“Be mindful, O Lord, of the presbytery, the diaconate in Christ and every priestly orde.”
From the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great
We returned yesterday from Chicago and the 50th Biennial Antiochian Archdiocese National Convention. It was a week which proffered spiritual renewal, the rekindling of old friendships and many good memories. In particular I am somewhat overwhelmed by the reality of my best friend and brother in Christ, Fr. Anthony Michaels, being elected for consecration to the Holy Episcopate and assigned to serve as auxiliary for our own Midwest Diocese. [I teased Bishop ANTOUN saying, “You took away my friend and gave me a boss.” He merely replied, “He’s still your friend!”]
The above quote was the theme of this year’s Convention and Parish Life Conferences. Both in Cleveland and in Chicago many beautiful homilies and talks were delivered on the priesthood, both the sacramental priesthood and the priesthood of all believers. I was especially impressed in Chicago by two sermons given by Bishop MICHAEL, the Orthodox Church of America Bishop of New York and New Jersey, one on the Priesthood and one on the Episcopacy. I wish you all could have heard them (there was some talk about being able to find them as a pod casts on Ancient Faith Radio – I have not checked).
Even after three years of study in earning a Master of Divinity degree, and all the years since (I hate to admit how many years that has been), I have heard only one talk with such depth on the priesthood, the “Presbytery” delivered by Fr. Roman Braga of Holy Dormition Monastery in Rives Junction, MI. Personally it is absolutely humbling when considering who and what our bishops and priests mean to us in bringing God’s salvation to the world. The essence of the Church in the world is founded on the ministry of the Apostles and their successors who have been given the command and commission to express sacramentally the mystery of God’s revelation and salvation in Christ. Yes, this is very different than the good, sincere work of many well intentioned Christian leaders from the multitude of Christian “denominations.” This may still be a hard pill to swallow for many Orthodox Christians, maybe especially those who are newest to the Orthodox faith, and I have to admit sometimes it is even hard for me, an ordained Orthodox priest, to accept the fullness of what it means to be a member of the ordained presbytery of God’s Holy Church.
Bishop MICHAEL related the following admonition from the Holy Fathers: “If you find yourself walking down the road and you meet up with a king on one side and a humble village priest on the other do not run to the king but rather to the priest, for only the priest can offer you forgiveness in the richness of the Kingdom of God. If you find yourself walking down the road and you meet up with a heavenly angel on one side and a humble village priest on the other do not run to the angel but rather to the priest, for only the priest can present to you with his own hands the precious body and blood of our Lord.”
These are awesome thoughts, ones which left the entire assembly of the faithful in silence and, to some degree, in holy fear. How is it that we see our bishops and our priests? Are they just men to us? How do the bishops and priests see themselves? Are they just men to the people? These are difficult questions to ask in an often cynical, distrusting and judgmental world. Certainly bishops and priests are men of the world in need of forgiveness and salvation, but I would hope that we have the ability to see that by far most bishops and priests are sincere men of faith who truly seek to fulfill their vocations as icons of Christ in the dispensing of grace for the holy people of God.
I know that I was silenced in my thoughts while listening to Bishop MICHAEL and to the other wonderful talks. I know that some of the priests probably wished that their parishioners would have heard these talks in the hope that they might be treated as something more than just hired employees of the parish and parish counsel. Those were not my thoughts! I know the people of St. Ignatius see their priest(s) as a father in Christ who, even in the rarity of disagreement or conflict, loves and cares for them and only wants the best for them. My thoughts were of my own shortcomings, which are many, and of the prayer that our good God would allow me to be a priest of forgiveness and grace. Beloved, please remember your priests and bishops in prayer, and support them in the life of God’s Church. This indeed is an awesome gift that we all share through which God has saved and is saving us; one which is unique, beautiful, eternal, and one which must never be taken for granted.