Word Magazine June 1982 Page 30
A PRIEST FOREVER
By Father James C. Meena
The Priesthood is a mystical and spiritual vocation. For Orthodox Christians generally, the Priesthood is looked upon with reverence and respect. We can say without fear of contradiction that the title, “Father”, has a particular significance for us as Orthodox Christians because of our conviction that each parish is a living segment of the greater Family of God and we relate to each other as a family.
Throughout the ages, the Priesthood has had its ups and downs. Unfortunately in days of poverty too many people look on the Priesthood as a means of earning a livelihood, and in periods of affluence too many people look upon it as a source of authority, power and influence, a status position. But the Priesthood is not a “profession”. It should not be compared to any other pursuit such as medicine or law, because the Priesthood is a calling from God. Blessed is the man who hears that calling and answers it with conviction, knowing that he was chosen rather than having chosen the Priesthood for himself. And woe to the man who looks upon the Priesthood as a status position. That man will be miserable in his ministry and will make others miserable with him.
I once read an article which describes the Priesthood in such glowing terms that it should have caused a stampede of young men to the seminaries. But that’s not telling it like it is. The Priesthood is a tough and sometimes frustrating vocation. It is almost always an agonizing one because while the Priest takes upon himself the easy yoke of Christ, he also takes upon himself the uneasy burden of human sin. A Priest agonizes with his people, he mourns with them and he rejoices with them because he is their spiritual Father.
No young man should close his ears to the calling of God. On the other hand, no young man should look upon the Priesthood with veiled eyes as a glamorous job where everyone calls one “Father, Father”, and kisses one’s hand and where one has a rosy existence. It just isn’t so. If Christianity is a struggle to overcome the satanic forces which strive to destroy us then the Priesthood is, or should be, the epitome of that struggle and the Priest is always struggling not only to help his people to overcome their sins but to overcome his own sins as well. I feel sorry for anyone who believes that people always treat the Priest with cooperation and respect. People are people. Some people like Priests and some don’t, and some Priests like people and some don’t.
Some people see in the Priesthood a romantic notion of what they think the Priest ought to be. They are always disappointed if their Parish Priest doesn’t live up to that preconceived idea. We think of a Priest in the image of a Bing Crosby or a Gregory Peck or maybe a Pat O’Brien
with an Irish brogue. Older Priests are always seen in the image of Barry Fitzgerald. We never think of Priests with backaches, headaches, stomach troubles, bad tempers, impatience, struggling, always struggling and coming up against one frustration after another. But Priests, like you, are human. While we are set apart for a special function in the Church, you are part of that function, part of this whole Priesthood of Believers. While we, the Apostolic Priesthood, are part of a special ministry in the Church, we should not be looked upon as being peculiar or exceptional people.
I can only tell you how I feel about the Priesthood. I am a son of a Priest. My mother pledged me to the Priesthood when I was very ill. Before the Holy Altar she knelt and promised me to God if He would spare my life. I resented that promise all my life and I often resented my mother for having made it. When asked if I were going to be a Priest I usually gave a sarcastic response. I was studying for an entirely different professional life when one day, God touched me. He had touched me before and I had brushed Him off, but this time He literally grabbed me by the neck and forced me to my knees where I repented with bitter tears for my sins and I gave my life to Him. When I stood up I knew I had to be a Priest. I have known for 30 years that God chose me. I did not choose this vocation. This conviction alone is responsible for my remaining in a vocation that is sometimes overwhelming in its thanklessness from human perspectives. By spiritual standards, it is the most rewarding work I could have ever entered upon. People set human perspectives — God sets spiritual standards — One chosen by God, then, can never be overwhelmed for he has an unending source of inner strength, the sure knowledge that he is, for some mysterious reason, one of God’s chosen.