by Fr. Gregory Jensen
This is the first installment of Fr. Gregory’s series of five reflections on the Priesthood.
Earlier Anita asked about necessary charisms for the priesthood. This is I think an exceptionally good question and one which, sadly, is often neglected in an unseemly and imprudent rush to ordain a man to the priesthood. While a complete answer to Anita’s question is beyond what I can do here, I want to sketch out a preliminary answer and invite the readers to offer some thoughts on why historically and practically a priest must be first and foremost a man of discernment.
The first thing to do is clear away some misconceptions of the ministry of the priest. Especially in contemporary Orthodox (as well as Catholic and Anglican) practice, as far as most laypeople (and I dare say clergy) see it, the “ordinary” celebrant of the Eucharist is priest. It is the priest who celebrates or presides or serves the Divine Liturgy. It is also his task to preach at these celebrations.
While I do not wish to call into question the legitimacy of this practice, it is represents a development in the Church’s liturgical practice. Put another way, it is not the oldest practice. While I want to avoid liturgical “archeology,” the older practice gives us some insight into our question here: What gifts should we look for in a priest?
Reflecting on the “prayer for the ordination of a Presbyter” in the Apostolic Tradition by Hippolytus of Rome (c. AD 215), Metropolitan John (Zizioulas) in Eucharist, Bishop, Church:The Unity of the Church in the Divine Eucharist and the Bishop During the First Three Centuries writes that those ordained into the ranks of the priesthood did NOT receive the “right to offer the Eucharist,” that is to celebrate the Divine Liturgy or the Mass. This, together with preaching at the Eucharist, was an episcopal charism; it was the bishop who celebrated and preached at the Eucharist (pp. 203; 204).
Instead of such a function, the candidate being ordained into the rank of Presbyter receives the charism: (a) for governing the people of God with a pure heart, as continuing the work of the presbyters of the Old Testament chosen by Moses, and (b) for teaching and admonishing the people. Indeed, the Presbyters initially appear as administrative counsellors to the Bishop forming “the Bishop’s council (synedrion)” (p. 203).
When an elder is ordained, the bishop places his hand upon his head, along with the other elders, and says according to that which was said above for the bishop, praying and saying:God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
look upon your servant here,
and impart the spirit of grace and the wisdom of elders,
that he may help and guide your people with a pure heart,
just as you looked upon your chosen people,
and commanded Moses to choose elders,
whom you filled with your spirit
which you gave to your attendant. Now, Lord, unceasingly preserving in us the spirit of your grace,
make us worthy, so that being filled
we may minister to you in singleness of heart,
through your son Christ Jesus,
through whom to you be glory and might,
Father and Son
with the Holy Spirit,
in your Holy Church,
now and throughout the ages of the ages.
No mention is made of sacrifice or of any liturgical service. Instead, the Bishop asks God to full the candidate with wisdom and to purify his heart. These in turn are necessary so that the priest can fulfill his role in the Church to govern, teach and counsel. For Hippolytus, and the early Church, priest is to be a man of discernment.
In my next post, I will look with you at the charism of discernment and its relationship to the tripartite ministry of the priesthood.
Until then, and as always, your comments, questions and criticisms are not only welcome they are actively sought.