When Rachel arrives with the bishop, Victor Mar Michael Herron, who has flown in from Knoxville, we jump our car and get it running. It is time to head into Columbia. We have arranged to use a large Lutheran sanctuary for the service. Lutherans are the best friends Independent Orthodox/Catholic jurisdictions have ever had when it comes to the use of worship space. This sanctuary dwarfs the few brave souls who venture out for the service. At some point, Mar Michael and I run to the store to pick up something or other. “You know you can still back out,” he says. He has to say that. He had also said it around a year earlier when, on September 18, 1994, our younger daughter’s birthday, I had been ordained a deacon. In both cases, I declined to back out.
We transferred the celebration of the Holy Apostle Titus from August 25 to August 26 for the ordination liturgy. We also commemorated Moses the Black, whose date on our calendar is August 28. Mar Michael presided at the Liturgy of the Word and I acted as his deacon. Our younger daughter, Cary, served as acolyte throughout the liturgy. Susan read the lesson from the Letter to Titus:
“…For a [presbyter], as God's steward, must be blameless; he must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of goodness, master of himself, upright, holy, and self-controlled; he must hold firm to the sure word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to confute those who contradict it.”
I led a responsive chanting of the psalm.
I do not recall if I or Mar Michael read the Gospel. The reading, Mark 10:32-38, records Jesus telling his disciples that he will be crucified and wondering if they “will be able to drink from the cup of which I will drink.”
All ordinations are another step on the road to Golgotha.
Mar Michael preached. I remember little of what he said except for some nice things about me and my family that, at least when it comes to myself, were not exactly accurate. We both then approached the altar, facing liturgical east, and I knelt, my head resting on my arms crossed on the altar. Using the Byzantine formula for ordination, he placed his pallium over my head, laid his hands upon my head, and cried aloud:
“The divine grace, which always heals that which is infirm and completes that which is lacking, ordains the most devout Deacon Gregory to the office of Priest. Let us therefore pray for him, that the grace of the All-Holy Spirit may come upon him!”
Mar Michael then offered the following prayers:
“O God without beginning or end, Thou who art before every created thing, and Who honors with the title of Presbyter those whom Thou deem worthy to serve the word of Thy truth in the divine ministry of this order: Thou, the same sovereign Master, preserve in purity of life and in unswerving faith this man whom Thou hast been pleased to ordain through me by the laying on of hands, graciously imparting to him the great grace of Thy Holy Spirit, making him wholly Thy servant, well-pleasing to Thee in all things, and worthily exercising this great honor of the Priesthood which Thou hast conferred upon him by the power of Thy wisdom. For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, of the Father, the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, in both worlds and unto the Aeon of aeons.”
“O God, great in might and inscrutable in wisdom, marvelous in counsel above the sons of men: Thous that self-same Lord, fill with the gift of Thy Holy Spirit this man whom it has pleased Thee to advance to the degree of Priest; that he may become worthy to stand in innocence before Thy altar, to proclaim the Gospel of Thy kingdom, to minister the word of Thy truth, to offer unto Thee spiritual gifts and sacrifices; to renew Thy people through the font of regeneration, that when he shall go to meet Thee, at the second coming of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, Thine only-begotten Son, he may receive the reward of good stewardship in the order given to him, through the plenitude of Thy goodness. For blessed and glorified is Thine all-holy and majestic name, of the Father and the Son and of the Holy Spirit, in both worlds unto the Aeon of aeons.”
Mar Michael then bade me rise, vested me as a priest, and led the congregation in proclaiming Axios! Axios! Axios!
I then celebrated the Divine Liturgy for the first time, Mar Michael presiding from the chair.
Afterward, we returned to our home for a small gathering of those who had attended and perhaps a few others. Mar Michael stayed the night, and before he left, I celebrated again for him and the family, this time in the chapel we had prepared in the house itself. He seemed satisfied that I knew what I was doing, at least technically.
Obviously, much has happened since then. There have been ups and downs. However, I have never doubted that I am called to the priesthood of Christ’s Holy Catholic Church, and this calling has been affirmed by many people, both in and outside the ACCA. There has been little success as the world measures success, but God does not call us to be successful, only faithful. If I have been faithful, God is responsible. If not, then I am responsible. In any event, please keep this sinner, the most unworthy priest Gregory, in your prayers, and may our Lord continue to keep united in one heard and mind this little Church, the Antiochian Catholic Church in America, in which I serve as a priest, and may the Most Blessed Trinity unite us all in the Kingdom of Heaven. Unto Thee, O God, is due all glory, honor and worship, to the Father, and to the Son+, and to the Holy Spirit, both now and ever, in both worlds and unto the Aeon of aeons. Amen.