My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ! ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.
THE GLORY OF THE PRIESTHOOD
by Saint John Chrysostom
The Priestly Office (Gk. Υπούργημα) is discharged on earth, but it is ranked amongst the heavenly ordinances. And naturally so, for neither man, nor Angel, nor Archangel, nor any other created power but the Paraclete (Gk. Παράκλητος), the Holy Spirit, instituted this vocation, and persuaded men, while still abiding in the flesh, to represent the ministry of Angels. The consecrated Priest, therefore, must be as pure as if he were standing in heaven itself, in the midst of those powers.
The symbols which existed before the ministry of grace were fearful and of great consequence such as the bells, the pomegranates, the stones on the breastplate and on the ephod, the girdle, the miter, the long robe, the plate of gold, the Holy of Holies, and the deep silence within. But if anyone should examine the symbols that belong to the dispensation of grace, he will find that, as small as they are, they are fearful and awe-inspiring. The statement concerning the Law is true here also: "The splendor that once was is now no splendor at all; it is outshone by a splendor greater still." For when you see the Lord sacrificed, and laid upon the altar, and the Priest, standing and praying over the sacrifice, and all the worshippers being tinged with the Precious Blood, can you think that you are still amongst men and standing upon the earth? On the contrary, are you not at once transported to Heaven, and casting out every carnal thought from your soul, are you not then, in spirit and with pure reason, able to contemplate the things which are in Heaven? Oh, the wonder of it! Oh, the loving-kindness of God to men! He who sits on high with the Father is, at that hour, held in the hands of all, and gives Himself to those who are willing to embrace and grasp Him. All this is done with the eyes of faith! Do you think these things could be despised, or do they make it possible for anyone to be superior to them?
Would you like to be shown the exceeding sanctity of the office? Picture Elijah and the vast multitude standing around him, and the sacrifice laid upon the stone altar, and all the rest of the people hushed into deep silence while the Prophet alone offers up prayer. Suddenly, the rush of fire falls from Heaven upon the sacrifice. These are marvelous things, charged with terror. Turn, from this scene to the rites which are celebrated today. They are not only marvelous to behold but transcend terror. There stands the Priest, not bringing down fire from Heaven, but the Holy Spirit. He makes prolonged supplication, not that some flame from on high may consume the offerings, but that grace descending on the sacrifice may thereby enlighten the souls of all, and render them more refulgent than silver purified by fire. Who can despise this most awe inspiring mystery unless he is mad and senseless? Do you not know that no human soul could ever have endured that fire in the sacrifice, but all would have been utterly consumed for the powerful help of God's grace?
Can anyone consider how great a thing it is for a man of flesh and blood to approach that blessed and pure nature. He will then clearly see that great honor the grace of the Spirit bestows to Priests. It is through them that these rites are celebrated and other rites no less inferior to these, both in respect to our dignity and our salvation.
For those who inhabit the earth and make their abode, they are entrusted with the administration of heavenly things and have received an authority which God has not given to Angels or Archangels. For has it not been said to them, "What things soever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound also in heaven; and what things soever ye shall loose, shall be loosed." They who rule on earth have authority to bind only the body, whereas this binding lays hold of the soul and penetrates the heavens. What Priests do on earth God ratifies above and the Master confirms the sentence of His servants. God has given them all manner of authority for He says, "Whose soever sins ye forgive, they are forgiven, and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained." What authority could be greater than this? "The Father hath given all judgment unto the Son." But I see that the Son has placed it all in their hands for they have been raised to this dignity as if they were already translated to Heaven, and has transcended human nature, and freed from the passions to which we are liable.
Moreover, if a king should bestow this honor upon any of his subjects, authorizing him to cast into prison whom he pleased, and then release him at will, he becomes the admiration and envy of all. But although the Priest has received from God a greater authority, as Heaven is more precious than earth, and souls more precious than bodies, it appears to some to have received so slight an honor, that they imagine that someone entrusted with this gift will despise it. Away with such madness! It is sheer madness to despise such a dignity without which we cannot attain salvation or God's good promises.
For if a man "cannot enter into the Kingdom of Heaven except he be born again of water and the Spirit," and if he that eateth not the Lord's flesh and drinketh not His Blood is cast out of everlasting life, as all these things can be accomplished only be means of the blessed hands of the Priest, how can anyone, without their help, escape the fire of Gehenna or win those crowns which are reserved for the victorious? They are the only ones entrusted with spiritual travail and the birth which comes through the baptism. Through them, we put on Christ and are united with the Son of God, and become members of that Blessed Head. Wherefore, they might not only be more justly feared by us than rulers and kings, but also be more honored than parents, since these begot us "of blood and the will of the flesh." The Priests are the authors of our birth from God, that blessed regeneration which is the true freedom and the adoption according to grace.
The Jewish Priests had authority to release the body from leprosy, or to not release it, but only to examine those who were already released. And you know how much the Office of Priest was contended for at that time. But our Priests have received authority to deal not only with bodily leprosy, but spiritual uncleanness, and not just to certify its cure but to actually cure it. Those who look down upon these Priests are far more accursed than Dathan and his company, and deserve severe punishment. For the later, although they claimed to the dignity which did not belong to them, nevertheless had an excellent opinion concerning it, shown by the eagerness with which they pursued it. But the people we are considering have done just the opposite, at a time when the Priesthood has been better regulated and enhanced. They have displayed an audacity which exceeds that of the others, although manifested in a contrary way. For there is not an equal amount of contempt involved in coveting an honor which does not pertain to one, and making light of it, but the latter exceeds the former as much as scorn differs from admiration. What soul then is so sordid as to despise such great advantages? No one, I should say, except the victim of some demonic impulse.
To return to the topic which I digressed, God has bestowed a power on Priests greater than that of our natural parents. The difference between the two differs as much as the present and the future life. Our natural parents bring us into this life only, but Priests into the life to come. Natural parents cannot avert death from their offspring, or repel disease. But Priests have often saved a sick soul, or one which was on the point of perishing, by making the punishment milder for some, and preventing others from ever incurring it, not only by instruction and admonition but also through helping them by prayer. They have the authority to remit sins, not only at the time of regeneration, but afterwards too. "Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the Church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith shall save him that is sick, and the Lord shall raise him up, and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him." Again, our natural parents are unable to help their children if they come into conflict with the prominent and powerful in the world, but Priests have often reconciled, nor rulers and kings, but God Himself when His wrath has often been provoked against them..."
[Source: Six Books on the Priesthood. Translation by Graham Neville]
MY BLESSING TO ALL OF YOU
The Grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
"Glory Be To GOD For All Things!"--St. John Chrysostom
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God