The Orthodox Leader

Priesthood Defined as Eucharistic Service

Here’s some more from Fr Kyprian Kern (see yesterday’s post for the first excerpt).

Note also that The Gifts, prepared and coveredFr Kyprian was Fr Alexander Schmemann’s mentor and confessor while at St Sergius in Paris. Those who attended Fr Schmemann’s liturgical theology lectures at the St Vladimir’s Seminary remember Fr Alexander referring often to Fr Kyprian.

As to any other mere mortal, God may or may not have given the priest certain talents. He may be a bad orator or an incapable administrator of his parish, a poor teacher of Scriptures, may even be unfeeling and an excessively demanding spiritual leader, not to mention the fact that he may be completely lacking in skill for social service, but all this will be forgiven and will not erase his spiritual actions, if he would only possess a Eucharistic consciousness, if he will not cease to consider as his main mission the “concept of mysteries,” the service of the Divine Liturgy, the mystical unity of self and his flock with the Body of Christ, “That through these you may be partakers of the Divine Nature” (2 Peter 1:4). If this same Metropolitan Anthony so remarkably called pastors “the path of prolonged heroic actions of the creation in self a prayerful element,” as an ability to ascend to heaven, so by no means this element and this ability are to be accomplished in the priest except in the mystery of Eucharistic sacrifice.

But what do the Eucharistic frame of mind and the pastoral desire to serve the Divine Liturgy mean? Let us give here a clear and definitely answer: an insatiable thirst to perform the Divine Liturgy as often as possible. Indeed, priesthood consists of the priest independently performing the Divine Liturgy, without concelebrating with another, be he a superior, archpriest, archimandrite or even a bishop. Concelebration prevents the concelebrants from performing this mystery of raising the Body of Christ. Concelebration quite often emphasizes the elements of solemnity, splendor, pomp and ritual rigor. But it must be pointed out, as much as the Holy Fathers wrote about prayers, they always spoke of the purity of prayer, its moderation; a wise prayer, i.e., its higher degree of spirituality, its boldness, and so forth, but never and nowhere did any of the Holy Fathers or ascetics of the Church write of its pomposity. The very idea of pomposity and luxuriance stands in contrast to the Eucharistic vision of poverty and the spirit of Bethlehem and Golgotha. The pomp and splendor of communal pastoral service may be in accordance with the rituals of Byzantium and the Vatican’s royal entrances and ceremonies, but s out of place at the Chalice of the Eucharistic Blood, poured out for the life of the world. One may speak of combined service and the receiving of communion from one chalice and from the hands of one priest or archpriest as encompassing all those around the priest, But is it not possible to speak about concelebration, because there is only one who symbolizes Christ, and the rest of the priests must be relegated to be assisting apostles, waiting for communion from the hand of the only one who serves. The history of the early Church, the history of the liturgy, the writings of the early teachers of the Church, all teach us that the idea of a pompous ritual was to them totally foreign and incomprehensible.

Therefore the priest must build up within himself a thirst for the individual performance of the Eucharistic service and not be content with a combined “situation,” where he is surrounded by higher official representatives, be it bishops, archimandrites or archpriests. The priest must possess this insatiable thirst for Eucharistic service, which, of course, in no way belittles his thirst to receive communion from the hand of another, not necessarily older and higher ranking, colleague. But the mystical feeling, not understood by the laity, differs from the feeling of himself performing the sacrifice and creating, by the power of the Holy Spirit, gifts of the Body and the Blood, as opposed to the feeling and experience of receiving communion at a liturgy performed by another. The Eucharistic power given to the priest may be accurately measured by his thirst to serve unassisted. The most spiritual pastor always senses the pleasure of theistic prayer and service. As the late Father Sergius Bulgakov so brilliantly wrote in his Autobiographical Notes, “I entered the priesthood solely for the sake of serving, i.e., mainly to perform the liturgy. My naïve and inexperienced eye did not distinguish any details concerning the position of the parish priest. However, I understood very quickly that to serve, one needs a temple, or, at the very least, an altar. As a result, briefly speaking, for a quarter century of my priesthood, I did not have my own temple, but was always serving with either archpriests or senior priests, or had only an occasional chance for an independent service” (Chaps. 53-54).  (pp. 58ff)

Priests reading the preceding are likely nodding their heads in agreement already. It certainly describes my own interior feelings regarding serving at the Holy Table. For the laity, this passage gives some narrative shape to the priestly identity. I think people sometimes wonder why their priest chooses to celebrate the Eucharist when he does, even if “it will just be him and two old people.” When a priest is yet very new in his calling, he doesn’t experience this in its fullest degree, but it grows over time. It explains why priests never fully “retire,” even when age and infirmity make Eucharistic service exhausting and perhaps painful. For these men, the angels themselves stand alongside, holding them up, as Aaron and Hur did for Moses against the Amelekites. It also explains why some priests even have a disdain for serving with deacons, preferring to hold the totality of this Mystery to themselves, in simple awe.

Dear brothers, your thoughts on this excerpt are, as always, appreciated.

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Written by Fr Basil Biberdorf

June 20th, 2013 at 9:32 am

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