The Word, June 1982, Page 7-8
A Joy of the Soul
by Father Basil Essey
The revolution in transportation and communication, and the surge of people around the globe make today one of the most exciting epochs in human history.
However, great technological achievements can lead us to self-reliance. We become blind to the fact that ALL good things come from God . . . including technology.
As “co-workers” with God in His creation, we are needed as witnesses to His Love. He needs them in all walks of life, but the ministry of the Priesthood is a way most dear to Him, and essential to the progress of His Church.
Saint John Chrysostom (+A.D. 407), in his famous treatise On the Priesthood, wrote that “ . . . the priestly office is indeed discharged on earth, but ranks among heavenly ordinances.” We are called to share in His Priesthood, to care for the flock of the One, Unchangeable Shepherd, Our Lord Jesus Christ.
The charge of the priesthood is not merely the management of crops, or herds, but concerns the very Body of Christ, His Church. Think for a moment . . . through God’s grace we mortals are called and entrusted with the administration of heavenly things!
Consider how great it is for one, composed of flesh and blood, to be enabled through ordination to draw near to that Blessed and Pure Nature! THIS is the great honor that the Holy Spirit has given to Priests.
But, imagine the magnitude of this ministry. Saint John Chrysostom also tells us that “more serious storms vex the soul of a priest than disturb the oceans.” The relationship of a Priest with God’s People involves ALL aspects of life . . . sharing heart-rending grief and exuberant joy.
Listen to these words taken from the diary of the late Father Alexander Elchininoff:
“What a joy to be a Priest! Yesterday I heard the confession of an entire family. The children were most lovable. . . two boys of about seven or eight. The Priesthood is the only profession in which men show you the most earnest side of their nature. To be a Priest is not to have dominion over another man’s faith, but to be HELPERS of their joy in Jesus Christ.”
Entrusted with serving a group of discouraged refugees in the poorer section of Paris during the 1940’s, Father Alexander’s writings reveal his insight into the pastoral vocation. “Where are we to find so great a love as to embrace everyone? I suppose it would take a Saint to grasp the element in each person which is unique. . . his soul.”
The former Archbishop of San Francisco, JOHN Shahovskoy, composed this prayer of a Priest:
“My Sweetest Saviour, grant us, Thy Priests, to be in such communion with Thy People, that we, pastors of Thy sheep, be not secluded in our homes, going out only for services with prayers learned by heart. . . May our Christian love for our spiritual children be revealed! How can I fail to do my utmost in striving for that bliss? It is but a feeble beginning, a faint likeness of the Heavenly Bliss of love.”
Truly the harvest is great, but the laborers are few. Our God needs dedicated and sincere men for Today’s mission. Men concerned with Today’s world and problems. The Priesthood offers a man great and unspeakable joy BUT it also demands all of your effort!
Perhaps the greatest effort must be exerted at the beginning, when a man first recognizes his “call” to the priestly vocation. “You have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you.” These words of Christ reveal that God and ONLY God can initiate a true vocation. He is the one who plants the seed, but it is up to YOU to make the response.
It is a serious decision to make. Social and economic pressures can sometimes hinder your discerning the Will of God. But through prayer and counseling with your Spiritual Father, you can invite the Holy Spirit to cultivate the seed . . . and make it bear fruit.
Although this spiritual aspect is of the greatest importance, there is another aspect . . . the academic. A Priest must be prepared to adequately relate the message of Christ to His People.
The first step in the academic process is to obtain a bachelor’s degree. Priests have backgrounds in all areas of study . . . from English and history, to philosophy and psychology. Your Spiritual Father can counsel you in choosing a major that will best prepare you to be a laborer in Christ’s vineyard.
The next step is to enter a graduate school of Orthodox Theology . . . the seminary . . . where you will study for a master’s degree in divinity. These three years of concentrated theological studies include academic courses, such as Scripture studies, canon law and dogmatic theology, as well as practical courses including pastoral training, liturgics and active field work in the parishes.
The graduates of theological school know that they have laid only the first foundation. Knowledge ABOUT God is but a way to the knowledge OF God. . . a living, experiential knowledge which can be communicated to all His People.
THIS is the joy of the Priesthood . . . a joy of the soul! If you have the slightest hint that God has planted the seed of spiritual vocation in you, don’t neglect it. THINK about the Priesthood. PRAY about the Priesthood. It may indeed be the seed of joy for YOUR soul!
Father Basil is Youth Director of the Archdiocese.