The old paradigms had a certain albeit meager utility. They worked as long as the surrounding culture remained basically Christian. They don’t work anymore. The time has come to return the priesthood to how it was first practiced – in a hostile culture, with wisdom, and a concrete and authentic encounter with Christ.
Becoming a Mission Priest begins with a change in governing values. Mission Priests don’t confuse faith in the Gospel with a soft assent to its social principles or moral utility. Rather, they know the veracity of the Gospel through first-hand experience. For many, faith was strengthened when they changed careers and entered seminary. Enduring the patronizing and petty atmosphere of “theological school” clarified the eyes of their soul. Facing down and even defeating parish antagonists and persecutors revealed the strength of the Gospel and cemented their conviction once and for all.
Knowing the Gospel to be true, Mission Priests hold to the imperative that the Gospel must be preached to all people. They recognize that their time on earth is limited and regard each day as an opportunity to bring others closer to Christ. Their witness is not confrontational or manipulative, because they know that Jesus is most powerful when He is most humble – as His crucifixion attests. They humble themselves in the presence of others so that the light of Christ might fill their words.
Mission Priests are men of prayer. Their days begin and end with prayer. Their life is filled with it. One important prayer they pray is for the spiritual growth of their parishioners and the numerical growth of the Church.
Recognizing that a large part of parish administration involves the three C’s — calendar, cash, and communication — they ask themselves three questions when the calendar needs an event, the budget needs to be planned, and the bulletin needs to be written:
1. Will these things help my flock know Christ better?
2. Will they add to the numbers of my flock?
3. Will they lead us into helping the least of our brethren?
They ask the same questions when planning their personal calendars.
The Mission Priest is a linguist. When it is necessary to feed his sheep in a foreign language, he does so. In some cases this means developing fluency in Greek or Serbian or Russian. That Greek or Serbian or Russian priest might even find himself studying Slobovian when immigrants from Slobovia fill his city. When the neighborhood around the parish begins to change, it might mean learning Spanish or Cambodian.
In all instances the Mission Priest must have an absolute mastery of English. We live and work in America. There is a difference between “abyss” and
“abbess.” Speaking English also includes situational awareness. You don’t preach with an affected JFKesque accent in Dothan, Alabama and you don’t say “y’all” in South Boston. Summer camp sermons should avoid words like “hypostasis,” while the vocative case of “dude” is never used at banquets.
Mission Priests are fearful. They fear losing their communion with God by being caught up in the things of this world. They worry about losing their courage in the coercion and compromise of ecclesiastical politics.
And they are moral. Nothing damages the credibility of the message more than a messenger who is sexually perverted or chemically dependent. Morality also means telling the truth about the rules articulated in the Bible and the Canons. Jesus dined with harlots and tax collectors, but he never condoned their behavior.
finally, the Mission Priest refuses to conform to false expectations of a priestly personality type imposed by others. God has called him — not the Parish Council, not a benefactor, not his boyhood parish priest, not even the Bishop. And God made us different. Each priest has a distinct role and service in the Church. In the end, only God may judge his faithfulness.
Parish priests need to change or else go the way of the IBM Selectric. Being a Shaman, Cruise Director, CEO, Museum Curator, or Chaplain doesn’t cut it anymore. We need a true paradigm shift. We need prayerful servants in whom the Good News of Jesus Christ rests deep. For Orthodoxy in America, the era of the Mission Priest has arrived.
Excerpt from the article, “Brother, Can You Spare A Paradigm?”, first published June 30, 2006 on Orthodoxytoday.org.