Protopresbyter Valery Lukianov

The Priesthood in Our Time

by Protopresbyter Valery Lukianov

We offer to our read­ers these coun­sels borne of decades of pas­toral expe­ri­ence by the rec­tor emer­i­tus of St Alexan­der Nevsky Cathe­dral in How­ell, NJ. The select­ed texts are excerpt­ed from the sec­ond chap­ter of Blessed Pas­tor­ship, Hard­cov­er — 240 pages — $26.00– ISBN 978–0‑99807–260‑9.  Orders (includ­ing whole­sale) may be placed at Holy Trin­i­ty Book­store.

The path that shapes priest­ly ser­vice is indi­cat­ed in the Lord’s com­mand­ment to His suc­ces­sors: Go ye there­fore, and teach all nations, bap­tiz­ing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teach­ing them to observe all things what­so­ev­er I have com­mand­ed you (Mt. 28:19–20). From the above com­mis­sion of the Lord emerges a three­fold aspect of the priest­ly min­istry, which is ful­filled in the realm of teach­ing, in the realm of the priest­hood, in and of itself, and in the realm of car­ing for souls. We will exam­ine each of these areas below, but first, let us say a few words about the per­son­al for­ma­tion of the pastor. 



The most impor­tant thing in pas­toral min­istry is spir­i­tu­al fer­vor, that is, those things that inspire the pas­tor, name­ly: his faith, love, and zeal for the Lord. A priest who has only a pleas­ant man­ner, knows the ser­vices, and has the abil­i­ty to make his litur­gi­cal actions look attrac­tive, but who has no inner fire, would be sim­ply a skill­ful prac­ti­tion­er of his craft, but not a gen­uine pas­tor. On the oth­er hand, if a pas­tor has only inspi­ra­tion with­out the knowl­edge and abil­i­ty to express it, he would lose a good deal of influ­ence on his flock. In oth­er words, if a pas­tor lacks edu­ca­tion, good man­ners, wis­dom, and piety, this dimin­ish­es his priest­ly stature and becomes a hin­drance to using the gifts of God’s grace in a wor­thy man­ner. We would like to share a few thoughts and wish­es con­cern­ing the ways in which a pas­tor can devel­op this grace-filled gift of the priesthood. 


In a pure­ly edu­ca­tion­al sense, it is a pastor’s duty to strive con­stant­ly for knowl­edge, to broad­en the range of his intel­lec­tu­al vision, to pur­sue con­stant­ly a greater acqui­si­tion of the Truth; bear­ing in mind, how­ev­er, that knowl­edge which does not lead to good deeds is not true knowl­edge. In the words of the Psalmist, the fear of the Lord is the begin­ning of wis­dom (Pm. 110:10 LXX). 

Where, then, should a priest seek the nec­es­sary knowl­edge? First of all, from oth­er priests who are more expe­ri­enced and knowl­edge­able (for exam­ple, at priest­ly con­fer­ences). Sec­ond, from read­ing. Books are one’s silent instruc­tors, and in select­ing his read­ing mate­r­i­al, the pastor’s pri­ma­ry atten­tion should be direct­ed to Holy Scrip­tures, the writ­ings of the Church Fathers, the­o­log­i­cal works, and then final­ly, to any oth­er lit­er­a­ture that can be use­ful in a giv­en sit­u­a­tion or pas­toral circumstance. 


These must be the pastor’s con­stant com­pan­ions in what­ev­er actions or spir­i­tu­al exer­cis­es he under­takes, and he must main­tain a healthy sense of bal­ance. The right­eous St. John of Kro­n­stadt advis­es pas­tors to employ mod­er­a­tion in all reli­gious mat­ters, since virtue, when exer­cised in accor­dance with one’s capac­i­ty, is a sign of wis­dom. For exam­ple, it is good to pray from a pure heart, but as soon as the prayer los­es the con­nec­tion with his inner strength, due to var­i­ous cir­cum­stances, or the time and place, then that prayer ceas­es to be a virtue. For this rea­son, Apos­tle Peter says: add to your virtue dis­cre­tion; and to dis­cre­tion tem­per­ance; and to tem­per­ance patience; and to patience god­li­ness… (2 Peter 1:5–6).
 Bish­op Michael (Luzin) writes, 

Dis­cre­tion refers to an intel­li­gent way of act­ing and think­ing where­by one com­pre­hends, in a time­ly fash­ion, what is use­ful and what is harm­ful, what is good and what is bad, what one must do and what one must avoid. Such dis­cre­tion pro­tects one from unrea­son­able zeal and from any excess­es hav­ing to do with thoughts, actions, and life in gen­er­al. This is true wisdom—what we may call the “eye” of all the virtues, for with­out such an eye virtue may become blind or fall into delu­sion. Wise dis­cre­tion is like con­trol­ling bri­dle of the virtues, which directs and tem­pers every virtue; a per­son led in this way does not do too much or too lit­tle, veers nei­ther to the right nor to the left, but goes for­ward along a straight path, direct­ly towards the goal, rather than wan­der­ing about.1





Photo of Protopresbyter Valery Lukianov and Matushka Irina
Pro­to­pres­byter Valery Lukianov and Matush­ka Iri­na, March 3, 2013, at the cel­e­bra­tion of Fr Valery’s 50th anniver­sary of cler­i­cal service.

It is the pastor’s duty to pro­claim Divine Truth, first of all to the mem­bers of the church, and sec­ond­ly to all oth­er peo­ple. The pur­pose of this teach­ing is to bring peo­ple to God, thus ful­fill­ing their true pur­pose in life. 

In gen­er­al, we can iden­ti­fy two types of teach­ing: cat­e­chet­i­cal and homilet­ic. The first is direct­ed towards those who are not yet mature, either phys­i­cal­ly or spiritually—that is, chil­dren or cat­e­chu­mens in the faith; while the sec­ond is direct­ed towards those who are mature. In our present cir­cum­stances the priest should expect to expend a lot of effort in orga­niz­ing a church school, but this activ­i­ty also turns out to be one of the most ful­fill­ing. Indeed, it is a great thing to impart the fun­da­men­tals of faith to trust­ing and inno­cent chil­dren, to implant in them moral­ly ben­e­fi­cial prin­ci­ples, and to direct their path towards the Church. This tru­ly brings great sat­is­fac­tion, which is capa­ble of smooth­ing over many day-to-day hard­ships along the pastor’s way. 

More­over, in recent times, with the down­fall of Com­mu­nism in Rus­sia and the arrival in the West of thou­sands of new emi­grants who are un-churched, igno­rant of the tenets of the faith, and often not even bap­tized, but who have now begun to attend our parish­es, the ques­tion of cat­e­chet­i­cal instruc­tion has arisen with full force. For pas­tors this presents a vast realm of activity—to enlight­en the souls of these new­com­ers, whether they become reg­u­lar parish­ioners or remain tran­si­to­ry, as is often the case. 

The sec­ond type of teach­ing lies in the realm of elo­quence and preach­ing. As we have already not­ed, priests are appoint­ed here on earth by the Holy Spir­it to serve God as min­is­ters to the igno­rance of the peo­ple, indeed to be God’s fel­low-work­ers.2 Such preach­ing is of pri­ma­ry impor­tance in plant­i­ng the seed of God’s word and has an enor­mous­ly impor­tant influ­ence on human souls in the mat­ter of their sal­va­tion. The main are­na for preach­ing is the church ambo, but it need not stop there: preach­ing can also take the form of infor­mal dis­cus­sions and for­mal lec­tures, as well as all con­ver­sa­tions with peo­ple who are seek­ing spir­i­tu­al nourishment. 


The per­for­mance of litur­gi­cal ser­vices is the pri­ma­ry, sacra­men­tal, and most essen­tial aspect of priest­ly min­istry. In litur­gi­cal min­istry we may iden­ti­fy two aspects: the divine and the human. The divine is that which is impart­ed to peo­ple from above through the litur­gi­cal actions of the pas­tor; the human side con­sists of the things that the serv­ing priest and the wor­ship­ping peo­ple bring to the litur­gi­cal ritual—what they come with to God in order to be wor­thy of receiv­ing His grace. These two aspects are dif­fer­ent in nature: the first— from God—is eter­nal and absolute­ly per­fect; the sec­ond depends on the per­son­al qual­i­ties, atti­tude, and dili­gence of the pas­tor. First of all, it should be stat­ed that the litur­gi­cal ser­vice of a pas­tor is high­er than all oth­er earth­ly min­istries; it is even high­er than that of the angels, which is some­thing that is insis­tent­ly point­ed out by the Fathers and Teach­ers of the Church. This top­ic is treat­ed most com­pre­hen­sive­ly by St John Chrysos­tom in his trea­tise on the priest­hood.

If the divine­ly giv­en ordi­na­tion of the pas­tor is the pri­ma­ry con­di­tion for Ortho­dox litur­gi­cal ser­vice, the human qual­i­ties of the pas­tor also play a very impor­tant role. The abil­i­ty to car­ry out litur­gi­cal wor­ship in an ele­vat­ed form that befits its nature and pur­pose is a great hon­or that falls to the pas­tor. Such an abil­i­ty to impart to the ser­vice the appro­pri­ate spir­i­tu­al beau­ty and majesty is some­thing that is facil­i­tat­ed not so much by the­o­ry as by prac­ti­cal, real-life expe­ri­ence. Nev­er­the­less, we may point out cer­tain fun­da­men­tal require­ments that must be ful­filled by the litur­gi­cal min­is­ter — the priest. 

The first require­ment of the priest is that his soul be spir­i­tu­al­ly attuned to prayer and that he expe­ri­ence a feel­ing of vibrant faith. More­over, the con­scious aware­ness of the exalt­ed nature of the ser­vice must nev­er depart from him as a litur­gi­cal cel­e­brant. The cel­e­brant of the Divine Ser­vice must be unceas­ing­ly atten­tive to the words he is pro­nounc­ing and the actions he is per­form­ing, hav­ing deep under­stand­ing of their mean­ing and sig­nif­i­cance. Final­ly, the litur­gi­cal min­is­ter must always remem­ber that, while he is serv­ing, he is the cen­tral focus of atten­tion, that in the church hun­dreds of eyes are watch­ing him, and hun­dreds of ears are lis­ten­ing and pay­ing atten­tion to him, with the expec­ta­tion that his words, actions, and his entire appear­ance will be appro­pri­ate to the great, heav­en-direct­ed ser­vice he is engaged in. 





It is an unfor­tu­nate tru­ism that pas­tors some­times val­ue those sheep that are valu­able or agree­able to them, rather than those to whom he can be of great­est val­ue. The pas­tor must always bear in mind that, even in a great­ly fall­en state, the soul of a sin­ner remains a pearl of great price, albeit sul­lied, and can be cleansed and glis­ten once again with the orig­i­nal beau­ty impart­ed to it by the Cre­ator. Indeed, real-life expe­ri­ence tells us that a soul which has suc­cumbed to a deeply ruinous state often secret­ly car­ries with­in itself the poten­tial of being ful­ly revived and capa­ble of great virtue, in total con­trast to its for­mer sin­ful state. Among the more vivid exam­ples of this are Saul, who became the Apos­tle Paul, and St Mary of Egypt, a sin­ful woman who astound­ed the world with her faith and ascetic strug­gles. A pastor’s stew­ard­ship shows signs of per­fec­tion when he begins to exert a ben­e­fi­cial influ­ence over the short­com­ings and vices among the mem­bers of his flock. 

We now come to the main objec­tive in a pastor’s car­ing for souls—being a father-con­fes­sor and heal­er of souls through confession. 

The suc­cess of con­fes­sion depends upon the con­sci­en­tious atti­tude of the pen­i­tent toward the sacra­ment and, to a large extent, upon the pre­dis­po­si­tion to repen­tance that the pas­tor is able to elic­it from those under­go­ing the pod­vig3 of self-exam­i­na­tion. Wis­dom and inspi­ra­tion on the part of the father-con­fes­sor always con­tribute to the suc­cess of con­fes­sion. For a con­fes­sion to be sin­cere there must, first of all, be a cer­tain mea­sure of heart­felt com­mu­ni­ca­tion between the con­fes­sor and the pen­i­tent. This occurs when the con­fes­sor becomes imbued with such a feel­ing of love and com­pas­sion that, like St Ambrose of Milan, he is able to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep (Rom. 12:15). A valu­able trait of the father-con­fes­sor is his abil­i­ty to instill a belief in the sav­ing pow­er of repen­tance, which is char­ac­ter­ized by the father­ly love and the sen­si­tiv­i­ty, born of expe­ri­ence, with which he asks ques­tions of the pen­i­tent. Prac­ti­cal­ly speak­ing, what is required of a father-con­fes­sor is the abil­i­ty to rec­og­nize sins, to give them an appro­pri­ate eval­u­a­tion, and then to apply the cor­rect remedy. 




The final and most impor­tant joy of the pas­tor is joy in the Lord. This joy incor­po­rates every­thing that is nec­es­sary for his spir­it. If he is insult­ed and reviled, in response he qui­et­ly prays for his attack­ers. In this instance, the joy is twofold—the joy of con­cil­ia­tive prayer and the requit­ing of good for evil. And what a joy inhab­its the pastor’s heart when, hold­ing the Holy Chal­ice at the litur­gy, he sees him­self before a mul­ti­tude of his spir­i­tu­al chil­dren, all desir­ing to par­take of the Holy Mys­ter­ies! How inspir­ing and heart­warm­ing is the com­mon prayer with the peo­ple, when the entire church sings with one mouth and one heart! And how sweet­ly beats the pastor’s heart from the real­iza­tion that he, in all his unwor­thi­ness and with all of his human weak­ness­es, serves as a gen­uine co-work­er in Christ’s Divine plan of sal­va­tion, a dis­penser of Divine grace, a keep­er of the Lord’s Holy Mys­ter­ies, and a trust­ed ser­vant of God Him­self! As the end times inex­orably draw clos­er, the Ortho­dox pas­tor remains assured that he prov­i­den­tial­ly remains in the bosom of the redeem­ing Church. What an immense com­fort it is to have the blessed pos­si­bil­i­ty to spend one’s entire life attend­ing to the Lord’s teach­ings, enter­ing into the depths of the­ol­o­gy, ascend­ing from glo­ry to glo­ry (2 Cor. 3:18), all the while being per­me­at­ed with a soul-sav­ing con­scious­ness of God! And final­ly, when­ev­er sor­rows strike the pas­tor, is it not a joy to remem­ber and indeed to expe­ri­ence that the Lord will not give His ser­vant over to offense and humil­i­a­tion: The Lord is… my good­ness, and my fortress; my high tow­er, and my deliv­er­er; my shield… (Ps. 143:2)?

The wind returns again accord­ing to its cir­cuits (Eccl. 1:6) and we also return to the one thing need­ful. What is the first and the last thing for the pas­tor? Of course it is prayer. Rejoice ever­more. Pray with­out ceas­ing. In every thing give thanks. Quench not the Spir­it. Hold fast that which is good, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus con­cern­ing you (1 Ths. 5:16–21). Let us fol­low in the foot­steps of the saints, and may the Lord strength­en us to remain good and true shep­herds of our flocks, and make us wor­thy to con­verse with His Angels. 

About the Author

Pro­to­pres­byter Valery Lukianov is among the most wide­ly respect­ed pas­tors in the Russ­ian Ortho­dox Church Abroad. He received his the­o­log­i­cal train­ing at Holy Trin­i­ty Sem­i­nary (Jor­danville, NY) and was ordained to the dia­conate by St John of Shang­hai and San Fran­cis­co in 1963. Fours years lat­er, Met­ro­pol­i­tan Phi­laret (Voz­ne­sen­sky) ordained him to the priest­hood and assigned him to St Alexan­der Nevsky Church, where he remains today as rec­tor emer­i­tus. Draw­ing on his sec­u­lar edu­ca­tion as an archi­tect, Fr Valery designed and erect­ed the beau­ti­ful cathe­dral which is now the seat of the East­ern Amer­i­can Dio­cese. Through­out his fifty years of ser­vice to the Church and the spir­i­tu­al needs of its peo­ple, Fr Valery direct­ed the school­ing of chil­dren, lec­tured exten­sive­ly at Church assem­blies and cel­e­bra­tions, as well as pas­toral and youth conferences.