The Orthodox Leader

The Priest and His Ordination

I’ll post one final excerpt from Fr Kyprian Kern. This time he takes up the matter of ordination.Bishop laying hands (cheirotonia) to ordain a priest

It is now time to put aside these matters [of how priests and bishops are chosen] and turn our attention to the most important matter – ordination – its meaning and substance. The priest, whether chosen or appointed by the personal power of his future diocesan bishop, still has to face, at a certain moment of his life, this mysterious and awesome hour of ordination. Symbolically speaking, the following parallels may be drawn: election by the flock is somewhat akin to a courtship, but ordination – that is his wedding with the flock. This symbolism is fortified by common rituals and by one or another sacrament: walking around the lectern or Altar, singing the psalms (“Rejoice, O Israel,” “Holy Martyrs” …) (in reverse order). [Editor's note: Kern here refers to three hymns that are included in both the marriage service and in the ordination service: "O holy martyrs who fought the good fight and have received your crowns: entreat ye the Lord, that our souls may be saved." "Glory to Thee, O Christ God, the Apostle's boast, the Martyr's joy whose preaching was the consubstantial Trinity." "Rejoice, O Isaiah! A virgin is with child, and shall have a son Emmanuel, both God and man. Orient is his name, whom magnifying we call the virgin blessed."] At this point, certain conclusions can be drawn: the union of the priest with his flock is a lasting union, just as the principle of marriage; neither can be dissolved. Therefore, the transfer of a priest from one place to another should have no place in the principle of this union, as well as, or, if not to a greater extent, the transfer of a bishop from one cathedral to another. In essence, the priest is irremovable. But there is yet another, a more important characteristic to this sacrament: priesthood, as taught by the Roman Catholics, is indelible. The Greek theologians held the same opinion. Metropolitan Filaret had a different view. Essentially, the grace bestowed by the bishop to perform the solemn sacrament of liturgy cannot be removed by any power on earth. To consider that any conservatory act could deprive a person of the grace of the Holy Spirit seems to be a theological aberration. Neither baptism nor priesthood are removable or indelible. Even the sin of apostasy does not erase the grace of baptism. The most frightful sin that can be committed by the priest, which leads to disenfranchisement from the Holy Orders, cannot, by itself, deprive the priest of grace. It would seem to be necessary, in case of some judicial error in defrocking a priest who is subsequently found to be innocent, to re-ordain him, which action, of course, even the strictest and most inflexible person dare not suggest. What should be declared as being even more frightening and blasphemous is the so-called sacramental de-frocking, practiced in the Russian and Serbian Churches. [OL: Those deposed from the priesthood according to this practice would be taken to the entrance of the church, faced west (i.e., opposite the Holy Table), and declared "anaxios" (unworthy) as each of the clerical vestments were removed from him.] ….

With these preliminary considerations in mind, we may now turn to the main theme of this chapter – the priesthood itself. In addition to everything else mentioned in the previous chapters about the calling, pastoral gifts and the multifaceted preparation for his future service, a candidate for the priesthood should never forget about the endurance of the gift of priestly service, which separates the ordinary layman from the blessed celebrant at the Altar; the one who performs the sacrament, the theurgist, the intermediary between God and the world, who, by the grace of the Holy Spirit leads his flock to spiritual perfection, to worship. After ordination, he is no longer merely a man, but a clergyman. He is no longer the chosen one, chosen by his flock – if such choosing took place – but the bearer of grace.

Very often, just before ordination, those who are weak or overly judgmental, or perhaps excessively self-demanding, possessing an over-scrupulous conscience, succumb to the well-known condition of faintheartedness and the desire to run away without looking back, lest the burden they take upon themselves will prove to be overly excessive. Such a temptation deserves an answer. One must not, in these last minutes before ordination, hesitate or vacillate, remembering that a “double-minded man is unstable in all his ways” (James 1:8). For those who find these last minutes so painful and agonizing, the firm hand of the confessor [OL: who heard the confession of the candidate and affirmed that there were no impediments to ordination], the encouraging voice of a real friend can and must supply help to the weakening conscience of the candidate. Here it is imperative to point to the grace of the Holy Spirit, “Which healeth that which is feeble and fills that which is wanting.”

These last hours may be safely compared to a personal Gethsemane, a temptation to forsake God. Father Sergius Bulgakov spoke about “dying” before his ordination. …

[And at the ordination, the] most awe-inspiring words of the bishop, spoken in an undertone into the ear of the candidate: “Raise your eyes into heaven and ask God for forgiveness of your sins and the bestowing upon you the purity of priesthood.” These words like lightening from heaven, pierce the person’s soul, like a fiery sword, they cut off all the sinfulness from him …and] they grasp the hearer with the words of prayer: “O, divine grace, which always healeth that which is ailing and completes that which is wanting, vouch for the most devout deacon, (Name), to be a presbyter; let us pray for him, and bring down upon him the Grace of the Holy Spirit.”

The final moment at last: the handing to the new priest the discos with a particle of the Holy Lamb with these words, “receive this pledge, bear its agonizing existence until the day of the Terrible Coming of Our Lord Jesus Christ.” Now the new priest is no longer a mere layman, he is a theurgist and a celebrant of Sacraments. This is no longer someone who is merely bearing the title of father, but is in fact Father. He must, according to St. Gregory the Theologian, “Stand with the angels, give glory with archangels, offer up the sacrifice on the rock of the Sacrificial Altar and perform the Holy Rite with Christ, recreate creation, reclaim the image of God, work in the mines of the world and above all – to be like God and create gods.” (from pages 102-110)

Fr Kyprian does a masterful job here communicating the significance of what is going on. I’ll also admit that it’s good to review this, with one’s personal experience of ordination so often lost in the fog of what is happening when it takes place. Ordination is in many respects a personal Transfiguration, not unlike Moses’s transformation at Mount Sinai, when his face shone such that felt compelled to veil his face. Once transformed, there is no going back, as only the healing and completing grace of the Holy Spirit matters.

Sure, there are those who for a variety of reasons may no longer exercise the priestly office, and they are deposed because it is required for the good of the Church, for the Gospel and the Church’s confession of it. Yet in no small way deposition maims a man, and this result must never be left unconsidered when caring for a deposed priest.

I recommend this book to my brethren, if only for its contemporary (relatively speaking) reflections on what it is to be and to serve as a priest in our time.

1 comment (click to add your own)

Written by Fr Basil Biberdorf

June 21st, 2013 at 9:30 am

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