That Which Completes What Is Lacking

St. Paul in speaking of the full responsibility that weighed on his ministry stated plainly, “Who is sufficient for these things?” This same thought has crossed the mind of the ordained ministry ever since, except for those who have not yet learned that they cannot do what has been given them to do.

Yet again, yesterday, I heard three times this phrase describing the Holy Spirit who “completes what is lacking.” It is part of the words used in every ordination in the Orthodox Church. There is a recognition that as St. Paul said, “We have these treasures in earthen vessels, that the excellency might be of Christ.”

The joy of ordination is watching a candidate present himself, in all humility, realizing that he cannot be sufficient and that God alone can do this work in him. I recall the day that I was ordained deacon in the Orthodox Church in which I prayed quietly, “I hope that this day I am the dumbest deacon in Orthodoxy,” mostly because given the poverty of my knowledge, I could only hope no one else was as lacking. But the Holy Spirit completes that which is lacking – and does it in His own way. It may very well have been that what was lacking in me was not encyclopedic knowledge, but a frank admission of my ignorance. I say that because to a large degree that seems to have been the way of things in my ordained Orthodox life.

The same feeling can accompany those who enter the Church as converts. Orthodoxy is such a fullness and an ethos, that a convert cannot help but feel woefully ignorant and unprepared. This is not a bad thing, but a good place to start. For a lifetime’s learning will not have exhausted God, and it is God Whom we want to know, not necessarily the rules for everything or various other things of seeming importance.

“Blessed art Thou, O Lord, teach me Thy statutes.”

The refreshment for me was to see others accepting this same yoke which was placed on me and to hear the words again which explain the nature of my calling. It reminds me of who I am and why I am. The Holy Spirit must complete that which is lacking and the only treasure I have to give is in this broken, earthen vessel (some days more broken than ever).

Later this morning I’ll concelebrate at the liturgy, an earthen vessel among earthen vessels, receiving and dispensing the treasure of Christ, Who alone can fill the insufficiencies of our lives.

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.



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11 responses to “That Which Completes What Is Lacking”

  1. fatherstephen Avatar

    Photo: St. Seraphim Cathedral in Dallas, with its iconographer, Subdeacon Vladimir Grigorenko.

  2. David Bryan Avatar

    When the reader was tonsured yesterday, I cringed as I was reminded of how short of my calling I fall daily. Lord, have mercy.

    Good words, Father. And it was good to meet you yesterday.

  3. Meg Avatar

    My own priest could have written this, and he’s cradle Orthodox — grew up in a Communist country, but was always able to worship God. He was on the fast track for a Ph.D. at CalTech when he went to church one Sunday and heard, as he said, a sermon about confession that really made him rethink his entire life. It’s such a blessing to be under the spiritual care of someone who takes God this seriously.

  4. Ioannis Freeman Avatar

    I was chilled to the bone reading this entry, while standing with the photographer under the Pantocrator.

  5. Mary Avatar


    Please forgive me, but if I may make a correction – the iconographer is Subdeacon Vladimir Grigorenko. The Pantocrator leaves me speechless every time I walk into that Cathedral. Glory to God!

  6. Damaris Avatar

    Thank you for this essay. As I look forward to another week as full-time teacher, mother, and wife, I needed to hear this. I am insufficient for the job of educating these children in wisdom and virtue — but I don’t work alone! Thanks be to God.

  7. Dustin Avatar

    May the Lord give you His peace, Father!

    Thank you for sharing the deeper truth of life in the spirit. Far to often I rely on my own strength before I follow the spirit’s lead, which hinders God’s work in my life. Your reflection came at a beautiful time for me. I don’t call it a coincidence, but a God-incidence. Peace be to you and your ministry +

    All is grace.

  8. fatherstephen Avatar


    Yes I realized later today that I had given his name incorrectly, but have only just now arrived at home, and access to my computer to make the correction. Thank you. What a wonderful weekend.

  9. Robert Avatar

    As well it should be this way. If it was man bringing the fullness, Christianity would be a hapless affair and quite useless. I am reminded how ordination, and indeed the eucharist itself, without the presence and “activation” of the Holy Spirit is mere dead works.

  10. Ben Avatar

    Father bless.

    This is so true. I was talking recently to the subdeacon at my church. He said that even though he has been a subdeacon for several years now, he still bows his head when the priest in the liturgy says “bow your head you catechumens.” He told me he will probably do that until the day he dies because he, like us all, is always a learner.


  11. Steve Avatar

    Another wonderful post…

    The Spirit of Truth though gentle, (like a mountain stream) has become this sound of rushing waters.

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