The tragedy of being a priest without Divine Grace
by Nikita Kafkiou
SAINT PORPHYRIOS A PRIEST’S PRIEST
Mr. Kafkiou tells us: “The personal relationship of man with God is not a given, nor is it guaranteed to be stable, progressive or constant. A priest may start off in life with spiritual enthusiasm for his priestly calling. But after a few years, it is possible for him to feel completely removed from the Grace of God. Human weaknesses, the difficulties of married life, the uncertainties of daily life are able to knuckle under the most dedicated faithful priest. The only possible way for a priest to live a spiritual life is for him to accept his unworthiness and to submit his feelings to the love of Jesus Christ. If a priest cannot bring himself to bring before Jesus his pain and defeat, he will end up being completely lost. For a priest to find spiritual maturity he must realize that this journey is a one way street. If a priest does not progress spiritually he will be ripped to shreds. If the priest falls away from God because of his spiritual failures, he will become worldly. Instead of a liturgist he will end up being simply an actor.
A priest who is burdened by the darkness of his spiritual downfall no longer has the disposition or the burning desire to deal with liturgical details of Church life. In many of our Orthodox Churches on Sunday mornings and feast days the gathering of the faithful feels like they are attending a theatrical performance. During the celebration of Church services the faithful do not feel a sense of peace. Instead of charging up their spiritual batteries they experience psychosomatic turmoil. His emotional life is tortured and his spiritual being is scandalized.
In the following paragraphs, I will attempt to comment directly on certain acts and behavior of a spiritually burdened priest which upset sensitive and well-intentioned Church goers. I am listing fifteen contemporary ways with which our Church turns people off.
LITURGICAL MISCUES CAUSED BY AN INDIFFERENT PRIEST
1. Acoustics: (Please remember, once again, that the author of these statements is making them with tongue in cheek). Turn up the volume on the PA system so that nobody feels comfortable and cannot feel a sense of compunction. Also place speakers outside the Church building in order to upset the neighbors. This will also allow Church goers listening to the service outside the Church not to find a sense of peace. Do not allow professional people install the PA system. The priest should be concerned that the final acoustical system should remind one of a gypsy who navigates our neighborhoods with his cart selling carpets and potatoes.
2. Lighting. The priest should make sure that the chandeliers are turned on for the services. And if for some reason the chandeliers are not lit make sure that you have a powerful floodlight that reminds people of a police searchlight during a police investigation. You should allow the cantors to have a bright light shining on their heads so that they can read their service books.
3. Sermon. Make sure you give the sermon before Holy Communion (before the invitation: “With the fear of God, with faith and with love draw near.” Make sure your sermon is long. It should avoid talking about real life issues and zero in on social, moral and political issues. You should also emphasize the moral downfall of contemporary society. You should offer moral advice to the congregation in an alarming way. Make sure that you express your exasperation with the prevalence of sin in our contemporary world. Emphasize the egocentric tendency of middle class people wanting to live the good life. While doing this you should also compare this way of life with the ascetics of the Church who live in the wilderness. Try to convince people in your sermon that the reason they are not progressing spiritually is because they are not trying hard enough. Make sure to speak with a loud voice—menacing voice so that the people will believe what you are saying.
4. Typikon—Rubrics. (The liturgical order of services). The priest should be indifferent to the liturgical order of services. The liturgical rubrics are not something foundational. Cut and paste the service the way you desire it to be. Do not read the Psalms and the readings from the Old Testament because the faithful do not understand this ancient language. Give directives to the cantors not to chant the whole of “Κύριε έκέκραξα» during the vesper service and also omit most of the odes in the matins service. Do things in a hurried and most convenient way for you.
5. Behavior. The priest should make sure that during the course of the services that he should navigate around the altar nervously. The priest should do everything with a sense of indifference and without feeling deeply what he is doing. When you face the congregation in the Royal Entrance or when you are about to incense the people make sure you check out who is in Church. You can also look upon the congregation with a sense of indifference.
6. Vestments. During the Divine Liturgy the priest should wear vestments with bright colors and a lot of phony jewels. Make sure that you look spectacular. Understand how important you are and that you are truly the pride of the Church by the way you are vested.
AN ANGELIC PRESENCE AT THE DIVINE LITURGY ON MT. ATHOS
7. Commentary. During the highlights of the Divine Liturgy such as the Cherubic Hymn, the Consecration of the Holy Gifts or before dispensing Holy Communion, make sure to admonish the people about their proper conduct in Church. If a child cries, make sure you make it known to the mother in a stern way to either remove the child or keep it quiet.
8. The Cleanliness of the Icons. Do not bother with the cleanliness of the icons during Sunday services and for the feast days. Allow the accumulation of saliva and lipstick to remain on the protective glass of the icons so that the faithful will feel a sense of disgust while reverencing them.
9. Candles and Incense. Make sure that you offer only the cheapest candles you can purchase for the candle stand in the narthex. These candles look like soap. Also price them according to their size. The priest should stock only the cheapest incense money can buy. Place the kernels of incense on the charcoal shortly before you start to incense the altar and the icons. Do this so that by the time you come to incense the people the censer will be giving off only smoke without the fragrance of incense. Do not add any more kernels of incense while you are incensing.
10. Intoning the Petitions. When intoning the petitions shout them out in an inarticulate voice so that no one can understand what you are saying. Chant in such a way that you sound like someone singing in a night club. Forget that you are offering your prayers to God and make sure that you sound good to your audience and to yourself. When you read the prayers make sure you annunciate only the vowels and skip the consonants. It is important to say what you are chanting or reading not the way you are expressing them. Remember that no one cares and or understands what is being said. Project the intensity of your voice in a boisterous way believing that this will elicit spiritual compunction from the faithful.
11. During the Divine Liturgy make sure that you use wine that is of average quality. And fill the chalice with a lot of hot water so that the taste of the wine will be lost. While dispensing Holy Communion make sure the communion spoon contains very little consecrated wine (the Blood) and no consecrated bread (the Body). And while dispensing Holy Communion do not say the name of the communicant. Be very indifferent to the fact that you are holding in your hands God Himself. While serving the Divine Liturgy make quick and nervous movements. Dispense the Body and Blood of the Lord in a casual and indifferent way as if you are serving desert. Make sure that the Divine Liturgy continues to be chanted while you are dispensing Holy Communion so the faithful can hear “we have seen the true Light” even before they receive the Body and Blood of Jesus. At the end of the Divine Liturgy dispense the antidoron (the pieces of altar bread) with both hands. While doing this the cantors should stop chanting so you can hear the chatter of the people in the Church. Make sure you avoid reading the prayer of thanksgiving while consuming the consecrated elements in the chalice before you leave the altar.
12. Beggars. Make sure that on Sundays and Feast Days that you allow the beggars to stand at the very entrance to the Church. This allows the faithful to get a taste of poverty, misery, horror, lies and indignation. In this way, those who attend Church infrequently acquire a clear connection with God so that they can identify their attendance at Church with negative feelings.
13. Money. Make sure that you use every opportunity you get to ask the congregation for money. Place large containers in the narthex that clearly display how the money will be be used. Pass trays during the Divine Liturgy. Make sure that these trays are passed during the holiest moments of the Liturgy so that the faithful will give more money. Make sure that there are fees for weddings and baptisms. When the priest visits homes to perform the services of holy unction or blessing of water the priest should accept an honorarium without hesitation. You should believe that you are worthy of being compensated for these services that you offer. You should not forget that the majority of the faithful believe that priests are not money hungry.
14. Problematic Co-workers. The priest should make sure that he appoints self-centered and ill-tempered council members. Make them understand that they are the leaders. Impress upon them that they have special powers. Remind them to police the faithful in the Church. Now and then you, the priest, should have disagreements with the council members in front of the faithful.
15. Automobile. The priest should buy a very expensive automobile so that the faithful will be scandalized. You should make your choice of an automobile based on the argument that even Jesus did not walk around but used a beautiful donkey for transportation. With an automobile like this the faithful will be reminded of Palm Sunday and Jesus Christ.
16. Iconography. If there are any bare walls in Church, the priest should get bids from iconographers and fill these spaces with inexpensive icons. Make sure that these icons do not display a sense of creativity but they are simply copies of icons.
17. The Altar Bread. Place baskets of altar bread in the narthex of the Church. The pieces of bread should be large pieces and make sure that this bread is purchased by the faithful at a local bakery. If the priest does this he will not be burdened with handing out the bread himself. This will also allow him to avoid coming into personal contact with the faithful of the parish.
I found this article on the Greek internet and it fascinated me about Church life in Greece and why people do not attend Church frequently in that country. It is fascinating to me because, as an Orthodox priest in America, I am always concerned about issues that keep our faithful from attending our Churches. It is very important to realize as you read about these issues that turn people off about attending Church that some of these issues do not apply here in America. As you read the article, those of you that live in the USA will know which are unique to Greece. As I translated the seventeen reasons that discourage our faithful from attending Church services, it is very evident that the person who wrote this article writes about these issues with tongue in cheek. Every one of the reasons that he writes about are written mockingly. In other words he wished that priests would not do the things that he writes about. As I read about the negative things that priests do in our Churches that make them uninviting to our faithful, I came to the conclusion that only by being totally committed to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior can a priest avoid the pitfalls that destroy his calling. Mr. Kafkiou says that when a young priest loses his enthusiasm and idealism about the priesthood he most always ends up being nothing more than an actor. I pray that I will be able to get across to you the spirit of what this man is trying to say about the parish priest.
+Fr. Constantine (Charles) J. Simones, June 24, 2014, the Feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist. Postscript—after sharing this with my presbytera, she tells me that it is silly and that I not share it. Something within me says that I should share it.
Translated from the Greek by:
+Fr. Constantine (Charles) J. Simones, Waterford, CT, June 24, 2014