L’Archevêque Job invité au Séminaire Saint-Vladimir à New York

(JPEG)Avec la bénédiction de Sa Sainteté le patriarche œcuménique Bartholomée, Son Eminence l’Archevêque Job de Telmessos s’est rendu du 29 mai au 1er juin au Séminaire Saint-Vladimir à Crestwood, New York, où il était invité à prononcer le discours de la cérémonie de la remise des diplômes (Commencement) à l’occasion de la clôture de l’année universitaire :

It is a great honour and pleasure for me to be invited as a speaker for this year’s commencement ceremony at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary. It takes me back to my own graduation, which took place years ago in another theological institution. Since that time, many years have passed, and I have been blessed to serve the Lord and His Church is several ways, at several levels, with different charismas. As some of you are now considering to engage in a Church ministry, I would like to share with you some thoughts that come out of my own experience, as a former seminarian whom the Lord made worthy to become a young bishop.

I think that the most appropriate Gospel narrative to reflect on for this festive occasion is the passage from Luke on Martha and Mary. As we are “young and zealous” graduates engaging a Church ministry, we often look as Martha, who was worried about many things. Young pastors are also often preoccupied by many things - and most of them are rather material, practical than spiritual. What I can live on ? How to organise my parish life ? What can I say in my sermon ? Out of zeal, the young priest wants to organise many things in his parish. How to organise the Sunday school ? How to improve the church choir ? How to manage hospital and prison chaplaincy ? How to get involved in panorthodox and ecumenical groups ? But the Lord is expecting from all of us to choose “the best part which will not be taken away” and to follow the example of Mary in serving the one thing needful. What is it ? I will try to describe it as I reflect on my own, rather short but nevertheless rich experience.

Prayer and Liturgical Life

The most essential part of a priest’s life is prayer and liturgical life. Prayer and worship is the heart of Church life. This is where Christian life takes its origin and where it converges. As St. John Climacus has formulated it, “prayer is by its nature the conversation and the union of man with God and by its efficiency the conversion of the world and its reconciliation with God” (The Ladder, 28th degree. PG 88, 1129A). If a clergyman wants to serve efficiently and truly God and his people, how could he achieve this without prayer ? Therefore, a clergyman should not only teach and exhort people to pray, but practice himself prayer intensively.

All the worries, challenges and problems that we encounter in Church life can find an amazing and unexpected solution as long as we pray and accept God’s will since, as one of our contemporary elders once said, “everything in which we succeed in life is a gift of God, and every failure is the result of our sins”. To practice prayer truly means accepting what God grants us instead of doing our own will, since true prayer is not petition, but first of all thanksgiving for all the great things God has given and grants us. In front of all the challenges and trials that we encounter in pastoral life, and there are indeed many, a genuine pastor shall never despair, but always have hope in God and “entrust all our life unto God” in prayer. I have personally experienced many times that what appears to be a problem without any solution will yield an unexpected solution when we pray, hope, and trust God.

Besides personal prayer, worship is an extremely important part of pastoral life, since the Church is not a business nor an institution, but a worshiping community. Since the very beginning, from the day of the Pentecost, as we read in the book of Acts, Christians were gathering to “break the bread”. All the life of the Church begins and converges in the Eucharist, as our contemporary Eucharistic ecclesiology developed by such great theologians as N. Afanassieff, A. Schmemann and J. Zizioulas have emphasised. “Where is the Eucharist, there is the pleroma of the Church, and vice versa, only within the pleroma of the Church could be celebrated the Eucharist”, states Afanassieff (N. AFANASSIEFF, « L’Église qui préside dans l’amour », in La primauté de Pierre dans l’Église orthodoxe, p. 29). If this is the theology we have learned in seminary, this is the theology that we, as pastors of the Church, ought not only to teach, but to practice first of all.

As long as we engage into our ecclesial ministry outside or independently from worship, it will be sterile, since there is no ecclesial life without the Eucharist and without liturgical life. If we consider our ministry as a job or as an administrative function, this ministry is dead, because there is no spirit at all, since the Holy Spirit dwells and spread out from the sacramental life of the Church. Therefore, the celebration of the mysteries is not only “a part of our job”, but constitutes the genuine heart of our ministry. I have to confess that for me, personally, the liturgy is the source of inspiration for my homilies. Indeed, all the aspects of our pastoral ministry : catechism, mystagogy, preaching, pastoral care, mission as well as Church administration begin and converge in the liturgical life of the Church. This reminds me, of a question that was asked of seminarians at an examination by an Orthodox bishop. He asked them what constitutes the charitable dimension of Church life. Many answered by mentioning food banks, giving out clothes, helping the poor, visiting the sick, etc. These answers did not satisfy the Orthodox hierarch who said : “No, the charitable dimension of the Church is in the liturgy : it starts with the liturgy, and continues in the liturgy after the liturgy”.

If this is the case, we have to take the celebration of the divine mysteries and of the liturgy seriously. Having stated that the Divine Liturgy is superior to any prayer and praise, St. Symeon of Thessalonika, referring to St. Basil the Great, stressed in his wonderful treatise on priesthood that priests, in order to be truly the typological image of Christ, have to act in communion with Him, and for that, ought to celebrate the Divine Liturgy everyday, and if this is not possible, at least four times a week (PG 155, 972BC). I have to admit that I love to celebrate the Divine Liturgy and since my ordination to the deaconate until now, I try to celebrate the Divine Liturgy as often as possible. This sometimes surprises people, especially now, because many often were not used to see a bishop serving so often. Many ask me : “Are not you tired ?” My reply is no, simply because for me, serving is not a job, but the heart of my ministry and my source of inspiration. As St. Symeon of Thessalonika reminds us, we, clergy, have to remember “of whom we are the assistants, and of which task we are the servants, and of whom we bear the image (icon), since the bishop and with him, the priest when he celebrates the mysteries, is the image (icon) of Jesus” (PG 155, 965A-B).

Pastoral Work in the Field

Having given so much importance to prayer and liturgical life does not mean that a priest should spend all of his life in church. This would be a tragedy not only for his wife and his children, but also for the rest of his spiritual family, since a priest is the spiritual father of his spiritual children. Therefore, he has to find also some time to spend with them, share some life’s moments together, and most of all, to assist and take care of them especially in difficult moments. In the view of St. Symeon of Thessalonica, the bishop’s omophorion represent not only the incarnation of God, but reminds us of the lost sheep of the parable, that the Good Shepherd finds and puts on his shoulders (PG 155, 716). Therefore, we as pastors of the Church, have sometimes to leave the 99 other sheep of our ecclesial communities in order to go find and take care of the lost sheep. We do that by visiting the families, hospital, prisons, but also by being open and available to people approaching us on the street, in a train or in a plane.

The new technologies have also developed new and amazing ways of communication, which enable us not only to reach out to the people in our mission of evangelisation, but also to be available to people who need help, assistance and counselling. Therefore, we are icons of Christ not only when we celebrate the divine mysteries, but also when we visit the sick, assist the poor, counsel the prisoners, talk with the children and the youth, and even when we chat on Facebook. This is perhaps the heaviest cross that we have to bear in pastoral life : the fact that being a priest is not a job with days off, holidays, or breaks, but a constant ministry in which, at every moment of our life, we have to be an icon of Christ. This is not easy, since every human being needs some rest and private time. Therefore, a priest has the duty to find an equilibrium in his life, but he ought never to forget of whom he is the assistant and the image. This is a part of the cross that we, as pastors of the Church, have to bear, but if we fulfil it with prayer and fear of God, God gives us the necessary grace and strength to bear it.

Although this might be sometimes extremely difficult and exhausting, I personally find much joy and learn many things in my pastoral work “in the field”. In order to be “the salt of the earth”, as Christ has commanded to his apostles, we need to know what the earth tastes like. A good cook always tastes the food while cooking. The same should be applied to pastors of the Church. In order to reach the people, give them a spiritual word that would transform their life, and counsel them properly, we have to know what the people are experiencing, of what they are lacking, and in which environment they are living. A good priest is not someone who speaks all the time, but someone who rather listens, understands and has compassion for people. Pastoral ministry is never a monologue, but always a dialogue. This is why a good pastor has to be close to the people, always accessible and available.

Ongoing Theological Study

But in order to share something with people, we ought to have something to give. This is why Christ asked his disciples, while commanding them to be “the salt of the earth”, what would be salt, if it loses its flavour ? In order not to lose our flavour, we have to undertake continuous theological studies. In order to deliver proper sermons, we have to be well prepared. In order to give the right advice in confession or in pastoral care, we have to be well informed. In order to answer properly people’s questions, we have to be well educated. For this reason, we have to constantly resource ourselves by reading the Holy Scripture, the Holy Fathers and theological books. But to imprison ourselves in theological studies, as often young seminarians or young clergy do, would be a mistake. In order to minister the needs of our spiritual flock, we have to be well learned in the field of theology, but could also gain a great experience from other scholarly disciplines such as pedagogy, philosophy, psychology, and any other scientific field. We should never be shy of discovering and learning new things. On the contrary, we should learn something new each day of our life.

In my case, being a professor of theology, continuous theological studies are inseparable from teaching. One might say that the best way of learning is teaching. This is true. I personally gain a lot from teaching either to graduate and undergraduate students, or to youth and children. Every question that they ask is for me an occasion to reconsider myself and my teaching, an opportunity to consider a problem from another perspective, and quite often, to think of something I never noticed before. Each time I enter a classroom is for me a moment to resource myself with new ideas and new challenges and I enjoy it very much. There is a Jewish proverb which says : “Blessed is the master who shall recognise in his disciple his master”. I personally seek such beatitude !

(JPEG)In pastoral life, we ought to teach the people of God and be the “salt of the earth”. But teaching is also not a monologue but a dialogue. Therefore I might conclude my today’s brief reflection on pastoral ministry by saying that engaging into priesthood is entering into an endless dialogue. A dialogue with God in prayer. A dialogue with the people we take care of. A dialogue with the people we teach and minister. Engaging in this dialogue, we shall never lose the flavour we ought to bring to people and have always in mind “serving the one thing needful”. This is what I sincerely wish to all of you, and especially to those of you graduating today. May God bless you all !

Le dimanche 1er juin, l’Archevêque Job a présidé la Divine Liturgie dans l’église du séminaire, dédiée aux Trois Saints Docteurs, durant laquelle il a ordonné diacre Théodore (Tor) Svane, un fidèle de l’Exarchat originaire de Bergen (Norvège), qui fait actuellement ses études de théologie au Séminaire Saint-Vladimir.

(JPEG)Le dimanche après-midi, l’Archevêque Job a été reçu par Son Eminence le Métropolite Tikhon de Washington et d’Amérique et du Canada au siège de l’Église orthodoxe d’Amérique à Syosset, New York.

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