This year, on the Feast of St. Ghevontyantz, I was asked by our Diocesan Primate to answer a few questions regarding the priesthood, as a meditation for our annual clergy retreat. I present them here as a mediation “The Priesthood Today.”
1) How do you understand the priesthood today?
The priesthood for me today and always has been to continue the ministry of the first Priest, Our Lord Jesus Christ. Following His baptism and seclusion in the desert, our Lord enters the church and proclaims His mission:
- “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Then he rolled up the scroll… saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:18-21)
|See below for explanation|
The priest today can only continue that same ministry: to proclaim the Good News. The only difference is that today we can broaden the definition of the object of the ministry. For instance, the poor are not merely those with no money, but have nothing – are broke – in their spirits. The prisoners are all of us who are enslaved to sin. The blind can’t see the beauty of God’s world even with their eyes wide open and the oppressed are those who seek justice. The priest today is “anointed” for this reason.
2) How do you understand the priest as intermediary between God and humanity?
This is a very dangerous concept to contemplate. My hesitation to dwell too deep is because as human beings we are all tempted by the power of the ego. The ego can bring us down by building up false illusions of power. Therefore, it is important to understand myself, as a priest, as a tool of God and leave the rest to God, to shape, direct, guide and move.
3) How do you understand the formula of the priest “for the people,” that is, how do you understand the social mission of the church?
This is the only true way to understand the priesthood. Everything the priest does is for the people. Look for instance at the sacraments which the priest delivers. Every sacrament has people as its object. It is for the people that the priesthood exists and the social mission is a development of that definition.
Our Lord places it very plainly – love of God is expressed by our love for one another. St. John the Evangelist, reminds us in his First Letter, “We love, because he first loved us. If any one says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him, that he who loves God should love his brother also.” (I John 4:19-21)
People are hurting throughout the world. They have always suffered immense pain and discomfort because of the will of others. Christ taught by his example – he reached outside of the comfort level and met, touched, hugged, cured, healed and raised people to life. The priest has to follow this example and raise people to understand Christ’s words, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10) And that abundance is expressed by the priest, when he blesses a home. Along with the water and bread, the priest also blesses salt. It is for life to be filled with flavor. Herein we find the abundance of life that Christ promises. The priest is there for the people. The social mission is at the core of the work of the church.
4) In your experience, as a priest, what have been the most serious calls to battle?
My greatest battle as a priest has been against materialism. It is powerful. It has convinced our people to believe that true wealth is in their pockets and not in their hearts. Along with materialism there is a whole myriad of other battles that equally damage lives, namely indifference, hypocrisy and self-absorption. Each of these keep us away from maximizing our potential as loving and caring individuals. Furthermore, these battles exist on the institutional level as well. We find our church is indifferent to world tragedies such as genocide. We see it hypocritical in preaching one message and practicing another. And it is self-absorbed to the point of not understanding itself in a larger community.
As a priest, one of the greatest battles we all have to fight is to remain contemporary in a quickly changing world. The priest has to speak to the times. The poet Vahan Tekeyan reminds us that the “Armenian Church” is the birthplace of my soul,” but even our birthplaces change. The priest has to be there as a constant in a changing world and at the same time, he has to be able to function in the world today. (Luke 16)
5) As a priest, when you sit with the Lord Jesus Christ, how will you respond when he asks, “Give an accounting of your stewardship?”
There is only one thing I could say, “Lord have mercy.” (Der Voghormia) What else can you possibly say to God? Can I say, “I built a church” when he has designed and created the majestic mountains and the beautiful seascapes? Can I say, “I got a degree from the university” to the one who established all the laws of nature and physics? Can I say, “I gave up my comfort” when God sacrificed His Son for our salvation? No, there really isn’t much to say beyond “Lord have mercy” and truly believe that only through His mercy we live, function as priests and love to the extent we do.