25th Priestly Anniversary –
V. Rev. Alexander Atty
and the Sixty-fifth Anniversary of
Saint Michael Church
I am delighted to be with all of you this afternoon, on this joyous occasion . . the occasion of Father Alexander’s twenty-fifth Anniversary in the priesthood. But not only this – I also celebrate with him and with all of you, the sixty fifth anniversary of this blessed parish. I bring with me the greetings of my brother in Christ, His Eminence Metropolitan Philip and their Graces Bishops Antoun, Joseph and Basil, and the best wishes of the faithful of the Midwest Region.
This afternoon, we are gathered to give testimony to and to honor this man whom you call by the beautiful title of “father.” By your presence here this afternoon you have shown the love and respect that you hold for him and for his ministry among you.
We must always remember that when we honor a priest, we are actually honoring the priesthood. As St. Paul wrote in his first letter to the Corinthians: “After all, who is Apollos? And who is Paul? We are simply ministers through whom you became believers, each of us doing only what the Lord assigned us to do.” So on this day that we honor your beloved pastor, I would like to share with you what Saint Tikhon of Zadonsk said about ……
The Duty of the Flock toward the Pastor
Because the pastor speaks the word of God, then do whatever he teaches, pay diligent heed, O Christian, and do it. Concerning this the Apostle says, Obey them that have rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they must watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you (Heb. 13:17).
The pastor is the messenger of God who is sent to you by God, and he proclaims to you the way of salvation and invites you in the name of God into His eternal Kingdom. For this reason, revere him as the messenger of God that proclaims to you such great good things, and who invites you to them. “He that receiveth you receiveth Me, “ (Mt.10:40) says the Lord. Receive, then, and revere the pastor as the messenger of Christ.
Because the pastor provides for the common good, and as he looks after you as well as for all so that all may receive eternal salvation, then love him as your father and benefactor, and be grateful to him. You call him father, that is well: he begets you as well as others, not to the temporary, but to eternal life. Love him, then, as so great a father to you. You love your father according to the flesh, how much more ought you love this father.
As he takes care and provides for all and for you, do not leave him in need, but help him in his requests and supply his needs, that he may have time to take care and look after the common good. Thus by mutual love and benefaction the common good will not be without success.
Because many among the people are not men of goodwill and as they do not love pastoral reproof but wish to live according to their own will, they invent and broadcast no little slander and ill report against the pastor. Then when you hear such slander and ill report against the pastor, do not believe it and guard your lips, lest you say anything about it to anyone else. Otherwise you will sin gravely, as you will return evil for good, which is a great iniquity. It is a serious thing to slander and dishonor a simple person, how much more so a pastor. From this great discord follows among the people, and disregard and disobedience to the pastor, and thus his labor may end without profit. Pay careful attention to this, avoid evil gossip against the pastor. Most of all do not spread evil gossip about him, lest you feel the avenging hand of God upon you.
If you see in the pastor such weaknesses as occur even among the people, do not be scandalized and do not judge him, but understand that the pastor is a man, just like everyone else, and that he has the same weaknesses as do the rest of the people.
Because the pastor is subject to many temptations, and the devil and his evil servants war against him most especially, therefore he also needs the special help and support of God. Then, you, and all the people as well, must pray to God for him that He may help him and strengthen him. The happiness of the household depends on a good householder, the happiness of soldiers depends on a good commander, and the happiness of a sailing ship depends on a good helmsman. Pray then that the pastor may be wise and good, and that Christian society may be happy.
When the pastor himself does not do what he teaches, but lives contrary to his teaching, heed the word of Christ which He spoke concerning such pastors, “The scribes and Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat: all therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do: but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not” (Matt. 23:2-3). ( From Journey to Heaven, Jordanville, 1991, pp. 114-116.)
How true this is and how much we are in need of hearing and being reminded of it!!!
On the other hand, A priest, if he is to succeed, must start each day with love for his people, and to continue with love even when the day is at its hottest and the work at its hardest, and to end the day with the same love. He must always deal with his flock in love, with love, through love, and for love. Father Alexander has demonstrated that capacity for love to each of you throughout his time here at St. Michael.
It is in this pastoral love—a love shown to all—that the Kingdom of God is revealed and proclaimed to the world. Therefore, when this respect is given to Fr. Alexander, God too is honored in his person.
But Fr. Alexander has not been alone in this effort. He has the love and support of his wife Olga. I know that she has been a great source of strength and encouragement to him. We express to her and to Father Alexander our very sincere thanks and appreciation for their sacrifice and love for God’s Church. I thank you for your untiring efforts, and your great devotion to our God-protected Archdiocese.
I also congratulate all of the faithful of St. Michael, as you celebrate sixty five years of Orthodox Christian witness to this community. What you have accomplished in this parish is no doubt very pleasing to God. But your work is not done. I challenge you to keep up the good work, following in the footsteps of the founders of this holy temple, and to continue in your efforts to build up God’s Church, giving Him all the glory and honor.
Fr. Alexander, recognizing your ministry as a steward of the grace of the Triune God, I ask you to continue your honorable labors in the Lord’s vineyard with an untroubled conscience as you have been doing. Take care to exercise your priesthood with all your strength and with integrity, and continue to bear fruit that is pleasing to God. I do not need to remind you that all of us who, are deemed worthy to celebrate before the holy altar of the Lord, have as the model Him, Christ the Great Archpriest, the one who “lays down his life for the sheep” (Jn. 10:11), as well as the holy Fathers and Teachers of the Church who have guided us and gone before us in the priesthood.
So today, we exclaim AXIOS once again, just as we did twenty-five years ago, for you have been a worthy servant in Christ’s vineyard. As we honor you today, as we give you the respect and earthly praise that you rightly deserve on this day of thanksgiving, we know that the true reward for your priesthood – the only one that really matters, is the one that will be bestowed upon you in the Kingdom of God. Today we say to you “well done, good and faithful servant.” Our prayer is that you will hear those same words form the lips of our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ.
May I assure you of my continued prayers for you, your family and your God-blessed community.