Sometimes people ask me, “Why did you become a priest? Was it because of your father? Did you parents pressure you into following that path?”
It’s an interesting question which I often think about, especially whenever I meet other priest’s kids, or PKs as we’re often called. Some PKs love Christ above all else, and have followed the path of their fathers into the priesthood. Others, though, have been scarred by their experience as a PK, and have rejected the faith and even fallen away from the Church. Ultimately, though, one can’t become a priest simply because our father is a priest; it’s a calling one has to discern whether it’s from God, and then follow that path because you have a deep love for Christ and a passion to participate in His ministry.
Well, today on the 21st anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood, I thought I’d offer some thoughts on serving as a priest. It was 21 years ago today, on the feast of my patron Saint Luke the Evangelist, I was ordained to the priesthood in Tirana, Albania by His Beatitude Archbishop Anastasios. Faith and I began our ministry in Albania, and served there for 10 and a half years. We have now served almost 11 years here in Webster. By God’s grace, we have been greatly blessed during these last 21 years, by the countless people who have enriched our lives, by the unique experiences we have had, and by the brothers and sisters we have worked with and the ones we have tried to serve. We truly thank God for these years we have tried to offer in faithful service. I also especially thank God for the worthy partner and co-minister He gave me in Presvytera Faith!
We have received such joy in growing as a priest and presvytera in our relationship with God, in serving Him in both wonderful and challenging times, in sharing and trying to witness His Good News with whomever we have met, and in striving to love and serve our neighbor and all those whose paths we have crossed.
So here are a few thoughts on serving as a priest:
- It is a very high calling to represent Christ on earth to people who look at you. Of course, every Christian is an ambassador of Christ in the world, but people look at the priest as their spiritual leader. This is an extremely humbling experience, because we know better than anyone else how often we fail in our daily walk. Yet, we take courage from St. Paul’s words, “God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness.”
- The main task of every Christian is to live out and to proclaim our Lord’s Good News to a world that is in desperate need of Good News. Christ’s Good News of unconditional love, of unconquerable hope, of unfathomable mercy and grace, and of eternal joy. The priest struggles to figure out how best to proclaim this message in a way that people find relevant and meaningful. It’s a difficult task to proclaim this message in a way people can hear, especially in today’s secular world, and yet, what an amazing honor.
- Each and every day we strive to walk in a deeper and more authentic relationship with Jesus Christ. And as a priest, we try to walk in this intimacy with God, while guiding and inspiring others on a path which leads into a deeper and passionate love relationship with our Lord. It’s hard because we don’t always set the best example. We sense our hypocrisy and our weaknesses each and every day. Yet we find comfort in taking this journey together, and realize we all can help one another. What an incredible blessing to share this journey with others!
- Each Sunday and on other special feastdays we lead a community of faithful believers into God’s heavenly kingdom through the mystery of the Divine Liturgy. We stand in the presence of God and unite with the saints in heaven, with the angelic powers, as well as with the Body of Christ throughout the world, to worship and praise our Creator. This is truly the greatest highlight of each week. What an unspeakable blessing to stand in front of the altar leading a community in worship!
- We have the privilege to enter into the greatest joys, as well as the deepest sorrows in the lives of others. Not too many people can show up at someone’s house unannounced, unexpected, and yet be welcomed into their embrace. When tragedy occurs or various struggles, when the greatest pains and mysteries of life happen, when we face the final reality of death, the priest is there. Of course, also in the greatest joys – with every birth and baptism, wedding and celebration. It’s a unique privilege that not too many people can experience in their lives, to be welcomed into the depths of people’s lives.
- It is also a humbling experience to hear the confessions of others. What a blessing for others to stand as a spiritual doctor, listening to the sins and brokenness of others, and leading them into the healing and forgiving presence of God. Of course, whenever I listen to the confessions of others, I see my own sins all the more clearly, and am reminded to turn myself to our Lord. Through this holy mystery, we hear not only the deepest confessions, but the greatest longings and dreams of others.
- I love to teach, and the priesthood gives countless opportunities to teach. Whether with our sermons, in our writings, or in the more intimate settings of small group Bible Studies and Orthodoxy classes, we are called to be instruments in God’s hands through teaching. And by teaching, I am constantly being reminded myself of what we believe, of how we are called to live, and who God is and who we are. Once again, it’s a humbling experience because I know how often I fail to live up to what we proclaim. Yet the greatest lesson of our faith is that as often as we turn back to God, He will receive us.
- The priesthood is also a place where I’ve met the most incredible people – from living saints, to inspiring monks and nuns, to wonderful co-workers and priests, to the most simple, humble, faithful believers. I’ve been blessed to know spiritual giants recognized the world over, as well as simple faithful people whom the world would know nothing about, yet who are giants in the eyes of God.
- And of course, the priesthood has blessed me to not only work with so many people in the Body of Christ, but to also work with a presvytera, a most blessed and wonderful Presvytera Faith, who has been ordained with me to serve, to love, to grow and to witness to our Lord.
The priesthood is an incredible calling, and a most beautiful life. Of course, it is an extremely humbling experience. We are reminded daily of our own shortcomings, failures, sins and hypocrisy. Yet we take comfort in knowing that we are only frail instruments pointing to the Source of Mercy and Love, the Giver of Life, and only Savior of the World.
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