By Father Steven Tsichlis
Ordination! The word rings in my ears this morning – a frightening word, because to me it is the final response, the final commitment to the Truth. Standing before Pilate only hours before his crucifixion, Jesus, who is the only Christian priest (the Letter to the Hebrews), says that the purpose of his birth, the purpose of his life and ministry, is “to bear witness to the Truth” (John 18:37). This is the essence of the priesthood and the content of the priestly vocation: to bear witness to the Truth.
But Pilate’s next question is one that all of us, in our cynicism and despair, have asked at one time or another: “What is Truth” (John 18:38)? And Jesus’ answer is silence, because he is the one High Priest, the Truth, and in his presence Pilate is face to face with that which he refuses to accept.
What was true two thousand years ago in Palestine is no less true in twentieth century America. In a society such as ours, where truth is determined by advertising and the mass media, the priest is a marginal person and in some sense, even a condemned man. He does not fit in and is considered by many to be a fool, a madman, someone out of touch with the “real” world. For this reason, the priest, if he is to remain faithful to the priesthood of Jesus Christ, is confrontational: he must not allow anyone – especially himself – to worship the many idols offered by the fantasies of contemporary humanity: those of race, nation, class, state.
The priesthood is thus not a “privileged” position. Ordination does not mean that I am somehow “better” than anyone else. Still less is priesthood to be conceived in terms of power or domination: the Church is not intended as a power structure to be arbitrarily ruled by a clerical elite as if it were a business enterprise. The Church is the Body of Christ and the priesthood is not something which belongs to the priest, but to Christ. The saints of the Church, from John Chrysostom in the fourth century to John of Kronstadt in the twentieth, are adamant on this point: it is not the bishop or priest who celebrates the Liturgy, but Christ himself who celebrates his own sacraments. The priest is only the tool, the instrument, the icon whom Christ uses to call together his ecclesia, the community of those who hear and respond to the Word of God.
Nor is it the task of the priest to go around nervously trying to redeem people, to save them at the last minute, to put them on the right track. No priest can save anyone, for we are redeemed once and for all by the Crucified and Risen Lord. The priest is called to help others recognize and affirm this Good News by making visible in the daily events of our lives the fact that behind the dirty curtain of our pain and suffering, there is something great to be seen: the face of the God in whose image we have been shaped…
The above article originally appeared in the “Orthodox Observer” and is part of the sermon delivered by Father Tsichlis on the occasion of his ordination to the priesthood by Metropolitan Silas, formerly of New Jersey, on July 3, 1983.