This past Saturday I had the opportunity to do something special; I concelebrated with a man on the 44th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood. From the outside it looked pretty simple: just a quiet service in a small chapel. On this, what I hope to be the first of a “40 Days of (Old Calendar) Advent Blogging”, I’d like to share some observations from this quiet service. – Fr. Anthony
Vladimir Lossky writes that the goal of the human life is union with God. All mature Christians savor and celebrate the many ways they experience this union. This is the life and the calling of every member of the royal priesthood. For those ordained to the holy priesthood, one of the most powerful way this union is experienced is at the holy altar. On Saturday, all in attendance were witnesses of the grace of this connection between the altar and the life in Christ of the priest. It was a humbling and awesome thing.
But that isn’t the only connection that we witnessed. [Forgive me if I wax Platonic] Every Feast of St. John Chrysostom (for that is the Feast of his priestly ordination) for the last 44 years, this priest has heard or read that same Gospel about the “good shepherd” (St. John 10:9-16) and measured his own service to that of St. John Chrysostom and the High Priest himself.
Every year on this day, he is also reminded of how much his own priesthood has changed over the years, with all of those aspects of himself (wizened and young and every state in between), stacking and then converging into the unity that is himself … and then drawing that self into the experience of something even more profound; the realization that throughout his years he has been part of that One Liturgy, that One Sacrifice that worship and unbloody sacrifice that is always celebrated but never finished; forever eaten, but never consumed. I wrote “realization”, but it was more. It was a knowledge that informed (and deepened) his participation in this fractal moment.
Our contemplation of this mystery was assisted by the graceful efficiency of his performance. After 44 years of repetition, the ritual has come to define him, giving his movements a natural grace that cannot be taught or affected (but only earned). The priesthood fits him well. As a fairly newly minted priest, I still have to work at wearing the priesthood (not just liturgically) and I have not always resisted the temptation to try too hard (or not hard enough). What we saw on Saturday was evidence of the sage’s words “there is no trying, only doing”. He was simply “being” in God’s service, living this aspect of his union with God. There was such beauty in the resulting humility and we were drawn to greater heights because of it.
Nor was this any “simple village priest” (despite his desires to the contrary!) at the altar. It was the 44th year of his priestly ministry, but he has since been ordained to greater service, and then elevated twice since (first to archbishop then to metropolitan). He is the leader of an autonomous Church (the UOC of the USA) and one of the great Orthodox leaders of our time (for instance, he is trusted to represent the Ecumenical throne in difficult situations and was selected to participate in the recent Great Council).
Please don’t get distracted by the details; I am simply pointing out the way this celebration showed us the unity of this man’s service, from parishioner, to priest, to bishop, and beyond, and how we were able to see this as one service; the “one thing needful” that “John Scharba” cum “His Eminence Metropolitan Antony” has offered to God as a fruit of his union with Him. Our service may differ in the details, but we join him in it. As Flannery O’Connor observed; “everything which rises must converge”.
May God grant His Eminence Metropolitan Antony many blessed years!
Eis pollá étē, Déspota!