Images of this type used to make me uneasy. Sometimes they still do. Priests decked out with crowns and gold like Lil’ Wayne gone wild. But I know this is not common in Orthodoxy in the sense that priests and bishop sleep next to a crown and gold chains every night. It’s all meant to exemplify Christ. It’s more than just the bling though. The idea of spiritual authority has been something I’ve struggled with for awhile.
I’m a warm-blooded, freedom-loving American. I like questioning “the man” and I appreciate the razor sharp sarcastic wit of Jon Stewart.
But I also realize that I’m not a product of my own making. There’s a meme that runs through the mind of pretty much every American citizen -that if we just pull up hard enough on our bootstraps, we can elevate ourselves to the sky.
The problem is that this is an illusion. We do not survive or thrive on our own. We do not grow and flourish by our own efforts. We may possess innate intelligence and skill, but none of that matters unless someone comes along and shows us the long, beaten path that helps us master those skills we possess.
The word “authority” has become a dirty word. There are those with authority who abuse it and manipulate their underlings to their will. We often epitomize every authority as a hand-wringing Mr. Burns character, or as magic genies who will fix everything for us. As time went on from the post-Vietnam era, punk music commodified anti-authoritarianism and made it cool. So now we see the progress to how those in positions of power are some of the least-respected. Policemen, politicians, CEOs…people who have had the most visibility and power are generally regarded as tyrants or demigods rather than servants and those with the best reputation and virtues are forgotten in the sands of time -but not to the Church.
The truth is that authority is there for our own growth. Authority, when followed correctly, compels us to lead by being the lowest of all. It serves rather than seeking to be served. It seeks the good of others than it’s own good. Jesus Christ exemplified true authority by getting down on his knees and washing the feet of his disciples. God incarnate took the grimy feet of fishermen and washed them.
In my personal journey, I have come to accept and even long for authority and guidance. To me, having a spiritual Father to confess my sins to and to seek guidance from is both a scary and exciting prospect. I know that I may rebel and question the guidance, even if the Father is loving. Or, maybe I’ll be dissatisfied with the priest after some time and try to move on to someone else who serves me better. It’s the American way to switch churches when you don’t like the pastor anyway, right?
But if the priest is humble, kind and receiving sound guidance from the Bishop and the Bishop is receiving sound guidance from his superiors, then the upside-down kingdom should work as intended, with us all serving one another selflessly and joyfully.
I’m assured because there is a much higher authority in this chain. As Ben Parker once said “with great power comes great responsibility”. And so it is with spiritual eldership. Teachers and those in authority are soundly exhorted in the scriptures. Here’s what power-grubbing and self-seeking will do for you as a spiritual teacher…
But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction.
And that servant, which knew his lord’s will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.
Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.
All of this reassures me that there is a justice with God, but also the priest who does fear God will truly fear His judgement. There are also 2,000 years of saints and elders who all kept each other consistent in their humility to God, for humility is where God’s divine presence is. A proud heart is unable to be changed by God and a soul whose will was unyielding to the Holy Spirit will not be able to stand as a spiritual authority before Him and account for the souls that slipped through his fingers.
I will continue to examine myself and in doing so, I hope I am found worthy enough to disciple someone else into a relationship with the Creator someday. With much fear and trembling I hold such a hope. I have faith and pray that the Father Confessor destined to pastor me in the Way of Life holds the same flame in his heart.
I also pray my future priest is ready take on a piece o’ work!