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.
WISDOM AND SOUND JUDGMENT
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.1The Epistles with Commentary, v. II, 248; the Right Rev. Michael (Luzin, 1830–1887), Bishop of Kursk and Belgorod, was a leading Russian biblical scholar, theologian, and exegete.
THREEFOLD ASPECT OF THE PRIESTLY MINISTRY
THE PRIEST AS TEACHER
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.2cf. 1 Cor. 3:9 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 PRIEST AS LITURGICAL MINISTER
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.
THE PRIEST AS A STEWARD OF SOULS
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 podvig3spiritual or ascetical struggle 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.
JOYS OF THE PRIESTHOOD
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.