Monday, October 31, 2022

Met Antonios (el-Souri): The Priest and Pastoral Care

 Arabic original here.

The Priest and Pastoral Care

"For you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord." (1 Corinthians 9:2)

At the ordination of a priest, the bishop hands him the lamb and says to him, "Preserve this deposit until the coming of the Lord for you shall be asked about it." The body of Christ, which is the Church-the parish, the rational sheep belonging to Christ, is placed in trust into the hands of the priest. They are not his: they are Christ's. The seal of the priest's mission is the parish, whose members' souls he will be asked about on Judgment Day: Did he lose one of them? Did he call one to stumble? Did he hurt one? Was he a father to them? Did he cause them to know the truth and bear witness to it among them? Did he take them out of error and was he a model for them?

The priest does not belong to himself. He belongs to Christ and Christ to God. Therefore the priest must offer to God an account from now about his work and his service for the parish. The priest is not a hireling with God, but an extension of Christ in the parish. He must be a son to the Most High, bearing the attributes of his Teacher, having no mind of his own but the "mind of Christ."

The priest and his family must be models for emulation in faith, piety, prayer, fasting, service and humility. The priest is neither a leader nor a chief. He is the washer of the parish's feet according to the example of the one who washed the feet of His disciples and by this He becomes for him a guide on the path of salvation.

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The priest must be constantly present to serve the members of his parish because he serves Christ in them and therefore he does not have the right to neglect to serve in all liturgical, pastoral and canonical ways. He must be free of love of money and seeking it because the Lord who said "seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you" (Matthew 6:33) is faithful and suffices him.

With all this, as the shepherd pastors the flock, the flock must pastor him. Therefore the Apostle Paul says to the Corinthians:

"If we have sown spiritual things for you, is it a great thing if we reap your material things?" (1 Corinthians 9:11). Here he talks about the livelihood of the servants of the word, stating that it is the responsibility of the faithful to secure for them what they need for their life, since it is not permissible for one who serves the altar, that is, performs the mysteries of grace for the salvation of souls to be in want or need of necessities. For this reason, there is a need for complimentarity in the service of love, each according to his role, his talent and his responsibility. Does someone who will be asked about the salvation of your soul and be held accountable for it before the Lord not deserve to be provided with the material things that he needs to live with the dignity of the children of God?!

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There is no doubt that one "who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully" (2 Corinthians 9:6), whether he is a priest or a layman. The priest's sowing is the faithful who must bear fruit in the life of holiness and virtue. When the priest is free in the truth that is in Christ, he cannot he cannot but sow blessings. The priest's sowing is preaching the word of God and not his own word, visiting the sick and weak, being a support for the afflicted and the weak, a consolation for the sorrowful and an embodiment of the words of the Apostle Paul, "Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble, and I do not burn?" (2 Corinthians 11:29). The priest is a father in every sense of the word and therefore he must know the sheep of the flock of Christ by name.

All this means that the priest lives a state of being crucified with God's love in this world in service with humility and meekness, with firmness and resolve. The priest cannot go along with people at the expense of Christ's truth and the canons of the Holy Church. His duty is to teach them all of this. Otherwise, he falls short of love for them and is liable for judgment before God because he treats the holy things lightly.

There is no bargaining in the priest's way of life. Of course, we are all humans subject to the weakness of nature, but the way of reform and reconciliation is given to us in Christ, which is the mystery of repentance and confession. How can the priest teach people repentance if he does not repent? How can he teach them humility and reforming their way of life if he does not confess his sins and seek guidance from a spiritual father?! The priest is not perfect. Only Christ is perfect. Therefore he must follow the path of repentance and confession in order to be a model for the parish.

A priest who does not search his conscience in the face of the greatness of the mystery of the priesthood, Christ's sacrifice on the cross and the reality of his service as a servant of God's salvific mysteries falls short, because self-reflection with regard to the requirements of the service and the mystery is likely to energize the priest and bring back to his heart the fear of God and the experience of His divine, consoling grace, which grants him new starting-points, renewed in Spirit and truth in the service of the Lord with an upright heart and in His purity by the fire of divine, cleansing love.

The priest must be in the image of the Lord Christ and just as Christ obeys the Father, the priest obeys Christ and thus is God's prophet and apostle to the rational sheep.

+ Antonios

Metropolitan of Zahle, Baalbek and their Dependencies 

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