The way of a priest, more than any other spiritual endeavor, is known by its dangers, difficulties, trials and temptations. It does not do to have optimistic illusions or dream about the everyday coziness of the life of a priest. The priesthood is first of all an ascetic struggle, in which the most unexpected tests await for a priest. Furthermore, the priesthood, as any other sphere of the spiritual life, is full of tragic conflicts and contradictions. A priest one the one hand is thrown into this world of passions and agitations, but on the other hand, he must not be caught up in these. The “self-crucifixion to the world” is incessantly felt in the priesthood, and the more a pastor gives himself to the struggles, the more strongly the sting of sin pierces, and everything hostile to the spiritual life force arises more severely. Therefore, a pastor is admonished before ordination to the priesthood, and from his first days is called to a sober view of the difficult and thorny path of his service.
The above-mentioned “self-crucifixion to the world” is felt much more strongly in the priesthood than in secular life. A priest, naturally, due to the laws of the human nature, undergoes all the attacks of sin typical to man, but, furthermore, he has special temptations unknown to the layman, i.e., purely pastoral tests.
It is pointless to quantify scholastically the number of temptations and to subject them to one or another classification. Some reduce them to 12, others limit their number to four (Archim. Anthony), and a third group — to three, according to the number of temptations of the Savior in the desert (Father G. Shchavelskiy). All these calculations are conditional and do not proceed from spiritual experience. This last system of reconning counts the temptations of the High Priest as a seemingly symbolic outline for His disciples, but it is possible to say with confidence that the Savior did not undergo the tests of spiritual improvement and ripening, natural for any priest. We will return to these three temptations later, and thus we must note the following.
Usually at first, a pastor experiences a special state of spiritual enthusiasm and almost bliss. He is completely occupied with his new activity, he becomes acquainted with it, he does not know much, and he still has a radiant view of everything. Frequently in the beginning of his service, a priest is spared from especially strong trials. The real temptations will come in the course of time. But the path of the spiritual growth for each person, and consequently, for each pastor, is completely individual, therefore it is not subject to any schematic generalizations.
A special form of tempation that can appear is the fear of serving the Divine mysteries, however, this does not apply to all. The fear to serve, sometimes to baptize, to confess, and especially to perform the sacrament of the Eucharist can attack a young pastor because of excessive piety or a scrupulous conscience, or perhaps through concealed pride. Then the desire to do something else arises because of a fear of making mistakes, of getting everything wrong, of dropping the vessels or of spilling the Holy Gifts in the sacrament of the Eucharist and so forth. The Western practice even has a term for this temptation: “timor sacerdotalis.” We must fight with this one strictly and try to conquer this feeling of fear by serving the Divine mysteries more often rather than less so. The advice of an elder, more experienced brother, Dean or bishop can help here. Since the fear of making mistakes frequently occurs through a fear of seeming inexperienced in the eyes of the flock, then we must remember always that during the divine service, the main thing is not human fear, but the fear of God, which is the beginning of wisdom. However, more important is the feeling of love for God, perfect, not slavish, and then the fear of God, i.e., reverential attitude to Him must be combined with this spiritual love. This service must be served with the fear of God, with faith and with love.
Likewise, one of the early temptations can be the certain immoderate desire for ascetical struggles such as fasting, praying, homiletics, etc. Without the corresponding guidance of a confessor, a young priest can be overcome by such an endeavor, which exceeds his natural gifts and spiritual power. At first, it is easy to plunge into intensive prayer and fasting, but, without having taken root in it gradually, it is possible to grow tired soon, to become cold to that undertaking, and even to lose that little that was obtained before becoming a priest. Then arises the temptation not to pray at all, and under different pretexts to reduce ones struggles, which can lead to complete laxity and spiritual weakening. Therefore in the matter of the pastoral service, prayerful struggles and spiritual growth as a whole, the young priest must be under the attentive supervision of an elder brother; he must check his pastoral daring, deferring to the experience of his elders, and take advice from wise clergymen. The danger of “breaking down” spiritually can easily disarm a weak and inexperienced priest and subject him to certain ailments which would be easier to foresee then to cure. Any growth must be organic and harmonious. However, on the other hand, any stoppages on the path of spiritual growth indicate an unavoidable recoil back down the slope.
In the direct correlation to this temptation to immoderate growth and overstrain, the danger of extreme demands on the flock can be observed in young priests. This special pastoral rigor is manifested in the superimposition on the shoulders of the spiritual children of “heavy burdens and grievous,” in the requirement from everyone, no matter their age or spiritual maturity, of excessive struggles, in judging those who lag behind or who have less faith, in accusatory sermons. This latter is encountered especially frequently. The sermon generally is a tool not easily used and not equally acceptable for everyone. A poor, dull, and especially, loquacious preacher becomes a cross for the flock. However, accusatory sermons are dangerous in general and almost always lead to opposite results. The temptation of rigorism is a special test of pastoral sensitivity and tact. It is born from a good motive, to draw everybody to perfection and to teach lessons and show examples that lead to salvation, but it frequently turns out negatively. The flock does not receive this rigorism in manner that a priest would like; and instead senses internal repulsion from the pastor, and then comes alienation from the Church or even the complete withdrawal from Christianity, generated by the simple and unconsidered zeal of a priest.
If the above-indicated danger waits for a priest mainly in the early stages of his service, then in the course of time other, more dangerous temptations may easily appear. The above-mentioned temptation is like an “early childhood disease,” which more or less any priest must go through. Every clever and sensitive pastor will overcome the “human fear,” subordinating it to the fear of God, diffuseded in love. In the course of time, he will pacify immoderate enthusiasm and enter into the normal path of organic growth; however, with years he will see the futility of rigorism and accusatory words for his work.
However, with years other tests of his pastoral tenacity and spiritual maturity will appear. One such temptation, which comes in the course of time, is the satiety with the work resulting from a certain fatigue. The young years will pass, the impulses of the spirit of sacrifice will cease, and life will teach him different unexpected contingencies and instead of the bright feasts of the first years will appear the insignificant week-day, the certain prose of ordinary priestly existence. There can appear one of the most terrible enemies of any spirituality — boredom. Nothing else is as terrible as this feeling.
Anger, immoderate requirements, fear of those around oneself and the other things can pass and be changed with a new energetic thrust in the service. However, boredom is the sign of an almost fatal danger in the matter of the priesthood. The blunting of interest in the work, sometimes proceeding from the failures and stagnation, can lead to the point that a pastor, in particular if he excessively relied on his own power, will lose all interest, grow sick spiritually, and fall into despondency and hold services with no hope. Then appears the unwillingness to pray, avoidance of serving the Liturgy, loss of interest in the spiritual life —and all this is frequently explained by the different seemingly reasons of illness, fatigue and so on. Almost unnoticeably, that which is known in asceticism as “hard-heartedness” sneaks up on a priest. The ardent fire of zeal has burnt out. A priest becomes then a formalist, an official, who is only “serving, exorcising, performing the funeral service” and generally dully carrying out ones duties. In this tired, disappointed, pastor losing heart very frequently is born a resistance to the Ustav, church tradition, hierarchy of values, asceticism: “All this became obsolete, all this is no longer for us, we must reexamine and reform much” and so forth. Instead of being led by the requirements of church order, such a pastor wants to measure the Church life with his mood and to minimize the church rules because of his laziness and negligence. If a pastor especially strongly relied on his “vocation” in his youth or by his nature was subjected to swift fascinations and disappointments, then with such spiritual depression he is close to desperation and can even totally repel from that which he worshipped before. This can lead to defrocking and spiritual death.
Let us pause to reflect on the question of these disappointments as one of the typical pastoral temptations in the known seasons of pastoral life. This disappointment can lead to the voluntary defrocking of those who ultimately lose their taste for being a pastor. Disappointment appears in the place where fascination had been before. This latter is not the correct criterion or correct axiology (logic with which to measure worth). Fascination or affection is not yet the real feeling of love (for a person, for an occupation). “Fascination” is a distorted relation to an object; this is the increased emotional overestimation of the qualities, properties and attractive facets of an object. When fascination passes, when normal life enters into its rights and when all the prosaic facets are revealed (of a person, a matter, a service, etc.), then it turns out that there was no authentic feeling, but rather self-deception; it was the worshipping of a false god.
It suddenly occurs that the object of affection, to which it had seemed, there was a calling no longer draws attention and to a tempted pastor it seems that he was deceived in his vocation. He sees that there was no vocation. But what is the reason?
The reason, first, is in self-reliance. That which seemed to a young candidate to be a vocation was nothing but self-deception. After having overestimated his internal forces, he noted afterwards that he lacks what he so highly overestimated. Human pride wrought its work and it continues to do the same, tempting a young pastor.
He forgot the words of the prayer at ordination: “The Divine grace, which ever healeth what is infirm and supplieth what is wanting, passing through my hand, ordaineth this most pious ….” He forgot that not his weak powers, not that what seemed to him to be a vocation, not his knowledge and talents, but Divine Grace alone can complete that which he lacks.
We should examine more deeply the psychology of these spiritual disappointments. It would be good to give several examples from the history of pastoral serviceand spiritual life.
Let us set aside this commonplace example of voluntary defrocking as the consequence of the death of the wife of a priest. A widower somehow cannot bear the burden of solitude, and, desiring to be honest, he prefers to be defrocked than to live in sin and to draw others into temptation. Such cases were numerous before the revolution, — that is evident from the church lists and magazines.
Let us set aside the case of defrocking of priest Gregory Petrov, who did not obey the orders of the diocesan authority and left the priesthood after a number of political speeches. This case could occur only in a troubled time, such as before and after 1905. The cheap effect of his sermons and pamphlets found sympathy with the Russian intelligentsia of that epoch. Our intelligentsia did not want to know and did not bear Great Russian pastor John of Kronstadt, but was fascinated by Petrov, but now everyone has forgotten him.
Let us set aside and those betrayals of spiritual office that occurred in the years of revolution and persecutions of the Church by the Communists.
Let us rather examine more characteristic examples through Pastoral theology.
One characteristically deluded with his “vocation” was the famous French writer of the 18th century l’abbe Prévost, the author of “Manon Lescaut,” “Mémoires d’un homme de qualité,” “Le pour et le contre,” etc. This Jesuit novice, who ran away from them in order to join the army, who then returned to them and again left them; entered the Order of Benedictines, and the scientific congregation of Maurists, which gave so much to the history of the Church, patristic and liturgics, but then left them as well. Two very concise articles by Sainte-Beuve: about L’abbe Prévost in “Portraits litéreres” and ““L’abbe Prévost et les Bénédictins,” both give the illustrious features of Prevost. The sharp critic, who knew perfectly well the historical situation and sources for the story of his “character,” shows, to what extent he was precisely “uncalled” to that spiritual path, which he attempted to follow three times. His dignity of the spirit, refined culture, literary and scientific taste could make out of him, if only he had possessed self-discipline, a great scientific or spiritual worker. Self-deception, self-delusion and pride destroyed Prevost for spiritual work.
Ernest Renan can serve as ane example of a different kind. It is true that Renan never was a priest and even did not accept the lowest church ranks, so that nothing will be said of deprivation of a rank which did not exist. Let us speak only about the spiritual disappointment and the breaking of his already outlined way. The majority of people know Renan only as the author of “The life of Jesus,” the weakest article of all those written by him. Almost no one reads his historical essays about the apostolic time, his philological research works. But his recollections of his childhood and adolescence should be read to become acquainted with the epoch and with Renan himself. This book speaks with love and respect about his Bretonian curés and teachers in a small seminary in Paris. It is known, anyway, that Renan did not accept spiritual office, due to his disappointment with the obscurant approach to science, to biblical criticism and archaeology in particular, which ruled in his time. Nowadays the Catholic scientists have moved in the field of the criticism of the text much further than Renan dreamed.
Renan could not or did not want to combine obedience to the authority of the Church with the achievements of science of those days and considered himself honest for not entering the clergy. This was also a kind of defrocking. In Russian history, there is one episode which resembles that of Renan, but much is more tragic. This is the example of Archimandrite Theodore Bukharev. Being the Master of Moscow Spiritual Academy, in the sight of authorities and Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow, who was kindly disposed to him, Archimandrite Theodore applied for voluntary defrocking, which was then (in the 1860’s) an unprecedented scandal. The deeply concealed reason for this step was that he realized the impossibility of combining his personal understanding of the Christianity, pastoral service, monasticism and scientific activity with the requirements of the highest church authority and historical reality. Nothing pushed Archimandrite Theodore to this step: he had the purest personal monastic life, scientific awards, position in the church hierarchy, future possibilities, etc. A deep internal discord with reality and within himself, some kind of free interpretation of the Christianity, constructed impracticable illusions, the discord with the society and authorities, hostile tricks of some church writers (Askochenskiy) brought the man to a conviction about the necessity of defrocking. There was the self-deluded feeling of the correctness of his personal understanding of the Christianity, and an increased sensitivity, but the main thing, that it is, that it is Divine Grace that cures, and not the personality of man, was forgotten.
In order to conclude, let us give the sensational example of our time from the English Catholic world. Monica Baldwin in her interesting and captivating book “I Jumped over the Wall” tells the story of her monasticism. The niece of the English prime minister, a girl from the highest English society, a Catholic, but not an Anglican, very educated, she in 1914, on the eve of the First World War, left for the Benedictine woman’s monastery, where, after passing the strict obedience, she stayed for 27 years. In 1941, already during the Second World War, after long reflections, torments, advice, she applied for the removal of the vows of monasticism and for permission to return to the world. Rome always knows how to find a way out and the necessary formulas. This was resolved, and she returned to the world. The reason for her withdrawal from monasticism was, that she “has consciousness of the fact that she does not have vocation” to monasticism. And this happened after 27 years! The book is so sincerely written and is so clean, it so sublimely and reverently tells the reader about the years spent away from the world that it is possible to read it as one of the specimens of spiritual literature. However, this does not change the essence of the matter. This is the overestimation of one’s own forces and personal ideas, probably, the aggravated to the limit honesty and strictness in respect to oneself, the wide search for the spiritual truth. However, the tragedy is present: spiritual disappointment after 27 years of monasticism! This book by its elevated relation to monasticism and the past of the author involuntarily directs to the question: will Monica Baldwin not return into the monastery never again?
A self-reliance and self-confidence in the determination of one’s vocation, together with the known difficulties and disappointment, very frequently lead such clerics to the more sharp and oppositional treatment of the hierarchy in the Church. The example of Luther is not unique. Perhaps, led by the noblest motives, legally subordinating to the priesthood leaders, Luther bases his independent religious society, begins one of the largest schisms in the history of the Western Christianity. The history knows sufficient number of such examples. The freedom-loving spirit of “hallicanism” gave birth to many similar situations in France.
The revolution of 1789 knows, by the way, such a case. The bishop of dioceses Viviers, Lafont de Savine, became interested in Rousseau’s ideas and after the recognized revolutionary oath of the clergy he began his reformatory activity, rejected fasting, abstentions, holy feasts, started to preach the divorces of marriages, met with the men of revolution and even promised to all the priests the bishop rank. But after the restoration he, apparently, realized his errors, returned to the obedience of the Church and bitterly mourned over his falling.
If Lafont de Savin were not defrocked, then he was about to cause the disastrous consequences for the church; and Lamenne went further along this way. He officially broke with the tradition of the Church and with the hierarchy. In his will, signed on January 16, 1854, he writes: “My body must be carried directly to the cemetery, without bringing it to any church…..”
After the proclamation by the Vatican of the dogma of the “infallibility” of the Pope, the Carmelite Hyacinth Luason left the Catholic priesthood and broke with Rome, after stating that he no more belongs to any church but the church of the future, to New Jerusalem. He rejected his vows of monasticism and the celibacy of the priesthood, married and in this respect goes even further than Lamenne and Luasi. Abbot Pierre D’abri, at first fascinated with the social ideas of Pope Leo 13, rapidly became disappointed in the contemporary position of the church; he broke with it, declaring, that it was insufficiently contemporary and uncongenial to the spirit of the age and the present society.
This all shows that the “vocation” of the above-mentioned clerics was very fragile and their love for the church was not very deep. The ideas of their present interested them more than the wisdom of the church and hierarchical foundation. They justify their withdrawal with the “voice of conscience.” It is amazing, how easily they give up that which they obtained in the sacrament of the Priesthood. Many of the so-called “Society of 33 Petersburg’s priests” (in the years of revolution of 1905) later became the leaders of the renovation and “living church” movement. They broke with the church due to some illusory and temporary political principles. In our time, there is the characteristic example of the French “priests-workers,” who did not wish (in the main part) to obey the voice of the episcopacy and who placed their “mission” higher than obedience to the church. In their line of reasoning, they prefer to refer to the names of the Marxist leaders, but not to evangelists and fathers of the Church.
The list of such “disappointments” and falls could go on, but these examples suffice. One conclusion suggests itself here. Such cases occur most frequently among the freely thinking and liberal acting pastors. Such “liberal views” are taken not in their straight, political meaning, and the thing here is not about politics. “The policy of church is in making no politics” — this is the wise expression of a western church priest. However, in liberalism and freethinking there is already some concealed potential for rebelliousness. In the deviation to the left (non-political) there is always the danger of inflexibility, disobedience to tradition, the exaltation of the personal opinion above the wisdom of the ages and above the experience of the Church.
A special temptation in the path of pastoral service is thesecularization of the spiritual gift that is given to a priest at ordination. There are priests who, for some reason, follow ways that have nothing in common with their service and with the beneficial transformation of the world. Instead of the mysterious contribution to the birth of “a new creature in Christ”, they for some reason transfer the center of gravity onto different secular forgeries of the authentic spiritual creation. If a pastor is generally inclined toward politics and has patriotic weaknesses, then he easily replaces his service with the other worldy interests. The temptation to conform to another authority awaits him here, be this authority leftist or rightist, and can fascinate him. History repeatedly showed us examples of such priests and hierarchs, who too easily negotiated with the political factors, and subordinated the eternal and celestial in the Church to purely terrestrial and ephemeral values. If a pastor for some reason considers that the most important thing in his service is to spread social justice and to search for the realization of some terrestrial paradise, then he easily and rapidly substitutes the intellectual values with different social illusions. Such pastors become businessmen, beekeepers, agriculturists in cassocks; they participate in the volunteer firefighters and gymnastic societies, totally plunging into different secular organizations. All these is always done with a noble concern for the need or desire to be contemporary and to live with the interests of the flock.
The above discussion centered on the need for the intellectual and external preparation for a future pastor, but as it was indicated, immoderation in it can easily bring a priest to secularization. Therefore, if a pastor has an innate taste for different kinds of cultural undertakings, then he can easily fall into the temptation of being fascinated by the mundane interests. A cultural foundation can be a useful tool in the matter of the pastoral guidance, but in no way is it the purpose of the life of a priest. Otherwise, it is easy to fall into a rather vulgar mundane passion and unnoticeably be converted into a “modern” pastor-writer, theatergoer, pamphleteer and so forth. To know everything that interests the flock is very useful and to guide it in this respect is also good, but to give himself in to this passion and to lose the spirituality, prayerful qualities and asceticism in contemporary matters is ruinous for a pastor and not useful for his work. The flock might want to hear a weighty word about one or another cultural phenomenon from a priest, but a word which is pastoral, i.e., the spiritual word, from the other world, based on the other criteria. A pastor might and even must know all this, but not plunge into this, not to substitute the values. The Gospel never promised optimistic prospects, it did not command a Christian and even more a pastor to be occupied with social reforms. It warned that the Reign of God is not from of world and taught to return to Caesar only what belongs to him, and in no way what belongs to God. From a priest therefore is expected mercy to those fallen, compassion to the poor, but in no way the building of a terrestrial paradise, neither an economic nor other mundane construction.
We must place absolutely separately that group of temptations, which some pastoralists put in the xontext of the temptations of the Lord in the desert. They consist of material temptation (the temptation by bread), the temptation of authority (the temptation of the reigns of the world) and the temptation of “holiness” (the temptation of wonderworking). We must speak about each of them in detail, since the other temptations adjoin them, and they can be better understood in this context.
Material temptation. Bread. In this field big enough difficulties in diverse spheres await for a pastor and pastoralist. This question is connected with the special theme of the material supply of a priest, his salary and so forth, to which a special chapter will be dedicated. In this context, we must speak only about the temptation by the material as a temptation of pastoral service, about the psychological side of this question.
As in all spheres of the spiritual making, a pastor first is a man, subject to general human weaknesses and temptations. It is characteristic of any person to worry about his personal prosperity and his close ones. “For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it.” Therefore, these concerns for daily bread are completely normal. Temptation does not arise at all over a piece of bread, especially if a pastor has a family and does not have money. A priest’s inclination to give his children an education, to ensure the health and welfare of his family, and also to be neat and not deprived of the necessary things for himself is completely justified by moral law. The material temptation does not lie in this, this is not “the temptation by bread.”
This temptation appears as another plan. A pastor can be tempted “to be like everyone.” A leaning towards enrichment, luxury can appear in him, or, which is still worse, the desire “only not to seem poorer than the others.” Instead of an indifference to the material benefits, an interest in supplying himself and his family with material, the desire to multiply his income, “to pull down the barns, and build greater ones” begin to grow in a priest. The priest himself begins to fear poverty, to suppress in himself the Evangelical feelings of compassion to those deprived, to forget that money is the “blood of the pauper.” A priest then unnoticeably but gradually moves away from that which was commanded to him by the High Priest Himself, and transfers the center of his interests to the opposite side. He begins to shun the poverty, searches for acquaintances and connections with the rich and the notable, the special psychology of the earthly prosperity appears in him. He too easily justifies profit, makes in his conscience the union with the rich, is ashamed of miseries, modesty and need.
History and literature contain numerous direct and indirect accusations of the priesthood in the conforming to wealth. In historical experience, the idol of money too frequently drew in the priestly heart. The palaces of the western cardinals and archbishops, the rich apartments of our princes of church both in Russian monasteries and in the patriarch palace in Kharlovtsi, in Chernovitsi and other centers, supported by Habsburgs and therefore subservient hierarchy, examples of some priests who are homeowners and have bank accounts, — although all this is not very frequent, it creates a bad reputation for the priesthood in the eyes of the atheistic, Masonic and in anti-church propaganda. The laymen repeatedly accuse Christianity of the union with capital. The Church never took on the obligation, and must not take it, to spread economic equality and to destroy the capitalist system; but a pastor, who justifies wealth, who is afraid of poverty, and who looks for security, —- is a direct contradiction of the Evangelical commandment and an excellent weapon for anti-Christian propaganda.
Briefly stated, this temptation of the materialism, or “the temptation by bread,” is reduced to a psychological optical illusion. A priest loses the correct direction, he is attracted by what is unnecessary, perverts the hierarchy of values and worships that which has to be negligible for him and towards which it is necessary to be indifferent. A priest is not required to be poor, but he must not fear poverty nor be ashamed of it. A priest must not be preoccupied with the sermon of the social equality, but neither must he protect and justify the wealth and luxury.
In this question, there is a temptation that comes from the other side. Without having yielded to the temptation of wealth and conformity with the capital, a young priest can plunge into the “burning issues of the present” due to the inexperience and be led into yet another extreme.
Without having understood his task in this difficult question correctly, he can become fascinated by the stylized ideal of the Evangelical poverty. He may begin to preach about social equality, the arbitrarily understood “Christian communism” of the apostolic community of the first days of the Christianity, forgetting, that the similar kind of efforts looks like a sectarian inclination and it is unhistorical in its roots. All this will be no more than a stylization of bad taste. But going further, he can convert himself into an apostle of political communism, a preacher of some socialist party, which already is completely incompatible with his priestly vocation.
Summing up the above, it is possible to say directly that the role of a social reformer, which is not charged to him by the church, and is not the element of his pastoral activity, is not required of a priest. His center of its gravity is only in the spiritual sphere, and his measures of influence can be only ecclesiastical and worthy of his office. However, he must neither in his life, nor in the sermon anthe apologist of capitalism and a conformist with social evils, or the apostle of communism and a social tribune.
The temptation with authority. Power. This is no less alluring and a much more fine temptation in the life and duties of a priest. It does not at all consist of the narrow understanding of the self-seeking of a priest and his relentless thirst for ambition and popularity.
This is only where it begins. A pastor, accustomed to the rewarding of the clergy with different ecclesiastic and sometimes also secular rewards, easily yields to ambitious longings. He begins to calculate in how many years he will obtain the kamilavka, when he will become a protopresbyter, or whether he will be soon awarded a miter or another sign. The psychology of precedence is being developed as, for example, from what side of the bishop he will stand at the council services and what rank he occupies on the whole among the clergy. The Greeks and Arabs have no hierarchies of different rewards as exists in the Russian church (nabedrennik, different kinds of crosses, miter). The very principle of reward is not agreeable with the Evangelical ideology, according to which all taking some pains it was said: “great is your reward in heaven.” All this is the consequence of the close alliance of the Church with the state.
But this is only the external side of ambition, and much more dangerous is that which excites the inclination towards spiritual authority in a pastor. The authority is actually given to him from God, but it, first, it is sacramental, of a mystic nature, and it must be diffused with paternal love and compassion for the flock. If a pastor enjoys different awards, then this can be easily excused by the heritage of the long captivity of the Church by the state. But if the thirst for spiritual authority above the flock begins to wake up in a pastor, then this is already a more dangerous symptom, which testifies of the certain distortion of his spiritual sight.
But where is this more delicate temptation revealed?
A priest wants to have the spiritual authority over the souls, forgetting that he first must co-suffer with them and is called for their spiritual revival, to the new life in Christ and transfiguration. This supremacy can be manifested in different ways. The most frequent form is a thirst to attain from the guided a “podvig,” and ascetic struggle, which Metropolitan Anthony defined as follows: “Even deeply religious and pious ascetics, but little gifted with the pastoral spirit, become heavy officials for the flock.” The young and over-zealous priest imagines himself to be the elder of the souls entrusted to him, demands unconditional obedience, up to reading of the certain books or having an interests in one or another sphere of public life. Entirely immoderate in this respect, pastors subject the entire life of their spiritual children to censorship, without considering the individual abilities of each of them, but mainly — his own gifts.
The second form of the same temptation appears in the sphere of teaching. Such a young and inexperienced pastor wants to be “the authority” for his flock at any cost. He considers himself to be the more knowledgable in all aspects, he interferes in everything with force and requires acknowledgement of his authority. Without being an expert in some questions, but pretending to be the one, he tries to support his authority by the priestly rank. In such cases, the degree of the truth depends no longer on the truth itself, but on the one who says it. Such a tempted pastor gives as argument: “I tell you as a priest” or “I tell you as an archimandrite” as a valid proof. It is even possible to hear: “I tell you as a deacon.”
When not the content itself, but the place from where the truth is being announced, is supposed to be the criterion, then the weight of this truth does not increase. Neither the rank of a certain spiritual person nor the position of the diocese can support the uncertain truth in the eyes of a clever and critically gifted person. This tempting by authority and temptation of it must be eradicated by a priest and instead a clever, wise, weighty, substantiated word must be given.
No external honors, ranks and awards, search for authority or spiritual subordination of the flock must lead a priest, but rather service to the truth. He must always remember that alike is the Heavenly High Priest; he must attempt to serve to the others, but not to expect the service for himself.
The real authority, i.e., real spiritual importance appears by itself, as a gift from above, as a fruit of the present spiritual struggle of humility and asceticism. Those, who possessed this authority and weight throughout history, less than anyone else, reminded others of their dignity, position, external differences and diplomas in disputes. The truth always speaks for itself.
In this context arises such a detail of the pastoral life. It is natural for a priest to expect the signs of respect for his rank: asking for blessings, giving up the place, respectfully listening to his words, etc. But it is especially sad for his pastoral heart to encounter signs of irreverence, an intentional desire to insult, indecent gestures and words addressed to him and the rough attacks of an embittered heart against him. In this case, we must note two things. First, why is this most frequently undeserved attitude and anger directed to a priest? It is possible to explain this by the suggestion of the force hostile to everything spiritual and non-mundane. However, one should also ask himself about other things, like: has a priest given a reason so that his spiritual rank does not suggest any respect? It can be, that this priest does not give any opportunity to suspect himself in anything unworthy, but are not the priests collectively guilty in some treason to their spiritual vocation and their rank? Is not therefore this insult a kind of payback for the sins of the certain priests in their unworthy behavior, negligence, lack of spirituality? The second thing which must be noted is the fact that a pastor must accept any disdainful and malicious attitude with humilty and even appreciation, that he, too, is given “for Christ’s sake” an opportunity to accept the tribute of the persecution and profanation, and with the fortitude, modestly and worthily, to continue his confessionary struggle in the name of the Lord.
The temptation of “holiness” (wonderworking). This is the most dangerous temptation of all the pastoral temptations. Its danger lies precisely in the fact that it results from the motives of a higher order, from a tendency towards moral perfection and can unnoticeably lead a pastor into the sin of prelest, i.e., spiritual self-delusion.
A priest must look for holiness, for spirituality, the “heavenly state” (on St. Gregory the Theologian’s word). In his life and service, he stands beside the sacred thing. Daily standing at the Holy Table, he turns to be the mediator between the people, who search for holiness, and God, — the Source of holiness. He serves the Divine mysteries, prays, and touches the sacred things. In ordination, he is given the Grace which exceeds everything. According to St. Ephraim the Syrian, his service is higher than the Tsar’s. The deeper a pastor enters into the rhythm of his service, the more he plunges into the atmosphere of holiness. Touching the censer with the incense, he himself begins to smell sweet. And all this is completely proper; holiness must be the standard of the priestly service.
Any sacrament held by a priest is the daring appeal to God for a miracle. And with each divine service this miracle happens even independently of the personal merits of a priest, his mind, appearance, abilities. The water becomes blessed, sins are pardoned, the Eucharistic gifts transform into the Body and the Blood, icons, crosses, vestments, houses, anything becomes sanctified. The entire activity of a priest is the Eucharistic undertaking; at his prayer everything usual becomes blessed, uncommon, protected from the touch of that which is not ordained. In a word, a priest lives and acts in the atmosphere of wonders and the miraculous. His sphere is one of wonder working.
All this is lawful and comes from the very essence of the priestly service. A priest prays, solicits, appeals, and the Grace of the Holy Spirit fills everything, cures, transfigures, sanctifies. The longing of a priest for even greater holiness and darings is as well natural. The commandment of improvement is given, and there are no boundaries, since the limit is the Celestial Father Himself, i.e., the infinity of our nature.
And as once the tempter approached the Lord asking to show a miracle (to throw Himself from the roof of a temple, and the miracle will occur, when angels will carry Him on the hands), so the tempter also approaches an inexperienced priest at some moment of his life and tempts him in the same miraclulous direction. The difference lies only in the fact that there satan awaited the suicide of the Lord, tempting Him by the words of the Scripture (distorted on purpose); where here, a sly voice begins to tempt a young priest, suggesting, that precisely he, by himself, due to his own gifts and perfection, has already reached the special power and degree of holiness and can become a wonderworker. A priest is caught in the most elevated element of his service, in the ideal of perfection, in holiness. The tempting thought is suggested to him, that he already reached a special level and deserves perfection.
A pastor unnoticeably begins to assign to himself that what does not belong to him, but not to the Grace of the Holy Spirit. That which is given in any sacrament and divine service by the Holy Spirit does not depend at all on the personal gifts of a priest, but this very priest begins to see its dependence on his personal qualities and perfections, his spirituality, prayers, asceticism, etc. The similar error more often reveals in the sphere of mood and sensation, than in the mental-theoretical sphere. This shift is rather psychological, than national. A priest understands perfectly well that the blessing force belongs to the Holy Spirit, but the possibility to attain the greater sanctifying power of the Spirit he assigns already to himself, his spiritual merit, and exploit.
To this greatly contribute some ecstatic persons, which surround a pastor, chiefly the fascinated ladies, not deprived of the element of hysteria, who in their spiritual aspiration must worship, adore someone, and serve to him. The Russian ecclesiastic way of life produced a special expression for such hysterically behaving persons — “mironositsy (the Myrrh bearers).” This phenomenon is characteristic exceptionally of the Russian way of life. The Greek, Arab, Serbian church element do not know of such a deformed phenomenon due to their greater steadiness. Russian sincerity, great lyricism, and the melodiousness of our religious experiences carry this out to the highest degree and contribute to this temptation in daily pastoral life.
Such “devotees” necessarily revere someone, and rapidly find their object of adoration in a more or less outstanding pastor for themselves, especially in a good preacher, if he serves beautifully, chants well or, what is worse, if he is young and beautiful. Each of his words is caught in flight, his voice leads to agitation, and each step and gesture is interpreted with a special meaning. Such a pastor no longer can make mistakes, each of his words is the pearl of wisdom, his sermon obscures Chrysostom, and his prayers are fire before God. To his prayer rule they assign miracles, when it was nothing special in the medical sense, and where generally no miracle occurred. The pastor becomes in the eyes of these neurasthenics and, which is worse, in his own eyes, a special prayer master, spiritually gifted, he has special boldness before God, he heals, he works wonders. They find in him special gifts: one touch of his hand already cures the chronic ailments; he is even shrewd, he guesses thoughts, he predicts the future. In the well-aimed word of Metropolitan Anthony, such a pastor begins “to resemble John of Kronstadt.” About him are invented legends while he is still alive. The worst of this is the fact that such an inexperienced, young pastor begins to yield easily to these temptations, to believe in his imaginary gifts, to enter into the role of such a “healer, praying master, saint.”
For the maintenance of his reputation or on the habit of many to imitate others a pastor begins to work out his style, become stylized under someone who seems to him a perfect priest, he learns by heart special poses, says especially false-sweet sermons, unnaturally serves “with a tear and tender emotion.”
A pastor from the first steps of such beginning worship must decisively and sharply (sharpness here is useful and justified) reject such false tender feelings and immediately limit this unhealthy and deformed phenomenon in the life of his flock. However, if a pastor allows such worship and carries it along and cultivates it, then he personally falls into this false mood, he entices himself and ruins the others.
The health and prosperity of a pastor is the special concern of such enthusiastic women. By itself, there is nothing bad in it. However, the danger is not in the concern itself, but in the “made-up legend.” The rumors begin to spread: our father does not take care of himself, he indeed is not from this world, he is about to be ill with consumption, he exhausts himself, all night long he prays to God, etc. Here a priest should decisively and immediately reject such rumors, because in the majority of cases they are based on nothing. However, if a pastor actually undertakes special struggles of fasting and prayer, then “to make a living out of this” as holy fathers said, is totally unnecessary. Ascetiscm is asceticism only if it is hidden from the eyes of the people. An asceticism revealed to everyone, loses its value, both before God and for the ascetic himself.
A pastor must accept any concern for him which emanates from love. It is necessary to accept any offering, and thank people for the attention, BUT any kind of admirations, adorations, or legends one must reject decisively.
To summarize the above, we may note that a priest must warm up all the spiritual, celestial in him, and increasingly plunge into the atmosphere of prayer and sacraments fulfillment.. He must believe without doubt in the fact that he is called to work wonders. BUT he must not treat these gifts as his personally, nor consider himself a special master of prayer and the elect, but, on the contrary, he must subdue himself in his own eyes and in the eyes of the flock and, what is most important, to suppress any adoration and admiration decisively.
Everything enumerated cannot alone complete the question of pastoral temptations, and the tests of the pastoral conscience can appear in the most unexpected ways and places of his activwork. All that which disrupts the normal flow of the spiritual life of a priest or which can force him to turn away from the path indicated to him of service to the church and to the flock, all this must be recognized by him as a new temptation, with which he should begin to fight. This question must be related rather to the field of asceticism, where a pastor will find useful advice from the age-long ascetic experience of life, concerning the fight against temptations. The greatest sin is that which we consider insignificant and small. Therefore, the struggle must start at the very beginning of the appearing of a sinful desire, without waiting until this wish becomes accomplished in the form of a committed sin. This is the first thing. But second is the need to remember that frequently sins are presented to us in the form of the virtues. The tempter appears in the form of the “angel of the light.” Bad wishes very frequently are born out of good motives. Often the sin entices us with different seemingly good pretexts and considerations, it would seem, of the most elevated nature, and only after we shall find ourselves in its power, is the sin revealed in its entire nudity. Therefore, it is very important for a pastor to possess the gift of reasoning and to know how to distinguish the spirits, from where they take their origin, — from God or from the enemy.
—Archimandrite Cyprian (Kern)