Of The Merit Of The Preacher

A white dove perches on an Orthodox priest during a visit of the Patriarch of Constantinople

Chapter Two

X. Of the Merit of the Preacher

Let us observe here that besides the merit attached to every good work, the preacher acquires a considerable increase of merit by acquitting himself worthily in his ministry; for it is written in St. Matthew:

“Whoever carries them (the commandments) out and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:19).

But this merit may be lessened or even destroyed by diverse ways: firstly, when a person, for example, preaches without having received a mission for it.

“And how are men to preach,” St. Paul asks, “unless they be sent?” (Rom. 10:15.)

Secondly, when the preacher is a notorious sinner.

“To the sinner God hath said,” and especially to the public sinner, “why dost thou declare my justices and take my covenant in thy mouth?” (Ps 49:16.)

Thirdly, if for any motive whatsoever the preacher swerves from the truth in his speech like those whom Ezekiel censured:

“And they violated me among my people for a handful of barley and a piece of bread to kill souls which should not die and to same sols alive which should not live, telling lies to my people who believe lies” (Ezek. 13:19).

“It is worth far more,” St. Augustine says, “to be less understandable, less pleasing, less moving, than to say what is not true and what is not just.”

Fourthly, when the preacher does not practice what he preaches, and his works are not in accord with his words; for he who exhorts others to lead a good life is obliged to set the example, as the gloss observes of these words from the Book of Proverbs:

“Let not mercy and truth leave. Put them around they neck” (Prov. 3:3).

St. Paul speaks likewise in his Epistle to the Romans:

“Thou therefore who teachest another, dost thou not teach thyself? Thou who preachest that men should not steal, dost thou steal?” (Rom 2:21.)

Fifthly, when the preacher prefers his own material gain rather than the spiritual profit of his hearers, contrary to the practice of the Apostle who did not seek presents or material goods for himself, but desired only as the fruit of his labor, the souls of those whom he preached to.

“Virtuous preachers do not preach,” St. Gregory says, “In order to gain a living, but it is because they preach that they have a right to a livelihood; and when they receive the necessities of life from their hearers, they rejoice in the reward assured to the giver rather than in any personal benefit they themselves receive.”

Sixthly, when the preacher seeks his own interests and not God’s, preaching not Jesus Christ but himself, contrary to the teaching of St. Paul. To preach thus, St. Gregory says, for the sake of short-lived praise is to exchange the most precious of treasures for a bauble.

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Seventhly, when the preacher intends to humiliate his audience rather than show them the good that he wishes them.

“Some indeed,” St. Paul says, “preach Christ even out of envy and contentiousness, but some also out of good will” (Phil. 1:15).

Or when by the harshness of his words, he gives scandal; for

“a placable tongue is a tree of life,” heavy with good fruit, “but that which is immoderate shall crush the spirit” of those who hear it (Prov. 15:4).

Eighthly, when, through lack of discernment, the preacher is so opposed to one disorder that he occasions the contrary disorder. He must preach, St. Gregory says, humility to the proud without awaking in the timid a pusillanimous fear; the desirability of goods to the lazy without arousing undue desires in the dissipated; calm to those who are overly active without condoning the torpor of the inactive; patience to the hotheaded without encouraging the carelessness of men already thoughtless and lax; zeal to those who are gently and patient without provoking the violent to anger; generosity to the avaricious without loosening the reins of the spendthrifts; reason in the lavishness of the extravagant without inspiring in the thrifty an excessive attachment to the goods of the earth; the esteem of their conjugal duty to the married without having the married disregard the object of marriage. In a word, he must preach good works, without seeming to sanction the contrary vices; praise the perfect without discouraging the less perfect, and encourage the latter to advance in virtue and not to be satisfied with their present imperfect state.

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Ninthly, when the preacher does not prepare himself by works of penance. Is it not shameful and ignominious, says St. Jerome, to preach Jesus, model of the poor and hungry, with a body stuffed with food? To teach the law of fast with an exquisite manner of living, and a mouth gorged with food? If we are successors of the Apostles, let us not content ourselves with imitating their discourse, but let us also imitate their life and their abstinence.

Tenthly, when the preacher is not inspired with charity:

“In vain,” St. Paul says, “do I speak with the tongues of men and angels, if I do not have charity” (I Cor. 13:1).

In fact, such a preacher, even if he were useful to others, would be fatal to himself.

To sum up, in order that preaching be of profit to the preacher as well as to his listeners, it is necessary that he does not preach unless he has a mission for preaching; that he be not in a state of open sin, or depart from the truth, or contradict his words with his deeds, or seek temporal rather than spiritual goods, or work for his own interests and not for the glory of God; or discourage or scandalize his listener, or provoke him to sin; or neglect works of penance, or not have charity as his motive for preaching.

This is an excerpt from the Preachers Institute publication:

On the Formation of Preachers

You can purchase the Ebook HERE, the Kindle version HERE

About Fr. John A. Peck

Director of the Preachers Institute, priest in the Orthodox Church in America, award-winning graphic designer and media consultant, and non-profit administrator.
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