Holy Gospel inspires us to reflect on the Church and those that serve her – the clergy. The Church is dynamic; there is always something going on in the Church. We believe that the sum total of all these happenings within the Church brings her forward so that one day, she will be comprised of one flock and one Shepherd (John 10:16), as we see in Gospel reading.
Until such time, certain events can and will take place, as we have already witnessed. There have occurred and continue to occur: disputes and divisions, agreements and deviations. In some of its earthly manifestations the Church is not ideal, because we who constitute it are far from ideal. The Church was established in order to make us ideal. Because it is made up of people it sometimes happens that instead of good shepherds who are ready to lay down their lives for the sheep (John 10:11), hirelings come who do not own the sheep (John 10:12). They abandon the sheep and flee at the first sight of wolves in order to save their lives.
The Holy Scripture is full of advice from the good shepherds, the holy apostles, to today’s shepherds regarding our role in the Church. They make no secret of the fact that there will be false brethren and hirelings that have somehow wandered amongst those that serve in the Church. This is the first premise.
There is another premise: there has been and always will be a certain number of those that can be neither called nor led. Here, too, the word of God is concise and clear as to how this should be dealt with.
Anything that takes place in the Church should never be a product of human rationalization but rather of God’s wisdom. God takes care of his Church for She is His body. God is the one who calls and places the shepherds in the Church. As early as in the Old Testament, God spoke to His people through the prophet Jeremiah and said: “And I will give you pastors according to mine heart, which shall feed you with knowledge and understanding” (Jeremiah 3:15). And Saint Paul the Apostle says of himself, “Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God” (1 Corinthians 1:1). He tells us clearly in his epistles that God speaks through His servants and that when they speak to the people, they speak on Christ’s behalf. (2 Corinthians 5:20) The apostles received their apostleship not from men or through man, but through Jesus Christ (Galatians 1:1). Even we, the priests of today, do not receive our priesthood from men but from God, through His grace that is poured over our heads from the hands of a bishop.
Therefore we must never neglect our huge and weighty responsibility for each spoken word and for each action in the Church. We receive our calling from God Himself and we are accountable to Him, before all others. In the same way that we shall be judged for the non-completion of God’s works, those who have prevented us from completing these works shall also be judged. All those who arrogantly put their own wisdom before the wisdom of the Church and all those who put before us demands that are far removed from our calling and our dignity will answer before the Chief Shepherd, our Lord Jesus Christ.
There is one thing in which we are justified: no matter how sinful and unworthy each one of is personally: grace is upon us and our prayers are heard. This would be quite sufficient for one’s personal salvation. But even if we somehow avoid the judgment of the Church, every single one of us priests who have borne our priesthood in an unworthy manner, will not avoid the righteous wrath of God. Until this day comes, bear in mind: even if a priest is sinful, his prayer is not. These are the words none other than our St. Sava.
St. Peter the Apostle gives us this advice: “Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly, not as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock, and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away.” (1 Peter 5:2-4)
It is clear from this passage that we priests are but trustees, so to speak, of the One and Chief Shepherd, our Lord Jesus Christ, and that we will answer to Him for every soul that has been entrusted to us. The Holy Apostle does not direct us only to feed our flocks, but to observe and oversee it. This is where the rights of the shepherds come from, as well as the responsibility of the flock towards the shepherds.