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.
Recently our parish celebrated its 90th Anniversary, first by worshiping the Almighty God at the Divine Liturgy and secondly by having a special luncheon at which time the founding families and individual lay members were recognized for their contributions to the parish. The lay members of the parish are referred to as the flock of Saint Andrew. However, there can be no flock without a shepherd. Who were and are the shepherds? Can they be the priests that have served the church of Saint Andrew?
Jesus said, "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep. But the hireling, he who is not the shepherd, one who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf catches the sheep and scatters them. The hireling flees because he is a hireling and does not care about the sheep. I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own. As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep..." (St. John 10:11-15). "The "good shepherd," Christ, and His under-shepherds (i.e. Bishops and Priests) look after the sheep even to the point of giving their lives for them." Whether one calls the faithful "sheep" or "flock" it still demands that they must be under the care of a shepherd who will feed them and protect them from the "wolves".
Again Christ says, "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish, neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand" (St. John 10:27-28). The English word pastor is borrowed directly from the Latin word pastor meaning a "shepherd."
"So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?" He said to Him, "Yes, Lord; You know that I love You." He said to him, "Feed My lambs." A second time He said to him, "Simon, son of John, do you love Me?" He said to Him, "Yes, Lord; You know that I love You." He said to him, "Tend My sheep." He said to him the third time, "Simon, son of John do you love Me?" Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, "Do you love Me?" And he said to Him, "Lord, You know everything; You know that I love You." Jesus said to him, "Feed my sheep" (St. John 21:15=17).
The Lord did not say to Saint Peter, "be a great liturgist, discuss theology, rule over the faithful, be a great scholar, dress strangely, have long prayers or shun the world," nor any of the other things that often typify the "work that is being done." He says simply, "Feed My sheep."
It is easy for all to forget that the task of the priesthood is to nourish the faithful of the Church? The priests are the shepherds whose mission is to feed the sheep just like the holy Apostles. There is simply no other way for the priest to show his love for Christ than to begin by showing it for the people for whom Christ died. Saint John of Kronstadt expressed his view of the pastor in these words that carry a message for both priests and faithful today: "A priest is a spiritual physician. Show your wounds to him without shame, sincerely, openly, trusting and confiding in him as his son; for the confessor is your spiritual father, who should love you more than your own father and mother, for Christ's love is higher than any natural love. He must give an answer to God for you."
The Lord commands Saint Peter and all who follow in his footsteps, "Feed My sheep." Those who are called to be the pastors (priests) or shepherds of the Lord must lead the flock of the faithful by being witnesses in their own lives of the Good News of forgiveness in the Cross of Christ and the hope of the Resurrection to all who seek the Lord in repentance and love.
"The Shepherd...goes before them, and the sheep follow Him, for they know His voice" (St. John 10:4).
These shepherds or priests are those whom God call to live among the people and encourage them in their lives. This is a noble and holy vocation. When clergy and faithful understand each other and each other's vocations better, I believe we can all benefit from our holy relationships. Your priests or shepherds come from varied backgrounds. They come from families of every economic level. They also come after surviving sometimes horrible experiences. We, the priests of our Church, were not born and reared in a vacuum, free from the real world which is fallen and sinful. We, your priests, having called to be shepherds and guides to our Orthodox Christians all over the world.
When, we, your priests, are assigned to serve our parishes, we do it not for the money but to serve our Savior Jesus Christ through you, "His sheep." God has given each of us talents and opportunities to serve Him.
In Acts 20:28, the clergy are cautioned, "Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made your overseers. Be shepherds of the Church of God, which He bought with His own blood." This is an awesome responsibility. One must ask himself who, other than your priest, can visit and offer comfort and blessing to you or your loved one's when you are facing a personal crisis, an illness, a tragedy or even death? Who do you turn to for your child to be baptized? Who do you turn to when you need forgiveness of sins? Who do you turn to for the marriage of your children? Who do you turn to conduct the Divine Liturgy and offer you Holy Communion? Who do you turn to for spiritual advice? Who do you turn to when your marriage is failing? Who do you turn when you loved dies and needs a funeral? Knowing all of the above, the question is, can the parish exist without the priest? Can you, as an Orthodox Christian, function spiritually without him? The clear answer is no!
For 90 years this parish has had good men, good priests, good pastors, that took care of all the spiritual needs of this parish. Who, among the people would be able to offer the services that they provided for 90 years? They deserve some acknowledgement and appreciation for services rendered to the parish and to all. Not that anyone of them would demand it or expected. For the service that is offered is out of love for the Lord and the Holy Church.
No Orthodox Christian should marginalize the Priestly Ministry of the Church. No one should take it for granted. No one should minimize its significance and impact in the Orthodox Christian's life. Orthodox Christians must always treat their Priest with respect and to pray for him and his family.
May God bless all of them and their families, and all of those who have asleep in the Lord, be among the holy and righteous of God.
With love in Christ,