Priesthood Defined as Eucharistic Service

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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