Two years on the road...

Yesterday as I concelebrated the Divine Liturgy at St. George Church I also marked the second year anniversary of my ordination as an Orthodox Priest.

In one way its not important at all. It's not that the grace of being a Priest is unimportant but rather that I was not a person who absolutely, positively, had to be a Priest and would hold my breath and turn blue if it didn't happen. The truth is that I was very happy as a Deacon and if tomorrow my Bishop chose to laicize me I would simply go back to my local Orthodox church as a layman and find a way to serve. Being a Priest is a great gift but it was never a necessary thing for me to serve or minister. If for some reason I couldn't have or chose not to be a Priest I would have just done something else so in that sense its not that important.

The truth is that being a Priest is more about having tools to serve in a way that I couldn't without those graces. That's what makes the difference. Grace has been given to me that I can, in fact that I must, share and so I can, for example, travel to Fargo, North Dakota and baptize and go to LaCrosse to celebrate the Divine Liturgy in ways that I couldn't as a layman or even a Deacon. Whatever I've been given is so it can be shared and if, for lack of a better term "more" is given then the potential for service expands. While that makes it sound like I view the whole thing in a sort of utilitarian way it would be good to read between the lines and know that to serve requires a certain sense of passion for it all and that flame still flickers inside even on the days when I am most tired and the road wears long. I believe that what I've been given matters and that often makes all the difference.

That being said the hardest thing about being a Priest is internal. The calling is so high and I am very aware of the myriad of ways that I don't measure up. People say nice things about me and kiss my hand but many times I think "If they only knew..." No I haven't killed anyone or run off with the choir director but to be in the presence of holy things is like shining a huge flashlight into every dark corner of my soul, the places where the dirt gets swept just out of sight of most people. I cannot claim blissful ignorance and I know how far I have to go. That is disconcerting.

The best things about being a Priest are the moments that touch your soul. Standing in the presence of holy things can be powerfully convicting but at the same time there are moments of great peace and heavenly calm in the beauty of the liturgy. There are, too, those unscripted moments of interaction with people in which they minister to you and express their gratitude for what you have shared with them. A few days ago I was speaking with a parishioner and they told me how they were making the letters for our outside sign. I said "If you want why not just buy the letters commercially" but they said that when they make the letters by hand (and this person is skilled in craftwork) they pray for me. I can go for days sustained only by words like those.

It's good, too, to see those moments when people "get it" and start to make sense of things or themselves or the world. I believe that Jesus is who He said He was and that he offers the only real sanity and salvation in the world. I believe that people will not just be fit for heaven by encountering Him but also live a better life in the present. When they see that, when they understand that and the "lights go on" it makes the hours and travel and such worth every bit of it. The world can be crazy and dark but the light is never overpowered by the night, never, not now or ever,

Sometimes I wish I'd get a phone call from the Bishop saying "Fr John, I've decided to return you to the Diaconate..." But that's mostly just my fatigue coming out, my body and soul saying I need a vacation (and one is coming in late September). On the whole its been a good thing and I'm glad that I circled the altar even as I am amazed at how quickly time has passed. I'm grateful for the prayers that have been offered on my behalf and the patience that people have shown me as I learn my craft and perfect my calling. I look forward to the day when my travels end even as I am convinced that they were and are what is needed for my parish to become what God would have it to be. The vestments still sometimes seem to weigh on my shoulders like a ton of bricks but my heart is often light. One step at a time I'll just keep walking...


Mimi said...

Father, bless,

Happy Anniversary of your ordination.

Ben Johnson said...

Many more blessed years of service, Father!

Father bless,