Word Magazine June 1964 Page 8-9
By Rev. Robert E. Lucas
Orthodox Catholicity in America presently finds itself on the threshold of erecting many magnificent edifices and beautiful churches to the glory of the Triune God and it is only natural that we should turn our thoughts and focus our attention during this period of expansion of our Church to that element and force which will convert these varied buildings into churches and bring down from heaven the Son of God to repose upon their altars.
The pious faithful of our Orthodox Catholic Church needn’t be envious of the contemporaries of Christ who were privileged to be in His presence. Certainly there is enough of the New Testament packed into the Church’s teaching on the Sacred Priesthood of Christ to show conclusively that the priesthood — the sacrament of holy orders, its nature, dignity, and authority was essentially the same in days of SS. Peter & Paul as it is today. In the Orthodox Catholic priest we see the personification of Christ’s power. As we look upon the priest of Christ we notice that mysterious life which Christ alone knows. How fortunate, then, is Orthodox Catholicity that it possesses the priesthood of Christ! Because of the grace bestowed by those who follow Him, we bask in the very presence of God!
It is no wonder then, that upon meeting a priest, St. Antony of the Desert would bow before him and show his respect by kissing the hands which held the Sacred Body and most Precious Blood of our Redeemer. Another prominent saint said that if he would meet an angel and a priest simultaneously, he would first salute the priest and then proceed to show his respect to the angel.
The obligations of the priest are many. His foremost duty is the salvation of the flock entrusted to his care. To him the salvation of every soul is not idle foolishness; it is a most serious promise he has made while prostrate on the floor before his ordaining bishop. The priest is appointed to a flock where he labors by the will of God residing in the person of his diocesan bishop. He functions on the parish through the grace of God and the mercy of his superior, the bishop. He is appointed and removed by the ordinary of the diocese, his father in Christ.
The sanctity of Christ’s throne, the Holy Altar in our churches is wholly dependent upon His Sacred Priesthood. On the first Easter Sunday, our Divine Redeemer deigned to establish a priesthood which would continue to bring to a troubled world the graces Christ merited for mankind by gloriously rising from the dead. The Sacred Priesthood is the heart, the soul, the spirit, along with the apex of the Orthodox Catholic Church of Christ, for without this magnificent office, our Church would cease to exist in its true and most essential form. Without priests, Holy Mother Church would become widowed!
“Christ today, yesterday, and forever.” How true this is since He lives in Holy Mother Church, in the hearts of the faithful through His servants, the priests of God. “I will not leave you orphans” said our Saviour and He might just as well have said, “I leave you priests to take My place,” because He concluded by saying, “I will be with you until the consummation of the world.” “As the Father sent Me, so I send you, go ye therefore and teach all nations.” “He that hears you, hears Me, Who refuses you, refuses Me.” “Accept ye the Holy Spirit, whosoever sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven, and whosoever sins you retain, they are retained,” are words written in golden letters in the text of Sacred Writ.
Priests are spiritual shepherds who are bound by virtue of their offices to guard the faithful flock entrusted to their care from the onslaughts of the devil and the pitfalls of sin. They are the preachers of the word of God; they are mediators between God and man, who through the sacraments open the doors of heaven for us. They are our spiritual fathers who spiritually beget us in Christ. They are teachers and doctors who tutor us in the precepts of the Christian faith and who try to heal the wounded and crippled soul through forgiveness of sins. They are our friends because after everyone has left us, our family, our friends, and even our physician, the priest of Christ remains to help us and to guide the immortal soul to meet its Creator at the last moments before death.
St. Ignatius of Antioch, a disciple of the beloved Apostle, St. John the Evangelist has this to say about the dignity of the Sacred Priesthood, “The office of the priesthood is a collection of all the treasures and belongings which exist on earth.” “As far greater as the soul is over the body, that is how much greater the possessor of the Sacrament of the Priesthood is above earthly kings,” says St. Clement.
“The priest,” exclaims St. Ephraim the Syrian, “is a magnificent miracle, a possessor of unlimited power, one who touches heaven itself, who speaks with the angels and has a personal relationship and association with God.” Blessed Augustine, the great repentant sinner and illustrious bishop of Hippo declared, “no greater respect could be given to anyone among people and no one could be more blessed before God.” St. John Chrysostom, a Patriarch of the ancient and apostolic see of Constantinople proudly proclaimed that “Among those who walk the earth only to the priesthood has been given such great authority that the good, loving and merciful God did not even endow the angels or archangels with similar powers.” The priesthood according to St. Gregory is the “Condescendence of the mercy, love and goodness of God.”
Much has been said by many Orthodox Catholic saints and devoted religious about the sacred dignity of Christ’s Priesthood. Theirs are the thoughts of men who today reside in the mansions of heaven. Certainly they are the sentiments of esteem, respect and gratitude we should possess. There is nothing greater than the office of the priesthood and no calling more sublime than to serve Christ as His priest. It is for all of us to be staunch and loyal supporters of our priests, aiding them in fulfilling their duties and offices as required by Christ through His Mystical Spouse, our Holy Orthodox Catholic Church. The more eager we are to cooperate with our pastor, the more abundantly will blessings flow upon us from Almighty God.
We must not grumble about the priest of God; we must not hinder the progress he makes in our parish. We must help him to help us. It is only how much we give of ourselves to the disposal of our priest that we can measure the success of Christ’s ministry in our parishes. The priest
is our leader; we are bound to cooperate and work harmoniously with him for the glory of God. His opinions are to be respected and followed. Before we can appreciate and realize the awesome significance of our church we must absorb the meaning of the priesthood which makes the church something far greater than an ordinary building. Christ said: “He who hears you, hears Me, He who refuses you, refuses Me,” and “Insomuch as you have done it to the least of these my servants, you have done it to Me also.” It is only when we have the proper concept of the Priesthood that we will correctly understand the significance of the church and its absolute necessity for our salvation.
In this day and age, we should resolve that the churches and edifices we erect will be hallowed by the love we have for Christ through His Sacred Priesthood. May the sentiments of love showered by our pious faithful across this wonderful land of ours upon the priests of God provide the example that will ignite a huge fire of love for Christ and His priests. As we solemnly dedicate new churches to the service of Almighty God, let us dedicate ourselves anew to the Saviour of Mankind whose Body and Blood will repose on our altars through the prayers and invocation of our priests.