by Fr. Sergei Shveshnikov
All too often, a priest acts as if he were a secular leader, a board president, a CEO of a non-profit, a manager of an organization. To be sure, priests do hold a position of authority in the Church. But what kind of authority is it? What kind of headship?
I really like the Roman Bishop’s official title: “the servant of the servant of God.” Regardless of how it is realized in the life of any particular pontiff, the title itself is very much Christ-centric and conveys the correct idea: a priest or a bishop receives his authority from Christ, and it is His, Christ’s, authority, not the priest’s. So, in order to find out how a priest is to exercise his authority, we must look at how Christ exercised His authority and learn from His example.
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government will be upon his shoulder…” (Isa. 9:6)
What is “the government upon shoulders”? Is it some kind of epaulettes or shoulder boards—the usual symbols of government? Not quite. He was
“bearing his own cross” (John 19:17),
“He bore the sin of many” (Isa. 53:12).
Is this the image of a general in epaulettes?—
“He had no form or comeliness that we should look at Him, and no beauty that we should desire Him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces He was despised, and we esteemed Him not” (Isa. 53:2, 3).
A secular leader acts on the following principle:
“Come to me, all ye to whom I have not yet ordered anything, and I will give you duties.” Christ says: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28).
Who is the greatest in a secular kingdom?—He whose hat is the tallest and servants are many. But when Christ was asked who was the greatest in the kingdom of heaven,
“calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them…” (Matt. 18:1, 2).
“And he sat down and called the twelve; and he said to them, ‘If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all’” (Mark 9:35).
“If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet” (John 13:14).
Verses such as these are plentiful; all of them point to a very important quality of Christ’s headship—it is quite different from that of secular rulers and leaders. <…>
Although we call ourselves slaves and servants of Christ, He calls us His friends (John 15:15) and lays down His life for us (13). This means that our slavery is not that of a captive who is bound by violence, but that of a loving heart which is captured by Christ’s love.
And it is the same with a priest: he is to serve his flock rather than expect them to become his servants, to sacrifice himself for his flock rather than demand sacrifices from them, to help carry their burdens rather than place on them burdens too difficult to bear, and to unite in love rather than in administrative obedience. This may be an ideal unreachable in its fullness in our fallen state, but shouldn’t it be at least the direction to which the inner compass of every priest points?
Before a funeral began, our priest – dissatisfied with the $100 he received from the family [in addition to the $200 through the funeral home] – approached the eldest child of the reposed and asked for more money.
When a newly married couple (2nd marriage – they have older teens) reverence the Cross at the end of Liturgy every week, Father asks them when he’ll hear the pitter patter of little feet and when will the wife convert to Orthodoxy. They are in their mid-40’s.
When a woman reverenced the Cross, with head covered by a scarf, he said, “Be careful someone doesn’t mistake you for a Muslim.”
How does one accept and respect their parish priest when he does and says things which drive people away?
Fr. John A. Peck says
Honestly, that is reprehensible as you have described it. Report it to his bishop, and write a letter to his parish council, also. A man who does what you have described is dishonoring the priesthood. However, make sure you pray for him. Do not forget that.
Basil Damukaitis says
Thought you might find this amusing. A Latin Rite priest friend of mine has a standard line when asked to “con-validate” or attend a mixed marriage between a Catholic and a Jew. When the couple asks what the proper offering to the priest is, my friend always says, “you can just give me the same amount you give the rabbi!” Because most rabbis won’t come out to do a wedding for less than $1,000!!! But there’s a point there too!
Our priest is a convert to Orthodoxy, and as yet, hasn’t learned all the avenues of worship and labors, as if any of us have. But my concern is that he has no respect for the sanctity of the Church, in particular, the Nave which has been sanctified for Holy Worship, weddings, funerals, etc…He insists on holding the Annual Meetings there and when i tried to lodge a formal complaint to be entered the minutes, he ordered me ‘OUT OF ORDER’..three times. There are many other indiscretions, too numerous to mention right now, but the standards of Orthodoxy have greatly fallen.This is a priest who does not fulfill his priestly duties..almost as if he entered the priesthood because it’s an easy way to make a living…or so he thought. Does not visit the sick, decorations in church for holidays forbidden. Small complaints, but the many have demoralized the parishioners. Difficult in that we are a very old and traditional parish. We pray for his enlightenment.
Fr. Anthony Perkins says
I am sorry to hear this. Disagreements about such things (especially propriety and authority) are fairly common. In addition to praying for our leaders, praying for our own charity, discernment, and patience helps in such situations. I hope that you all find the peace and unity that is found in Christ. – Fr. Anthony