Антоний, митрополит Су́рожский


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Ordination To Priest hood

SERMON PREACHED on Sunday 15th October 1995 on the ordination of Deacon David Gill to the priesthood.

In the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.

From the beginning of his life when he became aware of Christ, of His teaching, of His Image as a perfect man and his Saviour and his God, Father David followed Him step after step according to the word of Saint Paul that we should follow Christ whithersoever He goeth; where He goes, His disciple goes. And this way has not always been from glory to glory; there have been painful, dangerous, courageous, generous moments in his following of Christ.

And now, for the second time it was given to Father David to cross this dread threshold of the Holy Doors. The first time he was sent by his nascent community of people who, like him, had chosen to follow in the steps of Christ whatever the consequences; he was sent by them to represent them as a deacon, that is, a layman endowed with special grace, in the Sanctuary. He had to cross this threshold which no one but Christ can cross because above it stands the Crucifix; it is by laying down of one's life that one can cross this threshold. He came as a faithful sheep to the fold of Christ, but also as one singled out by his people to carry a burden, to be their guide, to be for them an example, to be like a shepherd who goes ahead of his sheep to defend them against all dangers.

And today he has crossed this threshold for the second time, not because he has a right to do so – because he crossed it in completely new terms. To become a priest he had to choose to be ready to respond to Christ's call to become an icon of his Lord and Saviour. And to be an icon of Christ means to be ready to carry the cross up to Calvary; if necessary – to be crucified on it, and to die that others might live.

He will be called to accomplish the Sacraments of the Church. The only High Priest, the only Celebrant of the Sacrament is the Lord Himself; but as an icon we frail human creatures have got to act and enter into a realm into which we would fain never enter. You remember the way in which Moses saw the Burning Bush in the desert; and a voice said to him, «Do not come near unless you take your shoes off, because this earth around it is holy earth.» And in the Sanctuary there is more than the Burning Bush; there is the Divine Presence in all its mystery: there is God, there is Christ, there is the breath of the Holy Spirit. And he will stand there as an icon for you to see the invisible, knowing that he is only the visible image of something which is beyond human sight. He will stand in dread, because he will know, he will experience the fact, that the Lord is the Celebrant, and he is the voice, and he is the gesture of the invisible Lord.

Today we heard in the Epistle a call that we should give generously if we want to reap abundantly. He is called now to preach the Word, to celebrate the Mysteries, to support the weak, to encourage the faint-hearted; he is called to be the strength of all those who need strength, and yet, he will be aware, as each of us comes to be aware in a tragic manner, that there is no strength in us; not that strength that would allow us to do God's work, but he will have to remember also the words of Saint Paul. Paul prayed for strength because he saw that his mission was so vast, that his task was so great, that he needed more than the strength he was aware of: he, a very determined and strong man; and the Lord answered his prayer by saying, «My grace sufficeth unto thee; My power deploys itself in weakness» – not in laziness, not in irresolution, but in abandoning oneself completely to God, allowing God to act freely within us, becoming translucent, and then transparent, so that the light of God will shine through His priest.

And he will never be able to achieve this vocation of his unless his flock remains faithful, loving and generous to him. He needs the support of every prayer; he needs the concern of every person; because he is called to carry the burdens of each – and isn't it right that each of you, his flock, should endeavour to carry his burden?

So, today is a feast, and today is a tragic event; here at the same time are intertwined the mystery of Holy Week, and the mystery and glory of Easter and the Resurrection. And all his community assembled here with us today takes part both in the tragedy and the glory. They will also have to be icons of Christ – each – because it is the vocation of every Christian; in humility, with fear and trembling, but with what joy to be so trusted by God, so loved by Him, that He is sending all of us, and them in particular in the place where they live, to all those who live in darkness, all those who live in pain, in doubt, in trouble, to bring God's message; not in order to 'convert' them to Orthodoxy, but to be the love of God flowing through them and reaching them, and transforming them.

We will in a moment sing 'Mnogaya Leta' for the newly ordained Father David and his flock but we will continue to pray for them that the grace of God which has sought them out may make us grow from strength to strength, and from glory to glory. Amen.

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