The Path Without Compromise.
The Internet today is full of various sharp publications or videos related to the clergy. Occasionally, priests themselves voice concerns that are often severe and significant. They include relationships between a priest and his bishop, a priest and his family, a priest and the challenges of the modern world, a priest and his parish, burnouts, etc.
Yet I cannot but express my fear, which I feel with regard to these things. I can describe this fear in one word: “sociality” or “social issues”. I am worried that when we discuss the social aspects of a priest’s life, we may sometimes move away from its fundamental spiritual dimension.
What is it?
Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh outlined it very well in his sermon delivered on the ordination of Father Michael Fortunato into priesthood in London on December 28, 1969: “Stewardship now lies ahead of you; Feed my sheep, feed my lambs, the Lord tells you; and I want to read you, as well as all those who have ears to hear, the Word on the Pastoral Care which was sent to me a few years ago from the depths of the Russian faith:
“Father, a desperate soul tells me, ‘You have met a shepherd, and life shines in your eyes; tell me what you have seen, so that people may recall what a shepherd is’. But I will not say anything, Father, everything has been said long ago, and new words will not reveal anything to those who do not know the secret of the Shepherd’s crucifixion from experience. The mystery of your pastoral ministry is found in your continuous and personal union with Christ, and this is its precondition, not its end. “He who hangs on the cross does not think of perfection”, nor do you come down from the cross. They take you off the cross dead. The rest is a natural consequence: And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me, says the Lord (John 12:32). So will you, to your measure, to the measure of your unity with Christ. God knows your measure, priest, but we can only be astonished to see how He entrusts and gives you the souls torn away from the claws of death and hell by your prayer; God can say Go to you, and thanks to your complete obedience no earthly obstacle can stop your march to the only lost soul that God has chosen for you. Once you have found it, shepherd, you serve it in all its squalor as if it were Christ Himself… It is as simple and obvious as any mystery, so that those to whom it is given may know it right away, and those who have no knowledge may not be aware of it.
It is the way of communion with Christ in prayer and in the Sacraments; it is the road on which we say, “Let Your will be done, Lord, not mine,” even when we have a cup of suffering and death before us. This way is Christ Himself, Who is also the Truth, Who is not “something”, but One; and the Life is also One: God Himself is the living God and our Life, and it is Him whom we should preach.
You will be able to do this only if you do not rely on any human power – on the strength of your young age, on your intellect, on the sensitivity of your heart, on your knowledge, or on anything else except the power of God being made perfect in weakness. If we commit ourselves flexibly, in weakness and infirmity, into the hands of the One who contains the whole world and creates all the creatures, then everything will be done.”
Just recently, I was struck by a scene…
I saw a priest with the Gospel. He is standing on the pulpit after reading the Holy Scripture on Sunday Matins with the singing of We Have Seen the Resurrection of Christ. His face is hidden by the Gospel – a book and the icon of Resurrection at the same time. He wears cuffs on his wrists, to symbolize the bonds of Christ and at the same time to confirm that the priest is not operating in his own right, but on behalf of God, and that the Almighty is acting through his hands. He wears an undercassock as a symbol of the sublimity, of the perseverance, of the absence of earthly material colors, as a symbol of seclusion from the world. He has an epitrachelion around his neck – a symbol of the special grace of God resting on the priest, the power that gives him the ability to perform the sacraments and services under the High Priest – our Lord Jesus Christ. He wears a phelonion – a symbol of Christ’s chiton, soaked in His Pure Blood, of His suffering on the Cross, and a symbol of God’s grace. There is a priestly cross around his neck, which indicates that the priest is especially protected by the power of the Honorable Life-Giving Cross, but on the other hand, that he follows the Lord to his personal cross, to his personal Calvary.
In a word, a particular Father Peter or Father Nicholas at this sublime and holy moment almost dissolves in Christ. He puts on Christ, getting as close to God as human beings can.
Dear and beloved brothers in Christ, no matter what our inner or outer relationships may be like, no matter what kind of relationship we have with our families, no matter how much we desire material prosperity and comfort, as almost every man does, but still the Lord calls his priest, His own child, his own son, to Himself, invites him to go along His path – the path through the Garden of Gethsemane with praying till bleeding sweat, through beating, and whipping, and unjust trials, the path of the Crucifixion, the road to Golgotha and the Golgotha itself, the Road of the Cross.
All of this is necessary to enter into your personal resurrection, blended in the Resurrection of Christ. Not only that, it will happen only when each of us gets through our personal Golgotha.
This is the highest drama, but also the highest bliss of the priest. There are no compromises. There is only our Lord Jesus Christ. His path is open to each and every one of us.
Translated by The Catalogue of Good Deeds