On Lazarus Saturday, April 7th, I had the great honor of participating in the ordination of one of my spiritual children. Subdeacon Michael became Fr. Deacon Michael in an amazing liturgical celebration. Every Liturgical celebration in the Orthodox Church is an amazing thing but this one was very special.
During the ordination, 2 priests escort the man to be ordained to the bishop who stands at the Royal Gate. As the candidate bows three times, the sponsoring priests sing, “Command” and then present the candidate to the bishop who blesses him. He is then lead into the Holy Place, through the Royal Gate, and led around the altar three times, each time his kisses the corners of the altar and the bishops hand.
After the third time around the altar the candidate kneels at the altar whilst the bishop reads the prayer of ordination. Kneeling behind him, listening to that prayer once again, was a reminder of my own ordination almost 8 years ago. We all need little reminders from time to time.
During communion, there were more priests present then needed for communion; we had a little discussion about how nervous we all were during our own ordinations. One priest related a story that since he is left handed, we usually distribute communion with our right hands, he was shaking so much he was afraid he was going to drop the sacred body and blood.
We started talking about how we lose that fear and how sometimes serving at the altar becomes just something that we do. That is not really the right way to put it but somehow we lose that “awe” that is a better word, the awe of standing there doing what we do!
It is an awesome privilege to be a priest in God’s Holy Church and to serve His people. To stand at the altar and offer the mystical sacrifice not only for myself but for all those that God has entrusted to me is an awesome responsibility and one that we constantly need to be reminded of. I sometimes lose sight of this and I am glad I was reminded of this at the ordination.
Tonight we will serve the Unction Service and anoint all of those present with oil for healing of ailments of body, soul, and mind. This is another reminder of the awesome responsibility of the priesthood. Usually this service is served by seven priests, but during Holy Week in Byzantine Churches and some Slavic ones, the service is done by a single priest, the father of the community.
The service is part of the Matins of Holy Thursday and consists of seven Epistle Readings, Seven Gospel readings, and Seven prayers over the oil and the people. For me the most poignant prayer and the one that reminds me of this awesome job I have is the fifth of the seven prayers. Right in the middle of the prayer I will read these words:
“Even me, Your lowly, sinful and unworthy servant, caught up in a welter of transgressions, and wallowing in unseemly thoughts, You have called to the sacred and lofty order of the priesthood, enabling me to enter beyond the inner veil, into the Holy of Holies, where the holy angels long to look and hear the covenant voice of the Lord God, and behold with their own eyes the presence of the holy oblation, and delight in the divine and sacred Liturgy.You have judged me worthy to mediate Your heavenly mysteries, to bear gifts and offerings for my own sins and for the failings of the people, to intercede for Your spiritual flock, that through Your great and ineffable love You might blot out their iniquities. Will you, most gracious King, hear my prayer at this hour and on this holy day, and in every time and place and give heed to the voice of my supplication.”
Each year when I pray this prayer during this service I cannot help but get a little choked up by these words. A great reminder of why we do what we do! The priest is to “intercede for Your spiritual flock”
To all my brother priests who might be reading this I pray that together we never lose the sense of the awesomeness of what we do!