Saturday, January 18, 2014

Met. Ephrem Kyriakos on the Priesthood

Arabic original here.

The Mystery of the Priesthood

The Church is a theandric organization: divine because she is the living body of Christ and human because she is a particular human society. As a human hierarchical organization, she is tied to the mystery of the priesthood and the synod of bishops. The head of the Church is Jesus Christ, the God-Man and her visible head in the local church is the bishop, the image of Christ locally.

The bishop is a spiritual father and shepherd, on the model of Jesus Christ, "the Good Shepherd." He shepherds his flock "rightly dividing the word of truth." Next to the bishop, there is the priest and the deacon. The priest performs the mysteries such as the divine liturgy and the mystery of baptism, except for the mystery of chiertonia (ordination to the clergy).

The priest is a spiritual father and pastor for his parish. As spiritual father he administers the mystery of repentance and confession.

The deacon helps the bishop or the priest in performing the mysteries and in performing social work.

The priest, according to Saint John Chysostom, enjoys a service that surpasses the service of the holy angels. This come, not from the priest's personal worthiness, but from the divine grace that "in all times heals the sick and perfects the lacking." Thus the Church becomes a hospital where the Gospel of the Kingdom is announced and where the bishop (or priest) pastors the people of God as a spiritual guide and physician of souls by means of the mystery of repentance and confession and psychological and spiritual guidance.

It must be mentioned that the Church, in human terms, is not made up of the clergy (the bishops, priests and deacons) only, but also of the lay faithful. All of them constitute the people of God, the communion of Jesus Christ, the God-Man. According to St Dionysius the Areopagite, the deacon is required to be free of passions, the priest enlightened, and the bishop united to God as "a saint." This is true, but in practice we are all sinners struggling through repentance for the salvation of our souls. Hence we seek inspiration from the following observations: that the clergy without exception remain weak and sinful humans who themselves are also struggling for the salvation of their souls. However, they must, as much as possible, be a model for other people and far from significant, scandalous sins. Thus Saint Gregory the Theologian said that their work is pedagogical in guiding souls to salvation. From all this we understand that the priest's work is not limited to performing the mysteries (the liturgy, baptism, marriage, funerals...) in a routine manner, but rather it also includes, as we mentioned, teaching, guiding and pastoring souls. He is not an employee but rather a pastor and father.

As we said above, this comes from the divine grace that they receive at the time of the laying-on of hands. Last but not least, the Church teaches in all wisdom that the holy mysteries (such as the Eucharist) are active in the faithful by virtue of the grace of priestly service, and not by virtue of the purity of his soul and his general behavior.

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