From OrthoAnalytika, by Fr. Anthony Perkins (15 November 2014)
With thanks to Fr. John Peck (Preacher’s Institute) for setting up the 40 day challenge.
I have been the Director of Vocations for the UOC-USA for about a year and a half now. It has been a real blessing to help men and women understand, discern, and live their calling to serve God and His children.
There are challenges, though. One of them is that in order to discern and live the Christian life of service, the Christian must first give up everything in imitation of and participation in Christ Himself. It is only through this radical act of kenosis (self-emptying) that we can join St. Paul in saying that it is no longer we who live, but Christ who live in us… so that we an become whatever is necessary so that some might be saved.
Many people who come to the Church for vocational guidance have already found this wonderful pearl, but others are just beginning to search. They are holding onto so many things that simply cannot fit through the eye of the needle. The difficulty is that many of those things – such as their love of liturgy or their study of the fathers or their enjoyment of doing charitable work – are the very things on which their faith is built and which precipitated their calling to go deeper into the Mystery of Christian service. It takes a lot of trust to believe that the gifts which await us on the other side of the needle – or, more properly: on the the other side of the cross – are even greater than that which is being stored up on this side.
You can see this problem quite distinctly when it comes to … rules. Someone who has been through the eye and has Christ living within Him constantly sacrifices his own opinions so that God’s will will be done in heaven, on earth, and in his own mind. Someone who has not struggles when his encounters a canon or teaching that contrasts with his own feelings, thoughts, or research. This is a pivotal moment; a crux. Will he repent or double down? Alas, the immediate reaction – the visceral one – is usually opposition. His fallen gut anathematizes the obstacle to the will and his brain starts spewing theology (or pathos, depending on the nature of the man’s spiritual journey to this crossroad) to support its judgement.
Most often, the reaction is to the canons about marriage and ordination (divorce is an impediment to ordination, as is having an non-Orthodox wife). Other times it is impatience with the diocesan “timeline” of the training, discernment, and ordination process. But no matter what the issue, the crux is the same: will he accept the will of God as expressed through the canons and hierarchs of the Church or not.
While it can be stressful, I am actually relieved when this happen early in the process because it is bound to happen sometime; if not now, then later. Alas, for some, it does not seem to happen until after they have been ordained. I cannot imagine how else there can be priests who work to circumvent the canons and wills of their hierarchs. To make matters worse, a delayed confrontation can cause so much more damage! A man who is trying to circumvent the canons or the discipline of his bishop may shop around for other bishops, but there is still the hope that the system will either straighten him out or ship him home before he leads others astray. A priest with a parish (and, perhaps even a blog, a podcast, and/or a facebook page) can be a stumbling block to untold numbers of God’s children. Granted, the rule he opposes won’t be about ordination and marriage, but it will be about something important (in today’s society it is more likely to involves things like same-sex marriage, shacking-up, less rigorous standards for fasting, Eucharistic preparation, and even open communion). Nor is this “crux” limited to the clergy: every man, woman, and child is afflicted with the same fallen feelings and will. It is worth thinking whether a soft, luke-warm, and “inclusive” parish culture forces parishioners to make a decision between what they think, feel, and want and what the Lord Himself requires.
Let me conclude with one more thought. The “rules” of the Church are not just there to give us something to submit to – they are designed to protect us from spiritual destruction and guide us towards perfection in Christ. The one who allows his own feelings and opinions to guide him has no defense against that same spiritual destruction and no way to achieve the perfection that God desires for him. It takes a lot of trust to give up everything (even our feelings and opinions) and follow Christ, but that is the only way