His Grace, Bishop JOSEPH’s Opening Remarks to the 2007 Diocesan Clergy Seminar
February 5, 2007
San Fernando, California
My beloved in the Lord, Jesus Christ,
I welcome all of you to our ninth annual seminar and retreat, which we look forward to each year. Many of you have told me how important this gathering is to you, and I must tell that I, too, see this as one of the high-points of the year. It is a time when we strengthen our bonds of brotherly love and encourage one another in the difficult road of ministry.
We are greatly blessed with the presence of the Very Reverend Father Michael Dahulich, Ph.D., the Dean of St. Tikhon’s Seminary in South Canaan, Pennsylvania. Father Michael is an accomplished priest and educator, but more importantly, he is a man of deep faith and sincerity. He is a scholar and a distinguished lecturer. Although he does not have a Church, he does have parishioners. Those parishioners are the students and their families at St. Tikhon’s Seminary, who embrace him as their Spiritual Father. I ask you to listen to his presentations in this seminar not only in terms of facts, but also to the spirit in which he speaks. Yesterday, Father Michael celebrated the 34th Anniversary of his ordination to the Holy Priesthood.
Because it is this spirit, the spirit of love and humility, that is the true dignity and holiness of the Holy Priesthood. As priests, we are not keepers of the Law as Pharisees, nor will our ministry found necessarily in what we do. Rather, the truth of the Holy Priesthood is found in who we are as men, reflecting the image and likeness of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is found in our being, which then bears fruit in good works.
A man may do good works, but we must remember our Lord’s admonishment in the Gospel of Matthew:
“On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Thy Name, and cast out demons in Thy Name, and do many mighty works in Thy Name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you evildoers.’” (Mt 7:22-23)
Do you work great deeds in your parish? Do you keep the fasts in all their fullness? Do you conduct technically-perfect services? All of these things are commendable, and yet they are not enough in themselves.
Rather than focusing on good works in and of themselves, we must see that true good works are those works that God carried out through us. A priest is a man yielded to the infinite grace, compassion and power of God. He ministers not out of self-will, but out of selfless devotion to the All-Merciful Savior. A priest does not do the things he wants to do, but he instead does those things God guides him to do out of obedience.
To accept the Holy Priesthood is to renounce the selfish aspect of the self and its vainglorious desires, ambitions and goals. Thus, the priest becomes ‘poor in spirit,’ humbling himself before God as one without such things. A self-confident priest is a dead priest, one convinced of his own opinions and correctness, who cannot receive life-saving correction and guidance. The priest who is confident in himself is self oriented, and will eventually fall.
We have seen just this year, throughout the Archdiocese, brother clergy who have fallen into the trap of self-deception and self-indulgence. Their broken minds have led to broken ministries. Each of us must realize that we are not pure enough to rely on our own consciences to guide us, nor can we even rely on ourselves to pick a good father confessor and to be honest enough with him to receive any help.
If I sound harsh, it is because I do not wish to lose any more of my priests to the spiritual delusion that has infected so many. Those men we have lost knew all of the teachings of the Church and the admonishments of the Holy Fathers, and yet all these gifts did them no good. They used their intellectual knowledge to shield their consciences from the truth of their hearts, and thus their hearts led them astray while their minds convinced them of their righteousness.
You would prefer a quote from a Holy Father at this moment, but I will not give you one. I will only give you my quote, and it is that I love you and desire all of us to be together in the Heavenly Kingdom.
I am not self-confident, but I have confidence that God will protect us from our own sins and mistakes if we empty ourselves of pride and self-opinion. Brothers, let us join together and repent of our sins and the sins of our brothers. Let us weep and mourn, and through our tears, wash away the stains of our sins which have soiled our ministries.
Let us wash our hands of human pride and the turmoil it brings as we say before each Divine Liturgy:
"I wash my hands in innocence, and go about Thy altar, O Lord, singing aloud a song of thanksgiving, and telling all Thy wondrous deeds. O Lord, I love the habitation of Thy house, and the place where Thy glory dwells. Sweep me not away with sinners, nor my life with bloodthirsty men, men in whose hands are evil devices, and whose right hands are full of bribes. But as for me, I walk in my integrity; redeem me, and be gracious to me. My foot stands on level ground; in the great congregation I will bless the Lord" (Ps 25:6-12).
The holiness and dignity of the Holy Priesthood is not in the size of our congregations or budgets, not in the beauty of our vestments or temples, not in the correctness of our priestly actions or outward piety, but in the constant remembrance and awareness of God. Until we live every moment in constant mindfulness of the presence of God, we have nothing.
The true priest is the one who abides in constant awareness of God’s love and mercy. Do not merely quote the Holy Fathers, but imitate them in humility and repentance. Do not simply read the Holy Scriptures, but strive to live them out in every moment.
If your conscience bothers you, beloved brothers, then you are doing well, for the Holy Fathers of the Church went to their eternal reward weeping over their sins. They did not seek honors and glory, nor did they cling to such things when taken from them. Do not seek to calm your conscience with excuses and reasons, but rather lose the fear of weeping. None of us are worthy, so how should we demand justification and forgiveness for our transgressions?
In the Philokalia, Sts. Kallistos and Ignatios describe the difference between dogmatic faith and practical faith. We need both, and cannot rely upon one without the other.
In this seminar, Father Michael will show us how to integrate these two modes of Faith into the singleness of our lives, that we might be saved as men and minister as priests.