Vocations in OCCA

Priest/Presbyter

Just as we asked you to do regarding the deacon, can you check your mental chalkboard to see what is on your list of what a priest or presbyter is? If any of the following ideas are there, wipe them off, please.

Let us look at each of these statements a bit further and then at some statements that are true.

A priest is a person of special holiness set apart from the community of believers as a mediator between God and people.
This common description of a priest is way off the mark on all counts. We cannot honor what a priest is until we strip away what she/he is not. There is no special holiness in the Church that is Christ's. We are all called to be holy, sharing in the same holiness as equal sisters and brothers in Christ's Body. The priest is not set apart from the community of believers, but is ordered (ordained) within the community as a fellow member of the faith household. Least of all is a priest a mediator. There is only one mediator between God and us: Jesus the Christ. A person ordained to the office of presbyter is a spiritual elder, called upon to represent the bishop in presiding at the most important worship in the faith household: the divine liturgy (Mass, Holy Eucharist, Lord's Supper). A priest orders and presides over prayer, leading a holy dialog between God and God's people in the worship assembly.

The priest is to be the head of the community and exercises the power of office as someone acting in the person of Christ.
As stated, this is simply not true. The head of any Christian community, a church, is Jesus of Nazareth, once dead and now risen. The priest represents, makes present, the bishop of the Church with whom the priest is in communion as a fellow-worker and member of a group of priests whose task is to be a council with the bishop as its chief executive officer. There really is not any power in this or any other church office. There is, however, much authority. Power is coercive, moves from strength and infringes upon free will. Genuine Christian authority invites, moves from servant posture and engages free will by the prompting of the Holy Spirit.

A priest must be highly educated, formally trained in theology and otherwise very healthy.
Again, this statement as it stands is false. In the Benedictine tradition, there is a saying to be kept in mind when an abbot is being elected. The community is encouraged to choose someone "not too smart, not too holy and not too healthy."

A priest may or may not be highly educated in a particular profession or skill because in our jurisdiction we ask that our clergy be self-supporting, making a living as must everyone else. This may or may not entail education and the development of some skills. Formal training in theology has been, within Orthodoxy, often a gift given to lay members of the Church. It has only in more recent years been a requirement for the clergy. The mentor tradition has a long and honorable history - priests are shaped and skilled in Church's theology in ongoing fashion, sometimes taking advantage of formal academic courses. The personal history a priest brings to his/her ministry may well include sickness of many kinds, certainly sinfulness and thus hopefully a full measure of compassion and understanding for the human condition of which he/she is very much a part.
Let us look at some statements about the priest/presbyter that are true.

The Christian community is somehow incomplete without the gifts of Orders.
A priest is a necessary component if the sacramental life of the Church is to be fully celebrated according to the Church's deepest tradition and understanding of the Lord's will. While there are many instances of Christian communities authentically gathered without a bishop, priest and deacon, the development of Orders in the Church is an authentic part of the core tradition. What is up for much discussion is exactly what is required for a person to be accepted as ordained. Many Protestant traditions require only the consent of the local congregation and its officers. In Anglican, Roman and Orthodox traditions, there has been for the most of our histories a requirement that persons seeking ordination have the blessing of their local congregations from whence they came and thus present themselves to a bishop, who has been ordained in the ancient faith of the Church by prayer and the laying on of hands by other bishops in what is called apostolic succession. The history involved in arriving at such a neat formula is anything but tidy and there is much discussion across church traditions about how we might untangle the knotted theological web here for the benefit of the whole Church.

Women are good candidates for Orders and, despite a long history to the contrary, ought to be ordained in the Church.
Again, this is a comment with which we can completely agree. However, some Anglican and most Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Missouri Synod and Southern Baptist authorities would heatedly disagree. This is another core issue concerning ordination that is not going to easily be resolved. We in the Orthodox-Catholic Church of America have felt called to step out in faith on this matter, believing that precisely because there is an essential equality among believers by virtue of our common baptism, ordained sacramental leadership draws upon that equality. The principle that motivates our stand is therefore theological, not social or political as such.

The bishop is a corporate personality and the personal bearer of the Church's tradition, bound to preach and teach that tradition with presbyters and deacons as co-workers according to their own roles.
Our Judeo-Christian heritage is a heritage of persons not of print. We do not gather around a book or series of articles of faith or even creeds. We gather around the living Christ as living members of him. Some among us are called and ordained to be personal bearers of what is in print, of what we have struggled to understand of the faith that has been handed to us from the apostles from age to age. While creation itself is our first bible, the scriptures as written are our first tradition, handed on by the living from one generation to the next in the faith household. It is our understanding that, according to the Lord's will, bishops hold the role within the Church of being the personal bearers of the tradition in the name of the whole Church. If a bishop ceases to profess and proclaim that faith, he/she is no longer a bishop. If a priest or deacon ceases to be in communion with a bishop who professes the faith of the Church, that person is no longer a priest or deacon. Orders belong to the Church, not to the individual person ordained. If a person steps outside the faith, that person steps outside of his/her ordination. All of us, no matter what our role ordained or other wise, are first and foremost fellow members of the household of God and joined into Christ's Body in a living faith that comes to us from the apostles.

The interaction of all believers according to our God-given place and gifts in the Church is essential if we are to build up the Kingdom of God.
Amen! We believers have several layers of responsibility with and for one another. One layer is in our fellowship with one another, within the community of believers. Another layer is the larger human family well beyond our faith community. Still another layer is creation itself, of which we are stewards and witnesses of Christ's resurrection. Amen!