Wednesday, August 26, 2020

The 25th Anniversary of my Ordination to the Priesthood

I hate to toot my own horn on this, but today, August 26, 2020 is the 25th anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood.  It took place in Columbia, South Carolina, in the borrowed sanctuary of a Lutheran congregation (Lutheran congregations are often the best friends that Independent Sacramental Movement jurisdictions have.)  As we held the service, the remnants of a tropical storm made things interesting outside and because of that storm, few were in attendance.  However, my wife and two daughters were present, along with someone I'd gone to college with at the College of Charleston and a few others, including an Anglican priest and the then-pastor of the Lutheran congregation who hosted us and some of our employees who worked for the business that my wife and I were then running.

The altar of the Chapel of SS Felicity and Perpetua
in my home in Summerville SC.

The man who remains my primary bishop, Victor Mar Michael Herron, now head/or "Metran" of our jurisdiction, the Antiochian Catholic Church in America, ordained me to the priesthood as he had ordained me to the diaconate the previous September.  The Eucharist, or Qurbana, was the Liturgy of St. James, the ACCA's normal liturgy, and this particular Mass was celebrated in honor of St. Titus who, along with St. Timothy and others, was a bishop who came immediately after the Apostles.  His memorial day on the ACCA's calendar is August 25.  We also celebrated St. Moses the Ethiopian,  an enslaved thug who became a monk and then, a martyr.  We celebrate him on Aug 28.  My wife read the First Reading, which is from St. Paul's letter to Titus, Titus 1:1-9 (RSV):

"Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, to further the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth which accords with godliness, in hope of eternal life which God, who never lies, promised ages ago and at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by command of God our Savior; To Titus, my true child in a common faith: Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior.This is why I left you in Crete, that you might amend what was defective, and ordain presbyters in every town as I directed you, if any man is blameless, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of being profligate or insubordinate.  For a bishop, 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 the psalm and read the Gospel.  Mar Michael preached and said some nice things about me which was very gracious of him.  After the Creed, he called me to the altar where I knelt with head and hands on the altar, in the Byzantine manner, as I had done when I was ordained a deacon.  Mar Michael then ordained me to the priesthood, laying his hands on my head over his stole, which was draped over my head, and saying:

"The Divine Grace, which always heals that which is infirm, and completes that which is wanting, elevates through the laying on of hands the Deacon Gregory to be a priest.  Wherefore, let us pray for him that the grace of the all-holy Spirit may come upon him."

Mar Michael then offered the two prayers which follow in the Byzantine Rite for the ordination of a priest.  He then bade me rise and give the greeting of peace to the congregation present.  I did and all exchanged the peace with each other. 

Mar Michael then handed the liturgy off to me and I celebrated my first Eucharist, administering Holy Communion to my family and others who wished to receive.  At the end of the liturgy, Mar Michael led those present in "Many Years" and "Axios!"

So I have been an Orthodox-Catholic Christian priest now for 25 years, serving in a single micro-jurisdiction which believes, teaches, and practices the Apostolic Faith according to the non-chalcedonian Indo-West Syriac tradition.  Through a series of serendipitous events leading up to my affiliating with the ACCA and being ordained a deacon, I believe that the Lord led me to this particular jurisdiction and I intend to stay with it until the end of my life. 

What do we mean when we speak of this no-chalcedonian tradition?  Well, most importantly, I think, it has to do with how we understand the Incarnation, the Divine Essence, the Human Essence, and the interrelationship of these. There is much to meditate upon here, but the first thing is (and I do not intend to state that Chalcedonians cannot or do not believe any of this as well, although sadly, it is usually not packaged together like this in the West, and the Eastern Orthodox?  Well, at least one EO theologian, the late Fr. John Meyendorff, called the EO "crypto-monophysite"), the Divine Essence is inherently communal.  God the "Father" then, in one eternal (timeless) act, an action with no beginning and no ending, generates, "gives birth to," or "begets" the Eternal Son and Word and, simultaneously in that same act, breathes forth the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit, "proceeding from the Father," "rests upon the Son" as we see in the baptism of the Lord Jesus in the Jordan.   This has to do with what is called the "economic Trinity," the triune God as revealed in the Divine Acts of Creation, the Incarnation, and the rest, that which is called "salvation history".  Another image used is that the Son/Word and the Holy Spirit are "the two hands" of the Father in creation and the remaining events of God's actions to, finally, divinize the cosmos and to become "all-in-all" and "everything to everyone" within the cosmos.

However, "prior" (logically or structurally, not chronologically) to this act, the Word and Spirit are found in the "bosom" of the Father and this Divine Triad here have a relationship, communion of the greatest intimacy.  This is the "immanent Trinity," in which each Divine Person is constituted of the other two, in which there is no "inner" or "outer" but each is completely transparent to the other two.  This communion is pictured, in the economic Trinity, as a relationship called "Perichoresis," or "dancing around," which pictures the three in an eternal circle-dance.  But however difficult it may be to visualize, this circle is always open to the inclusion of humans in order to expand the Divine Community and so that we might become by grace and adoption what the Divine Persons are by nature.

But the possibility for this has to do with human essence as created by the Divine Persons in the first place.    Humanity, both as a species and as distinct persons, is created in the "Image and Likeness of God".  While it is distorted by the fall, the human essence remains inherently communal.  It is also "capable of God."  Thus, the Incarnation is possible and, through that, our own deification is possible and this restores our relationship with the Divine Persons, but also, with the rest of humanity in Christ, who is both God and human.

One specific thing here should be noted.  In all the Christological debates in the early centuries of the Church and even now to some extent, the discussions often make it seem that Christology is a zero-sum game.  What I mean by that is that it seems in many cases, when the humanity of Christ is emphasized, there seems to be a concurrent de-emphasis of Christ's deity.  The opposite is also often true.  But this, I think, is incorrect.  As I see it, emphasizing Christ's deity also elevates humanity (His and ours) because it demonstrates that humanity is capable of incarnating a Divine Person and, through that, becoming deified on a wider scale and, through the life, death, and resurrection of this one Divine-human Person, deifying the entire creation.

Thus, to sum it up, the bottom line for me is that "I have no problem with believing and seeing that Jesus Christ is truly human as I am, and I do not doubt that he is also Divine.  I am concerned, not that Jesus is human like me, but that I become human like Jesus."  And yes, that means partaking of the Divine Nature through him in that his humanity, and mine, is fully realized through his being, first, God, the Second Divine Person.  So I thank the Lord Jesus, today and every day, for joining Himself to the human race and, by sharing the fullness of the human experience even unto death and then, rising again to die no more, sharing His Divine Life with us in His Body, the Church, via the work of the Holy Spirit in eliciting faith and allowing us to participate in the sacraments, the holy mysteries.  I thank Him, today especially, for the gift of the priesthood and for having had the honor and privilege of exercising it for the past 25 years. 

To the Lord Jesus, Eternal Son and Word of God born of the Father before all ages +, to God the Unoriginate Father, and to God the All-Holy, Good, and Live-giving Spirit, proceeding from the Father and resting upon the Son, be all glory, honor, and worship, both now and ever, in both worlds and unto the Aeon of aeons.  Amen!

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