by Steve Robinson
You know him as Steve the Builder, or the host of Our Life In Christ, the very popular radio program on Ancient Faith Radio (where he and Bill Gould are referred to as the Orthodox ‘Klik and Klak.’ Steve Robinson is a reader at St. John the Theologian Orthodox Church in Tempe, AZ.
It is no secret to those who know me that I aspired to the priesthood for about 50 years of my life. For 30 of those years since I got fired from my one “full time ministry job” I’ve been a construction worker to put a lot of food on a large table under a large roof for a large family. Since I became Orthodox almost a dozen years ago, I’ve been “THIS close” to being ordained a few times, but by God’s grace it hasn’t happened. Now I know… well, actually it’s more like “now I can admit”… why.
You see, even in grade school I wanted to be a priest so I would be seen and regarded as “a priest”. For nearly 50 years the priesthood was a goal that would fulfill my self-perception. I “knew” I was called to the priesthood at age six, and I continued to “know” it for the next 50 years. It didn’t happen in the Catholic Church. I did a stint in ministry in a protestant church. But as sure as I knew I was “called”, I also knew I wanted other people to know I was called. Someone once asked,
“How do I know if the fire I have inside is from God?”
It is whether you want other people to notice the fire. I know this because I confess that I wanted people to notice the fire. And a lot of people did. And it both confirmed my “knowing” and convicted me of my falsehood.
Since becoming Orthodox, over the years laypeople, monks, abbotts and abbesses, priests and even bishops fed my delusion by trying to get me ordained. But I knew with a knowing deeper than my private lies to myself that it was my ego calling me, not God. In a dark place I knew that those who wished me the priesthood were responding to a well crafted facade, an illusion of piety, a chameleon-competence in putting on appearances and role playing. They only knew me for minutes at a time, perhaps a few hours now and then. Construction work paid well, it is honorable labor, but the priesthood would give me a true identity, the robe would affirm to others my self perception as a “spiritual person” better than paint crusted jeans and a stained T-shirt. I would be at the altar, I would be talking up in the front.
But the Scriptures tell me that I AM a priest.
By virtue of my baptism, I have a royal priesthood. By virtue of marriage and family, I am the Father of my household. I knew that even as a Protestant. But in my younger days that was not good enough for me. Being the priest of a wife and two kids at Sierra Vista Street was not fulfilling enough. I needed to be admired, listened to and the leader of dozens, not three. My then-wife didn’t want me to be a “priest” of a church. I did. It became partial fodder and an occasional topic during several years of marriage counseling. She knew before we got married I wanted to be a minister. She didn’t want to be a minister’s wife and married me anyway because she didn’t think it could ever happen, I was too “radical”. But it did for 3 years, and it was still on my agenda when I got fired for being too radical. I know now that the bottom line was, my self-perception was more important to me than she was. I was not willing to lay down my “real life as I perceived it” for her sake. I resented that she was a roadblock to me being what I thought I was supposed to be, even though she would have reluctantly followed. Reluctance was not good enough, I wanted a cheerleader. But she would not cheer, but only wear a martyr’s smile.
After 35 years, I now know she was right and all the bishops, monks, priests and elders since her were wrong. I am not fit for the priesthood. My intimate community knew what those who have “authority” didn’t. But I didn’t want to hear my community, I wanted to hear what I wanted to hear, even if I knew it was false.
So I came into Orthodoxy as a former divorced protestant minister. It is called a “canonical impediment” that some jurisdictions offer economia for and some don’t. On a “legalistic” level, a Bishop is well within his rights to relax the canon. On a spiritual level, I look at what it means to be the “husband of one wife” and to “rule one’s household well” as a qualification for the priesthood and I see the genius of the requirement. It is simply Ephesians 5: if I am not willing to give up the priesthood for the sake of the love for my wife, then how can I imagine that I will be able to love the Church and my spiritual family with maturity and with integrity and in truth? In the one case I am posing as a husband, in the other I am posing as a priest. The proving ground of the priesthood of the Church is the priesthood of home and family. If I do not love my wife enough to sacrifice myself for her sake, I am a poser as a husband. If I cannot sacrifice in marriage, I cannot sacrifice myself for the Church. In both situations it is about “ME”, not love… and in the end a man will lose both his first church and his second ordination and spiritual family.
There are stories of men who were forcibly dragged to the altar and ordained. I have been forcibly dragged to my true altar. I now wear the vestments of my true priesthood willingly.
These are the vestments of a true priest.
These are the most difficult to wear because they have a hidden glory.
If a man will not wear these in peace, with joy, diligence and gratitude and offer himself to put bread on the altar of his family’s supper table, he is not fit to wear the gold vestments and offer the bread of the table of the Lord.