Priestly Formation Part 3

The first two parts of this series can be found here and here.

The Great folks at the Monomonakos Blog picked up  my first essay on priestly formation and posted there.  A lively discussion is taking place and that is exactly why I am writing on this subject.  We should always take a look at what we are doing and see if we can do it better.  I am not criticizing as much as I am being critical and I hope in a constructive way.  One of the commenters asked why we always focus on what is wrong so in this post I am going to focus on what seem to be working in some places.

Any discussion of priestly formation needs to include continuing education.  Priestly formation does not end when one graduates from seminary and is ordained I would suggest that is when it begins.  It have often been said that law school does not teach people how to be lawyers, it teaches the law.  They are not lawyer schools.  I guess the same could be said about seminary but we need to teach the skills that graduates will carry forward into their priestly life.

In some diocese around the country there exists a system of clergy continuing education.  I know that in the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Boston, His Eminence Methodious does a wonderful job of this.  The priests gather once each month for a business type meeting and then have a speaker on some topic related to ministry.  This might be something on liturgy, or ethics, or some such topic.  Then there is time for lunch and a time for the clergy to interact with each other.  I am sure this takes place in other diocese as well.

Here in Central Massachusetts we have an active clergy brotherhood.  We gather each month for breakfast and a time of support.  We have been meeting like this for over a year now and I find it very helpful in my ministry.  We all have things to learn, even the old guys can learn something from us young guys, and these are the best times to do this.

What of seminars or spiritual retreats

I would like to suggest that each priest, married or celibate, take time at least once a year, for a retreat.  Ideally this should be at an Orthodox monastery but that may not always be possible.  I would suggest five days of quiet retreat where once can get back in contact with God.  We all live very busy lives and our spiritual lives may not be the best they should be, but if we are going to be true spiritual leaders we need to take time to work on our own spirituality.  I suggested in a previous essay that we should all have a spiritual father, and I will suggest again, that we all are seeking our confession on a regular basis as well.

The seminaries, and some diocese, offer seminars usually during the summer months on a variety of topics.  Try to take in one of these.  We need to make our continuing education a priority and our bishops and parishes need to give us time, and in some cases the funds, to attend these conferences.  I count myself lucky that I live here on the east coast and I am very close to three seminaries that offer these types of programs and that I have a bishop and a parish that understand how important this is.

Another way to attend these conferences is via Ancient Faith Radio.  AFR works in cooperation with St. Vladimir’s to host and produce most of their conferences that they have on campus.  If you cannot attend these in person try to listen on AFR.  You can download the sessions and listen to them in your car or office when you have time.  The point is we have to make the time! I believe the OCA diocese of the Midwest and the Diocese of New York and New Jersey also produce similar session via video and they are available on their respective website.  There is a wealth of information available on both AFR and the Orthodox Christian Network.  I find it helpful and instructive to listen to sermons by other priests and some of the other programs offered there.  I would count those as continuing education as well.

In my own Archdiocese the Archbishop has made the commitment to provide sessions for us to participate in.  Over the last few years at clergy gatherings, deanery meetings, as well as our Congress we have sessions that are educational and not just business matters.  We have time to stretch our thinking and speak about these topics.  A few months ago we had a presentation at our deanery clergy gathering on Marriage and one on baptism.  These were very instructive from both a theological as well as liturgical.

Theological Journals and Blogs

Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology and St. Vladimir’s Seminary both offer journals that come out quarterly.  I subscribe to both and will admit that I am not always interested in the articles that are in these journals but I can usually find one or two that do interest me.  We need to make time for reading and study.  There are also some very instructive blogs, this one for example… (only kidding) and others.  We need to be cautious of the theology on some of these blogs but here is valuable information out there.

One last tool I will mention is the St. Vladimir’s book club that is offered.  Every few months a package arrives with the latest titles they have released.  It is not free, but you do receive a discount.  A package arrived just the other day with several books that look interesting.  Again, like with the journals, not all of the titles will be of interest, but I am sure one or two can be found that is.

The point of all of this is we need to make the time for educational as well as spiritual renewal.  Most every professional occupation requires continuing education and the priesthood should be no different.  We need the bishop to insist and the parishes to allow time for this to happen.  But, we the clergy, need to just do it!

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