Word Magazine October 1958 Page 11/22
ESSENTIAL ASPECTS OF
By Archimandrite Michael Shaheen
St. George’s — Montreal, Canada
Spiritual leadership in Eastern Orthodoxy belongs to the hierarchy, the ordained deacons, priests, and bishops who have received their Divine Office from Jesus Christ, the first High Priest. From Christ, the first disciples and apostles, the early bishops and church fathers, and their successors received the authority, power and grace to “go to all mankind and teach …” This spiritual link that is preserved in an unbroken chain of successive ordinations makes it possible for the hierarchy of today to trace their origin directly to Christ, and is known as Apostolic Succession. America’s most eminent theologian, Very Rev. G. Florovsky, D.D., states that, “Only to the hierarchy has it been given to teach ‘with authority.’ The hierarchs have received this power to teach, not from the church-people but from the High Priest, Jesus Christ, in the Sacrament of Orders.” (The Catholicity of the Church, in the Church of God, page 72) This Sacrament of Orders confers the right to perform the other six Sacraments including itself, and is rightly called the Source and Origin of the Sacraments. Bishop Athenagoras, D.D., Dean of the Greek Theological School of Brookline, Mass., wrote, “Priesthood is the Sacrament of Sacraments, for by it the redemptive mission of Christ is perpetuated.” (Gk. Orthodox Theol. Review, Vol.3, No.2) Therefore, we can rightfully state that our Office is of divine origin, that we can trace its authority and continuity through the first apostles to Christ who founded Christianity in the East. In fact so great is this authority that St. John Chrysostom, in chapter 5 of Book 3 On the Priesthood, claims their authority was not even given to the angels or archangels.
However, since the purpose of this essay is to briefly cover the many aspects of spiritual leadership, I shall discuss other important and practical aspects following the basic duties of all true priests according to the Church Canons.
1. To offer the Sacrifice (Liturgy) on behalf of the faithful at the appointed times.
2. To nourish the faithful spiritually through the Sacraments regularly.
3. To teach and preach the genuine teachings of Orthodoxy to all “who have ears to hear and eyes to see.”
4. To maintain constant vigilance over those entrusted to your care and insure their proper Christian living.
5. To assist the needy, help the weak, guide the ignorant, and rebuke the sinner.
Discipline and Order
“Let all things he done in order,” said St. Paul. The Canons and Laws of the Church must be obeyed to the letter. No priest can change or modify any of these important laws in order to please someone. Those who think they can make exceptions only invite confusion and trouble, and actually sin in every sense of the word. You are appointed to lead your people to full Christian living within the laws of the Church, and therefore cannot be expected to please everyone. He who attempts to please everybody is only a fool. Your mission is to please God, and lead your people and not be led.
The Clergy in Society
As a class the clergy surpass all men in their understanding, patience, sympathy, fidelity, self-sacrifice and courage. All men, regardless of their calling and profession, are under the universal law of God, and are therefore morally bound to keep the Ten Commandments and to live the Sermon on the Mount. But only the clergy voluntarily confess these obligations, promise to uphold them, and dedicate their whole lives to teaching, preaching and making them real to all people. Thus, no other man binds himself to such high ideals as the true priest of God. For this reason people expect so much more from the clergy than they do from others. This is why you are expected to surpass the physician in sympathy, the lawyer in purity of motive, the editor in fidelity to principles, the soldier in courage, the teacher in loftiness of ideals and the highest classes in our best societies in purity of life. Our Lord said. “YOU ARE THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD”.
You Are the Father of All
St. Paul said. “For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the Gospel.” (I Cor. 4:15. For this reason members of the clergy are addressed as “father.” Furthermore, as a father loves all his children equally, you are to love the poor as well as the rich. Never show favoritism, for this is abhorrent to the spirit of Christianity. The so-called saying of divide and rule has never helped any priest. Don’t become a victim of this unchristian act which has actually brought the downfall of many foolish priests. All your parishioners are fully entitled to the same service and treatment, regardless of their financial status or position in society.
Necessary Qualifications in America
In earlier times the clergy had only to administer the Sacraments, to preach “the Word,” and teach Christianity, in addition to looking after the poor and aged. No longer is the work of a priest confined to the above mentioned, but in this age and in this country he is expected to be a good mixer who can meet and talk to people of all types, he must know something about current affairs, he must be available to his parishioners for consultation, advice and guidance at all times, he is supposed to be well versed not only in his Church’s main teachings but that of the many other churches that exist here, he must meet with the numerous church organizations to insure their success and unity, and above all be a good public speaker that can inspire his listeners to follow. This is only a short list of the multiplicity of duties that face the priest, aside from having to compete with T.V., radio, and the movie industry. However, we have one great advantage over all of them, since we are here to proclaim the greatest message of all times, to point out its relevance to life, and to meet human need at its deepest levels.
Although here in America the necessary academic qualifications are degrees from a College and an Orthodox Seminary, let us remember that it is not the diploma which proves a man’s right to be a priest, but a spiritual temper and a moral stamina like those of the Apostles. In conclusion a good knowledge of the English language is most essential in order to express yourself and your mission to the overwhelming majority, and the understanding of the culture and customs of the New World.
Sermons in the Church
If a man expects to move people by preaching, he must first do a good deal of living himself. Emerson was wise when he said. “What you are speaks so loud I cannot hear what you say.” Always express your thoughts in simplicity and in language understandable by all. People have little concern for theological terms and philosophical ideas that are far above them in language. Your sermons should be short, in a language the heart understands, and with a purpose and lesson the people can ponder over and think about. Also remember that those who indulge in too much joking outside the pulpit are suspected of joking when they speak from the pulpit.
This has rightly been termed as the queen of all virtues. Every parish has its cranks and malcontents; a parish is like a school with pupils in various stages of growth and development. Wise is the priest who remembers this in all his relationships with his flock, and becomes patient with the slow and hard. Every church, large and small, has problems which are a burden to the heart. Some parishes have people with whom it is hard to live, quarrels which have been smoldering for years, grey headed men with antique ideas that frown upon every suggested step of progress and betterment, and in short many devils that make the task of a priest extremely difficult. Only patience, not logic, can help you to continue in your sacred mission.
Christ rebuked the proud and praised the humble. Many a priest has had his usefulness destroyed by pride. If a priest’s most conspicuous gift is a good voice, let him beware of depending on that gift and neglecting all other important aspects. This sometimes hinders a fruitful ministry because dependence on a particular gift leads one to neglect all others. Boasting of one’s accomplishments is very harmful. Fishing for compliments spoils every good deed done. Praise is worth nothing when it is sought on purpose. Being humble does not mean feeling inferior to other men except in the sense in which the Bible tells us that we should consider ourselves unprofitable servants in the sight of God. No man upon this earth is perfect; blessed is the priest who realizes that.
The Bible calls us “servants of Christ, stewards of the mysteries of God, ministers of reconciliation, dispensers of truth, co-laborers with God, sufferers for Christ’s sake, examples and administrators of discipline,” and that we ought to be in the full sense of these terms. May God help all of us to ever-remember that serving our people faithfully is serving Him, that someday we may hear His voice calling us “faithful.”