The Making of a Pastor – Part 1

Selecting a man of that age has some real benefits. It means that he will have had the opportunity to grow within his secular career, gaining both leadership and practical experience. It will attest that he is not pursuing work in the Church simply because there is nothing else he is willing or competent to do. He will have cultivated and demonstrated a stable marriage and home life, so that he enters the priesthood without the complication of recent nuptials and with the affirmation of a durable marriage. (This affirmation is underappreciated. The divorce rate among Orthodox clergy is embarrassingly high, raising numerous moral, spiritual, canonical, and leadership concerns.) All of which supports the image of the presbyter as put forth by the New Testament and the canons of the Church: that he serves only after being well-established in Faith and life.

Such a man, though, confronts a system that is neither prepared for nor readily accepting of him.

I invite your comments on these thoughts so far. More next time….

Read the next segment>>

[Revised slightly 15Jan10 10:21AM EST]

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14 comments on this post.
  1. Steve Robinson:

    As a former “aspirant” who, ten years later, is now glad my aspirations were never fulfilled I wholeheartedly agree with what you’ve said so far. I can say without hesitation that the majority of the men I’ve met that want to be priests shouldn’t be, at least for ten or more years if ever, but some of them got into seminary and got ordained somehow. A collar seems to be the reward for a diploma, not a bestowal of a gift on one who has been discerned, tested and proven to be worthy and qualified to shepherd souls. That said, I know my Bishop has put the brakes on quick ordainations. Thank God.

  2. Christian Cate:

    Good day, Fr. Basil.

    This is a much needed new website. Your post about the qualifications for a Priest or Bishop is very sobering and also very helpful.

    Should these qualifications even be extended downward to the level of tonsured Readers?

    Based on these criterion, I may never be worthy. This is a welcome course correction for me personally.

    Perhaps the rule of thumb should be to take the lowest seat and if Christ clearly brings you to a better seat in the eyes of everyone, then He has deemed you worthy.

    But the entire process should be something He works through. There are no shortcuts and shouldn’t be any.

    Blessings in the Holy Trinity, One God

    Christian Cate

  3. Fr. Oliver Herbel:

    Fr. Basil,

    Glory to Jesus Christ!

    There is much truth in what you write here, but I would like to add a couple caveats and focus the light a bit on where I think the heart of the problem lies in the midst of this current way of doing things.

    One caveat I would note is that in the current American set up, each parish priest gives the bishop a nod one way or the other because, as you’ve noted, the bishop rarely knows the potential candidate. This means that there is, at least in many cases, spiritual guidance. Not everyone who came to me asking to be ordained would be led and blessed in that direction. I personally know of situations where priests have made sure the bishop knew someone was not ready for ordination.

    A second caveat I would add would be the role of the seminary professors. Not everyone who attends SVS is going to be ordained. There are people who do not receive faculty “endorsement,” if you will.

    That said, I think you raise a legitimate concern. Personally, I think the problem falls on the local parish priest for now. Our system is not changing any time soon, so the parish priest really needs to pray and discern about these things before he speaks to the bishop or recommends the person for seminary. It also places a lot of responsibility on the seminary faculty. Therefore, I’d say this is where the light has to shine–us, as local parish priests, and the faculties. One thing that could help both parties would be to require psychological evaluations as part of the seminary application and/or ordination request.

    Of course, I speak of the OCA. I cannot speak for other jurisdictions.

  4. Trudy Ellmore:

    Do the Bishops not know the candidates because of the many jurisdictions in the US and the lack of a sufficient number of Bishops? If so, how can that be rectified…in our lifetime?

    I agree with everything you’ve written here. We are a society that is not used to hearing the word “no” said to us when there is something we want to do and believe we are qualified to do. The idea of following the guidance of someone else is nearly non-existent.

    I like Fr. Oliver’s idea of psychological evaluations. Could something like Myers-Briggs Personality Indicator be administered as a part of a course and then individual evaluation and discussion of the Indicator go towards the candidates consideration for ordination?

    I would also suggest that there be the same Indicator given to the matushka. She is just as significant a part of the team as the candidate/student.

    When my husband was in seminary, a psychology professor had a couples group he and his wife led for 8 weeks which was outside the scope of the classes. It was for social reasons as much for discussion/support reasons for those of us anticipating ordination. That was one of the most helpful aspects of my husband’s seminary education for both of us.

  5. Fr. Oliver Herbel:

    Trudy, they do not know many of the potential seminarians well because the dioceses are so large. Whether that can be addressed in our lifetime is hard to know.

  6. Trudy Ellmore:

    Thank you Fr. Oliver.

  7. Fr. Peter Andronache:

    Holy Cross does have psychological testing as of about six years ago or so. First year students take a multi-component test (including an interview, Rorschach, Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, a sentence completion test, and a couple of others). I don’t remember if Myers-Briggs is part of it, but I do remember it took about five hours to complete. How that is used and what effect it will have on the clergy in the GOA, that remains to be seen.

  8. SubDn. Lucas Christensen:

    Fathers Basil & Oliver,

    “…if a man desires the position of a bishop, he desires a good work.”

    Much of what I hear about discerning priestly vocation goes something like: ‘unless the man dives out the second-story window screaming when someone brings up the priesthood, he is unsuitable. No one ought to become a priest who isn’t dragged to the altar in chains by the emperor’s guards.’ Or, some variation thereof.

    But St. Paul’s own words would suggest that dispassionately “desir[ing] the position” is to desire a good thing. St. John Chrysostom hid, St. Basil didn’t. (although St. John did make him cry…)

    I know the article is focusing more on external *evaluation*, but I’d appreciate your (pl.) thoughts on the ‘no chains = unworthiness’ line.

    SubDn. Lucas Christensen
    All Saints Church
    Bloomington, IN

  9. Fr Basil Biberdorf:


    I don’t think someone with an inner “desire” to become a priest is therefore unworthy of it. The initial thought given to ordination is often the starting point for testing the vocation. Further, I think the inner calling (i.e., the part that originates within the individual) is a valid and important part of the overall call. (Do we want priests who don’t want to be priests at all? Hmmm. That might lead to some interesting cases of pastoral malpractice.)

    I don’t think the inner call alone, though, is sufficient to set upon the road the ordination. Indeed, St. Paul mentions the desire (as you rightly point out), but then moves on to a list of external tests. What I really want to see is more thorough discernment all around.

  10. Steve Robinson:

    Sdn. Lucas, I’m not either Father, but you make a good point about “convert reverse zeal” and the “false humility culture” we buy into. I see nothing wrong with someone saying they desire to be a priest (or an altar boy, or a choir director). The issue for me is, WHY?. That is what must be discerned.

  11. SubDn. Lucas Christensen:

    Fr. Basil,
    Thank you. I may *want* to be a professional hockey player, but really I shouldn’t…

    Know that I had Orthograph #6 somewhat in mind when I wrote my question. Why?, indeed.

  12. Fr Gregory Jensen:

    Fr Basil,

    Excellent post thank you. This parallels conversations I’ve been having in the diocese of the midwest (OCA).

    One note, if I may, about psychological testing. While it has its value, it (1) must serve the discernment process of the local church (diocese/parish) and (2) cannot, and must not, substitute for the local church (and especially the bishop) knowing the man.

    Psychological testing has become common (dare I say popular) because we don’t know the men we are sending to seminary and are subsequently ordaining. And as near as I can tell–and fyi, I’m a psychologist by profession–the test are meant to protect the diocese/seminary from lawsuit then to actually help in the formation of future clergy. I’ve talked to clergy who has shared with me the content of their psychological evaluation and who have told me that worrisome results did not result in therapy, much less their ordination being delayed or even that they be required to take a break from seminary.

    Especially for converts, I think we need to slow down the process of ordination.

  13. Fr Basil Biberdorf:

    Fr Gregory,

    I agree with your points concerning psychological testing. A lot of this depends on exactly what we mean by “psychological testing.”

    Concordia Theological Seminary (, at the time I was there, had instituted a personal development program as required by their supervisory board within the church body. This program was essentially a psychological testing regime. I remember beginning seminary and absolutely hating the idea of it. It seemed completely counter to the idea of the Holy Spirit working among men.

    In retrospect, though, what they were doing was making us aware of our limitations and strengths and, simultaneously, identifying areas in which we could grow as pastors. (That is, areas where we could play to our strengths, and weaknesses that would need to be overcome or compensated for.) Some of this was done with a couple of standard batteries (like Myers-Briggs), the remainder was through personal interaction with the results and some other documents we had to prepare. From an Orthodox perspective, it was, in many respects, similar to what a good spiritual father would provide.

    If this is the shape of psychological testing, I think it’s valuable, especially if some of it is done during the discernment phase of formation.

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