My beloved brothers and sisters in Christ Our Only True Lord, God and Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE.
SPIRITUAL PRIESTHOOD AND THE REMISSION OF SINS
By Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos, Greece
Sacred (Ordained) Priesthood
My book “Orthodox Psychotherapy” emphasizes the great value of the Mystery of the Priesthood. Priesthood is highly prized. It is described in the writings of the holy Fathers of the Church, particularly in the teaching of Saint John Chrysostom, who has been rightly called an expert on the Priesthood. As well as observing and analyzing the value of the Priesthood, however, we need to discuss the basic requirements that anyone receiving this great gift must meet.
Spiritual Priesthood is a royal gift of grace and activates the grace of Holy Baptism. It is the basis and essential prerequisite for Priesthood (Bishop, Presbyter, Deacon). The Tradition of the Church regarded the THREE DEGREES OF PRIESTHOOD as corresponding TO THE THREE STAGES OF THE SPIRITUAL LIFE: PURIFICATION (Deacon), ILLUMINATION (Presbyter) AND THEOSIS (Bishop). This is analyzed in detail in Orthodox Psychotherapy.
It is impossible to overlook the great dignity of the (ordained) Priesthood. However, according to the teaching of Saint John Chrysostom, many ordianations “do not proceed from the grace of God, but are due to human ambition.” That is to say, many candidates put themselves forward, rather than being called by God or at least by the people. Saint Symeon the New Theologian describes as SELF-ORDAINED those Clergy who draw near and take the grace of Priesthood without first having been purified and healed. He is not referring here to those who simply present to the Priests, but tho those who have received the Mystery of Priesthood in spite of being impure. He is speaking about Priests who do not exercise this Ministry in response to a Divine calling, but ARE MOTIVATED BY PASSION OF VAINGLORY AND PRIDE. “They are themselves up as fathers and teachers and become self-ordained apostles, without having received the grace of the Holy Spirit as they did, or being illuminated by the light of knowledge.” This teaching is linked with the teaching of Saint John Chrysostom, who writes, “God does not ordain all, but He acts through all.”
The NOBLE WORK of Priests IS NOT TO BE UNDERRATED, BUT IT SHOULD BE EMPHASIZED, as Saint Symeon the New Theologian says, that there are two kinds of LAYING-ON OF HANDS. One is on the human level, it comes FROM MEN. The other is Divine AND IS THE WORK OF THE HOLY SPIRIT. Writing about his spiritual father, Saint Symeon the Pious, Saint Symeon the New Theologian says, “I was a disciple of such a father who had not been ordained by men, but who by the hand of God, by the Holy Spirit, enlisted me as a disciple and ordered me to accept ordination from men according to the prescribed form–I who for a long time ad been moved by the Holy Spirit to long for this.” His Elder “a partaker of His [Christ’s) grace and His gifts, and received from Him the power to bind and loose sins, inspired by the Holy Spirit.”
This passage makes two points clear. The first is that there are two kinds of LAYING-ON OF HANDS” and the second is that Saint Symeon the Pious himself did not undervalue the Mystery (Sacrament) of Ordination. That is why, at the prompting of the Holy Spirit, he urged his spiritual child to accept the Mystery of Ordination.
Apart from Sacred (ordained) Priesthood, there is also what is called Spiritual Priesthood. “Orthodox Psychotherapy” has a whole section analyzing this important subject. It is explained there that a person who has noetic prayer and prays for the whole world belongs to this spiritual clergy, I write:
“The faithful who have noetic prayer, especially those who have reached such a degree of grace as to pray for the whole world. This is the spiritual liturgy on behalf of the world. The prayers of these people, who sacrifice themselves praying on behalf of all, sustain the world and heal men. Therefore by prayer they become exorcists, driving out the demons which rule in human societies. This is the great work of those who pray unceasingly for the whole world.”
According to Saint Gregory of Sinai, NOETIC PRAYER, which is a sign that a person has reached the stage of the ILLUMINATION OF THE NOUS, is THE MYSTICAL LITURGY OF THE NOUS. When the heart has the grace of the Holy Spirit within it and the nous is free from thoughts, it is A TRUE SANCTUARY. He writes: “A true sanctuary even before the future life, IS A HEART FREE FROM THOUGHTS, MADE ACTIVE BY THE Spirit.”
Someone asked Saint Symeon, “Is it possible for people to confess their sins to monks who are not Priests?” Saint Symeon, in reply to this question, begins by acknowledging THAT THE POWER TO REMIT SINS BELONGS TO Priests, but NOT ALL OF THEM. This power belongs TO THOSE PRIESTS WHO HAVE BEEN CALLED TO THIS MINISTRY (DIAKONIA) BY GOD AND HAVE BEEN INWARDLY REBORN…On the other hand, those who have risen to high office in the Church BY MEANS OF MONEY AND OTHER UNETHICAL MEANS DO NOT HAVE THE RIGHT TO REMIT SINS, BECAUSE “THEY ARE THIEVES, STEALING FROM MEN AND THROUGH MEN, AND ROBBERS, AS THE LORD SAID.
Remission of Sins
In the Orthodox Church we speak about man’s healing, not about the propitiation of Divine justice. God DOES NOT PUNISH, BUT WE PUNISH OURSELVES BY NOT ACCEPTING GOD’S GIFT AND HIS LOVE. We need to consider how HolyScripture express God’s wrath. According to Orthodox Tradition, SIN IS NOT JUST BREAKING THE LAW, BUT MAN’S DEPARTURE FROM GOD. Its significance is not just ethical but theological. SIN IS ACTUALLY THE FALL, DEADENING, DARKENING AND CAPTIVITY OF THE NOUS. This was also in essence the sin of Adam and Eve. The darkening of the nous IS THE LOSS OF DIVINE GRACE, the identification of the nous with the rational faculty and ITS SUBJECTION TO THE PASSIONS AND THE CONDITIONS IN THE WORLD AROUND IT. Thus the remission of sins MEANS FIRST AND FOREMOST THE ILLUMINATION OF THE NOUS, ITS LIBERATION FROM THE DOMINATION OF THE RATIONAL FACULTY AND THE PASSIONS, AND ITS ILLUMINATION BY DIVINE GRACE.
We cannot forget, of course, that when man’s nous is darkened all the passions come into action and he falls into every kind of sin. The remission of sins is, on the other hand, THE ILLUMINATION OF THE NOUS–ITS RELEASE FROM THE RATIONAL FACULTY AND THE PASSIONS–AND, ON THE OTHER HAND, THE TRANSFORMATION OF THE PASSIONS. These two things go together, and when both are activated, in conjunction with the Mystery of Confession, we can say THAT SINS ARE REMITTED.
A SPIRITUAL FATHER ought to know how TO HEAL PEOPLE, in other words, HE SHOULD ASSIST IN THE ILLUMINATION OF THEIR NOUS AND ITS LIBERATION FROM THE POWER OF THE RATIONAL FACULTY AND ALSO IN TRANSFORMING ALL THE PASSIONS, SO THAT THE POWERS OF THE SOUL ACT NATURALLY INSTEAD OF FUNCTIONING UNNATURALLY AS THEY DID BEFORE. Participation in Divine grace is necessary. This comes about through the Mystery of Confession but also THROUGH CORRECT ORTHODOX GUIDANCE, IN ORDER THAT THE NOUS MAY BE SET FREE AND ILLUMINED…
in order to heal people, A SPIRITUAL FATHER NEEDS TO ADMINISTER THE MYSTERY OF CONFESSION BUT ALSO TO BE AWARE OF THE THERAPEUTIC METHOD OF THE ORTHODOX FAITH. Then he will guide HIS SPIRITUAL CHILDREN TOWARDS ILLUMINATION OF THEIR DARKENED NOUS. A doctor who deals with bodily ailments can only be regarded as a medical expert if he is able to diagnose illness correctly, what constitutes good health, and be familiar with the correct therapeutic methods and lead from sickness to health.
(To be continued)
“Glory Be To GOD
– Saint John Chrysostomos
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With sincere agape in His Divine and Glorious Diakonia (Ministry),
The sinner and unworthy servant of God