All kinds of strange things happen to us, lately more often, and that some of my parishioners ask me, if I knew, and if I met this or that “priest”. They say that this “honor” usually happens to them in bars. They met, they say, that fortunate fellow and that he introduced himself with his full name and with even fuller “rank and title.” My parishioners thought that we, priests, had to know each other. I answered them, surprised, that I have no idea and that I’ve never heard for this “priest.”
I then went to see my Bishop, to ask him whether he knows the man who wanders around his Diocese, presenting himself as a priest. And I thought, bishop is the Church’s backbone, around which the church gathers together and exists in its all its functions. Because, as the St. Ignatius once said in his Epistle to Smyrnaeans: “Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude [of the people] also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Congregational Church. It is not lawful without the bishop either to baptize or to celebrate a love-feast“. (Quoted:D.Stăniloae, Dogmatic3) Meaning, without the bishop and his knowledge of a certain person, that person is not part of the Church and its service.
Not too surprised, I hear from Bishop that even he has no idea of the self-proclaimed and the intruder. Listening to the Holy gospel of the Good shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep, unlike the mercenary, “who is not a shepherd” (Jn. 10, 12), I started sifting how many of these “priests” I have lately heard of, and I was both surprised and shocked. Indeed, there are too many. Here I do not even count once properly and canonically ordained bishop or bishops, ordained, or even problematically ordained but by the Mother Serbian Church, in emergency and distress, for everyone’s and the salvation of all, once accepted and renegade priests. They are a sad story of our Church and they will answer before God for their actions and misdeeds – and because of their violation of the priestly vows.
We leave them to the God’s judgment and we return to this sadder story of the self-proclaimed and intruders into the sacred ranks. There, not while ago, my attention is on the website of a, so-called, Canadian Orthodox Church. Here gathered and enumerated these and such, put their full names and, again, fuller “ranks and titles.” I saw that two of these my self-proclaimed “colleagues” I know in person. One, who titled himself as a “priest” went through all sectarian “back and forth”, he founded and some of his personal “churches”, he served to all sorts of sectarian “people with questionable morals” and finally came up with the idea to give it a try on the cliffs of some of his “orthodoxy”.
His “deacon” is a guy that once was dear in some way to me. I have participated in his rescue from the life gullies which he kept on falling in. I admit, I listened with the greatest interest his memories of all sorts of “operations” throughout Europe. He used to come to church often, almost regularly. Once, out of the blue, he startled me a question that he wants to become – a priest. He said that’s something he wants to try. He’ll have no peace, no rest, until he gives it a try. He has, he says, deep and dark impulses for it. What didn’t I tell me to dissuade him, but when I failed, I surrendered and said: “Praise the Lord, you finished a school, you’re not too old, grab a book, study, make up the lost, and enroll in the theological school. Ah no, he said, I’m in a hurry. He met a Greek – the Greeks are not deprived of this scourge too – and that this Greek promised to make him “priest” in no time. And suddenly, this fellow disappeared, sunk into the darkness and depth, in order to emerge with his buddies on the website of that, ostensibly, “the Orthodox Church of Canada.
“All this may sound like playing – these men have tried everything and now let’s play around with the ark of God. They usurped a lot of other things for themselves, why not to usurp the priest’s honor. You go to a store, buy a shirt with a clerical collar, wear it and there – you have a “priest”. Who can do you anything in a “democratic society”. As for the people, it seems they are right. If they do not fear God and are not ashamed of people, they can do whatever they want.
And I, if I could, and if they’d listen to me, I’d told them it is dangerous and deadly to play with the ark of God.
The Priesthood is the Sacrament and God’s institution. God chooses His servants. Whom the Lord put his hand on, and calls upon, that person must respond and woe to them if he’s unworthy of God’s vocation. For Samuel, while he was still a child, the Lord said that he was chosen out of all the tribes of Israel to be His priest, to go up to His altar, to burn incense, and to wear an ephod in His presence. (1. Sam. 2, 28) The Lord said to the prophet Jeremiah: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” (Jer. 1, 5) “Listen to me, you islands; hear this, you distant nations: Before I was born the Lord called me; from my mother’s womb he has spoken my name.” (Is. 49, 1) exclaimsthe prophetIsaiah. Among the many, exquisite and valuable, Lord chose Aaron and his sons, to serve him as priests. (2nd Book of Moses, 40, 13) The same happened with the Aaron’s sons. The Lord ordered Moses to anoint them as he anointed their father. “For their anointing shall surely be an everlasting priesthood throughout their generations.” ( 2nd Book of Moses, 40, 15)
It could have been in those times too – and it was – that there were some people who wanted to take a walk in the robes of the priests and play a little like that, but God’s punishment was horrible. “But you and your sons with you must take care to exercise your priesthood in whatever concerns the altar and the area within the veil. I give you your priesthood as a gift. Any unauthorized person who comes near shall be put to death”. (4th Book of Moses, 3, 10) Indeed, Aaron and his sons performed God’s will. Together with Moses they kept the sanctuary for the children of Israel; and anyone who came near was put to death. (4th Book of Moses, 3, 38)
It was taken a close care to know who was who. Register of priests was clear.
Ezra mentions that the children of a man called Avai asserted that honour of priesthood belongs to them too. “These sought their register among those that were reckoned by genealogy, but they were not found: therefore were they, as polluted, put from the priesthood.” (Ezra, 2, 62)
This our sick, protestant and protesting, age of devaluated and twisted values and mentality – no one can do be no harm and who can deny me anything – we recognize in the rebellion that was led by “Korah the son of Izhar, son of Kohath, son of Levi, and Dathan and Abiram the sons of Eliab, and On the son of Peleth, son of Reuben.” (4th Book of Moses, 16, 1) The narrator of this history, as you can see, goes deep in the genealogy of the rebels, in order to clearly show that they had no right to revolt out of their origin – whose sons they are. Levites – the sons and descendants of Levi – were chosen by the Lord to help priests, to be sextons, but the LORD was not vouchsafed the honor of the priests. That is why Moses upbraids Korah, reminding him of his place: “Seemeth it but a small thing unto you, that the God of Israel hath separated you from the multitude of Israel to bring you to him, to do the service of the dwelling place of the LORD, and to stand before the people to minister unto them?… and ye seek the office of the priest also”. (4th Book of Moses, 16, 9-10) Because they “stood up before Moses, with other of the children of Israel two hundred and fifty, heads of the congregation, and councillors, and men of fame, and they gathered themselves together against Moses and Aaron and said unto them: ye have done enough. For all the multitude are holy every one of them, and the Lord is among them. Why therefore heave ye your selves up above the congregation of the Lord?” (4th Book of Moses, 16, 2-3)
When Moses heard it, he fell upon his face. Then he said: Tomorrow the Lord will shew who is his and who is holy, and will take them unto him, and whom soever he hath chosen, he will cause to come to him.” (4th Book of Moses, 16, 5) and called them to take firepans, and do fire therein and put cense thereto. And then whomsoever the Lord doeth chose, the same is holy”. (4th Book of Moses, 16, 7) To their own hurt, the rebels undertook this challenge and stood side by side with Aaron and his sons. “And the glory of the Lord appeared unto all the congregation. And the Lord spake unto Moses and Aaron saying: separate your selves from this congregation, that I may consume them at once”. (4th Book of Moses, 16, 19-21) And really, everyone, from on all sides, drew back from their tents, and they “came out and stood in the door of their tents with their wives, their sons and their children. And Moses said: Hereby ye shall know that the Lord hath sent me to do all these works, and that I have not done them of mine own mind. If these men die the common death of all men or if they be visited after the visitation of all men, then the Lord hath not sent me. But and if the Lord make a new thing, and the earth open her mouth and swallow them and all that pertain unto them, so that they go down quick in to hell: then ye shall understand, that these men have railed upon the Lord. And as soon as he had made an end of speaking all these words, the ground clove asunder that was under them, and the earth opened her mouth and swallowed them and their houses and all the men that were with Corah and all their goods. And all Israel that were about them, fled at the cry of them. For they said: The earth might happily swallow us also. And there came out a fire from the LORD and consumed the two hundred and fifty men that offered cense.” (4th Book of Moses, 27, 35)
It would be better to these today’s unfortunates not to play with the ark of God; because if the earth doesn’t swallow them today, vengeance of the Lord will eventually be upon them. If this story of Dathan and Abiram is not sufficient warning, they may find the Second Book of Samuel and see what happened to that Uzzah who, unauthorized, accidentally, reached out and took hold of the ark of God. The Lord’s anger burned against Uzzah because of his irreverent act; therefore God struck him down, and he died there beside the ark of God. (2nd Book of Samuel, 6, 6)
“Woe to them! They have taken the way of Cain; they have rushed for profit into Balaam’s error; they have been destroyed in Korah’s rebellion.” (Judas, 1, 11)
But also, woe to those who allow themselves to be manipulated and misled. Neither they have no excuse that they didn’t know. God has endowed us with sense, and we should use this God’s gift. Someone comes along who can claim to be a priest; look at him and sometimes you can immediately judge by his look is he or is he not a priest. Ask him: which jurisdiction he belongs to, who ordained him, who is his bishop and where is his charter of ordination.
“Such things must come, says the Lord to us, but woe to the person through whom they come!” (Matthew, 18, 7) Our faith and steadfastness in the faith are tempted in many ways, including this one. “If there arise in the midst of thee a prophet, or a dreamer of dreams, and he give thee a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder come to pass, whereof he spake unto thee, saying, Let us go after other gods, which thou hast not known, and let us serve them; thou shalt not hearken unto the words of that prophet, or unto that dreamer of dreams: for Jehovah your God proveth you, to know whether ye love Jehovah your God with all your heart and with all your soul.” (5th Book of Moses. 13, 1-3)
The Church is the body of Christ whose head is Christ himself. No one, whom the Lord doesn’t want, cannot forcibly impose himself to the Lord. Christ has “left the Apostles and their successors, as visible high priests, or His instruments. Nobody can name himself the instrument of Christ. Neither the Christian community can not impose these organs to Christ through which He Himself would give His powers and Himself. Only a man whom God has sanctified can come to Him. Because unsanctified cannot come to God, and can’t give sanctification to himself.” (D.Stăniloae, Dogmatic 3).
This is enough to everyone who wants to understand and accept.