by St. Symeon of Thessalonica
St. Symeon’s treatise on the Priesthood, is addressed to a newly ordained monk as “a word of reminder” (Λόγος ύπομνήσεως), of what the Priesthood is all about and of its importance in serving the saving Mystery of Christ to humanity. The Priesthood is, indeed, a basic theme in St. Symeon’s works and has been the subject of intense studies.
Symneon’s Discourse on the Priesthood.
After a profound, introductory paragraph, which deals with the love of Christ and the love that binds together Christ’s disciples and especially the priests, St. Symeon provides his first, great description of his understanding of the priesthood.
What a Priest Is
A priest, he says, has been deemed worthy to be a “minister” (diakonos – διάκονος) of Christ and a “liturgist” (Leitourgos-Λειτουργός), a “guardian” (parastates- παραστάτης) and a “beholder” (Theoros – θεωρός) of the Mysteries, who draws near and communicates in them, and also a “preacher” (κήρυξ) of the Gospel. There are no veils any more interfering in this way, says St. Symeon, because a priest can behold the divine Light directly without any obstacle.
He is no longer in need of a Seraph in order to receive the Mysteries, because he takes them with the tongs (λαβίς). Indeed, he himself is now the Seraph, by virtue of his consecration to the priesthood. He is the one that calls others to draw near to God, because he now holds in his hands the divine Mysteries and addresses the faithful, admonishing them to be attentive and offers them to Christ, and is actually the way and the guide of others towards the Light. Indeed, a priest is both a “Cherub,” because he can see fully through the Mysteries the One, who sees all things, and a fire bearing “Seraph,” because he holds the living Coal.
Furthermore, a priest is a “throne,” because through the Liturgy and the Communion, he has the One, who is present everywhere resting on himself; and he is also an angel, as God’s servant and liturgist.
A priest is all the above, says St. Symeon, not in an imaginary way, but really and truly, because he does not serve the divine Mysteries
“in a merely iconic or merely typical (symbolic) way,”
but truly serves the very Master, who is escorted in the heavens above by the immaterial powers.
“Indeed, a priest does on earth what the immaterial powers do in heaven, because this is what the Designer of all was pleased with and wanted to establish, namely, that one and the same Liturgy should be observed both above and below.”
Clearly, this description has two basic characteristics, both of which are tied to the Lord Jesus Christ. The first one is strictly connected with Christ’s person, inasmuch as a priest belongs entirely to Christ through receiving his priestly identity from him, being constantly connected with him and having his reference always to him. The second characteristic is that a priest’s service has a direct link and reference to Christ’s work, which was accomplished for all creation, the realities above and the realities below. This close link of the priesthood with Christ’s person and work is spelled out in the next paragraph, which explains how the priest’s service truly reveals who Christ is and what he has done for the entire, created world in general and mankind in particular.
Christ’s Work Extended Through the Priesthood
The priest’s service, says St. Symeon, reveals what Christ himself did for us when he appeared to the world as a man like us. This work can be described as follows:
Having procured his union with us, i.e. having willingly put on matter, Christ, who alone is immaterial, united himself with human beings, who are endowed with material senses. It is crucial here that He, who is by nature uncreated and without beginning, in his desire to be united with creation, was not united with the immaterial and creaturely nature of the angels — for angels were created out of nothing, immaterial and immortal by grace and participants of his Glory according to the measure of grace that was allotted to each of them. Rather, Christ put on our creaturely body and was united personally (ύποστατικώς) with us, without being separated from the Godhead and without being confused with the human nature, to which he transmitted the glories and benefits of the Godhead —
“for in him,” he says, “dwells the entire fullness of the Godhead bodily” (Col. 2:9).
Now, all this is related to the Priesthood, because just as Christ originally appeared to the world, according to his good pleasure, so now, he reveals himself through the sacred Mysteries (Sacraments) to the priests and through them to the world! Christ’s amazing, divine work, which escapes the grasp of human reason, has been entrusted to the priest, who serves the Liturgy and initiates others to it. What a priest does is to reveal Christ again, i.e. to present him truly and fully to the world of his time through the sacred Mysteries, which he handles according to the divine ordinance. In other words, a priest represents Christ’s perpetual and saving grace granted to the world through the celebration of Christ’s mysteries.
Herein lies, according to St. Symeon, the great dignity of the priesthood, which is greater than that given to the angels. The Mysteries, which priests handle, have to do with the fact that the Master, who contains all things and is himself incomprehensible, becomes for us localized. Though he cannot be touched, human hands uphold him. Though he is invisible, he submits to the senses and become visible. Though he is inconceivable by the human mind, he is received by human beings through our humble and fallen nature, by means of the priesthood, which has been instituted by him. This is the miracle of miracles, that Christ appears through the Mysteries; that he is given, carried, communicated; that he indwells in us and brings us peace, expiation and sustenance.
This is, says St. Symeon, the most novel of all happenings, the greatest gift to humanity, the highest power, authority and grace. By this, the priests, who are human beings, made of soil and clay and resembling worms of the earth, appear as heavenly Authorities and Powers (Angels). Indeed, the power of the priesthood makes human beings greater than these heavenly hosts. Priests are partakers of a mightier creation through the administration of holy Baptism and the other Mysteries. They become fathers of sons of God, or fathers of those, who become gods by grace. They act in a way that cancels out the effects of sin and, thus, deliver the souls, unlock the gates of paradise, dissolve eternal bonds. Priests are empowered to perform divine acts, as God’s collaborators for the salvation of human beings.
This being the case, it is obvious that priests have been granted the greatest charismas and gifts and, as such, are the greatest debtors to God. And it could not be otherwise, for they are compared to the heavenly Powers. These many-eyed orders of Angels behold God’s glory all the time. They tremble and shudder at this sight, and yet, they are in greater awe when they observe the manifold Wisdom of God, which they come to know through the Church, as St. Paul says. These angelic orders are in awe, because of their creaturely nature and immeasurable goodness of God, but they are also amazed and fearful at the awesome, divine Mysteries performed by the priesthood.
The Problem of Unworthy Priests and its Remedy
And yet, says St. Symeon, the priests, who are entrusted with such a high and most divine task and with such an awesome authority, often fail to offer a worthy service. They use their high office as an excuse for passions and as a basis for sinning. They often fall into the deceit of the evil one when they bear their office with its authority as if it were a ruling or secular one. They are seized by a kind of madness when they attribute this character to their office and execute such impious works, for the denouncement of which it was instituted. They are deceived in thinking that by using their authority and offering their service arbitrarily, they actually fulfill their office. In fact, they are further removed from achieving this and, indeed, follow the opposite direction.
How can priests avoid such deception? How can they make sure that they do not fall into such a terrible dishonesty? St. Symeon finds a first concrete answer in the saints, especially in their attitude to and manner of life, but he ultimately looks to God’s grace as the answer to the intrusion of evil in human beings, including priests.
The priests that are included among the saints are guides to true authority. Before they were entrusted with the priesthood, they understood its divine and lofty character and, like the Seraphim, shriveled with shyness and timidity and put off any thoughts of claiming it. Once they were granted it, however, their works and manner of life clearly show how they maintained their right attitude to it and how they managed to fulfill in themselves its true character. The sainted priests’ manner of life, then, is a first, realistic answer to the quest for a pure and worthy priesthood.
All priests, say St. Symeon, are called to become by divine grace sharers in the worthiness of the saints. All of them are bound by duty to order their lives according to the example the Saints provided. They can amend the problem of diversification from the integrity of the priesthood following the example of the saints, i.e. by measuring their ministry and life against that of the saints. The reason for this being the case lies in the fact that when priests turn to the saints, they find another, even greater, answer, which is given by the saints themselves. They find God’s sanctifying grace overcoming all evil.
In the last analysis, says St. Symeon, the true character or integrity of the priesthood does not rest on the priests themselves, nor is it achieved by them; nor even by those saintly priests, who have been cleansed and delivered from earthly passions and live the angelic life; indeed, not even by the angels themselves. Ultimately, it is God alone, who achieves this. Because God alone, says St. Symeon, has brought into being out of nothing all things that exist, and He alone can uphold and sustain them and, indeed, alter and change them. Thus, priests, too, being human, are in need of transformation and recreation, inasmuch as they too, like all human beings, have been involved in
“the terrible crash of the fall; they have lost their true and good shape, their original beauty, by disobeying the eternal, immortal and unchangeable God and obeying the rebellious devil, who hates all goodness and delights in all evil.”
What St. Symeon says here is that “unworthy priests” mean unworthy human beings, who fall into evil and are in need of God’s grace in order to be delivered from it. But what is the nature of evil? And how do human beings fall into it? This is what St. Symeon examines next so that he can elucidate how divine grace ultimately restores an unworthy priest to the integrity of his office.
Evil, the Devil and the Human Fall
Evil, says St. Symeon, is primarily connected with the transgressor, who appears to live and to thrive, although he is really deprived of true life in God. It is he, the devil, who willfully adopted his evil transformation by standing in opposition to the Master, who created him. Thus, by reason of this opposition, he became the cause of perdition to himself first and then to us human beings, who have been persuaded by his guiles.
There is, however, an important difference between the devil and us human beings as far as evil is concerned. He always remains rebellious, and his evil always remains unchangeable and unalterable. We, on the other hand, can rise up again, because we have received grace after our fall on account of the extreme goodness of our Maker. The devil remains unchangeable, because he did not fall through deception, but, being immaterial and free from material perplexities and the density of the flesh, fell voluntarily from that good, to which he had direct access. It is because of this that he has no room for repentance, but rather drives himself willfully to evil and remains in it and expands himself through it.
Human beings, on the other hand, have fallen, because they have been deceived by the devil’s deceit. Therefore, they have received the grace of repentance so that, even though they tasted evil, they can look down on it and trample over it. Human beings are able through the divine grace of repentance to feel and long again for those true and divine goods, from which they were deprived, and also to rise up and to become recipients of God’s mercy and compassion and partakers of divine and blessed goodness.
It was precisely for this purpose that God’s economy was revealed in the Prophets, in the Law, in every religious ordinance and fully and finally in the Incarnation of God. All of these means were given to man that he may understand his fall, depart from it and from him, who corrupted him and led him astray, and return to what he originally was and even go beyond it to a better state. The greatest of all these manifestations of God’s economy is the Savior’s love for mankind, which was concretely revealed in his union with the human nature, as already noted.
The Incarnation of the man-loving Master has become the cause of raising man up again from his fall. It is precisely in this that the solution to the problem of unworthy priests is provided. What Symeon suggests here is that a priest needs first to heal himself before he heals others. He himself needs to be restored and recreated before he becomes instrumental in the restoration and recreation of others.
The Restoration of Fallen Humanity
How exactly has the Incarnation achieved man’s restoration and recreation? St. Symeon points, on the one hand, to the Resurrection and the Ascension of Christ and, on the other hand, to the Christian Priesthood, which was set up by Christ. The former constitutes the basis and the latter the means for the implementation of this achievement. Here is how St. Symeon explains it all.
When our humanity, he says, received in Christ a new lease of life (όρον ζωής) after the penalty of Adam and became immortal through death, it could no longer appear again to mortal human beings. It was impossible to try again to induce to repentance and recreation especially those impious and sinful human beings, who willfully persisted in their sin. Indeed, it would be unworthy of that deified, incorruptible and untouchable body to suffer again, or to be rejected and defied again — although it does endure such sufferings again through the holy martyrs, who are members of it, and always suffer on account of it.
Christ, therefore, ascended into heaven, and he did this for us, not for himself, since he always remained inseparable from the bosom of his omnipresent Father. He did this for our humanity, our body, for he brought it to the Father as a gift and placed it on the throne above, i.e. in the heavens, above every Principality and Authority and Power, as St. Paul said. He made it deified (όμοθέαν), glorified, worshipful to all creation and set it up as a perpetual sacrifice for us that is perpetually offered to the Father and is our consolation (παράκλησις), expiation (ίΛασμός), absolution (Λυτήριον), gift (δώρον), prize (βραβεΐον) and general fruition (άπόλαυσις).
Since, however, the Savior accomplished all of this and sits on the throne above on the right side of the Father, and we human beings are still on the earth and in need of the Savior, he gave us again the grace of salvation (την χάριν τοϋ σωτηρίου) out of ineffable compassion, because we wear the same human nature and are subject to the same passions; and just as when he wanted to save man, he became a man, rather than an angel, so now he gives this grace to men and not to angels, because he was not united with angels except only intelligently (νοερώς), inasmuch as they did not need recreation. The Lord, then, ascended and glorified, established the priests as saviors to act in his name, to be shapers of souls, guides to heaven, lights to life, fathers, shepherds (pastors) and guardians; and he endowed them with his power, so that they can be what we said above first for themselves and also for others!
This high calling of the priests, says St. Symeon, and the height of the mystery, it entails the duty of all priests to be proven worthy of it. It entails nothing less than being granted the power and grace of God and becoming their distributors while being on the earth! Priests are duty bound, then, to be described above for their own benefit, but also for the benefit of the many, to whom they should be good examples until death. Their archetype is the very Christ, who, as he himself said,
“laid down his soul for the sheep” (John 10:15),
or, as Peter said,
“suffered for us” (I Peter 2:21),
or, as Paul said,
“was not spared by his Father even though he was His own Son, but was delivered up for us all.”
These archetypal specifications of Christ are the common heritage of all priests, which the grace of God communicates to them.
The Priesthood and Christian Asceticism
Having spoken about self-offering, vicarious self-denial and sacrificial service as the archetypal specifications of the Christian priesthood, St. Symeon turns next to the witness of Christian asceticism in order to elucidate further his understanding of the priesthood. What he implies here is that the ascetic model is basic to that of a priest. The ascetic is he, who loves the Lord above all else. The priest is he, who loves the Lord and accepts his calling to feed his sheep.
Is it not true, he asks, that the divine and cross-bearing, ascetic vesture (τό σχήμα) is the sign of the poverty of Christ? Is it not the sign of the cross, the icon of death, the study of all that lies above and beyond the world, the laying off or the rejection of all things that lie below and are earthly? It is indeed so, he says. And yet, there have been so many great, spiritual masters, who fully understood and honored this ascetic vesture in their lives, but avoided assuming the height of the sacred glory of the priesthood. This was not, he explains, because they thought that the priesthood is something to be avoided, but because its height requires a soul that is very great and capable of dispensing sacred deeds. It requires a soul that is as pure as is possible for man; a soul that is totally eager and tireless to be of benefit to the brethren, for the priesthood is God’s work, loved by Him and undertaken out of love for Him.
This is exactly what Christ stressed to Peter three times, and what Christian asceticism is basically all about.
Many of the great, spiritual masters, who wore the ascetic vesture with true humility, shrunk from entering the ranks of the priesthood, because they considered it much higher than their capability. These great and true ascetics were in fact much more eligible for the priesthood than those others, who openly sought it, instead of avoiding it, regarding themselves most worthy of it because of the height and purity of their monastic values.
There is no doubt, says St. Symeon, that the monastic ideals fit perfectly with the lofty and pure calling to the priesthood. Indeed, the Church knows this and has, therefore, entrusted her protection to the holy ascetics. It has become customary to have ascetic priests promoted to the hierarchy of the Church, and it is demanded that those priests, who are to become hierarchs, should first assume the ascetic habit.
According to St. Symeon, the linking of ascetic priests with higher ranks of the clergy represents the high view of the faithful and divine protectors of the Church. Yet, it often happens that ascetic priests themselves corrupt and render useless such a lofty view! What is the cause of such a problem, and how can it be cured?
The problem in this case, says St. Symeon, is the departure of such priests from their monastic ideals. By corrupting their ascetic vesture and habit, they fail to dispense their priesthood worthily. Such ascetics are usually only interested in acquiring this most divine authority. Thus, they employ all their powers and sacrifice everything they have in order to achieve this. Yet, as soon as they gain it, they prove that they are unworthy of exercising it. They do the opposite to what they are supposed to do, to the detriment both of themselves and of the priesthood itself.
No one, says St. Symeon, should aspire to acquire the priestly vesture in order to climb up to the ladder of hierarchy. Anyone, who is elected to the priesthood, should first consider the divine and lofty purpose of it, so that he may humble himself along with the Master, who humbles himself, and whose image he puts on. Failure to do this often leads newly ordained priests to turn this divine order into a source of conceit and blindness. This is not due to the priesthood as such, but to the priests’ choice, which does not turn their mind to the divine truth, but makes them yawn in idleness and become attached, or literally nailed to, things that lie below and pertain to selfishness.
Priests, says St. Symeon, should never think or behave in this way. He even blames himself for having many a time been mastered by similar logismoi (thoughts) of pride and blindness. And yet, he does not on this account shrink from spelling out what he knows to be divine and proper. It is this that ought to be clearly set forth, he says, so that priests should be convicted, in case they are self-deceived by unseemly logismoi. Besides, being reminded of what behooves priests and what thoughts are truly good for them, incurs true benefits to them. To allow, then, unseemly motions and attacks of logismoi is unbecoming to priests, i.e. it is not proper exercising their free will. To be so deceived, on the other hand, is the consequence of the adoption of passions.
Yet, it is the priests’ true freedom, i.e. it is up to their free will, to come to acknowledge their true interest and to return to what is greater and true. To fail to do so is to be responsible for condemnation. On the contrary, to be willing to submit to self-examination for the purpose of recovering integrity is, indeed, a sacred duty and privilege. Priests need to examine themselves as to whose servants they are, whose work they do and whose image they bear. What, then, is the true image of the priest in light of all this?
True, Priestly Image
Priests are servants of the Creator of all things, who are to serve in the restoration of those, who were alienated by their own free choice and fell into being evil. Priests are ministers of the greatest and most divine work, through which earthly and heavenly beings are reunited, enmity is dissolved, God makes peace with human beings, every deceit ceases, the dominion of the demons is extinguished, and human beings become equal to the angels, sons of God and gods by grace. This is the work that priests perform in an ineffable way through their liturgies, the gifts they disperse and the truths, into which they initiate others. They bear an image, which is truly divine, and the highest, each one according to how worthy he is.
The Bishop, more specifically, is an icon of God par excellence, but so are the Presbyters after him on account of the charisma they received and especially of their offering of the Mystical Sacrifice.
The Bishop is an icon of the Father of Lights, from whom every good gift and every perfect bestowal come, and who is, therefore, considered to be an illuminator or an enlightener.
The Presbyter also stands as a type of the superior orders and serves as a second light that transmits and operates the Mysteries and is on this account called an administrator and dispenser.
The Deacon is the third order and stands as a type of the ministering Angels, who are always sent to those, who are to inherit salvation.
This is why he is called a preacher, one, who prepares, and one, who also administers and dispenses. All three are guards (παραστάται) of the One God and of the one sacrificial victim. They partake of Him and become one body with Him, glorified with Him and transmitters of divine grace, although this last function occurs in accordance with the order that has been given to each of them from above.
The Savior as the Key to the Priesthood
Thus, St. Symeon goes on to stress what can be called the key to the priesthood. This key is Jesus, who he is and what he became for our sake. Jesus is true God, the Word (Λόγος) from a Mind (Nous – Νους), who always is and has had no beginning, from whom all things were made, the Wisdom, the Power, the Word, through whom all exist. He is the Lord of all powers, immaterial, invisible, ineffable, incomprehensible, inconceivable, indescribable, untouchable, immortal. Yet, the same One has become a man for all human beings, visible, describable, passable, mortal, poor, without citizenship, without honor, sold by his own, condemned, reviled, ridiculed, tortured, crucified. All these he endured for the sake of humanity.
What else could be more divine, asks St. Symeon? What other sign of greater goodness could exist? What else could reveal more clearly the abyss of the divine compassion? What else could better manifest the glory of God’s humility? Nothing could surpass the fact that the Creator has become a creature, that the Maker has become a being that is made, that suffers in the hands of the creatures for these creatures; i.e. that the Master endures sufferings in the hands of the servants for these servants, for servants, that is, who are unfaithful, who took the side of the enemy, who did not recognize the Creator, did not think to know him, did not search for him, did not run towards him, but rather attacked him, paraded him, blasphemed against him and, finally, put him to death. His amazing goodness is demonstrated in his achievement for them. He gave himself for them, suffered, died, rose again, raising them all with himself, ascended into heaven and exalted them with himself and united them with himself as his own members, wishing to remain inseparable with them forever.
The Duty of the Priests: To Serve the Lord.
In light of what the Lord has offered to humanity, St. Symeon raises the question, as to what the priests should offer in return? Their debts to him for his magnificent benefits are countless. Their return, therefore, should be to offer themselves to him totally; to stand beside him staying the words and doing the deeds of his humiliation; to be humbled before the One, who humbled himself for them.
They should shudder at the thought of who the Lord is before whom they stand; especially at the thought that he always stands invisibly in their midst supremely through the Mysteries of the divine Body and the holy Blood, which show forth his passion, namely, that he was slain, was nailed, shed his blood, endured death. They should shudder at approaching him and seeing him being divided or partitioned, being eaten, having his blood being drunk and being shared by others by grace after he is imparted to priests.
This is also what makes the Cherubim and Seraphim shudder. Every divine and angelic Power shrinks as they see what takes place, and they stand before it with fear and trembling, realizing the creatureliness and limitations of their nature and, thus, glorify with utter astonishment the immeasurable goodness of God. When the priests stand before Christ, they are surrounded by angelic orders, which encircle the altar and shrink from fear as they try to fathom the Mystery. They do not stand there inactively, because they receive the ray of the same Light, from the source of Light, which brings out of this Mystery the warmth of their fiery existence, which is kindled by this Light. It is, indeed, this Light that also gives life, wisdom and knowledge.
Given the way the incorporeal Powers approach the Mysteries of Christ, who are free from all passion, says St. Symeon, priests, who are of soil and clay, ought to approach with much greater preparation, full of awe and longing for serving this loftiest of works. Since the cause of all this marvelous work is nothing else but God’s Love, priests should also approach it with wholehearted love. They should first love the Lord, who loves them all and all humanity, with all the power of their soul. They should approach with fervent prayer seeking God’s help so that they can serve in a work that can only be accomplished by him. They should strive to be fully united with him, because, as he said,
“without him, they can do nothing” (John 15:5).
They should also approach with humility, bearing in mind that only
“he, who humbles himself, is to be exalted” (Luke 14:11),
imitating the Lord, who adopted human poverty and rejected the evil One’s obstinate attachment to haughtiness. If the Master gave himself for all and became everything for all, then priests should at least offer themselves to him, so that they can participate worthily and truly enjoy his divine benefits.
Priests should desire to serve Christ’s Mystery every day if possible, bearing in mind how desirable this is to the Lord himself, who said:
“what a great desire have I had to eat this Pascha with you” (Luke 22:15).
Indeed, the Lord ordered that this Mystery should be constantly or unceasingly celebrated in His memory. He said,
“do this continuously” (ποιείτε), not “do this once and only” (ποιήσατε) “in my memory” (ibid. 19).
What greater work, asks St. Symeon, can be rendered than this one, which commemorates Christ, his suffering for us and his perpetual sacrifice for our sakes?
“This is my Body,”
he said, which has been given for you, namely, which is always broken. And,
“This is my Blood, which is constantly shed (έκχυνόμενον) for you,” (ibid. 30),
not “which was shed once” (έκχυθέν), but which is always shed. No other work, then, is more profitable for us and more pleasing to God than this Sacrifice, because this work is God’s and entails the renewal of humanity and the restoration of God’s communion with human beings, as Christ Himself explained at the time of His passion, in saying,
“that they may be one, even as we are one” (John 17:22).
That human beings actually become one with Him through this work is declared by the Lord Himself, who says,
“He, who eats my Flesh and drinks my Blood, remains in Me and I in him” (John 6:54).
The Duty of Priests to Celebrate Worthily.
This being the case, it is obvious that this work should be pursued more eagerly than any other Prayer or Praise, since every supplication was given for this as the final purpose of all. This is why we ought to try and do this on most days of our life. All divine things that are given to the world, says St. Symeon, are active, whether works or words. Everything divine that has been given is active and effective. This supremely applies to this divine work that is active and effective. This supremely applies to this divine work that is active and effective to the greatest degree.
The effectiveness of the divine energies is revealed in the constant movement of heaven and the creatures that operate there, in the unceasing growth of plants on the earth and in the creatures that operate in the middle space, each in its own way. The most effective revelation of this, however, is granted in the operation of the priests, who were appointed to serve this most divine and loftiest Mystery.
If all visible things operate unceasingly, says St. Symeon, as this is also demonstrated by this great microcosm that is called man, who is fed and develops, grows and changes along with all other visible things, and at the same time operates and moves on the intelligible or spiritual (νοερόν) level through his mind and the powers of his soul; and if the divine and intelligent or spiritual powers are always in motion, as we infer from the movement of man’s mind, how much more should this supreme work of God’s service be operative, being a work that takes place for the sake of the entire creation, through which all beings are led into well-being as they are united with God and become divine, especially human beings before and above all else, whether dead or alive. No indolence and no pretense of reverence can be excused for priests, who fail to engage in this work.
It is no reverence to abstain from the celebration of the Mysteries. It is rather an obstacle to the saving sacrifice and to the benefit that results from it. So, St. Symeon concludes that if there is no real obstacle for understanding this celebration, the saving Sacrifice should be celebrated without ceasing. In this case, the priest becomes a truly sacred instrument. Otherwise, by remaining inactive, he will have to give an account to the Lord, as St. Basil pointed out to a certain Gregory, whom he rebuked for liturgical inactivity and sloth. St. Symeon paints with the darkest of colors the failure of priests to celebrate these sacred and saving Mysteries without any due reason. To be a priest, who fails to celebrate the Mysteries as often as possible, is to be a priest, who deprives people of the benefits of the sacred Sacrifice, of the commemoration of the Savior and the communication of the renewal that springs from the Lord’s sacred passion.
Priestly inactivity should only be associated with those penalties that the Fathers instituted for unworthy priests. Unworthy priests should avoid celebration as unworthy Christians should avoid communion.
It is a paramount duty of priests, to whom God entrusted the sacred work of the divine Mysteries, to engage in them as much as they are able, making sure that they remain worthy of them through imitation of the entire manner of Christ’s life. By remaining firmly established on the pattern of Christ’s life, they are always active and effective, bearing his sacred icon upon their own person and procuring through their celebrations of his memory the union of God himself with them and of the Angels with God and with them, and of all the faithful souls with each other. Furthermore, participation in the Mystery leads the pious and faithful Christians to acquire the virtues, to advance and to be strengthened in their life in Christ. It offers expiation and purification to those, who come, having confessed and repented of their sins.
The celebration of these Mysteries is a cause of sanctification of the entire creation and greatly rewards the pious and worthy celebrant. As to the frequency of this celebration, St. Symeon brings forward the examples of St. Basil (who celebrated the Mysteries at least four times a week), the holy Apostles (who broke Bread every day), St. Gregory the Great of Rome, St. Apollonios and his disciples, and St. John Chrysostom, all of whom favored daily celebrations. Twice a week is the minimum that St. Symeon prescribes for all priests, whether celibates or married. They can prepare during the five days that intervene. Indeed, this habit will force them to follow the Lord constantly and be always ready to serve Him in His Mysteries.
Priests, who have been seized by a passion against another brother, should not proceed to the celebrations of the Mysteries. Envy, slander and spite, or any kind of vindictiveness, exclude priests from celebrating the Mysteries of Christ. Priests, who arrive at this state of unworthiness, have succumbed to the guile of the devil, having forsaken the power and the authority that they were given over him and his demonic powers. Such priests will have to give an account before the awesome judgment seat of Christ, just like those, who failed to celebrate because of indolence. Priests should not forget that everything lies within the power of their free will.
They willfully fall into the snares of the devil and willfully can be delivered from them. They can and should cleanse themselves from every passion through repentance and by returning to the Lord, whose excellent characteristics they should strive to imitate: His philanthropy, humility, compassion, love towards all indiscriminately, peace, transmission of the divine gifts and above all, unceasing communion with God and pursuit of sanctification. Attachment to the Lord and imitation of his virtues is the key to every priest’s achievement of a worthy and blessed service.