by Priest George Maksimov
People have been asking me how I would respond to someone who claims that that the clergy is not necessary and that they do not want anyone to stand between them and God when they pray to Him.
The first thing I would say would be this: your willingness to pray and to have a conversation with God through prayer is praiseworthy. But would it not be reasonable to find out what God himself had to say on this? Does God agree that priests are unnecessary? Did he command that no-one should stand between Him and the worshipper?
If one took the trouble to investigate, one would find out that priesthood was given to us by God. Priests existed in the times of the Old Testament, and one can find multiple references to this in God’s word, the Bible.
“Have Aaron your brother brought to you from among the Israelites, along with his sons […] so they may serve me as priests” (Exodus 28:1).
In the New Testament, we see Christ perform miracles – such as the miracle of feeding the five thousand – through the Apostles, who act as His intermediaries. He also commands the Apostles to preach His word. He empowers them to forgive sins:
“If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven” (John 20:23) and to perform the Eucharist: “do this in remembrance of me.” (Luke 22:19).
This order of things comes from Him. He even says to His Apostles:
“Whoever listens to you listens to me; whoever rejects you rejects me; but whoever rejects me rejects him who sent me.” (Luke 10:16).
Priesthood in the Church of the New Testament has its origins in the work of the Apostles.
Father John Smolin explains:
“Our Lord Jesus Christ promised that His church would exist on earth forever, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it (Matthew 16:18); that the gospel of the Kingdom will be preached in the whole world, and then the end will come.” (Matthew 24:14).
However, the Apostles were mortal, and during their lives, they gave their authority, gifts and spiritual powers to their successors – the clergy of the Church whom they had selected. They ordained the presbyters in each Church and committed them to the Lord, in Whom they put their trust (Acts (14:23, 1 Timothy 4:14).
In the New Testament, we find multiple descriptions of the apostles ordaining presbyters and deacons, thus fulfilling the will of their teacher; in doing so, they were showing the faithful that Christ himself had commanded this, as Apostle Paul writes in his Epistle (Ephesians 4:11).
They entrusted the pastors to perform priestly services and govern the Church. The priests of the Church of the New Testament do not make blood offerings like the priests of old; such offerings have no longer been necessary since the ultimate sacrifice of the Lord Himself. But they have been endowed with the grace to perform the miracle of the Eucharist, bloodless offerings and other sacraments.
Apostle James writes:
‘Is any sick among you? Let him send for the presbyters of the Church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer offered in faith will save the sick person and the Lord will raise him from his bed, and he will be forgiven any sins he has committed’ (James 5:14-16). He did not say: “Any sick among you should pray directly to the Lord and He will raise you from the bed without the presence of the presbyters”.
The Apostles taught the faithful obedience to their pastors and clergy:
“Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority” (Hebrews 13: 17)
“Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work.” (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13).
In this way, God established, through the Apostles, the distinction between the pastors and the flock.
When a person denies the priestly ministry given by God, one might wonder how that person might look in the eyes of the Lord, and whether the Lord will heed to the pleas of someone who rejects His will so conspicuously by saying:
“I do not need this. I want this done my way”?
This is the position of pride, of which the Scripture says:
“God opposes the proud but shows favour to the humble.” (1 Peter 5:5).