ursusanglicanus (ursusanglicanus) wrote,
ursusanglicanus
ursusanglicanus

Reply to a young friend (Part 1)

A young friend came back at me on my recent posting about priests in Russia. He said that I was too concerned about priest's educational level and too negative about their spiritual competence.

This is part of my reply:

You say: “Our priests are like treasures given to us by God. They love us and guide towards the Kingdom of Heaven.”  With respect, this is the language of someone fairly young in years and young in the faith. It is that of someone who is in love as much with the Church as system as with Christ himself. There is nothing wrong in this, and it is part of a normal system of spiritual growing up.  Most of us need systems from outside to grow up in, with a strong faith element, and which provide a structure in which to contain and constrain our wayward emotions and impulses. (Others find it in the army, in political parties, in a large business company with a strong culture, in social organizations etc….).

However, sooner or later this structure breaks down: church fails us. And fail us it must, if we are ever to become spiritually mature. There comes a time, sooner or later, if we are serious with God, that we have to move on beyond structure, naked towards Christ alone. This, as far as I can make out, is a pattern common to more ‘advanced’ spirituality (what I call ‘book 2 Christianity’) in most Christian churches. My own experience tells me it is a slow and messy process, and painful, in particular as we come to face all the devils of our psychological inheritance and try to move towards the inner purity which gives Christ real room to work. It is for this reason, I think, that the Athos tradition says that people should not talk or write publicly about Christianity until 14 years after their conversion (this is the time St Paul went silent between his conversion and his first missionary journeys). Until then they can paste pretty pictures of icons and bearded startsi on their Facebook sites, but they do not and cannot speak with the authority of real spiritual experience.

Maybe I am particularly desperate case, but my own experience has not been always of priests as ‘treasures’. Yes, have met good priests and pastors, and am chastened by their examples. I owe my life spiritually to a Roman Catholic abbot, a Roman Catholic psychiatrist-monk, and a Protestant pastor, who helped me through a couple of major crises, and my present Orthodox dukhovnik, who has insisted on my being spiritually adult and mature. At the same time there is certainly one priest who caused me serious spiritual damage as a university student, and possibly a second at the monastery, where I leave judgement to God.

Most priests I find somewhere in between. Too often in Russia, I find priests worn out morally and physically by an exhausting round of services, the large families that are de rigueur for priests, constant financial worry and the need to stay on the right side of the bishop, and without the time and space to develop spiritually.

Where I am personally particularly sensitive, and this may be a particular feature of diaspora Orthodoxy, is to finding myself playing a role in someone else’s psychodrama. There are, unfortunately, men who seem to need priesthood as part of their identity kit. For this they need us as willing and stupid sheep, bleating ‘batushka, batushka’, whistled in my constant calls of ‘pokayaniye, pokayaniye’ to allow them to play the shepherd role they aspire to. Our spiritual advance and maturity, and our ability to shepherd ourselves, is a threat to this position.

Don’t be put off by me. Run your course as a young man must, become really educated in God’s word (and if you are serious about it, learn Greek), but if and when the time comes to move beyond structure, do not be frightened. Then your Christian life is really beginning.
Tags: book 2, neophytes
Subscribe

  • REQUIREMENTS FOR PRIESTHOOD

    A new commission has been set up in our diocese to examine candidates for the diaconate and priesthood. Examined: "knowledge of the Holy…

  • Looking over fences

    Over the past five years, I have become convinced that Orthodoxy spirituality would be well advised to look over its fence and widen its horizons…

  • Outdated light fittings

    I had not been back to the parish since it had changed incumbent. The community was first founded nearly forty years back by a much-loved priest. He…

  • Post a new comment

    Error

    Anonymous comments are disabled in this journal

    default userpic

    Your reply will be screened

  • 17 comments

  • REQUIREMENTS FOR PRIESTHOOD

    A new commission has been set up in our diocese to examine candidates for the diaconate and priesthood. Examined: "knowledge of the Holy…

  • Looking over fences

    Over the past five years, I have become convinced that Orthodoxy spirituality would be well advised to look over its fence and widen its horizons…

  • Outdated light fittings

    I had not been back to the parish since it had changed incumbent. The community was first founded nearly forty years back by a much-loved priest. He…