His Grace, Bishop JOSEPH’s Remarks on the Occasion of the Elevation of Father Patrick Jackson to the Dignity of Archpriest
May 22, 2005
Beloved in Christ:
Christ is Risen!
As always it is a joy to be with you, especially during this most holy and spiritually blissful season of Pascha. As we stand in the radiance of the Risen Lord, we can count ourselves truly blessed by God. The darkness of fear and terror, known to those who reject God or have yet to encounter Him, is far from us as we pray with one voice, “Christ is Risen!”
Today, Father Patrick has received the blessing from our Lord, Jesus Christ, and through your prayers, love and support, to be elevated to the dignity of Archpriest. The Church gives very few ‘ranks’ such as this to its members, especially the Priests. We do not have Lieutenants, Captains, Majors and Colonels. There are only Priests and Archpriests, and even then, an Archpriest is still a Priest, and he does not command his brethren. The fullness of the Priesthood comes at ordination, and there is nothing more that is needed.
When the Priest is ordained, he is vested and given a certificate recording the acclamation of the Church. Then he begins to serve the faithful until his last day in this life. When he passes from this world to await the Second Coming of our Lord, he receives his ‘diploma,’ the Aer from the most holy and precious Gifts is placed over his face as he lies in his coffin. It is recognition of his life of faithful service to God.
In between these two certificates, the certificate of ordination and the Aer placed over his face at the funeral, is a long life of struggle and hardship. We are not like the army, which gives out medals and ranks throughout a soldier’s career. When a soldier is heroic in battle, he receives a commendation from his general. He wears these ribbons and medals to show the good deeds he has accomplished. When he recovers from his wounds, he is again given a symbol of gratitude from his nation for the sacrifices he has made on the battlefield.
The good Priest also has many accomplishments, but he does not receive such medals. He may fight long and hard against temptations and assaults with patience and virtue, but there is no worldly record of these. His soul may be wounded and covered with scars from a hundred spiritual battles, yet they are invisible to the naked eye. Those who know him see his bravery, but the world passes by him as just ‘another’ clergyman. He is not enriched by his service, but rather he makes far less money than men who work half as hard. To outsiders, the Priesthood is devoid of the glories that other men enjoy and the worldly pleasures with which the world cares for its own.
The cross of the Archpriest is not a medal, nor is it a ‘promotion’ in the worldly sense. For the faithful of the Church, it is symbol of gratitude for the loyal service of its Priest, but for the Priest it is a reminder that he has been called forth from his brethren to bring the cross of Jesus Christ into the world. It is an encouragement, but it is also a sign of things to come. The Priest who is elevated knows that since he has been given much, even more shall be expected. The Archpriest’s cross is less about his past than it is about his future. His past has prepared him for even greater struggles, and the cross of the Archpriest calls him forth even further into the battle he has already been in.
The Priest can never rest on his laurels or glory in his past, for the Lord is not a God of the past. He is the eternal Lord who is always in the present. He is outside of time, and for Him there is not yesterday or tomorrow. In Him, all things are eternally present. As finite beings, we know only time. We think of past, present and future. Yet, we cannot think of the cross as an event in time. It is eternal. And so, the Archpriest’s cross, in God, is an eternal event and an eternal honor.
It is also not an award of merit. Who amongst us can say we truly deserve what good things we have? The truth is that we often labor far harder to commit sin than we do to perform acts of righteousness. This is the fallnessness of mankind, from which God is saving us. Therefore, the Archpriest’s cross is not a sign of the Priest’s righteousness, but that of the Lord God who dwells in him through the power of the Holy Spirit. We clergy know our unworthiness. We are humbled by God’s continual work through us. When we put on our vestments to serve before God’s altar, there is always a twinge of shame in us. We know we do not deserve the blessings we have received to serve, yet we do so knowing that God serves through us. This is why the Archpriest’s cross, like the Bishop’s engolpion, has the extra loop in the back, reminding the Priest and the Bishop that there is Someone else wearing the cross.
So, what is the reward of the Priest? If the Archpriest’s cross is not a reward, but rather a greater calling to service, what does the Priest receive in exchange for his years of dedication? The answer to this, my beloved, is that the Priest receives his salvation. In the end, as he draws his last breath, his conscience is purified. He knows, after all his years of ministry, he did all that he could to serve God. Certainly, he made mistakes or fell short of the goals he set for himself, but he is confident in God’s mercy because he spent his life building up the confidence of others. The lessons he taught the flock, to keep the faith and not abandon God’s mercy, suddenly become lessons for him alone. The aid and comfort he gave his brethren come rushing back to him three-fold.
Father Patrick, you have been richly blessed in your ministry, and I pray that God continues His good works through you. Now, you are being called out for even greater things. Trying times lay ahead for you, but never forget that God will give you no more than you can handle. Always know that I love you as one of my spiritual sons, and that I appreciate your faithfulness and diligence in your ministry. Kh. Maria, you have always been an icon of Christian virtue, and this elevation applies to your ministry as well, both as a Priest’s wife and as mother to Stephan, Samara and Barbara.
Whatever you do, Father Patrick, do not despair when trouble comes. As one of the clergyman of this Holy Diocese, we hold each other up and encourage one another. As an Archpriest, your ministry now extends to newer Priests and the two Deacons at St. Stephen, Deacon Eugene and Deacon Stephen. Teach them the lessons you have learned, and help them avoid the pitfalls you discovered the ‘hard way.’
Most of all, never cease to give thanks for what you have received. Perhaps we are not rich men when it comes to money and property, but we are wealthy men in the eyes of God. He has given us many unseen gifts, eternal ones, ones that cannot be taken from us. We have been given more than we labored for. Rejoice, for God is generous and merciful. He is the God of Love, and He loves us all.
Christ is Risen!