Today is the anniversary of my ordination to the diaconate in November of 2009. I would be ordained to the priesthood later in March of 2010.
Listen to one of the prayers of ordination: “The divine grace, which always heals that which is infirm and completes that which is lacking, ordains the most devout Deacon (name) to the office of Priest. Let us, therefore, pray for him, that the grace of the All-Holy Spirit may come upon him.
O God without beginning or end, Who are before every created thing, and Who honors with the title of Presbyter those whom You deem worthy to serve the word of Your truth in the divine ministry of this order: You, the same sovereign Master, preserve in purity of life and in unswerving faith this man whom You have been pleased to ordain through me by the laying on of hands, graciously imparting to him the great grace of Your Holy Spirit, making him wholly Your servant, well-pleasing to You in all things, and worthily exercising this great honor of the Priesthood which You conferred upon him by the power of Your wisdom. For Yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, of the Father, the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, now and always, and to the ages of ages.”
“The Divine Grace, which always heals that which is infirm and completes that which is lacking…” There is something wonderful about these words and comforting besides, especially in light of the constant challenge the enemy always makes sure lies before the clergy. And yet, such joy is also always present in this calling, especially when we are able to see a bit of the fruit of our labors in the lives of our family and our congregations.
St. Paul said of his own ministry “For I think that God has displayed us, the apostles, last, as men condemned to death; for we have been made a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men. We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are distinguished, but we are dishonored!” 1 Corinthians 4:8-10
This ministry, this calling is one both absolutely necessary for the spiritual health of the Body of Christ AND so very much misunderstood by even those within the clergy ranks all too often. It is a ministry of servant leadership. It is a ministry of both constant crucifixion AND perpetual resurrection. But it is a ministry our Lord has left His Church to help guide the Church to constant spiritual maturity and growth.
Jesus gives us a bit of insight into the seriousness of this ministry in today’s Gospel Lesson. He says to His disciples who would themselves later lay hands on other men to take over for them in their ministry, who would then lay hands on still other men who would continue the ministry, who would then…, well, you get the idea; and that process continues today. He tells them “He who hears you hears me, and he who rejects you rejects me, and he who rejects me rejects him who sent me.” Read the whole lesson in Luke 10:16-21.
As I contemplate the anniversary of my own entry by the laying on of hands by my bishop of this ministry, I am both amazed and humbled by the Lord’s words. I am expected (and all too often fail) to be such an example of Christ to others that they really get the impression that listening to my proclamation of the Gospel is like being there to hear Jesus say these words Himself. But then the Lord adds something of an ominous phrase when He says “He who rejects you rejects me, and he who rejects me rejects him who sent me.” Terrifying, when you think about it.
But that is how close the Lord is to His Church, His Body. He is still among all of us who claim to follow Him. In today’s liturgy, at the “kiss of peace” we clergy exchange these words “Christ is in our midst! He is and always shall be.” Christ is among us and one powerful sign, icon, and symbol of His true presence in His Church is His clergy. We act as a powerful sign of the Lord’s continued ministry, His continued presence, and His continued love for all who claim to be His disciples.
No wonder there has been such honor and even at times anger directed toward clergy. Our calling is nothing less than to continue to convince the world that Christ has not abandoned His Church.
Today, as you pray, please pray for your priest and all the clergy. We who are so very human really do feel the weight of our calling, and are constantly confronted with just how unworthy we are to bear this ministry.
But make no mistake, this ministry of the clergy of the Church is for your benefit, so destroying the clergy is an act of self-destruction. Today, learn to love one another, and pray for your priest. Trust me, he knows he needs it, and you need to have such care for him so he can serve with joy instead of sorrow. We need each other, and taking purposeful actions today to support our clergy is being Orthodox on Purpose!