Word Magazine April 1990 Page 4-5
THE PRIEST AND HIS RELIGION
by Archpriest Michael Baroudy, of blessed memory
The Priest and his Religion is a topic of a considerable challenge to the priest himself, because the priest represents, in a particular and peculiar sense, the intents and purposes of religion. For religion is the vocation of the priest. He is ordained, set apart and consecrated to maintain the integrity of the Christian Faith, remembering at all times that he is responsible to God and man for the life he lives and the decisions he makes. He is the instrument in God’s hands to bring others, those who are without God and without hope in the world, to a saving knowledge of God and of His Christ. The priesthood, dear friends, is more than a profession, vocation or avocation. It is a calling from God. It is God reaching down and taking certain persons whom He is pleased to call and fit them out by endowing them with grace, faith and power to minister to Him and to His people, preparing them to be His sons and daughters, channels of blessings to those whom they come in contact with in every day life. A man might choose anyone of the many professions, but the priesthood to be God-fearing, God-honoring and effective is a clear-cut call from God.
For an appropriate declaration as to the significance of the priest and his religion, St. Paul writes to his spiritual son, Timothy, these words, which we find in First Timothy, Chapter 4:12. “Let no man despise thy youth, but be thou an example of the believers, in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.”
St. Paul was without a doubt, the greatest of all the Apostles from every standpoint. His conversion to Christianity was miraculous and he did more by his writing, teaching and preaching to advance the cause of Christ, than any other person. When he wrote his first letter to Timothy he was in prison. Realizing that his years upon the earth would soon be terminated, and in order that the cause of Christ may not suffer, he penned the words of our text in order to instill in this young priest, Timothy, that the Christian priest shall demean himself with propriety and devotion.
St. Paul lists five essential characteristics that should be manifested in the Christian priest: first, the Christian priest must be an example of the believers by his speech, by his language. There is nothing perhaps that would impress people as to the character of any person, particularly the priest, than the manner of his speech. The priest should not engage in any conversation which may be calculated as frivolous, vain, unbecoming of the dignity of his holy calling. Christ said, “Out of the surplus of the heart the mouth speaketh,” which means that the source of a person’s language issues from the heart, therefore, a man’s heart must be pure. The Holy Spirit is the only agency and influence by and through which one’s heart may be purified. David must have realized that for he cried, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.”
Many times during my ministry I have said some things which I’ve regretted later. All of us, without exception, offend with our language more than any other means. But, I was often angry with myself for having left unsaid something which would have edified the hearers. Sometimes we priests are afraid to state the truth for fear that someone might not like it. But the priest must realize that God must be obeyed rather than men, and should therefore state the truth without fear or favor.
Second, the priest is to be the right example in conduct. Nothing could take the place of conduct in the life of the individual, especially the priest. Neither can learning or logic take its place. The life of our Lord Jesus Christ, His Blessed Mother, as well as all the Apostles, were shining lights as to how a Christian should live. When Jesus said, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly,” He was pointing out to us that His mission was to make men and women better people. He came to change us and make us conform to His image; to be a Christian then is to be Christ-like. “For me to live is Christ,” cried the Apostle Paul. Christ was to Paul, and should be to us all, not only the founder and the Redeemer of Christianity, but also the supreme Example.
Most of us who glory in the fact that we are Orthodox Christians often forget that being Orthodox carries the responsibility of revealing Orthodox Christianity by our lives no less than by our lips. Being Orthodox, that is, having the right kind of belief, enjoins us and lays upon our souls the necessity for living holy lives. If we are Orthodox in every deed, then we don’t live like heterodox! Every true Orthodox considers the Holy Liturgy very important, but every twice-born Orthodox will consider it highly important to lead a life that will honor the Lord whom he professes belief in.
Third, the priest should be the right example by his love to all people, regardless of color or creed. Love, in the Christian sense of the word, is the badge which distinguishes Orthodox Christians from non-Christians; it is the mark of discipleship. Did not our Lord mean this when He said, “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if ye have love one for another.” “God is love,” said the Apostle John, “and he that loveth is of God.”
When we envision the world in which we find ourselves, we discover that this Godly principle is absent in the majority of cases. The world’s outlook presents us with the challenge that we, each of us individually, must realize that the only cure for our ills which besets us all is the kind of love manifested by the Savior and that each of us must love people sacrificially. Nations, as well as groups and individuals, are drifting apart, the wedge of hate has driven so deeply and indelibly into the hearts and minds of people everywhere until the world is on the verge of collapse. People have soured on one another, they bear malice and grudges against each other until all of our human relationships have suffered a change for the worse. The survival of humanity will depend upon the kind of efforts the Christian people will put forth to redeem the world from an inevitable ruin.
The fourth principle by which the priest must be the right example is faith. Faith in God and in Christ, faith in ourselves and in humanity as a whole is the foundation principle of all Christian virtues. “Have faith in God,” Jesus has time and again iterated and reiterated. “Faith is the victory which overcomes the world,” affirmed the Apostle John. “Without faith it is impossible to please God,” the writer to the Hebrews informs us. Yet despite all these witnesses, faith has been rudely shaken, if not totally absent from us. We don’t love one another because we have lost faith in each other. When our faith in God is not of the caliber it should be, then of course, we can’t have confidence in any man, confidence is that which genders trust.
St. Paul in his second letter to Timothy reminds him of the falling away of people from the Christian Faith which is to take place in the future. But Paul lays the burden of the responsibility on his son, Timothy, to instill sound faith. “I charge thee therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, preach the word in season and out of season, reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long-suffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and turn unto fables.”
Last but not least, a priest is to be an example for the believers in purity. The priest’s religion, in order to impress people must be motivated by sincerity, must be saturated by piety, patience, and perseverance. Think evil of no man, overcome evil with good, love all without distinction as Christ loved them, regardless of anything. His language, conduct, love, and faith must be free from hypocrisy.
The Old Testament informs us of what the priest is or should be. “The priest’s lips should keep knowledge, and they should seek the law of his mouth, for he is the messenger of the Lord of Hosts.” The New Testament carries this valuable instruction, “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” So then the priest, we conclude, is a messenger of God, approved by Him and therefore should be an unashamed worker in the vineyard of the Lord.
Father Baroudy was pastor of St. George Church in Vicksburg, Mississippi, in the forties and fifties. He was a prolific writer and inspiring preacher.