The Priests’ Priest


Today, December 20, is the feast day of St. John of Kronstadt, a modern (early 20th century) Russian priest who is admired by many priests in the Church today. His own asceticism (fasting, etc.) was well beyond what is normally seen in parish priests. He had numerous gifts of the Spirit: prophesying, healing, etc. There were even some unusual liturgical practices associated with his ministry (for that time), such as doing group confessions. These were especially needed because of the huge number of people who came to him for help.

I think to a large degree his popularity among Orthodox priests today is the same as the popularity (if one can use such a word when speaking of the saints) of any saint. They are popular because they inspire by their example and because their prayers are found to be particularly effective. He inspires and, I know, prays mightily for parish priests.

Of my own life I need say nothing. God is good. But I know of many priests who work amazingly long hours and give of themselves emotionally, spiritually and in every possible way in their love for the gospel and the souls of those entrusted to them. This ministry in the Church is itself a “sacrament” or “mystery,” making present a measure of grace that would otherwise not be available to us. The most peculiar part of this mystery is that the priest is a sacrament of Christ. He speaks in His name (in fear and trembling), pronounces the forgiveness of sins (again in fear in trembling), seeks to guide souls, and most especially to intercede and pray for the flock entrusted to him.

The vestments he wears point to this sacramental “Christlike” character of his ministry. Vesting on the morning of a liturgy, the priest becomes aware that the vesting is not about himself, but about “putting on Christ.” The hour or so involved in the service of the Proskomedie, the preparation of the bread and wine for the Liturgy, is rarely witnessed by the faithful. But it is a time of great intimacy, of prayer, of stepping ever deeper into the life of Christ.

St. John of Kronstadt lived at a time when priests in Russia were frequently derided as little more than civil servants. Many were poorly trained. The middle classes were drinking deeply from the wells of modern ideas and assuming that priests were part of all that was passing away. St. John appeared suddenly and contradictorily to the modern world. He was everything the Church had always said priests should be – and he was undeniably real.

Today, when you remember to pray, remember to pray for your priest and give thanks to God that He calls men to live in a manner that is not for themselves, but for others. May St. John pray for parish priests and ease their burdens – but especially to strengthen them for the coming days. For the coming days are always difficult. Such are the times in which we live.

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a retired Archpriest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe, and Face to Face: Knowing God Beyond Our Shame, as well as the Glory to God podcast series on Ancient Faith Radio.





2 responses to “The Priests’ Priest”

  1. Steve Avatar

    How odd it seems, to find someone “in this life” (as opposed to ancient times) who might be called a saint. How is one to know if this person is a true saint or not? How many people are tricked into a false discipleship by a false saint? I don’t know.

    Thinking about this sort of conundrum makes me want to pray even more for priests, deacons, and all people in spiritual authority. Because they have a giant target on their back.

    Sometimes it does seem that there are individuals with such large souls that there is no question of their veracity. How do they do it? I don’t know, but it’s very humbling to “watch them work.” What amazes me is not the bad priests, but the good priests. It is a miracle that somehow they have the strenght to do what they do and not get bogged down in sin one way or the other. There are so many traps.

    St. John of Kronstadt, pray for us! And please pray for our priests, especially!

  2. rdreusebios1 Avatar

    Holy faather, St. John of Kronstadt pray unto God for us, and for all those who serve in the ministry of the priesthood and diaconate, that he may have mercy on our souls.

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