“Whoever aspires to be a bishop desires a noble task. Now the bishop is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled…” (1Timothy 3: 1).
The word bishop and the word priest are synonyms in their use in the New Testament, and each of them could be used in place of the other. At the end of the apostolic era, the position of the bishop started to appear independent from that of a priest. Regardless of this differentiation, we always noticed that there are people who desire being bishops thinking that it has some glory and power (and maybe some money). This is what pushed some to what we call Simonism, which is bribing in order to win votes in the Holy Synod. However, I am not talking now about this lesion but about desiring priesthood.
This is a very new thing as we never heard anyone wanting this responsibility for himself as greediness to gain some profit (and it is a small profit in our region) or as a desire to serve or as a fulfillment of repentance. In the Ecclesiastic history, it is know that the person in quest for repentance becomes a monk and this is something that has no glory, profit, or fame. But the deviation occurs when you desire priesthood to sanctify the soul. Sanctifying the soul happens for the laic exactly as it does for the priest and maybe in an easier way.
The old Orthodox tradition when a priest dies or when people want more than a priest is that the parish notices someone that shines with piety and it asks the bishop to ordain him for the parish. The bishop used to commit to teaching this person the divine service in the archbishopric or in a monastery. However, this method was related to the weakness in theological education and consequently the inability of priests to preach. But God prepared us to have a theological institute in Balamand which students join in order to become ready to accept priesthood. These students come from the active and God loving youth of the Church. And it is normal for the bishop to choose among them the appropriate people for priesthood. This way, instead of the parish advising the spiritual elder about a pious man in it, the institute would be the side giving this advice. Nevertheless, the theological diploma is not enough as the bishop must test the spiritual and ethical qualifications and the maturity and safety of the personality. The diploma for us is just a sign of readiness and doesn’t oblige the bishop to ordain.
What is the divine call that is mentioned in this issue? The writer of the epistle to the Hebrews when talking about the high Priest in the Old Testament he says: “And no one takes this honor on himself, but he receives it when called by God, just as Aaron was” (Hebrews 5: 4). What does this mean in our Church?
There are a lot of writings in the Latin Church concerning the internal feeling of the person wanting Priesthood especially that this is related to virginity for them. The spiritual father comes to the young man that believes to be called and tests him and also tests his readiness to virginity as if he is saying – in our way – that he is qualified to live single. This is not a subject for us because the parish priest must be married at the first place.
Our belief is that the call of a man to join this service is heard through the lips of the bishop. He tells him that God is calling him after hearing witnesses from the parish and after having one or several conversation with this young man and feeling that this call is valid. Of course, mistakes can happen, but the bishop must make sure that these witnesses are Christ-lovers and do not give familial or bias testimonies. The bishop gets close to the truth, and future practice shows whether the priest was really called from God or facts show that he is not qualified for this position. However, as much as the bishop is wise, mature, and not affected by people’s opinions, his choice will be right.
If the student got the chance to have a theological education and practice worship in the institute and live under the supervision of the responsible, the bishop’s choice will be as near as possible to the right choice.
In Orthodoxy, the expression “I love to become a priest” has no meaning. The church chooses you, and you obey. You appear, and then the faithful, starting from the bishop, see that divine light has descended on you.
Translated by Mark Najjar
Original Text: “اشتهاء الكهنوت” –Raiati 23- 05.06.2005Continue reading