The Priesthood Is… (Anonymous Comments from Orthodox Priests)

I recently had the idea to ask Orthodox Christian priests to give me a short sentence or two about the priesthood—something honest and anonymous. I was delighted at the responses I got, from experienced priests, from those ordained only a short time, and from those somewhere in between.

Some were heartening. Some were painful. Some were paradoxical. And some were a bit humorous. Some reflected the character of that particular man, while others were intended to be taken more universally. But all struck me as from the heart.

Here are the responses, in no particular order. Each is from a different priest:

As a priest there is a constant struggle between what you want to do, what you have to do and what needs to get done.

The priesthood is both the greatest blessing and the heaviest cross, sometimes simultaneously.

Remove the priesthood from the man and you may find a narcissist waiting for Christ to come along and save him. Add the priesthood, and the man becomes a shepherd.

Priesthood is a ministry that tests your faith and assures it to you several times, daily.

The priesthood is learning to live in the gray areas of life, to be engulfed in the divine drama as well as the human drama, the willingness to lose ourselves in the hopes of bringing salvation to others.

The priesthood is for me, both a tremendous source of joy and a surprising source of sorrow.

Sometimes you just gotta show up.

The priesthood is a type of martyrdom, with times of great joy and the awesome privilege of serving the Holy Mysteries and Divine Services thrown in to keep us priests from despair.

The priesthood is a job where you can both gain and lose faith in humanity in a single day.

We are professional witnesses, the beginning and end of lives, good and bad events, and our presence and attention makes hidden sins real, so that they may be remedied.

The priesthood is being privileged to stand in the presence of the Holy of Holies witnessing to the reality of Christ’s Holy Church while being reminded that you are unworthy to do so but you have been called AND chosen.

That part of the anaphora where we pray of the benefits we receive that are seen and unseen, known and unknown makes me think about the priesthood.

An awesome responsibility, and a source of great joy.

Your own from what is Your own, we (the priest, clergy, laity) offer unto You, on behalf of ALL, AND FOR ALL.

The priesthood is a white-collar job for a blue-collar heart.

The priesthood is God’s deep medicine to heal the heart of the man who is called to serve as a priest.

The priesthood is herding squirrels.

Not a profession, despite me, but a little theophany, despite me, and a tiny role in the universal deification, a shard of beauty, again despite me but moreso because of Christ through all of us.

The further along in the priesthood I go, the more I realize I really haven’t got a clue as to what it’s about let alone how to carry it out.

So how would you contribute to this list, whether you are a clergyman or a layman?


  1. No contribution here…just a profound sense of remembering the need to pray for our priests more and to show them support and love in practical ways so they (and their families) are not left holding the burden of the priesthood all by themselves.

    Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  2. “The further along in the priesthood I go, the more I realize I really haven’t got a clue as to what it’s about let alone how to carry it out.”

    I may just call my priest after this quote and thank him for what he does.

    1. This quote really spoke to me, too. In everything that I do I keep finding myself lost at some point, as a parent, as a teacher, as a wife and even as a friend, I look to my priest for answers forgetting that sometimes we are all lost on the same journey. I thank God we are traveling together.

  3. I would just say I appreciate you fathers, because I know like my own father you get to church at God knows what early hour on Sunday and spend the next many hours on your feet, before staying late for a youth group meeting, and then coming back in the evening for Bible study, and still give long, thorough email answers to stupid cathecumens’ questions. I appreciate the (to me) inconceivable sacrifice of your spouse to allow you to do this work. I appreciate you fathers!

  4. So how would you contribute to this list, whether you are a clergyman or a layman?

    The priesthood is a vocation ultimately of service to both God and His Church. It is not the means to become a dictator.

  5. Doesn’t it say somewhere that we are all “a royal priesthood?” In that case our clergy are a kind of model for us

  6. Most of these comments could be equally applied to motherhood. I don’t say that to denigrate either one or to promote a gender- studies viewpoint. Rather, I think that the priesthood is God’s way of letting the male of the species in on a way of living that had previously been reserved to women. I think that’s important – for men, for women, for all of us as we seek human unity. It’s the male version of that special thing that normally only mothers experience, and it needs a special anointing for any man to take it up.

    I shouldn’t wonder if all of fatherhood, the world over, has already been transformed to a gentler thing because of the presence within the body human of Priests, the fathers examplar who are almost mothers. Bless them all.

  7. I went to the seminary serve God’s people. And when I got ordained, I met them… whew… and then I remembered that they are God’s people… all good again.

  8. The most important thing what priesthood is, is that it is a service to God. With that it is also service to Church and it’s people. You are a priest 24/7 despite anything that is happening no matter what the time or hour you are priest and you have to do what you have to do. If you are or want to be a good priest you must have a great love towards God and towards people, and you must want to help everyone, no matter what their religious beliefs are. As it is very commonly now is that “we only care about our people, and the rest, well they are sinners…” It is impossible to say what priesthood is until you actually become priest. And explaining it in few sentences is not enough. But I feel that this is the best I could do

  9. An interesting afterthought: in my country, Czechia, wee witness a very sharp tendency downwards as to new vocations, year after year. When we tried to put a finger on where the problem lies, we found out that year after year the respect and apreciation of our own people to priests and bishops decreases. Hence, when parents taught their kids since their very young age respect, love and appreciation for their clergy, many a man wanted to be part of this wonderful service. As now young people have almost no appreciation of their clergy, no respect, there is very little interest among them to study and pray in order to be one. Thus, I think the prayers should no longer be said “for vocations” but rather “for re-discovery of apreciation, love and respect towards priests and bishops”, which, in turn, will lead to men wanting to be part of this service. In Christ, +Gabriel, Eparchial Bishop of Prague

  10. …The best man standing in for the Groom, looking after the Bride, giving her the Grooms gifts per His instruction, as we await His glorious reappearing.

  11. I remember what the bishop quietly said to me when for the first time he placed the gold crown on my head: “The people will see a crown of gold, but I assure you it is a crown of thorns…”

  12. Man becomes God in Priesthood….He absolve the sins and heals the people….through his hands the bread and wine becomes the body and blood of Christ and finally he himself will become life and salvation for others….like a candle the priest lives his life by spreading God …till his end…

  13. The priesthood is something that goes very well with parenthood: both give you plenty of practice saying the same thing ten times before anyone begins to listen.

    On a more serious note, the priesthood is where I learned to adapt St. Basil’s anaphora (“Do not take away the grace of Your Holy Spirit from these gifts presented because of my sins.”) to myself. It usually goes something along these lines: “Do not let my selfishness, stupidity, lack of patience, anger, or any other of my sins do harm to the parish You have placed in my care. You always, by Your grace, repair the wrong that we have done and redeem us from our sins, send Your grace to this parish and repair my wrongs, known and unknown.”

    1. Oh wow. As a mom who screws up all the time, and is terrified to sully the work of Christ because of my weaknesses and struggles, I need to be praying this.

  14. We need to remember that the Priesthood is not a job, it is a life. And we need to resemble the Donkey that our Lord chose to ride upon for His triumphant entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday: Humble, yet given a very important & honourable task. Hard working, yet low key. And like a donkey, expect the Priest to be stubborn every so often, but always faithful to his Master.

  15. Unworthy though I may be, my bishop through the grace of the Holy Spirit anointed me to serve. I Know that the sacrament is made Holy by the Holy Spirit despite my own unworthiness, “for I have done nothing good on this earth.” I am brought to tears (joyful sorrow) at God’s love for me to receive me has His servant and the awesome honor to serve at His holy altar.

  16. I find this post extremely touching and poignant in our ever changing world. I was raised with the (false) belief that priests are somehow removed from human error. Now that I have been graced with kind and loving spiritual fathers, I see that they, like all of us, are just trying to grow closer to God every day. I think this post applies well to any ministry, be it parenthood or any vocation that calls us to serve others. It’s exhausting and easy to become jaded. At those times, I’m so grateful for the honesty and compassion of our spiritual fathers. Thank you!

  17. This post and these comments remind me that I really need to be more appreciative and grateful of our holy fathers, and to keep them and their families, who have sacrificed tremendously more than I will ever realize, in my constant prayers.
    “Through the prayers of our holy fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us, Amen.”

    Thank you so much for your service and sacrifice, all you clergy!

  18. The priesthood is a calling to be a shepherd who teaches, leads, and protects the flock of God which God has given him oversight thereof. The priesthood is not a hired position, a job, or a profession that a man should seek without a calling. If a man finds himself a priest, and discerns he made a mistake allowing himself to be ordained, he should withdraw himself from the priesthood.

  19. As a former Protestant, and now an Orthodox layman, I believe one of the jobs of the Priest, not yet mentioned, is to “comfort the disturbed and to disturb the comfortable.”

  20. “Remove the priesthood from the man and you may find a narcissist waiting for Christ to come along and save him. Add the priesthood, and the man becomes a shepherd.”

    I’d like to know the context for this quote, because if what you have is truly a full-blown narcissist, I doubt its veracity. Now, it is likely true that being called to the Priesthood can make an ordinarily selfish person (what the Priest quoted was perhaps labeling a “narcissist”) turn to reliance on God and that this can have a sanctifying effect such that he truly begins to look out for the needs of others like a true shepherd. May God grant this.

    My experience is that you can ordain a Narcissist (who really is one), and he will be a wolf in sheep’s clothing with the result that some sheep are devoured and the others mauled and scattered. IMO, such an ordination would be an example of neglecting the advice in 1 Timothy 5:22 to not “lay hands on anyone hastily” and an abrogation of the process of discernment on the part of the Bishop who does the ordaining. I was in a parish where a new Priest, unfortunately, exhibited many of the characteristics of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, and his handling of parish affairs ripped the parish apart with many spiritual casualties, of which I was one. Thankfully, I’m now in a parish with Priests who truly are one with the sheep, and I’m grateful every day for their selfless service to us all.

  21. Yes, you are right. I saw some photos of the Holy Eucharist, but I think I mixed up the blogs. I am sorry, it is my fault. Thank you for your answer.

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