Both in the West and the East they claimed apostolic foundation as given as an inheritance from the apostles in this regard. It had to do with structuring the call of priesthood. The thing that really is important: it’s really done by the Church and for the Church. The candidates are open to the call of what Christ says in the synaxis and the gathering of the community represented in the bishops, and rarely is it done on a personal basis, that “I’ve decided now I would like to be a priest.”
So the world we live in, where the private conscience determines if we’re called by God, was really secondary and in some cases non-existent when the Church chose candidates. They did it all on objective criteria: 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, which almost dove-tail each other and show you exactly what the qualifications are. After these lectures, I would suggest that we would each read them at least once a month, both those chapters—chapter 3 of 1 Timothy, and chapter 1 of Titus—to renew those objective criteria and determinations which create our pastorate.
So we once again have the great grace of the Holy Spirit following a pure life.
O God, great in might and inscrutable in wisdom, marvelous in counsel above the sons of men, do thou now, the same Lord, fill with the gift of the Holy Spirit…
Endow us with the fullness of the gift of the Holy Spirit” is actually the word, so you’re getting the whole Holy Spirit in a kind of personal Pentecost fire that comes upon you, in the same way that it was in the first chapter of the book of Acts in the making of the Church.
...and to advance to the degree of priest he that is worthy to stand—and here we have the word again—in innocence, strictness of life, purity of heart, innocence of the call.
All these having to do with moral qualities, but having also to do with that inscrutable, mysterious desire of the Holy Spirit to have some of us enter into the holy high priesthood of the Lord. I don’t think we should ever forget that. Let us not, after we are ordained, review if we should have been ordained. Let us not review all of that, because, if in the wisdom of the Church, we were accepted into that call, let us go forward and not back and turn into a pillar of salt before we reach the mountains of Moab. God doesn’t want that review; he wants that concerted effort to go forward.
Having said all this, I just want you to say not everybody meets every perfect criterion, but the criteria are there as a constant reminder that we must never lose the ideal of what priesthood is, or what the real is of priesthood will evaporate. An ideal is the true realism, because it takes us from where we are to where we should be. Let us not lose that.
To advance, then, by piety and veneration. A person who has a pure life, who has an open life, who has an innocent life will be somebody who has a piety and a veneration for God. “Let the children come unto me, for unto such belong the kingdom of God.” And when I go into the apostolic succession, I will try to explain it in a more full way. It is children who receive the authority of Christ, because Christ remains the eternal Child of his Father and the Child of his mother forever. If we don’t maintain that childlike love of God, we can never achieve that innocence of a child before the Father either.
So these are all prescriptions. [For] the priest who serves the sacred mystery, there is a strong sense of the angelic calling. Jesus said—and I’ll get into this more with the apostolic succession—“for in heaven they are neither given in marriage nor are married, but are like the angels in heaven.” His emphasis was that they are high like the angels in heaven. The number eight of the psalms, he said, a little lower than God or the angels, however, the translation is made. That’s where the priest exists, as Bishop Basil had said yesterday.
And if you go through the liturgy, the prayer before the Gospel:
Illumine our hearts, O Master, with thy blessed Gospel teachings. Implant in us also the fear of thy blessed commandments, that, trampling down all carnal desires, we may enter upon a spiritual manner of living, both thinking and doing such things as are well-pleasing unto thee, for thou art the illuminator of our souls and bodies, O Christ our God, and unto thee we give glory, to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.
So even before we read the Gospel, we have to renew the ordination of the purity and the strictness and the innocence that those prayers had given us. We renew the ordination every time, because it’s not something only given to us; it’s something that flows from us. Am I speaking too quickly? My mother always warned me against speaking too quickly. I have to slow down those thoughts sometimes.
My professor, Verhovskoy, Professor Verhovskoy, wrote a beautiful priest on the integrity of the priesthood, and I’d like to… He was one of those great European Russian professors. I don’t know how many of you had him. There may be a few of you who still have their notes. You may have these, but these also contain some of my reflections on what he said. He said:
A priest’s vocation is elastic. If you seriously consider it and you actually fulfill God’s call, you will be a hero and a saint. The ideal of the priest is that he save others, and “others” means everyone. He has a universal calling, not only a calling to a local church. He invests himself in others and motivates the love that always exists in the goodness of human nature. There must be a treasure of the kingdom in his heart, for the kingdom of God is within you (Luke 17:21). He kindles in others, he pokes the fires that already exist from their baptism and chrismation. He allows them to enter the general priesthood of Christ through his own priesthood. He is willing to complete the sufferings in Christ in his body.
If people hurt him, he does not consider the fact that the hurt is important, but the wound enters into the wounds of Christ. The more he can silently accept the beatings and the scourgings and the slappings and the mockeries that may come his way in small and routine ways, the more he can serve at the altar and in fact (Professor Verhovskoy said) his service becomes stronger at the altar.
When I say these things, I always preach back to myself—it takes a lot of courage to stand before the altar in that sense.
Now I think I will go to just a reflection on Jesus Christ himself, because Jesus Christ is the High Priest, and we have to imitate him. When I opened, saying that we have a vocation that’s vocation-less—some people in our parishes think we don’t have a job, by the way, so we may not want to emphasize the fact that a priest has no job… It may confirm some people’s opinion that “Oh, I always knew that!” If you get too abstract with many of our people, they say, “Well, that’s why you went into the priesthood.”
In order to develop a potential model of priesthood, we have to look at Jesus Christ, and I’m going to go through all kinds of interesting contrasts. His calling was to save the world—that’s something that’s pretty big to do, save the world—and obey his Father, which he always did because he’s a child, and he had no particular job: he just had to get the job done. My dad used to say, whenever I would say, “I’m going to do my best, Dad,” he’d say, “Doing your best is doing the job.” Doing your best is completing the task. I miss my own father that way. It’s good to have dads who have faith in you to do that.
What does it require to be the Messiah? There were 30 years of silent preparation for the Lord. He had his job as a carpenter, but we know that after that he was unemployed. He was not part of any religious party, although every party sought to coalesce, to make him theirs, to compromise him. He was called a rabbi, a teacher, a master, a great prophet, but in actuality, he wasn’t an institutionalized priest or a prophet or a scribe or a Pharisee. They figured he was illegitimate when, at twelve years old, he was answering all the questions that they should have answered in the temple of God. You could not determine what he really was. He was certainly not a scholar in the traditional sense. He was not a theologian, but he brought the world the words of God because he is the Word of God. So he brought the word of God to the people, but he had no title that they could claim, and he had nothing that would identify him as the Word of God, because it was once again the experience of Christ that allowed us to know what Christ said. Sometimes in this world we need the words to convince us or persuade us. I think with him you needed to meet him in order to have words that would persuade you. It was just the opposite of what we have now.
He brought himself. As priests, that’s what we do: we bring our authentic self. Be yourself; it’s the only fashion that suits you. I say that to teenagers. Go from your own space, at your own pace, to get to your special place. If you’re an introvert as a person, as a priest, you can’t all of a sudden become a social extrovert. If you’re a social extrovert, you still need time in silence and reflection to be an introvert. But you have to be who you are, and we have to be who we are. I don’t have to tell you that; you already know that by your own experience. Authenticity is contagious; artificiality is repulsive.
An old priest when I was ordained said, “You will never fool them. They will always be polite to you, your parishioners, or they will get mad at you, but the whole thing is seen through you as a transparent element of Christ. And therefore they know you better than yourself”—and I’ve never forgotten that. The parish will know us better than we know ourselves, but they won’t tell us what they see in us.
So therefore we had better prepare for the Divine Liturgies as best we can. I myself do have preparations on Saturday evening: the canon or repentance, the canon to the Mother of God, and to my guardian angel. They’re in this very fine book called Orthodox Daily Prayers. I don’t know if it’s still published: 1982, from St. Tikhon’s Press. A good translation. In fact, that’s a better translation in 1982 than what they’re doing now, if I may say so… speaking authoritatively as a bishop.
Also, may I add another thing, since I got off-track? I think we have the Orthodox Study Bible, which is a King James Version of the Bible, but I still think the best English translation is the Revised Standard Version from 1952, ‘71, and ‘73. After that, don’t read that Bible. Those are the best. Or if you get an American Standard that was in 1946. That is a translation that is in better English from the King James Version, which is still a masterpiece of its translation from Greek.
Now I’ll get back to Jesus. He was born to be a king, a ruler and a shepherd, to heal, to reconcile, to console, to comfort, and to forgive. He is the pastor-king, but he had no kingdom of this world. He was not the founder of a social movement. This is important. Sometimes people criticize us as Orthodox because we’re not involved in every changing vicissitude of the world. Everything that happens in the news, in The New York Times, we’re not responding to directly. That can be somewhat of a weakness if we never respond, but we still have to keep that high, meta-political or something above the world we live in, because if we do not reveal that kingdom yet to come, then we lose the whole raison d’être of why we’re priests.
In this sense, there can be no kingdom of this world, because instantly it categorizes us as being of the world and not above the world. We have to maintain the eschatological dimension of what it means to be a priest. Jesus didn’t change a thing. When he had to pay a coin, he got it from the mouth of a fish. He said, “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” He didn’t worry about it, but he did use money, but he never earned much money himself. He would always go to the money-box and to the ladies and the women that took care of that for him, and he was not concerned about that, because he believed that all things would be taken care of. If I may mention, Your Eminence—may I mention this?—we were taking a walk, and he was showing us where we would build the new church, God willing, some day, and I said, “How much will it cost?” He said, “I’m not going to worry about the cost. If it’s God’s will, we’ll get the money.” That’s pretty much what Jesus did. He went fishing, and he did get the money.
He didn’t have a kingdom of this world—no social movement. Once we’re associated with a political party or a social movement or even the latest current event, and even if we speak eloquently about it, I think we lose something. In fact, I know we lose something. We lose an objectivity that people are looking for. If they can categorize it and make it a subjective opinion, then it isn’t the word of God; it’s just our words.
Jesus had no social movement. He came to destroy sin and to baptize men into his ministry. He came to grant well-being on the whole world as a commission from his Father. He was a pastor because he was a priest. He offered himself. The only way we can be a pastor and console people is if we are wounded, as both Sayidna Joseph and Sayidna Basil said in their talks. The woundedness of Christ makes a real co-suffering with us. And you have done that: when you go to the hospitals and you see the people there.
Once I went into the wrong room. It wasn’t an Orthodox person, and the whole family was in the room. This has probably happened to you many times. The man who was very ill lifted himself on the bed with all those tubes around and said, “I’ve been waiting for a priest.” I did a general prayer for him and sat with him for a while. Then he said, “See? I told you a priest would come,” to the other family members. I went into the wrong room, but it was the right room.
Because he sacrifices himself. This St. Paul and that great depth that he had in 2 Corinthians: “I fulfill the sufferings of Christ in myself.” He fulfilled that. How many times have we had loved ones who were passing or who were ill, and we wanted everything in the world to take their place, to be able to take their pain, to relieve them of all of it, all the suffering? So much more should we want to relieve the suffering of our dear Lord and stay at his side so that his wounds would become our wounds, and the only way we can become a fountain of grace is if we’re opened up to the suffering wounds of Christ on the cross. Unless the Spirit is in our side and the nails are in our hands, we cannot open the doors to other people to enter into the kingdom of God.
Jesus gave up any sense of what he had of self-fulfillment in the world, because his only goal was to make his Father happy. Everything works and falls in its place when we don’t look to our own selves. He satisfied no one when he was on earth. No one was happy completely with him. Everyone was befuddled. When the guards came from Herod to take him, they said, “We couldn’t take him. Nobody spoke like that man.” When he multiplied the loaves and the fishes, the people wanted to make him king. What did he do? He got away as quick as he could and went to a mountain to pray. He didn’t want to be a king. But if you can feed people on loaves of bread and raise the dead, your army is invincible. So if you’re looking at it in a worldly way, he’s the man. But he wasn’t the man.
He was not even a great religious leader. He was not a national leader. He just came for lost sheep. He defined Israel in a different way, by going to the Samaritan woman, something even his disciples didn’t understand. Certainly the Pharisees did not understand it. He shared his most difficult words with the leaders who were supposed to be guiding people to who the Messiah was. All of these things were befuddling to the people. He came to lost sheep wherever they were. He does a lot of things, but he can’t be defined by anything. Whatever Christ is, that’s what a priest is. Whatever he is: it’s kind of an apophatic thing. He satisfies nobody so that he could become something for everybody.
Mostly the priest, then, has to work for the inner life of people. I’ve taken some scriptural quotes on this. I think this really capsulizes what the priest does. May I quote Ephesians 3:14-19:
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the richness of his glory, he may grant you to be strengthened with might through his Spirit in the inner man; and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith…
The reason Jesus could have nothing in this world was because his kingship starts as a spiritual kingship, as a fulfillment of Isaiah 53, as the real meaning of Isaiah 11, when he’s the Messiah who conquers. He has to conquer sin before he can re-order the world, or, as somebody said in this magazine, Country Home Living, “Nothing cleans the house better than knowing that company is coming.” So the first thing he has to do is clean the house. If he begins his reign, it has to be a spiritual reign. It has to exist in heaven. So he was entering the strong man’s house and taking it away, but it was done spiritually, and the inner man was strengthened. So we find that this was the very truth of what a pastor is. He has to—we have to—strengthen the inner life of the people. It’s well-said here:
...that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, that you, being rooted and grounded in love may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth—what is the cross—and know the love of Christ, which passes all knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
That’s our call. I know they may be tedious, but it’s good for us to put on record these Scriptures. This is the work of the pastorate. Again, we quote:
So we do not lose heart, though our outer nature, our mortal flesh, our garments of skin (Genesis 3:21) is wasting away…
Sometimes when I look in a mirror, I have a confirmation of that. You see, as we get older… Although I am comforted by Psalm 110: “Like the dew of the morning, your youth will return to you.” I’m also comforted by that.
...is wasting away; our inner nature is being renewed every day—once again, the inner man—for this slight, momentary affliction is preparing an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison because we look to the things not that are seen but that are not seen.
St. Paul, in 2 Corinthians 12 was in the third heaven, and he saw things that he could not utter, because he co-suffered with Christ.
For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
And this last quote:
Now, the Lord is the Spirit, and we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness, from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
This, it seems to me, is the reason that Jesus Christ, who created all things in the world, was the most unworldly of all religious messengers, that his word had to wait for the triumph over sin so his reign can begin in heaven now. This, by the way, is the true meaning of the 20th chapter of the book of Revelation, where his millennial kingdom is reigning. He’s reigning already. Orthodoxy believes in an amillennialism, not in a post- or a pre-millennialism, not in a literal reign on earth. It believes that Christ is already spiritually in heaven, reigning, and he will come to show the world which is obvious, historical, and eventful at his second and glorious coming.
We have to somehow—and I don’t know exactly every particular—maintain that otherworldly nature of priesthood. The essence that everything that a priest does is what Christ does, this co-suffering and dying. But a priest must be the center of everything. He can’t be outside of anything. A priest is. He’s a being, not a doing. It comes from inside him. It is him. A priest is someone before he does anything. He communicates to us the love he has for Christ. It is not a burden to be a priest.
May I quote Fr. Alexander Elchaninov, The Diary of a Russian Priest. He says of a priest:
He has to be correctly poised in his soul. Caruso sang without fatigue. (He’s an old tenor.) Pushkin would never have said the writing of poetry made him tired. The nightingale sings all night, and when we wake up, he’s still singing. There are voices naturally poised in the priesthood; others are forced to seek it through prolonged effort and exercises.
But this is the only way you can save souls, is by having a clarity and poised soul yourself. Fr. Alexander Elchaninov.
When others meet a priest, they should ask themselves, “Who am I?” The priest is the term of reference for all personal identity.
So a priest is unsettling sometimes, challenging, a trouble-maker. Well, maybe I shouldn’t have said that. By definition, not a trouble-maker as a crime, but a trouble-maker because he troubles the comfort zones in people’s lives without saying anything: creates a fruitful disturbance. Could I put it that way? A fruitful disturbance, which allows… The tree can’t grow unless it’s tilled. In a way, everyone sees in us the possibility of who they are.
He is fascinating on one hand and foreboding on the other hand. One can’t change the subject by being in his presence. There’s a book also called The Orthodox Pastor by a Bishop John (Shahovskoy) which is published by St. Vladimir’s Press, and he says that any time we are invited to someone’s home, we have to realize they’re inviting us because they believe that we take the altar upon which the holy gifts are consecrated and bring it to their table. So we have to watch that our conversation is always uplifting, spiritually and priestly, in their presence. They may try to change the subject on us, they may not want us to say that in their conscious mind, but in their unconscious feelings, they want us to bring Christ to that table. That is said by all experienced priests, and you know that is true.
There is a tendency to think that only holy people get ordained, but how do we define a static holiness? The priest is in the process of holiness, of finding himself in Christ. As long as he’s there and he’s working for his own salvation, then he will be able to bring people to salvation themselves.
May I diverge just for a moment here about the pastorate. The pastor in the church, in his institutional position, growing in Christ with all humility, is not an elder or a spiritual father in that sense. Eldership is a special gift and a charismatic gift that may be in the institutional priesthood but may not be. A lot of people in our world are looking for an escape in their own freedom, because the secular world really hasn’t given them answers. They will come to us as pastors and priests and expect us to solve all their problems. In fact, they want to transfer all their lost hopes and expectations on the priest. We must not fall into the idea that we can be the problem-solver. The only solution can be Christ.
We can reflect the patient endurance that they must have in confession, not give them all the answers, because once we make that transference, they will either create an idol of us by thinking we are Christ, or if something goes wrong, their faith will deflate rather than elevate. So we must not fall into that, and there’s a good book to read, the chapter that St. Ignatius Brianchaninov in The Arena has, pp. 43-47; it talks about false eldership. Priests are sometimes, without knowing it, lured into a situation. It’s much better to be and to think of oneself as a father-confessor, not an elder.
If you want to read about this, you can read it in 1 Corinthians 12:21-28. It talks about apostles, prophets, and teachers. Apostles and prophets are not necessarily the same. A prophet is usually in a monastic setting or a special gift, and even then there’s no guarantee. Let us not romanticize monasticism. Let us not think that we can rationally, externally, ethically, prescriptive-wise become that which has taken them many years of formation. This formation takes time, and it takes great courage, and it’s revealed only by God. It’s not something that you graduate from. I don’t know if everyone needed that, but it’s something to be careful about.
When a priest is called to be a priest, certain things are evident. He seems to have it all together. He has an authenticity, as I said. He does not play at being a priest. He has no style as such. There is a no-nonsense quality, but it’s not artificial. His calling, as he has the gift, is showing Christ as the Giver, and a genuine gift for God, and a real sanctity that he struggles for. He has this, and then he will be a teacher, he will be a priest, he will have the miracle of grace residing in him. His technical skills—now listen to this: I think this is something I’ll never forget, and I believe it’s Fr. Hopko, but it could have been Fr. Schmemann who said it—technical skills are not even necessary, and may get in the way. When a priest says something, it rings true. The words coming through are backed up by the life that’s lived. They have an authority all their own. That’s what they meant in the gospels: “No man ever spoke like this man did.”
From a biblical and canonical point of view, the candidate must be a male of a certain maturity, an older man: a presbyter is an older man. There are two main qualities: subjective, spiritual and moral, and it includes objective conditions: family, children, wife. There’s a regulation about his life, an order, that people know about. He has a personal history that’s transparent and clear. He’s physically a man who is whole, not missing any parts, mentally or physically. Mentally, spiritually: he is a balanced, sane person. Today, sanity is a high quality, because everybody is pushing everybody, and what their ideology is. We have this theology.
A priest must be mature. The ideal person is sound and doesn’t draw attention to any aspect of himself. He’s a regular person. He’s not a genius in one area or another. He’s an apt teacher, more by intuition than investigation. He has the ability to discern situations, an ability to figure out what the best thing is to say. A model of this is St. Nicholas of Myra in Lycia, who didn’t go in any particular direction. He wasn’t a great ascetic, but he was ascetical. He wasn’t known as a high scholar, but he was a great teacher. He conquered by his purity. He was not a theologian, and he never wrote a book, but he was detached. He was not averse to using money. He helped those girls get a dowry for their marriage. He cared for widows and orphans and was unstained by the world because he cared for others before he cared for himself. He never sought personal time. He was available and never had his own time. I was thinking: we can be on time if we don’t have our own time. He was more like a nurse: full of mercy, gentleness, charity, a co-sufferer. He had a balanced sanctity, not exaggerated in any direction. You can’t reduce the office of the priesthood to anything in the world.
I don’t know what my time is. Ten minutes. So there are other things that are important, and I won’t be able to get to them. I have maybe 20 pages more. I kept writing. You know why, my brothers? Because I know that all of you are competent in all these things and study yourself and teach other people in catechesis these things. I wanted to fulfill the trust that His Eminence, Metropolitan Joseph, has had in us, and all my brothers whom I truly love who have helped me all through the years, so I felt it was an obligation for me to do my best to give you these pastoral instructions in light of the fact that Bishop Alexander couldn’t be here. Before I came down I prayed that I would make him happy because he couldn’t be here, and he really wanted to be. He called me twice. He doesn’t usually call me, so the fact that I could two calls: I thought this has to be important, so I’d better do a good job.
Now I’m going to divert a little bit. The priesthood is—it’s even hard to say—but it’s a great mystery. In fact, its mystery, it seems to me, is comparable, our ordination, with something like baptism. In baptism—and there’s a good book, The Ancestral Sin by John Romanides, he talks about ancestral sin and that, but there’s a wonderful part in there where he talks about when the child is baptized, it’s instantly made new, as Jesus said in the third chapter of John. The soul is already resurrected; it just waits for the fulfillment when Christ comes again at the second and glorious coming. So we’re not what we were before. We’re really born into eternity, born into heaven at that baptism.
I think something happens to us at the priest’s ordination as well. We’re elevated immediately to a different standing. When you look at the baptized child after they come out of the font, you really don’t see any difference in their features, not yet, but they’ve already receive the guarantee and the down payment on eternity. From now on, it’s up to the pastor and the godparents to lead them into that kingdom. Isn’t it beautiful, when we church the babies, now that they have seen the natural light, we pray that they will be partakers of the uncreated light! At the entrance into the church: “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace.” Something has happened to the priest; he’s been elevated. His mind has now been made capable of transcending just earthly rationalism. He can now become a font of the mysteries of God. In a certain sense, he’s conformed and grafted in to the one priesthood in Christ himself. He becomes an extension in time, a prolongation of the ministry of Christ in this world. It’s not merely a place we occupy; it’s a Person we are grafted into. I’ll get more into that at the apostolic succession.
The real thing is: we do not even believe redemption is a static thing, that it happens only once, that the crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, and sitting at the right hand had a finished purpose. Listen to me carefully,because it’s an interesting thought. If we just think it’s a static, finished thing and it’s not an ongoing reality, then we’ll have to rethink the sixth chapter of St. John, which says, “Unless you eat of my body and drink of my blood, you have no life in me,” because Christ’s body is the resurrected body. His is the body that’s been deified. That’s the humanity that sits at the right hand of the Father. That’s the thing that will never change ontologically with him any more.
Therefore, we who are given the grace to deliver this sacrament to the people extend in time his wounded arm and his glorified presence and the deified humanity to all those who are baptized into Christ. “As many as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ,” and their formation, the formation of the inner man, in the third chapter of Ephesians, is taking place with, through the priesthood for the people. The priesthood is essential to redemption because redemption and salvation is a dynamic, continual thing, and it’s not locked in time. It is a tangible and material thing, because people have bodies when they leave this earth. Those bodies are imprinted and configured to Christ himself so that the icon of Christ himself becomes a matter of the icon of us. We bring Jesus’ literal redemption in time unto ages of ages, until he comes and brings heaven and earth together (Revelation 22).
Sometimes we don’t see that, because you didn’t have a chance for two weeks to study it like I did. That’s a great thing. So the most important Person in the world is Jesus Christ; the most important person, as his reflection, is the priest, the bishop-priest. There is no eternity for the people that the people in our parish love unless the priest distributes the medicine of immortality to the people. We stand at the still point in the turning world.
That’s the end of my time; it’s not the end of my notes. I pray that I didn’t overspeak everything, but I really love these things. Nothing is like this. No calling is like this. None of us deserves that. There’s no worthiness that… We bring redemption through the sacraments, especially of holy baptism and holy Communion, to the people. That’s the end of my talk.
[Q&A not transcribed]