Being a Clergyman Today Means Scaling the Most Difficult and Greatest Heights

Kirill - 800x350

by Patriarch Kirill of Moscow

October 26, 2014. His Holiness, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia, presided over the Great Consecration of a church in honor of the Holy Apostle and Evangelist John the Theologian on the premises of the Saratov Theological Seminary and celebrated the Divine Liturgy at the newly consecrated church on October 26, 2014. Following the divine services, the Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church delivered the following sermon:

Your Eminences and Your Graces! Very Reverend Vladyka Longin! Your Excellency! Special Representatives of the authorities; dear Vladykas, Fathers, Brothers and Sisters; the seminary’s chairmen, teachers, and students!

I would like to congratulate you on a significant event: the consecration of a church in honor of the Holy Apostle and Evangelist John the Theologian on the premises of the Saratov Theological Seminary.

My heart was warmed extraordinarily when I walked inside this church, the walls of which reminded me of the church in honor of the Holy Apostle and Evangelist John the Theologian on the premises of St. Petersburg Theological Seminary. These churches are very alike in their interior, style, and decoration; and I remembered those difficult years of our Church’s life, during which I was called to be Rector of the Leningrad theological institutions. Looking at the restored seminary in the center of Saratov, at this marvelous church, I believe that our actions in difficult times and our humble efforts, together with the prayers of millions of people, who are looking forward to the restoration of the Church, have resulted in considerable changes in the life of both the people and the Church.

First of all, these are prayerful efforts of the Martyrs and Confessors. Today we venerated the name of St. Thaddeus of Tver during our prayer, a person of holy life, who was severely tortured for the faith. These are the prayers of those who preserved their faith in the Lord under the harshest of conditions, and then of those who put constant effort into bringing different times closer. At the present time, all of this has been implemented, when we see the opening of churches, monasteries, and theological institutions, and when we have the great joy of consecrating these magnificent buildings, showing our heartfelt gratitude to those who put their energy, offered their prayer, and helped financially in fulfilling this noble cause.

One thinks involuntarily of the future generation of Russian Orthodox clergymen inside the seminary. Remarkably, according to the Church Typicon, the Gospel of Luke was read today, in which the story of the sower who went to sow his seed is told (Luke 8:5-15). In this story it is described where his seed fell. Some fell by the way side, and the fowls of the air devoured it; some fell upon rock, and it withered away under the bright sun due to its shallow roots; and some fell among thorns, long grass, and weeds, and the weeds sprang up and destroyed the seed; and only the last part fell on good ground.

Usually when we consider this excerpt from the Gospel, we try to answer the question of who we are. Are we those who are by the way side, on a rock, or among thorns? Or perhaps are we those who are on good ground? However, for some reason we never think about the sower.

“A sower went to sow” and sowed his seed so widely that it fell on different ground. But who is the sower? As the Savior Himself explained, the seed was the word of God and the sower is the one who offers this seed – that is, the word – to the people. It is they who have been called by God Himself to sow the seed of His word.

So what follows from this? Perhaps, knowing this parable, we should not spread the seeds so widely? Why cast it by the way side, on a rock, or into the thorns? However, the parable contains no instructions whatsoever on where to cast the seeds. That means that the sower, appointed by God Himself to plant the seeds of His word, should cast it widely.

And this is what the Apostles did. This is what the Apostle Paul did on his way to Antioch, Cyprus, and then on to the famous pagan cities of Asia Minor, such as Lystra, Dervio, Konya, and Ephesus, and then to the pagan cities of Continental Europe, such as Philippi, Thessaloniki, Athens, and Corinth; did the Apostle visiting these cities sow the seeds on good ground? Everything was scorched – people there had another faith, another culture, and other values. But the Apostle Paul did cast the seeds there…

But he did not merely cast them. He tried to enrich the soil by his penetrating speech. And then leaving that place, where the seeds of God’s word had been planted, he created Christian communities, local Churches, which were intended to care for improving the soil on the way side and rocky road, and tearing out the weeds, so that the seeds that fell on a rock, or the way side, or among the thorns, would not die.

A seed cannot grow if the soil is not being cultivated or fertilized, because there is a great possibility of its death. When we say that people should cultivate the soil, we use a word that has the root “cult” and “culture.” But it is not sufficient to limit ourselves to the means of cultivation, but we should certainly improve the soil and care for it. That is how the soil of people’s hearts and the cultural environment in which people respond to God’s word should be cultivated, that it be enriched so as to be able to accept the word of God and to help the seed of God’s word grow enormously.

Just as in the times of the Holy Apostles, the local Churches, founded by them, conducted this mission; all of what I am saying right now is the task of the Church, primarily those whom the Lord sends to sow. And those who are studying in this institution are future sowers. Please remember that your task is to sow the seed of God’s word widely, not in a comfortable place, where your words and actions are welcomed and expected, but everywhere. Everywhere possible.

But you should remember that many of the seeds you are going to spread will fall on the way side, on a rock, and into the thorns. Therefore your work of sowing the word of God and your efforts to spread the Gospel should be accompanied with great effort put into changing the lives of people for the better. In this act of improving people’s lives and soil, you should unite with those who are also willing to work toward the aim of fertilizing the soil of our national life and tearing out the weeds, which are able to choke all the good, both of the faith and of the moral principles of people; so that the soil of our national life might not be transformed into rootless rock on which nothing can grow, even if it is good, healthy, and fruitful.

Finally, we should work together with many people, so that the soil of our national life might not become a foreign way side. What a tragedy that would be, if our national soil became a foreign way side of a high-speed circuit! In order to avoid this, the Church encourages people to bear a special responsibility for the spiritual life of the people. Future shepherds should remember that their domain will be not merely serving in churches and parishes, or with like-minded people, but with the whole people. When you are walking down the streets of Saratov, everyone you see is a member of your people, your pastoral responsibility. Turn your attention away from the place where you feel comfortable and calm to those streets, squares, those roads, and those people, who are yet not able fully to grasp the word of God, who are yet among the thorns, on the way side, and on a rock. The cultivation of our people’s soil, as I have just said, should be conducted with those who are ready to work with us. Among them are representatives of science, education, and culture; indeed the word “culture” has the same root “cult.” Only that which enriches people’s life and national soil can be called culture. Things that plant terrible weeds on this soil, which are capable of suppressing the growth of a healthy seed, can never be called culture under any circumstances, especially a rootless rock or way side open to all winds.

Today being a clergyman means scaling the most difficult and greatest heights. Some people believe that the ministry of a clergyman is limited to performing rites and following exterior church statutes. However, in reality your activities are the future of the people, the future of people’s hearts and the human mind. I would like you to remember these words forever, my dear students and teachers, and also the representatives of our intelligentsia, scientists, educators, writers, actors, intellectuals, political figures, and businesspeople. Let us cultivate our national soil together, doing everything to make even way side and rocks fertile. Let us join our efforts to tear out the weeds and not let them grow in order to choke the vital seeds of the national and personal lives of our people. We believe that, by the grace of God and the prayers of Holy New Martyrs, who laid down their lives for us, confessing Christ; and by the prayers of those who worked before us to gather the beauty that we are witnessing now on the territory of our Motherland; that by their prayers and our own efforts the Lord will enrich the soil of our people, making it fertile, indeed so fertile that not merely we could receive and use the gifts and fruit of this enormous growth, but also our children, grandchildren, and our grand-grandchildren. We are working hard today toward this aim: we build churches, open schools, and encourage everyone to work with us.

I would like to heartily thank you, Your Eminence, for your efforts as a hierarch and the Metropolitan of the Saratov land. Many good deeds have been performed with your help. One can point out that church life in the Saratov land has changed beyond recognition. Now you preside over a metropolia consisting of three dioceses, you control a theological institution, many schools, Sunday schools, different charitable institutions, and many things that help to fertilize our soil. In acknowledgment of this, I would like to present you with this Cross and Panagia, which were made specially in association with the 700th anniversary of the birth of the Venerable Sergius of Radonezh.

I would also like to present this church with an icon of the Venerable Sergius associated with his anniversary. St. Sergius was a great saint of our land, a great and powerful Elder, who managed to transform the political landscape with his inner spiritual strength. No one could influence the future development of our Motherland the way he could. Many valuable events occurred because of him, including the Battle of Kulikovo, the union of the Russian principalities, and the foundation of dozens of monasteries, which preserved his principles and took extra care for the unity, freedom, and independence of our Motherland, becoming fortresses, often both military and spiritual.

May the image of the Venerable Sergius remain in this holy church and, when you are venerating it, ask him for his help in your studies. As he improved and became able to understand his studies by God’s strength, he too can he help many students by his prayers who cannot grasp their studies completely.

I would also like to offer Holy Relics to the wonderfully restored St. Nicholas Monastery, which is situated in the Pokrov Diocese. May these sacred objects stay in that monastery. Unfortunately, I do not have the opportunity to visit this place myself today due to lack of time, but I am asking you, Vladyka Pachomius, to offer these Holy Relics to the St. Nicholas Monastery. As for the seminary, I would like to present it with these marvelously issued books in remembrance of my visit.

Congratulations on the feast day to all!

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Something We All Really Need: A Personal Request

by Fr. John A. Peck

(P.S. –  it’s not money)

Dear Fathers, brothers and friends everywhere;

Have you ever googled the following terms:

Orthodox, priest, preaching

I have. I do regularly, with a multitude of similar terms, searching and seeking for good photos of Orthodox clergy delivering sermons. There are very, very few – even fewer good shots with focus, capturing the spirit of the event.

fr-maximus-preaching preaching2 Bishop Job
Fr Gary Kyriacou Fr. Matthew Jackson preaching Bishop Gregorios2
frjeromesanderson2 Fr Evan Armatas Fr Seraphim Holland

I won’t tell you how long it took me to find these nine photos. We need more! This Holy Week and Pascha, I’m asking YOU to help me out – help us ALL out – and get some good pictures of your priest (possibly yourself) giving a short homily at Bridegroom services, preaching at Vespers of Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and on Pascha itself, including Paschal Vespers.

Please – get out your camera. Get the thing in focus and snap some good pics of your favorite clergyman from his good side. We don’t need more of a priest or deacon with a censer, or at the altar, but preaching from wherever he preaches from. If you are fortunate enough to be near a bishop – get a few dozen photos of him preaching also.

I plan to publish them towards the end of Bright Week, possibly on Thomas Sunday. I’ll include a link to your parish website also. Please help out!

This is a personal request, I realize, but it will make it possible for us to demonstrate visually that preaching is very much an integral part of the Orthodox Tradition – and one that is alive and vibrant. We often take it for granted, which is why we don’t photograph it. I will happily use them in the coming year in Preachers Institute stories, or just post them showing the Apostolic Tradition of preaching the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus in the 21st century!

I’m asking you to photograph it all this week. If you are doing the preaching, please ask your parish photographer to get some photos of you preaching. And send them to me at frjohn ‘at’ preachersinstitute ‘dot’ com, or send me a link to the album they are in via the Contact Form.

Thank you for helping me promote preaching and homiletics in the Orthodox faith, and may the Lord richly bless you for this endeavor.

 – Fr. John

On How Clergy Ought To Speak

by St. Ambrose of Milan

ambrosius1The voice should not be languid, nor feeble, nor womanish in its tone — such a tone of voice as many are in the habit of using, under the idea of seeming important. It should preserve a certain quality, and rhythm, and a manly vigor. For all to do what is best suited to their character and sex, that is to attain to beauty of life. This is the best order for movements, this the employment fitted for every action. But as I cannot approve of a soft or weak tone of voice, or an effeminate gesture of the body, so also I cannot approve of what is boorish and rustic. Let us follow nature. The imitation of her provides us with a principle of training, and gives us a pattern of virtue….

Men of the world give many further rules about the way to speak, which I think we may pass over; as, for instance, the way jesting [joking] should be conducted. For though at times jests may be proper and pleasant, yet they are unsuited to the clerical life. For how can we adopt those things which we do not find in the holy Scriptures?

We must also take care that in relating stories we do not alter the earnest purpose of the harder rule we have set before us.

“Woe unto you that laugh, for you shall weep”, (Luke 6:25)

says the Lord. Do we seek for something to laugh at, that laughing here we may weep hereafter? I think we ought to avoid not only broad jokes, but all kinds of jests, unless perchance it is not unfitting at the time for our conversation to be agreeable and pleasant.

In speaking of the voice, I certainly think it ought to be plain and clear. That it should be musical is a gift of nature, and is not to be won by exertion. Let it be distinct in its pronunciation and full of a manly vigor, but let it be free from a rough and rustic twang. See, too, that it does not assume a theatrical accent, but rather keeps true to the inner meaning of the words it utters.

HT: GGWB

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That All Christians Should Pray In The Name Of Jesus Christ

Clergy, Monastics and Laity

By St. Symeon, Archbishop of Thessaloniki

This Name of Jesus as a prayer should be said always by all the faithful with the mind and with the tongue. When standing or walking or sitting or reclining, always say it; forcing yourself to it. He will find great calm and joy in it, as has been the experience of all who occupy themselves with the prayer. Since this work is above all others in our life, the monks who find themselves in the midst of noise must concern themselves at least some time with this highest work.

And generally, we all should have as a pattern of prayer this prayer which is active and works with power in all – whether they be clergy or monastics or laity.

And particularly monastics, who have undertaken this work of prayer, have especially need of this prayer even if they happen to find themselves in noisy ministries. Therefore let us always hurry to this active prayer and pray to the Lord without ceasing. Never mind that there be wandering thoughts and confusion in the mind; and let us not be careless because the enemy attacks and for a moment overcomes us. Let us return immediately to the prayer, and indeed return with joy!

Let the ordained be diligent in this apostolic work and consider it equal to divine preaching or other divine assistance and perform it with love and fear in the sight of God.

Those found in the world should have the Prayer of Christ as a seal and as a sign of faith, as a protection and sanctification. And by the power which they receive from this prayer let them overcome every temptation.

Let all of us, ordained and monastics and laity, unite ourselves with Christ in our hearts as soon as we wake from sleep, let us remember Christ! And that will be the start of every good idea and suitable sacrifice through our Christ. For certainly we must always think of Christ Who saved us and loved us. Through this we are Christians and are named as such. We have put Him on in divine Baptism and been sealed with the Holy Myron and received His Holy Flesh and Blood. And further we are members of Him. His Temple! We have put Him on and He has dwelt in us!

For this it behooves us to continually love Him, and remember Him.

Let each of us have a time according to his ability and let him dedicate to the Prayer as is due.

We have spoken enough on this theme and whoever desires more will certainly find it.

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Let’s Get Real About Priestly Indiscretion

by Fr. Aris Metrakos

This article contains excellent advice for anyone contemplating the priesthood or discerning a vocation in the Orthodox Church (or any ‘church’ for that matter). Fr. Aris nails it.

Aren’t we disgusted with the shocking number of high-profile cases of priests engaged in pedophilia, homosexual activity, and adultery? Some excuse this behavior with the platitudes “a sin is a sin” and “we are all sinners.” Uh, excuse me?

Persons who say “a sin is a sin” don’t live in the real world. My wife is more than forgiving when I snap at her for no reason. I don’t think that she would be that charitable if I were to come home smelling of another woman’s perfume.

I concede that we are all sinners, but clergy relinquish the right to even think of engaging in certain classes of sin. When a priest sins sexually he damages the Church the way that crooked judges, lawyers, and police officers damage the legal system. How can anyone not understand this?

Looking back on my seminary years, nobody ever told me that I shouldn’t put my hand on an altar boy’s private parts, leave my wife for a man, or go to bed with someone other than my wife. Come to think of it, they didn’t tell me not to eat yellow snow, either. The faculty assumed that we all knew better.

There’s a saying about the word assume. If you don’t know it, ask somebody who served in the military to explain it to you. So, rather than assume that seminarians and young clergy know right from wrong with regard to sexual matters, here are some essential rules of behavior for those preparing for and serving in the priesthood:

  • If you are delaying ordination until you find Miss Right, then be willing to wait for the appropriate woman to come into your life. Rushing into marriage with the wrong person is like voluntarily infecting yourself with an incurable illness. Ask any married person — our spouse will either make us or break us. The priesthood poses enough difficulties without having the millstone of the wrong wife around your neck.
  • If you have sexual fantasies about anything other than a woman, get help. If these ideas persist, choose a different career.
  • If your heterosexual fantasies occupy as much of your time as they did when you were 15, see an experienced confessor. If you are married and have persistent sexual fantasies about anyone other than your wife, again, see the confessor.
  • If your marriage needs fixing, then go to counseling. If counseling doesn’t work, you have three options: separation, divorce, or “gutting it out.” Finding a mistress is not an acceptable alternative.
  • Appearances matter. Don’t put yourself in situations where your integrity can be challenged. Don’t stay in the same room with children when no other adults are present. Don’t go swimming with anybody other than other clergy, and certainly not with minors. Don’t meet repeatedly for one-on-one counseling sessions with the same person outside of normal office hours. Don’t meet with a long-time female friend in a hotel room when you are together at a conference. Don’t give rides to a woman or a child unless other people are in the car.
  • It’s not too late until it’s too late. If you are counseling a woman and you are attracted to her, send her to another priest. If you are about to walk into the bedroom of a person who is not your wife, walk away. If you are kissing someone other than your wife — stop, and get on the phone with a priest-friend whom you can trust.

All sexual misconduct is unjustifiable. Some child abusers excuse themselves because they were victims of abuse. Yet plenty of adult survivors of molestations go on to have normal sex lives. Get help. And before you put your hand where it doesn’t belong, remember how bad it felt when it was done to you.

And all sexual misconduct deserves the maximum penalty. When persons on the bench, in the bar, or with a badge undermine the legal system they get locked up for a long time; they are held to a higher standard. Priests who are pedophiles, homosexual predators, and adulterers need to be defrocked — not only to send a message but to protect the Church and her members. Some of them need jail time too.

And why give a wolf in shepherd’s clothing a second chance to ravage the flock? Maybe an adulterous pastor who had one occasion of adultery could be given a second — and last — chance, but only after plenty of counseling and a transfer to the other side of the continent. The rest need to be removed.

The second century priest-martyr Haralambos was dragged by his beard through the streets because he refused to deny Christ. In the 21st century, clerics drag the good name of the priesthood and the Church through the tabloids and the evening news. Sexual sin among the clergy must stop.

On The Duties of Clergy

by St. Ambrose of Milan

From “On The Duties of Clergy: Book II, Chapter 1

Happiness in life is to be gained by living virtuously, inasmuch as thus a Christian, whilst despising glory and the favour of men, desires to please God alone in what he does.

1. In the first book we spoke of the duties which we thought befitted a virtuous life, whereon no one has ever doubted but that a blessed life, which the Scripture calls eternal life, depends. So great is the splendor of a virtuous life that a peaceful conscience and a calm innocence work out a happy life. And as the risen sun hides the globe of the moon and the light of the stars, so the brightness of a virtuous life, where it glitters in true pure glory, casts into the shade all other things, which, according to the desires of the body, are considered to be good, or are reckoned in the eyes of the world to be great and noble.

2. Blessed, plainly, is that life which is not valued at the estimation of outsiders, but is known, as judge of itself, by its own inner feelings. It needs no popular opinion as its reward in any way; nor has it any fear of punishments. Thus the less it strives for glory, the more it rises above it. For to those who seek for glory, that reward in the shape of present things is but a shadow of future ones, and is a hindrance to eternal life, as it is written in the Scriptures:

“Truly, I say unto you, they have received their reward.” Matthew 6:2

This is said of those who, as it were, with the sound of a trumpet desire to make known to all the world the liberality they exercise towards the poor. It is the same, too, in the case of fasting, which is done but for outward show. “They have,” he says, “their reward.”

3. It therefore belongs to a virtuous life to show mercy and to fast in secret; that you may seem to be seeking a reward from your God alone, and not from men. For he who seeks it from man has his reward, but he who seeks it from God has eternal life, which none can give but the Lord of Eternity, as it is said:

“Truly, I say unto you, today shall you be with Me in Paradise.” Luke 23:43

Wherefore the Scripture plainly has called that life which is blessed, eternal life. It has not been left to be appraised according to man’s ideas on the subject, but has been entrusted to the divine judgment.

Pastoring No Plush Gig

by Brad A. Greenberg

No one can make you feel guilty like a pastor. Or in this case a New York Times story about pastoral burnout that I’ve been meaning to write about for two weeks:

The findings have surfaced with ominous regularity over the last few years, and with little notice: Members of the clergy now suffer from obesity, hypertension and depression at rates higher than most Americans. In the last decade, their use of antidepressants has risen, while their life expectancy has fallen. Many would change jobs if they could.

Public health experts who have led the studies caution that there is no simple explanation of why so many members of a profession once associated with rosy-cheeked longevity have become so unhealthy and unhappy.

But while research continues, a growing number of health care experts and religious leaders have settled on one simple remedy that has long been a touchy subject with many clerics: taking more time off.

This was, in fact, a story I added to my to-do list when I was at the LA Daily News. Three years ago. And clergy burnout was getting attention well before 2007.

Part of the problem, from my vantage point, stems from the fact that once a pastor has invested in his or her career, it’s exceptionally difficult to make a career change when burnout occurs. You don’t have to believe the law is just to be a high-earning attorney. But when a pastor’s faith slips, there really isn’t anywhere for them to turn.

This at least was the premise of the story I was researching. It was an idea, like my Muslim high school football player, that came out of the 2005 Religion Newswriters Association conference. It was hardly off everyone’s radar. Why I never completed the story I can’t recall. But I’m glad to see someone — and the NYT, of all places — got around to a fairly old but unreported challenge affecting Christianity.

This story doesn’t talk at all about spiritual burnout, which is something I’m more interested in than physical burnout, but it does a good job covering the physical consequences of pastors being overworked:

In May, the Clergy Health Initiative, a seven-year study that Duke University began in 2007, published the first results of a continuing survey of 1,726 Methodist ministers in North Carolina. Compared with neighbors in their census tracts, the ministers reported significantly higher rates of arthritis, diabetes, high blood pressure and asthma. Obesity was 10 percent more prevalent in the clergy group.

The results echoed recent internal surveys by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, which found that 69 percent of its ministers reported being overweight, 64 percent having high blood pressure and 13 percent taking antidepressants.

A 2005 survey of clergy by the Board of Pensions of the Presbyterian Church also took special note of a quadrupling in the number of people leaving the profession during the first five years of ministry, compared with the 1970s.

Paul Vitello’s article runs through a number of examples of how churches and synagogues and mosques are dealing with clergy burnout. Many now are trying to treat it before it goes full-blown by mandating vacations.

The big problem clergy have is the ability to say no. I’ve heard this from many friends in ministry. And the NYT suggests, quite logically, that it’s only gotten harder in a world where pastors friend their flock on Facebook and are always reachable by cell call or text.

Or in the comments on their blog.

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Clergy Burnout and Fatigue

by Fr. George Morelli
This excellent article was first published on Orthodoxytoday.org, where much of Fr. Morelli’s writings appear. We offer to our overworked, underpaid, and often exhausted brethren, in the hopes that they may be refreshed who are weary in well-doing.  It is placed under ‘Sermon Resources’ because – and I want to be quite clear about this – the healthy preacher is the greatest sermon resource of all. God bless you, brothers.

The apostles returned to Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a lonely place, and rest a while. For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat (Mk 6:30-31).

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest (Mt 11:28).

In emulation of Our Lord Himself, priests are “on call” at all times. As St. Mark records of Jesus in his Gospel (1:33-34):

“And the whole city was gathered together about the door. And [H]e healed many who were sick with various diseases… ”

The priest, the icon of the healing Christ, is the instrumental physician of the souls they pastor. In the role of healer, the priest must hear their flock recount their personal problems. As discussed in Morelli, (2006c) many of these problems involve uttermost human and spiritual suffering, the disclosure of dysfunctional emotional reactions such as anger, anxiety and depression, the confession of helplessness, hopelessness and estrangement from God. Continue reading Clergy Burnout and Fatigue