Your Grace, Reverend Fathers, Beloved Brothers and Sisters,
Today, by the prayers of a great many, I present myself as a candidate for ordination to the Holy Priesthood and thus I stand on the verge of the most fearful of Christian mysteries.
In the words of Saint Paul, a priest is one who acts, “on behalf of men in relation to God,” offering, “gifts and sacrifices for sins.” Thus, when the very Word of God, the second person of the holy, consubstantial, and life-creating Trinity, took on the fullness of humanity in the Incarnation and then willingly offered himself up to death upon the Cross for the salvation of all humanity he became for us the “Great High Priest”, who had been prefigured in the Old Testament – first in the Levitical priesthood, and then in the mysterious figure of Melchizedek. And now, “…that the mystery of this Divine priesthood has descended to human agency, it runs not by line of birth, nor is that which flesh and blood created chosen, but without regard to the privilege of paternity and succession by inheritance those men are received as its rulers whom the Holy Ghost prepares.”
The grace of participation in Christ’s own priesthood was first bestowed upon the Apostles, who went forth into the world, baptizing men into his death, absolving their sins in accordance with Christ’s declaration that whatever they bound on earth would be bound in heaven, and whatever they would loose on earth would be loosed in heaven, and celebrating the mystery of the Lord’s body and blood, whereby Christ’s death is proclaimed, “until he comes.” The Apostles, in accordance with the will of God, “prayed and laid their hands,” on men, “of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom,” who would succeed them in exercising Christ’s priesthood. In turn, these bishops – or archpriests – would share a portion of their ministry with the men they ordain to the order of priests, again through the laying on of hands in ordination.
Much is required of one whom God has called to be, according to Saint Nektarios of Pentapolis, “…the visible organ of the Holy Spirit which is at work invisibly within the Church.” The picture of the priest is painted vividly within the various facets of our tradition; within the scriptures for example, Saint Paul, who has left us nothing short of a textbook on the priesthood in his epistles to Saints Timothy and Titus, teaches that a candidate for ordination must be “beyond reproach”.
Saint Paul’s description is then elaborated upon with the texts of our Holy and God-bearing Fathers; in the Celestial Hierarchy attributed to Saint Dionysios the Areopagite, the priest is charged with the responsibility of overseeing the second phase of the spiritual life – that of illumination. In other words, he is to lead men to the very cusp of union with God himself, a responsibility made all the more fearful when one considers the words of Saint Gregory the Theologian, who reminds us that, “It is necessary first to be purified, then to purify; to be made wise, then to make wise; to become illumined, then to illumine”.
Finally, Saint Nikodemos of the Holy Mountain reminds us that the priest is to be, “…counselor of the people, appointed by God to serve them and to advise them what is the right way and to convince them of this rather than to order them.” To do this effectively, however, to prove that the Gospel is more than, “plausible words of human wisdom,” he must, again in the view of Saint Gregory the Theologian, either possess the ability to work miracles on account of his holiness, or he must possess deep knowledge of the Church’s holy tradition: “Just tell me one thing,” he writes, “can you exercise devils, deliver a man from leprosy, or the dead from the tomb; does the paralytic have his limbs restored by you, or does the touch of your hand on the ailing drive out disease? It is by those means that you will persuade me to hold learning in small esteem.”
Our very dear friends flew up from West Virgina to be with us and Matthew, the sub-deacon you see in the photo, was asked to hold the book for the Bishop during the ordination. It was very significant because my whole family’s conversion to Orthodoxy began when my brother got to know Matthew Long, who was at that time an Orthodox convert (together with his wife) in Nova Scotia.
Firstly, he has provided me with you, Your Grace, who with much trust ordained me to the Holy Diaconate now almost two years ago. It was by your permission, and with your blessing, that I was allowed to spend this time in the blessed Orthodox country of Greece for my spiritual improvement. Throughout which time I never felt bereft of your prayers and fatherly care and concern.
I have been given a spiritual father, who has walked the narrow path of Christ’s commandments, and who has thus been for me the surest of guides.
While in Greece, I was blessed to serve at the Church of Saint Anthony the Great in Thessaloniki, under the careful eye of the Emeritus Professor of Patristics, Protopresbyter Theodoros Zisis. In Fr Theodoros I found one who not only knows the Orthodox tradition, but one who also gives it living expression.
Two particular friends also warrant acknowledgement for their significant roles in today’s events; Fr Dn Matthew Penney, my brother-in-law, and his wife Diakonissa Catherine’s lives have been deeply intertwined with mine in a manner which might only be understood as belonging to God’s Providence. We were undergraduates together, beginning our Christian struggle at roughly the same time, my wife and I then followed them to Korea where we spent a year together after my Master’s Studies, and then they followed us to Greece where were again together for 3 of our six years. Each in their own way has been for me both a support and source of humility.
I must thank God for the family environment within which I was raised. I grew up in a home of boundless love, under the watchful eye of conscientious parents who encouraged me to learn God-pleasing virtues, and who sought to shield me from soul-destroying vices.
Finally, and most importantly, God has given me a wife who is my constant support and inspiration. She knows the responsibilities of the clergy better than I do myself and is ever exhorting me to live a manner befitting of my calling. In countless moments of darkness, despair and temptation, it is she who has played the role of consolatrice.
It is impossible, then, that I claim to be anything but the first among sinners, for there is no one who has done less with such a bounty of gifts.
Adding to my apprehensions are the stern warnings found within our Tradition for those who do not succeed in their high calling, having approached it ill-equipped. For example, Saint John Chrysostom writes: “What severe punishment, then, must be expected by one who has not only to render an account of the offenses which he himself has separately committed, but also incurs extreme danger on account of the sins committed by others?”, while Saint Kosmas the Aetolian warns that a priest ought to, “Imagine that the buttons on his stole represent the souls of Christians; should he lose any of these he will answer for it on the day of judgement.”
Ought I not, then to flee ordination as so many in our Tradition have done? What do I have to offer to justify my approaching so great a mystery?
All I can offer is my burning desire – now over a decade old – to be a steward of God’s mysteries, to serve Christ as a priest, combined with a firm conviction that my very salvation is bound up with this calling. It is my belief that in not taking this step, despite my unworthiness, I would be somehow denying that which God has asked of me. Therefore, it is on this ground, in confidence that God’s, “power is made perfect in weakness”, in prayer to Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ and begging the intercessions of the Most Holy Lady Theotokos, of Saint John the Theologian, that I stand now prepared to present myself as “a living sacrifice”:
May God have mercy on me,
Fathers, brothers, and sisters forgive me,
“Behold the servant of the Lord; let it be unto me according to thy word.”
The fathers at the reception we held afterward.
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