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How To Discern a "Call" To Priesthood


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#1 Justin W.

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Posted 07 July 2013 - 03:19 AM

Currently I am struggling to discern whether or not the Lord wishes to have me serve at His Holy Altar as a Priest or Deacon. My background: I am a 30 year old male who has only been part of the Orthodox Church for a year and a half. Obviously at this point I am in no position to seek the office of Priest or Deacon, lest I become "puffed up with conceit". So any plans or action that I would take, if it is discerned that I should do so, would be five to ten years down the road once I have a firmer foundation within the Orthodox Faith.

I came from a Protestant background (Baptist in particular). At the age of 16 I had already begun teaching Sunday school - both young adult and at times the men's class - and at times I was charged with presenting the sermon during worship and eventually assigned with leading Children's church. At that time in my life, everything (and everyone) in my church was pointing me towards becoming a pastor. My pastors and my church saw a "call" upon my life for such a vocation.  In order to fulfill this "call" I enrolled at Liberty University (Rev. Jerry Falwell's school) to study Biblical Studies and become a pastor. About half way through my time at Liberty University, I began to question this call and to question my own Baptist faith. Some personal issues arose in my life that caused me to question God's love for me (in short it was a Job moment) and as I began to study both history and Scripture the Baptist faith seemed to be disconnected from the early Church. 

Thus, because of my clouded relationship with God and my own uncertainty regarding what I truly believed about who/what was the "right" Christian faith, I removed myself from all the ministries that I had been involved in at my church and changed my college major to Social Science (basically a history/gov't degree). I felt that with my struggles and doubts, I would be foolish to continue to try and become a Pastor as it would be a sham and a disservice to the body of Christ if I were to try and shepherd God's people in such a frame of mind. 

Thus began my search for true Christianity. I laid aside any notion that I would ever become a pastor, and just wanted to have a secular vocation and become a good Christian man. During this time I began to try to find the true Christian faith - the faith of the Early Church. At times my heart would long for a vocation wherein all I would do was seek after God and be in his House. Yet I would suppress these feelings as my own pride or vanity, or just influence from my youth (since I had not yet developed a desire for a particular secular vocation). Through my search I left the Baptists and joined the Presbyterians, only to later consider Lutheranism. But ultimately I was sure that they all only had a small piece of the truth, and not its entirety. This journey spanned almost 10 years until I moved out to Colorado to attend graduate school. 

I thought I found a vocation which I would enjoy and enrolled in a 2 year graduate program. While in Colorado I hoped to take advantage of attending the Orthodox Churches in the area as there was only one Orthodox church in my hometown and they only used Greek in the Divine Liturgy. Throughout my 10 year journey, the Orthodox Church kept popping up and with it I did not find the disconnects - both theologically and historically - that I did with all other Christian denominations. So I after a lot of research I decided to "try" the Orthodox faith by visiting a local parish. After attending my current parish for a few months, I talked to my priest about becoming Orthodox and so on Holy Saturday of 2012 I was baptized into the Orthodox Church. 

Since then, that feeling, that desire to continually serve God and be in his House has come up again. I honestly do not know what to make of this. I do not know if these are my own vain-glorious or prideful thoughts (although I sincerely do not wish to be a priest or deacon if God does not want it so). I wonder if these feelings are just the grace of God that comes with being in the true faith and in his House, and that it is His love and joy that I feel and not a "calling" to the priesthood.  

However, I cannot shake the fact that I long to always be at church. As an adult I have struggled to define who I am and what vocation I should seek, yet when I think of daily living in the House of God my soul is at ease. Whenever I see images of monks, nuns, or priests my heart is lifted. And again I wonder if it is the grace of God on these monks/nuns/priests that are coming through and touching me from their images and not a "call" to join their ranks.

I have talked with my priest/spiritual father about this. He told me that He recognizes the zeal for priesthood within me and that He could see me serving at the Holy Altar. He said if he could not see me doing so, he would not tell me so. But, as I said earlier, because I am a recent convert, this path would take many years.  

Yet, I still doubt if this is God's "call" for me. I fear that I am leading myself to this or that I am unable to discern what this is that is stirring me. I fear making the decision to seek the priesthood if it is not for me and leading astray God's people. Or becoming a priest and then falling away or being a poor shepherd because this was not my "call". 

Could any of you please provide any words of wisdom or guidance on my situation? Could you help me find a way to "discern" what I am to do? If God wants me to be a priest then I will be one. If He wants me to be a Deacon then I will be one. If He just wants me to be a loving husband and father and to care for my family, then that is what I will do. I just want to know what He would have me do so that I would not be anxious and weighed down by all this, but free to seek after Him and not worry that I am being disobedient by either seeking or not seeking to become a clergyman.

Thank you for your time and forgive me for such a long message. I understand that because you all do not know me, that whatever you may be able to give would be minimal. But anything offered would be greatly valued.



#2 Father David Moser

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Posted 07 July 2013 - 03:45 AM

Justin,

 

There is a very simple answer to your question.  The "call" to the priesthood comes to you through the Church.  If you bishop "calls" you to be a priest, then that is God calling.  If your bishop does not call you to the priesthood, then God is not calling you.  Do not seek the priesthood out on your own, but work out your own salvation as best you can.  If in the process of working out your salvation, the priesthood comes to you, then receive it.  If it does not, then pursuing it is your own will and following that will only end up in difficulty.

 

I have said on this forum (and in many other places) in the past that the first and most important quality necessary for a person to be a priest is that he doesn't want to be one.  If you want to be a priest, then there it is usually one of two things - either you realize what it is you are getting into and think you can handle it (which is nothing but pure pride and self delusion) or you are so ignorant you have no idea what you're asking for (because if you did you would run like mad to avoid it.)

 

Fr David Moser



#3 Justin W.

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Posted 07 July 2013 - 04:08 AM

Justin,

 

There is a very simple answer to your question.  The "call" to the priesthood comes to you through the Church.  If you bishop "calls" you to be a priest, then that is God calling.  If your bishop does not call you to the priesthood, then God is not calling you.  Do not seek the priesthood out on your own, but work out your own salvation as best you can.  If in the process of working out your salvation, the priesthood comes to you, then receive it.  If it does not, then pursuing it is your own will and following that will only end up in difficulty.

 

I have said on this forum (and in many other places) in the past that the first and most important quality necessary for a person to be a priest is that he doesn't want to be one.  If you want to be a priest, then there it is usually one of two things - either you realize what it is you are getting into and think you can handle it (which is nothing but pure pride and self delusion) or you are so ignorant you have no idea what you're asking for (because if you did you would run like mad to avoid it.)

 

Fr David Moser

Father, Bless.

 

For the past ten years I have tried to quench this feeling, this drawing within me, yet I cannot shake it.  When speaking with my spiritual father, I asked him how he knew he should become a priest.  His answer to me - and at the time he was unaware of this internal struggle I had been having - was that most priests become so because there is nothing else in this world that they could do.  By that he meant that all other vocations and positions appeared fruitless, whereas the priesthood beckoned them. (And to be clear I am more than aware that the priesthood is more than a vocation).

 

I have fled from the thought of becoming a priest or deacon because I know the great responsibility that it brings, because of my great unworthiness, and because of the fear that I am beyond capable of shepherding God's people.  Yet I am continually drawn to the thought of spending my days living and serving in God's house.

 

I do not know how to get rid of this feeling within me and it has become distressing.  I have no greater wish than to have this feeling be gone from me and continue to grow as a Christian and do my best to work out my own salvation.  However, in the same vein I fear that I may be missing something that God is trying to point out to me.  

 

Forgive me Father if my questioning is prideful or fool-hearted.  What should I do with this feeling within me? Should I fight against it as we do with our passions?  Should I see it as pride and ask the Lord to remove it from me?  I do not know what to do with it and need help. 



#4 Justin W.

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Posted 07 July 2013 - 11:16 AM

Father, Bless.

 

 

I have fled from the thought of becoming a priest or deacon because I know the great responsibility that it brings, because of my great unworthiness, and because of the fear that I am beyond capable of shepherding God's people.  Yet I am continually drawn to the thought of spending my days living and serving in God's house.

 

Forgive me but this should read, "the fear that I am beyond incapable of shepherding God's people".



#5 Olga

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Posted 07 July 2013 - 11:18 AM

Welcome to the forum, Justin!

 

Being a woman, there's no way I could ever be a clergyman ;) and I wouldn't want to, but, in addition to Fr David's excellent advice, may I offer this:

 

There are many ways a layman can serve his church, without being ordained to clerical rank, and some are ways which will give you a taste of what life as a clergyman involves. Singing/chanting in the choir, and serving in the altar immediately come to mind.

 

Other forms of service include teaching Sunday School (if your church has one), assisting in the practical and maintenance matters of church upkeep (getting one's hands dirty is a great antidote to pride and vanity), baking prosphora, helping with compiling any church publications such as newsletters, pamphlets, and the like, even helping with cooking, cleaning, and setting up for parish functions. There is never a time where there is nothing to be done.



#6 Father David Moser

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Posted 07 July 2013 - 01:42 PM

Forgive me Father if my questioning is prideful or fool-hearted.  What should I do with this feeling within me? Should I fight against it as we do with our passions?  Should I see it as pride and ask the Lord to remove it from me?  I do not know what to do with it and need help.

 

All of those things are not unreasonable, however, what I would suggest is to go to your spiritual father and ask his blessling (thus taking such a thing out of the realm of acting according to your will and place it in the realm of living in obedience to the will of God) to begin to serve the Church and to study for the possibility of eventual ordination.  Then with his blessing (and only with his blessing) you should begin to read and sing in Church or prehaps serve in the altar as he instructs. Perhaps there might be a way to enroll in a seminary program or to pursue one of the many fine distance learning programs designed to prepare one for ordination.  But do not do this in order to become a priest - do this only in obedience to your spiritual father.  Then it is not your choice but rather you are acting in obedience to the Church (through your spiritual father).  If he then sees in you the possibility of some ordination, he will speak to the bishop on your behalf.  If the bishop agrees then he will take action according to the grace of God given him in his ordination.  If such a thing comes to your receive it, if it does not then do not fret or complain, the thank God that He has put you in the place where He wants you.

 

Fr David



#7 Lakis Papas

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Posted 07 July 2013 - 01:47 PM


 I just want to know what He would have me do so that I would not be anxious and weighed down by all this, but free to seek after Him and not worry that I am being disobedient by either seeking or not seeking to become a clergyman.

 

I think this is not an orthodox way of thinking. Brother Justin have peace!

 

God's will is to be obedience to your spiritual father. Only then you will find peace in your heart. When your spiritual father provides a solution, then this is God's will. Fr Davιd provided a complete and effective response above. 

 

Regarding the priesthood, the consent of the whole Church is necessary for someone to become a priest. This is the meaning of the "call to priesthood": the Christian brotherhood calls one of the brothers to serve in this ministry. The called brother has the right to refuse or accept the call. The call is not mandatory and is not imposed on the brother that receives the call. This is why it is called a "call" in the first place: a call is a request  that does not restrict the freedom of the other person, he is allowed to answer no. God accepts "no" as an answer!

 

Elder Paisios of Mount Athos was called to become a priest by an abbot and then by a patriarchal envoy and he answered to them "no". Then, when elder was asked "why did you refuse to become a priest?" he answered "The aim is to be saved. The priesthood is not a means for a man to be saved". The Elder in another situation was also refused to be tonsured into the Great Schema as a monk.


Edited by Lakis Papas, 07 July 2013 - 01:49 PM.


#8 Justin W.

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Posted 08 July 2013 - 06:51 AM

Welcome to the forum, Justin!

 

Being a woman, there's no way I could ever be a clergyman ;) and I wouldn't want to, but, in addition to Fr David's excellent advice, may I offer this:

 

There are many ways a layman can serve his church, without being ordained to clerical rank, and some are ways which will give you a taste of what life as a clergyman involves. Singing/chanting in the choir, and serving in the altar immediately come to mind.

 

Other forms of service include teaching Sunday School (if your church has one), assisting in the practical and maintenance matters of church upkeep (getting one's hands dirty is a great antidote to pride and vanity), baking prosphora, helping with compiling any church publications such as newsletters, pamphlets, and the like, even helping with cooking, cleaning, and setting up for parish functions. There is never a time where there is nothing to be done.

 

Olga,

 

Thank you for your warm welcome and your kind words of encouragement.  You are right when you say that there are many ways that we can serve both God and our neighbor apart from the priesthood - whether this comes through helping clean the Church, tending to the Church grounds, volunteering for various Church ministries, giving to the poor, visiting the sick and imprisoned, etc.  Serving our Church and neighbor in love is both an commandment and an honor.  For when we do so, even in ways which the world may perceive as mundane, we are imitating our heavenly Father and fulfilling the divine commandment to love God with all our heart, mind, and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves.



#9 Justin W.

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Posted 08 July 2013 - 06:52 AM

All of those things are not unreasonable, however, what I would suggest is to go to your spiritual father and ask his blessling (thus taking such a thing out of the realm of acting according to your will and place it in the realm of living in obedience to the will of God) to begin to serve the Church and to study for the possibility of eventual ordination.  Then with his blessing (and only with his blessing) you should begin to read and sing in Church or prehaps serve in the altar as he instructs. Perhaps there might be a way to enroll in a seminary program or to pursue one of the many fine distance learning programs designed to prepare one for ordination.  But do not do this in order to become a priest - do this only in obedience to your spiritual father.  Then it is not your choice but rather you are acting in obedience to the Church (through your spiritual father).  If he then sees in you the possibility of some ordination, he will speak to the bishop on your behalf.  If the bishop agrees then he will take action according to the grace of God given him in his ordination.  If such a thing comes to your receive it, if it does not then do not fret or complain, the thank God that He has put you in the place where He wants you.

 

Fr David

 

Father, bless.

 

Father David, thank you for your words of wisdom and guidance.  I will speak with my spiritual father about this and accept whatever he appoints for me.  



#10 Justin W.

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Posted 08 July 2013 - 07:02 AM

I think this is not an orthodox way of thinking. Brother Justin have peace!

 

God's will is to be obedience to your spiritual father. Only then you will find peace in your heart. When your spiritual father provides a solution, then this is God's will. Fr Davιd provided a complete and effective response above. 

 

Regarding the priesthood, the consent of the whole Church is necessary for someone to become a priest. This is the meaning of the "call to priesthood": the Christian brotherhood calls one of the brothers to serve in this ministry. The called brother has the right to refuse or accept the call. The call is not mandatory and is not imposed on the brother that receives the call. This is why it is called a "call" in the first place: a call is a request  that does not restrict the freedom of the other person, he is allowed to answer no. God accepts "no" as an answer!

 

Elder Paisios of Mount Athos was called to become a priest by an abbot and then by a patriarchal envoy and he answered to them "no". Then, when elder was asked "why did you refuse to become a priest?" he answered "The aim is to be saved. The priesthood is not a means for a man to be saved". The Elder in another situation was also refused to be tonsured into the Great Schema as a monk.

 

Lakis,

 

Thank you for your words of encouragement.  Your story about Elder Paisios of Mount Athos reminds me of a story I recently read from the book Everyday Saints and Other Stories.  Archimandrite Tikhon recounts the story of a fellow monk, Father Michael (who would become Father Melchisedek), who died and yet came back to life.  While dead Father Melchisedek had a vision that he was in a green field;  he began to walk in the field and eventually came across a moat. In the moat were the wood crafts that he had made as a monk - for he devoted himself to making crafts for the monastery from morning until evening.  As he stood staring at his wood crafts in the moat, he felt someone looking at him.  He looked up and saw the Theotokos and she said to him, "You're a monk...and all we wanted from you was just one thing, the main thing: repentance and prayer.  Instead of that, you gave us this woodwork..."  After coming back to life Father Melchisedek set aside his wood crafts and focused only on prayer and repentance until the day of his death.

 

As you said, ultimately we are all called to work out our salvation in fear and trembling, and that alone.  Any other "calls" we receive are in addition to our primary aim.



#11 John Konstantin

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Posted 11 July 2013 - 10:27 AM

Part of the problem, it seems to me, is that we all like to make plans. Fr David's advice is exactly right but counter-intuitive to many of us in the West where we like to make plans, have vocations, aim at goals and know where we are going. I remember my spiritual father advising me to just keep doing what I am doing.  It wasn't quite what I wanted to hear but I have no doubt it was probably the best advice :)


Edited by John Konstantin, 11 July 2013 - 10:28 AM.


#12 Matthew

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Posted 11 July 2013 - 07:18 PM

I can share my experiences and observations.

 

I'm in my third year of the St. Stephen's course:

http://www.antiochia...ificate-program

 

It's a very good education.  I've enjoyed it a great deal, and I enjoy the fellowship in the weeks of residency in particular.

 

One teaching priest gave some excellent advice.  He said that many people come to the church in order to be healed.  He recommended trying to discern between wanting to be healed from a desire to help others in our calling.  It's something I'm still trying to figure out for myself.

 

Get involved now.  Read, chant, help in the altar, whatever you can do.  If God wants you to be a priest, he'll open the right doors.  If not, it's not going to work out.

 

Or, in other words:

First, figure out why you want to become a priest.  Is it for you or for others?

Second, busy yourself with serving the Lord and don't worry too much about your decision in the process.

 

Matthew



#13 Justin W.

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Posted 12 July 2013 - 02:05 AM

Part of the problem, it seems to me, is that we all like to make plans. Fr David's advice is exactly right but counter-intuitive to many of us in the West where we like to make plans, have vocations, aim at goals and know where we are going. I remember my spiritual father advising me to just keep doing what I am doing.  It wasn't quite what I wanted to hear but I have no doubt it was probably the best advice :)

 

John,

 

Thank you for your words of advice.  It is true that I am a planner and that could be just another way, especially in this context, of my pride and my unwillingness to submit to God; perhaps rather than trusting in God I am seeking to be in control by planning something or some path that would be many years down the road.  St. James says, "Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.” Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead,you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.” (James 4:13-15).  So perhaps I should leave it to the Lord's will and not try to plan.



#14 Justin W.

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Posted 12 July 2013 - 02:15 AM

I can share my experiences and observations.

 

I'm in my third year of the St. Stephen's course:

http://www.antiochia...ificate-program

 

It's a very good education.  I've enjoyed it a great deal, and I enjoy the fellowship in the weeks of residency in particular.

 

One teaching priest gave some excellent advice.  He said that many people come to the church in order to be healed.  He recommended trying to discern between wanting to be healed from a desire to help others in our calling.  It's something I'm still trying to figure out for myself.

 

Get involved now.  Read, chant, help in the altar, whatever you can do.  If God wants you to be a priest, he'll open the right doors.  If not, it's not going to work out.

 

Or, in other words:

First, figure out why you want to become a priest.  Is it for you or for others?

Second, busy yourself with serving the Lord and don't worry too much about your decision in the process.

 

Matthew

 

Matthew,

 

Thank you for your words of advice.  I have looked into St. Stephen's Program, as well as the program offered by the Sts. Cyril and Athanasius Institute (just in order to strengthen my understanding of the Orthodox faith and theology. I am hoping to be able to speak with my priest this weekend to see how he instructs me.  






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