Pray for Those Who Watch After Your Soul

Several years ago a priest asked his brother priests to finish this sentence “The priesthood is …” and one priest finished the sentence in this way – “The priesthood is a type of martyrdom, with times of great joy and the incredible privilege of serving the Holy Mysteries and Divine Services thrown in to keep us priests from despair.”

I like it. It really does sum up an aspect of being a priest I have found to be very accurate. The priesthood is a martyrdom. But remember, martyr means witness. And part of the calling is to witness to the people God’s mercy, wisdom, challenge, and healing, and then to “witness” to God the prayers, needs, and struggles of the people. This vital ministry in the Church is called “fatherhood” for a specific reason – we priests are meant to be “fathers” and that means leaders AND servants at the same time!

Look at our lesson today in Hebrews 13:17-21

Brethren, obey your leaders and submit to them; for they are keeping watch over your souls, as men who will have to give account. Let them do this joyfully, and not sadly, for that would be of no advantage to you. Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things. I urge you the more earnestly to do this in order that I may be restored to you the sooner. Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great Shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do His will, working in you that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

St. Paul advises the Hebrews to “obey your leaders and submit to them” and the reason why this command is telling – “they are keeping watch over your souls, as men who will have to give account.”

To learn the humility and discernment to obey and submit to your leaders flows from the reality that a man who realizes he will have to stand before God and account for his actions in caring for you really does sober a man right up IF he is attentive to this calling. The weight of the calling to serve as a shepherd of souls should always give pause to any man who dares to take that calling for granted.

I never will forget a time a few years ago when a local politician in our county was talking with me and I was saying that our parish is here in this place and time to serve the people of our community. He responded “But father, we aren’t all Orthodox.” I made him smile when I said “Give me some time! I’ve only been here a few years!” And then I added “I am an Orthodox Christian priest. I am responsible for everyone in this community, Orthodox or not. And I take my role very seriously to serve everyone with the life-giving message of the Faith.”

It makes it easy for the people to “obey and submit” when the leader never forgets he will give an account for his actions. That’s why I always grieve when I see a man treating the priesthood as nothing more than a religious bureaucrat or a tribal “medicine man.” Such a serious missing the mark of serving as a “father” to the people.

But Paul goes on to say to the Hebrews “Let them do this joyfully, and not sadly, for that would be of no advantage to you.” A responsibility that the people have is to always work to make the service of the priest a matter of joy, not grief or regret. To be sure, there are times when a “father” has to act as a “father” to unruly children, and that diminishes the “joy” aspect of our service. But when the people respond with love and gratitude for the service of the priest, I can tell you from firsthand experience, it is a joy like no other!

So, as Paul instructs us today, and as we remember that today we celebrate the life of St. Anthony the Great, we are given the powerful challenge to make the service of the priest a joy and to make sure the priest always recalls he will give an account for his ministry and service to the people. St. Anthony’s life embodied this attitude of service to God and to the people. He is the “father” of monasticism, and his life, recorded by St. Athanasius, reveals a man who was f=keenly aware of his struggles, responsibilities, and his love for God and the Faithful. St. Anthony embodies the truest sense of a “Father” of the Church.

Today, make it a joy for your leaders to serve you. Leaders, always bear with the failings of your people with gentleness and love. And let’s live a truly “Normal” Orthodox life that shows the people around us just how extraordinary Orthodox Life is and offer it to all!

P.S. O Father Anthony, you imitated the zealous Elijah. You followed the straight paths of the Baptist and became a desert dweller. By prayer you confirmed the universe. Wherefore, intercede with Christ our God to save our souls.

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