by V. Rev. Fr. Barouyr Shernezian
The candidate for priesthood should be an ordained deacon, biblically educated, and spiritually prepared for ordination. The evening before the ordination ceremony, a sponsoring priest presents the candidate to the Church to receive the rank of priesthood. The ordaining bishop represents the Church, and the sponsoring priest represents the faithful. The sponsoring priest acts as the voice of the faithful. Further, he serves as a witness to the candidate’s worthiness to be ordained a priest, and asks the bishop to grant him the rank of priesthood. The candidate engages in a spiritual dialogue in the presence of people. He testifies to his spiritual life and his beliefs in public, making the candidate feel accountable to God, to the Church, and to the faithful present who witness their confessions.
The three most important takeaways from the ceremony of vocation are: a) humility, b) confession, and c) vows. I will reflect on each.
a) Humility. The candidate deacon approaches the ordaining bishop on his knees. This might look like a punishment, but coming to one’s knees means bringing oneself to the ground. It is a physical expression, acknowledging that we are earth. We admit that we are fallen because of our sins, but raised by our Lord’s grace. Without this admission, we do not leave space in our lives for the Lord’s grace.
In the Christian understanding, humility opens the door to all of the other virtues. It helps one put their ego aside, and allows wisdom and grace to find a place in one’s heart. Without having a humble heart, our ego dominates us and prevents anything else from finding its way into our hearts. A priest must have a humble heart, not only for his own spiritual life, but moreover for the benefit of his flock. Our Lord Jesus Christ teaches about humility explicitly. He said, “he who is greatest among you, let him be as the younger, and he who governs as he who serves.” (Luke 22:26). Jesus Christ conquered the world with His loving heart, and His humility. Accordingly, humility is the core spiritual value for serving God and representing Him on earth.
b) Confession. The candidates confess their faith during the ceremony of vocation. In other words, they confess what made them want to serve God and who they want to serve. Further they confess who taught them, what they learned, and what they will preach about.
They confess the orthodox faith that was taught by the Church fathers, and they will anathemize those who preached incorrect beliefs.
God gives us the ability to reason, and the ability to express ourselves. Moreover, He gives us the freedom to express ourselves. We say what we think, what we believe and what we are. This makes confessing one’s faith fundamental to Christianity.
In orthodoxy, the priests are not allowed to preach their personal beliefs, or their personal thoughts on dogma or Biblical interpretation. On the contrary, orthodox priests preach what it is inherited by the Church fathers. Therefore, the Church is called ”orthodox.“ They pledge to preach and the teach the orthodox faith.
Finally, confession serves a reminder that the Church fought and still fights for true faith and dogma. Accordingly, priests are called to protect the orthodox faith.
c) Taking Vows. At the end of the service, the candidate takes public vows. The orthodox monk takes vows of chastity, poverty, obedience, and stability. These commitments are the first point that I contemplated on. In short, the candidate takes vows not to live according to his wills and desires. If one is guided by their own desires, they will never be able to serve God’s will. The priesthood will become just a job, and not a divine vocation.
The candidate vows to preach the Gospel, to serve the church and her people, and to be faithful to the hierarchs of the Church. Moreover, he pledges to be accountable before God at the Last Judgment, if they do not keep their vows.
The ceremony of calling to the priesthood is deeply spiritual. Spiritually, the candidate empties himself and invites Christ to live in him. Jesus taught us that we cannot serve two lords. Following our desires prevents us from serving the Lord. Living chastely gives God’s grace the space to work through us. Moreover, before we let the Holy Spirit inhabit us, we have to empty out our ego, confess the true faith, and declare his glory.
The vows complete the first step of the priestly ordination. Next day, during the priesthood ordination service, the candidate becomes a new person.