Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Work and Priesthood

It is no secret to those who know me that I aspired to the priesthood for about 50 years of my life. For 30 of those years since I got fired from my one "full time ministry job" I've been a construction worker to put a lot of food on a large table under a large roof for a large family.  Since I became Orthodox almost a dozen years ago, I've been "THIS close" to being ordained a few times, but by God's grace it hasn't happened. Now I know... well, actually it's more like "now I can admit"... why.

You see, even in grade school I wanted to be a priest so I would be seen and regarded as "a priest".  For nearly 50 years the priesthood was a goal that would fulfill my self-perception.  I "knew" I was called to the priesthood at age six, and I continued to "know" it for the next 50 years. It didn't happen in the Catholic Church. I did a stint in ministry in a protestant church. But as sure as I knew I was "called", I also knew I wanted other people to know I was called.  Someone once asked, "How do I know if the fire I have inside is from God?"  It is whether you want other people to notice the fire.  I know this because I confess that I wanted people to notice the fire. And a lot of people did. And it both confirmed my "knowing" and convicted me of my falsehood.

Since becoming Orthodox, over the years laypeople, monks, abbotts and abbesses, priests and even bishops fed my delusion by trying to get me ordained. But I knew with a knowing deeper than my private lies to myself that it was my ego calling me, not God. In a dark place I knew that those who wished me the priesthood were responding to a well crafted facade, an illusion of piety, a chameleon-competence in putting on appearances and role playing. They only knew me for minutes at a time, perhaps a few hours now and then. Construction work paid well, it is honorable labor, but the priesthood would give me a true identity, the robe would affirm to others my self perception as a "spiritual person" better than paint crusted jeans and a stained T-shirt. I would be at the altar, I would be talking up in the front.

But the Scriptures tell me that I AM a priest.  By virtue of my baptism, I have a royal priesthood.  By virtue of marriage and family, I am the Father of my household.  I knew that even as a Protestant. But in my younger days that was not good enough for me. Being the priest of a wife and two kids at Sierra Vista Street was not fulfilling enough. I needed to be admired, listened to and the leader of dozens, not three. My then-wife didn't want me to be a "priest" of a church. I did. It became partial fodder and an occasional topic during several years of marriage counseling. She knew before we got married I wanted to be a minister. She didn't want to be a minister's wife and married me anyway because she didn't think it could ever happen, I was too "radical". But it did for 3 years, and it was still on my agenda when I got fired for being too radical. I know now that the bottom line was, my self-perception was more important to me than she was. I was not willing to lay down my "real life as I perceived it" for her sake. I resented that she was a roadblock to me being what I thought I was supposed to be, even though she would have reluctantly followed.  Reluctance was not good enough, I wanted a cheerleader. But she would not cheer, but only wear a martyr's smile. After 35 years, I now know she was right and all the bishops, monks, priests and elders since her were wrong.  I am not fit for the priesthood.  My intimate community knew what those who have "authority" didn't.  But I didn't want to hear my community, I wanted to hear what I wanted to hear, even if I knew it was false and coming from people I knew I had deceived.

So I came into Orthodoxy as a former divorced protestant minister.  It is called a "canonical impediment" that some jurisdictions offer economia for and some don't.  On a "legalistic" level, a Bishop is well within his rights to relax the canon. On a spiritual level, I look at what it means to be the "husband of one wife" and to "rule one's household well" as a qualification for the priesthood and I see the genius of the requirement.  It is simply Ephesians 5: if I am not willing to give up the priesthood for the sake of the love for my wife, then how can I imagine that I will be able to love the Church and my spiritual family with maturity and with integrity and in truth?  In the one case I am posing as a husband, in the other I am posing as a priest. The proving ground of the priesthood of the Church is the priesthood of home and family. If I do not love my wife enough to sacrifice myself for her sake, I am a poser as a husband. If I cannot sacrifice in marriage, I cannot sacrifice myself for the Church. In both situations it is about "ME", not love... and in the end a man will lose both his first church and his second ordination and spiritual family.

There are stories of men who were forcibly dragged to the altar and ordained.  I have been forcibly dragged to my true altar. I now wear the vestments of my true priesthood willingly. These are the vestments of a true priest.  These are the most difficult to wear because they have a hidden glory. And frankly, I don't look often for hidden glory.

If a man will not wear these in peace, with joy, diligence and gratitude and offer himself to put bread on the altar of his family's supper table, he is not fit to wear the gold vestments and offer the bread of the table of the Lord.

(The expanded podcast version of this post can be heard HERE )


Peggy said...

Boy, you really got down to the heart of the matter. xoxo

Sophocles said...

Excellent post.

bob said...

Very nicely put. Being a layman is a pretty amazing thing when you're in the actual Church. Hard to beat that as a vocation. Everyone who has been in a liturgy has wanted to be, at least for 15 minutes, a celebrant. Like everyone who sees a colonel knows they look a little more exalted than a private. That's a bad example since "rank" doesn't mean the same thing at all in the church. Being *happy* to be where you are as a layman or reader or such is a huge gift. You've got it over the unhappy souls (and you've seen them, haven't you?) who get deacon-itis and can't get it cured? Sometimes it sends them right out of the church into the nether world of fake churches, sometimes they become pretty disastrous clergy and mess up themselves and others. Vladimir Lossky was a *mere* layman! Go thou and do likewise.

Orthodox Christian Resources said...

Dear Steve,

You have made me realise a few things about my life as well...Indeed, the truth does hurt.

It's funny how we try to manipulate God's plan into fitting our own plan, because we know better, right? But what is beautiful is when we realise God's plan and we glorify Him for it. This takes a subtle heart.


margaret said...

I think that is your best post ever - lots to think about.

JD said...

Good stuff on several levels with appropriate application now required at least for me.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

My husband, as a small boy, once carried the train of a particularly spendid-looking bishop, and from that day for years aspired to be a bishop so he, too, could be glorious.


God has spared you.

lots of love,

Anam Cara said...

I think your insights can be applied to other desires as well.

I love to read and learn things. I have the opportunities to socialize with folks who have Ph.D.'s. I want one, too, so they will know how smart I am.

I always want to be a writer (actually was paid for two magazine articles 24 years ago before my 4th child was born). But I so can't stand the idea that my books would be remaindered (after all, who would want to read anything I'd write?) that I won't even make my pathetic little blog anything more than a personal diary!

Pride, all pride! Thanks for helping me see it!

VSO said...


Joseph Barabbas Theophorus said...

While I am definitely a big fan of your drawings, I think this was the best post you've made here on Pithless Thoughts. Thank you.

ryan said...

I want to use so many profane words to emphasize my agreement with this post; but I'll spare your readers, and say only thank you.

discourse said...

Incredible post.

Anonymous said...

This is a great post, Steve! It's a real achievement to be "over it" like that.

Adam Sheehan said...


I am 35 years old, married 15 years, with three children.

For first time in my life, I have read an account that bears striking similarity to my own... and is as messy as my own.

Thank You so very much for opening your heart and life for me to see.

Like you, I have come to understand my call and vocation to, yes, the priesthood as it is expressed as a husband, father, member of my community, employee of the firm I work in, a son, a neighbor, a brother, etc.

Ruth said...

Wow. Thank you.

magda said...

Beautiful. Thank you for sharing.

When my husband was ordained, it was hard for me to understand that I couldn't go into the altar to help him, but had to just *watch* as he did everything by himself. It was a hard lesson to learn (as I learn it over and over, from dropped books to fidgety altar boys).

Kassianni said...

wow. wonderful words I think many could stand to hear.

Kassianni said...

wow. wonderful words I think many could stand to hear.

Anonymous said...

Thank you.

Matthew M said...

A true Blessing these words are. I came to a similar conclusion about myself recently. It lifted a great burden of failure off my shoulders. The only depressing thing is, why did it take me 42 years to come to this realization? At 62, I have nothing profitable to present to GOD when the time comes; all these years wasted on ego and a false glorying in what I should have been in my own mind.

Thank you for putting this in to words with clarity.

Chrys said...

Except for a few particulars (neither divorced nor a former minister, but radical enough to have been more trouble than I was worth), I felt like I was reading my story - right down to the sense of calling as a six year-old to the Catholic priesthood . . . and the radical Protestantism . . . and the many Orthodox who, at least early on, asked the same question and stoked that deep desire.
Honestly I still feel somehow incomplete, but I also can not get past the sense that that is my issue, that there is far too much "me" in it all
(What is it, I wonder? A need to feel what? fully engaged? authorized? special? I dunno.)
You have put my own heart's journey in words better than I could.

(There are times it seems that you must be the proverbial "brother from another mother.")

The truth hurts indeed, but it liberates, too, and the freedom and healing that results is worth the small price. (I believe it was St. Isaac who said that you will never be healed if you can't stand to smell the stench of your own corruption, for we must expose it to be healed of it.)

Like you, it has take a lifetime to let go and accept that I will never truly serve God until I let go of my own will and seek only to just follow Him - wherever that leads, whatever cross that entails.

Thank you for sharing your journey so honestly! Thank you. Quite a blessing.

Chrys said...

You know, after reading some of the comments after I posted that last comment, it is interesting to note that while we seem to have a shortage of priests, we apparently don't have a shortage of dedicated laymen who wanted to be priests but felt (rightly) unworthy.

Not to get too far afield, but I found an interesting consequence of my own LONG struggle with the calling to the priesthood: I have little patience (okay, none) for priests ordained right out of college and seminary. Again, it's my issue. But I noticed that in making the "sacrifice" of my heart's desire in order to be both worthy of the calling and a genuine disciple of Christ, that I get kinda testy when I see young-uns who treat it like an entitlement or another profession. It is not. It is one of the most sacred, subtle and demanding callings in existence. (Certainly more important than the PhD that some get to burnish their credentials.) That suffering - and the overwhelming seriousness - both make me a bit irritable with a pup. (Count me as a big believer in ordaining men in their 30s. Life experience is vital - at least for the majority of us - before we are truly qualified to assume spiritual leadership and enter the holy-of-holies of another's life. Of course, there are a number of clear exceptions - most of whom we later recognize as saints.
End of rant.

Steve Robinson said...

All, thank you. It was a hard post to write, finally.

Chrys, your last comment: Amen. My response will have to be another post.

Donna Witek said...

Thank you, s-p, for your courage in posting this. It is a struggle beyond words-- a blessed struggle, but a struggle nonetheless -- to discern and sort out how exactly God calls each of us to serve Him. I'm still trying to figure it out for myself. Your honesty and humility here help shed light on my own, different but similar struggle.

Justinian said...

This is most excellent. As a matter of fact, this is the same reason why I have not only shied away from the priesthood, but every time someone talks about putting a cassock on me I start say "No, no, no..."


Janelle thegeekywife said...

Thank you.

Samantha said...


Ranger said...

Thanks Steve,
I don't know if you have ever watched the Apostle, but, there was an fictional example of a man, who's "calling" superceded all else. Was he effective as a minister, sure, but the world around him was crumbling, or had crumbled. To "beat my body into submission", is to fight to be somehow worthy "though unworthy" of this present calling, which in reality is the "only" calling, to fulfill the role of father,husband, brother, uncle, pet steward, business steward.
I'm pretty sure that all of the above suffer when my ego strives to be "noticed" as a lay person.

Ruth said...

The lay presentation of Our Life in Christ has always been a positive thing for me, and for my husband. For a guy in construction work to say all those things is somehow more meaningful than if said by someone whose job it is to sound holy. The corollary is that the non-Orthodox lay listener, who has often felt left out of full church participation, or the ordained listener, who will have to kiss his/her ordination goodbye if he become Orthodox, becomes so glad to know they can have such a rich church life as a layperson. As Bob (third comment) said, being a layman is a pretty amazing thing when you're in the actual church.

James the Thickheaded said...

Great post. Well written as always. Thank you. I think the celebration of the layity and its wonders is something we very seldom see... oh we see much noise about "defining it up" and the need to make it more vital, but little comes of it for the most part. Metropolitan Jonah has made much of both the need and the lack for sometime, but we need to find more of a way - each and everyone of us - to not need or feel compelled to leave this to the hierarchy to do for us... but for us to pick up the old two pieces of wood and do it ourselves. I see a lot of that here... and maybe it's because of more folks like you... ex-clerics from St. Elsewhere come here and content to do the everyday thing. Maybe it's a release of sorts to workout our own salvation rather than trying to accomplish the imponderable of helping others manage their own within the context that they are not on their own... but doing so within the context of the church. I'm glad to be here... and a layman... and follow Metropolitan Jonah's two statute summation of the Gospel ("sit down and shut up")... though maybe I'm less good at the second part. :)

Anonymous said...

Good post! "The show" of the ministry is indeed alluring. I always liked the burning bush calling of Moses as an example. After all the excuses, and the Lord assuring him, he finally says "Oh, my Lord, please send someone else!" That is the measure of a true minister.

Although it is difficult "to come to ourselves" regarding our sin, and feeling the Holy Spirit is working away at us with a coarse rasp, it is a blessing to know that God is still conforming us to His likeness. Rejoice in your Baptism (and Chrismation) for in them God has granted you the best portion!

JD said...

It seems to me that the Geeky wife is pretty cool.

Anonymous said...

Makes me think...and then say "ouch"....I like that.

Fr. Peter said...


Ochlophobist said...

Sometimes I think that when I die and am laid in the plain pine coffin built by my own hands, with nothing but plain clothes on, I will be the last American Orthodox male left who is not buried in a cassock. After being pressed toward the diaconate once (at my last parish), I decided though I read at church to never even accept tonsure as a reader. No bishop will get his hands on me. The saints and elders advise us to stay away from bishops.

Perhaps American Orthodoxy needs a healthy dose of the anti-clericalism found in more mature Orthodox cultures.

Having spent time in Evangelical, Mainline Prot, and RC circles, and having watched the American Orthodox circus for 18 years now, I can say I am not familiar with any other Christian camp (of any size) in America that has the "things of the cloth" ecclesial penis envy that we see in American Orthodoxy. The majority of adult male converts I know will tell you that at some point or another they desired (or currently desire) the priesthood. Why aren’t there more folks pointing out that a desire for the priesthood is usually a sin and usually a sign of grave spiritual delusion? Every time I encounter another convert male under 40 who tells me they want to be a priest (always though, “prayerfully considering a vocation to the priesthood,” or somesuch blather) I cringe.

I would say that the majority of priests I know ordained in the last ten years clearly exhibit that desire for spiritual admiration and public respect that you so eloquently describe here. I think this may be the greatest spiritual problem facing American Orthodoxy today, and as the years go on I am inclined to think it an even greater problem than the casual clerical corruptions we are told are so common in traditionally Orthodox lands.

If a man shows up a lot, and participates a lot, he is going to get pressed toward ordination 97 times out of 100. It happened to me, and I am canonically forbidden from the altar on a number of counts, but I got the song and dance about overlooking that too. We talk about the Church being a spiritual hospital all the time, but I think a good amount of the culture within American Orthodoxy amounts to a spiritual "I'll show you mine if you show me yours" game which celebrates convert males parading their spirituality about. It comes from a number of avenues perhaps - Evangelical converts excited about the things of the Church because they are finally in an ecclesial environment with some gravitas and lots of cool toys. Former Episcopalians still getting spiritually drunk on lace and bells and frilly ecclesial ephemera (and I say this not as one who thinks such ephemera does not matter - it matters greatly - but one can tell the difference between a person who unselfconsciously lives within a tradition and a person who is a spiritual aesthete). In Evangelicalism, for all of the "priesthood of believers" talk, there was a great emphasis on "full-time Christian service" and I wonder if that impulse has affected Orthodox convert circles in the U.S.

They should hand this post out to every young man who starts to weasel his way toward the altar, and make him read it 8,000 times before he is allowed to apply for Seminary. Unfortunately, for too many spiritual masturbators with a fetish for spiritual power, it's too late.

One of the things I am thankful to my father for (he was an ordained American Baptist pastor) is an aversion to clerical life. I went to school to be a missionary in part because I wanted to avoid taking over the family business, and when I came to Orthodoxy I assumed that the charism within Orthodoxy that corresponded to missions work in the tradition I came from (liberalish Evangelicalism) was monasticism, not the priesthood. Since I couldn’t be a monk I gave up on thinking about such things, and have been all the blessed for it.

Three cheers for plain old laymen who don't care for spiritual accolades and public recognition of spiritual power. Good post.

Ian Climacus said...

Thank you for sharing so openly and honestly; and through that the call to myself to look at my motives and desires in various areas. Thank you, and God bless all you do.

Steve Robinson said...

Och, Well said (as usual) and spot on. I too think the "priest power ranger guru with toys convert delusions" will have a worse effect on American Orthodoxy in the long run than plain old "old country human clerical corruption". You can slap a man's hand or even laicize him for skimming money, it is hard to nail someone for posing as a pious spiritual leader, desiring to be seen, and enjoying being admired which leads both the man and his followers into perdition. But, goofy attracts goofy, and as Curmudgeophan once said, "If they ain't in the market for it, they wouldn't be buying it..." Yes, we need a "healthy anti-clericalism". Walter, my departed Russian friend, showed me how that looks. I've been accused more than once of being "anti-clerical" because I'll call out a snake oil salesman. As for me, I KNEW I was selling snake oil, and I ain't buying any from anyone else no matter how piously they package it. Thank God there's the real deals out there, and for the most part they are laboring quietly in hidden glory. We need more people with "eyes to see" rather than people who are trying to get looked at. I would include your comment in the 8,000 readings.

Chrys said...

Ochlophobist - you may not be ordained, but I sometimes think you might be one of God's hammers.
I saw the same thing in Evangelical circles that you did (though as former Catholic kid, I didn't have the "inside" advantage of having grown up as a PK. Jokes aside, there are no Catholic PKs.) As you noted, it seemed that one was either a "star" or a wanna-be, a mere spectator. But that was tied up in self-validation, too.

As for its pervasiveness among converts – well, converts aspire. I think the reason it’s so pervasive may be due to the natural desire to emulate those who seem to most visibly embody your aspirations. This is certainly evident in other areas of life, but it does reflect a form of ambition.

That said, you are absolutely right about the proper focus: I NEED to become who God wants me to be -- to enter fully into communion with God and fulfill His purpose. As the saints tell us: obscurity is the better, easier way (and I NEED all the help I can get).

In the end, the particulars of the path don't matter. All that matters is that we walk it with Him. He will lead however He sees fit.

Freedom, joy, peace are the fruit of faithfulness. Our greatest blessing - and His glory - are there. Those who seek anything other than faithfulness should not wear the collar. Faithfulness is enough.

Elder Sophrony (h/t Father Stephen's blog, Glory to God for All Things) said it better:

Everything you do, all your work, can contribute towards your salvation. It depends on you, on the way you do it. History is replete with monks who became great saints while working in the kitchen or washing sheets. The way of salvation consists in working without passion, in prayer….

May God give you the strength to keep your spirit, your mind, and your heart in the spirit of Christ. Then everything that happens to you can very quickly be radically transformed. What was tiresome and discouraging will disappear, transfigured by your desire to be there where Christ your God is….

Chrys said...

We need real Spiritual Fathers, not more "professionals." There's a world of difference.

Steve Robinson said...

The problem, Chrys, is that many aspirants see themselves as "spiritual fathers" and would agree that the priesthood is not a "profession" but a "calling". The problem is, as I said, "who is calling" (and why are we responding).

Anonymous said...

Hey, when you gonna get goin' on a new podcast on Orthodoxy and Homosexuality?! :-)

Maggie May said...

I wish that it was possible to make these young whippersnapper aspirants realize all of this truth that you all have so eloquently expressed. I've dropped all sorts of hints to a young man in our parish about waiting, and about how a priest needs to be someone who has had good spiritual formation, and who has at least begun to be purified and who has learned a lot of life lessons. But he isn't ready to hear it and nobody can make him be ready. It's too bad. It would save him and the church a lot of pain. But I've certainly had to learn a lot of lessons the hard way, and the pain has been to my benefit, for my salvation. The damage that I have wrought upon others, God can use for their salvation as well. Glory to God for all things.

James the Thickheaded said...

FWIW, I wouldn't confuse clericism with desire for spiritual recognition that drives some folks to think they want to be priests or whatever. I think the anti-clericism that takes the form of leaving all the day-to-day heavy lifting to the priest is alive and well in every parish. By contrast, at least those who enjoy dissing the priests and bishops are open and forthright about where they stand, but I'm far from certain that it settles anything in matters of righteousness. On the other hand, the desire for spiritual recognition... that's a far more pervasive problem, and let's not kid ourselves or get too content with our own self-pronounced humilities, it's by no means limited to the clergy. Pogo had it right here, too: I am my enemy.

Steve Robinson said...

JtTH, True. A perverse enjoyment of dissing clergy is just as much a disease as enjoying being a "cleric". Disrespect for clergy and "anti-clericalism" takes on many forms, not just rejecting those who are looking for respectful greetings in the marketplace, a seat at the head table and power over people's lives (whatever forms those take), nor are those desires limited to clergy by any means. The collar is merely one means of fulfilling one's vainglorious self assessments, and as St. John Chrysostom says, the collar does not cure but magnifies the man's diseases. For laity there are plenty of avenues for expressing egos too. Its not the offices that are the problem, it is we who fill them.

Grace said...

Late in saying anything, because everyone else seemed to be saying it better.

But still, I feel compelled to add yet another hearty amen. We probably both have known young men who were on the monk/clergy track and really, really needed to get a life first. I'm not always around to find out what happens, but in the cases I know, by the grace of God, something always seems to keep them from getting there. Often, they're not even in the Orthodox Church a year later.

I don't have to worry about dealing with a "calling" to the clergy (thank goodness), but being a girl doesn't get you off the hook entirely. What about the beacon of light I would make as a nun? What about all those icons God wants me to write? What about all the other ministries I can take over and show 'em how it's done?

Ugh. I'm glad to be old enough to recognize the poisonous odor of my own horse crap (<-- cleaned that up, because this is a nice blog for nice people). The Orthodox Church has lots and lots for a "mere" layperson to concentrate on without ruining their own life or anyone else's. Let's hope I can keep this old dog on the porch.

Chrys said...

To return to an earlier thought - how about following the Tradition: Thirty - at a minimum. (In this culture of extended adolescence - forty.)

I don't think one learns the difference between their "behind" and their elbow until they are at least thirty. They sure don't have any business dealing with the subtle and intimate nature of spiritual direction until they are well seasoned.

And then they should be dragged into it because they then know enough to know better. (It's like the joke about being awarded the Humility button: if you think you should wear it, you are disqualified.)

If we take sin, egotism and delusion even remotely seriously, we simply can't rely on self-assessment.

By way of a solution: I strongly prefer Metropolitan Anthony Bloom's (and St. Paul's) approach: no seminary (at least not until fully apprenticed and approved); rather, a painfully slow increase of responsibility which given the "candidate" a chance to really learn and everyone else a chance to know what he's about. Thus are good "workmen approved and not ashamed." Also, plenty of time to put the brakes on, correct course or verify the depth of the calling.

JD said...

I don't understand why you are dissing the church just because you made some bad decisions along the way. I guess I've been "lucky" to hang out at churches wheer the clergy were truly humble servants. As my old pappy said, "one tends to find what one is looking for". Let's hope that are no non-Orthodox reading this blog.

Ochlophobist said...


We very much agree that you do not understand.

You might care to note that my criticisms were contained to the matter of certain phenomena particular to contemporary American Orthodoxy. I did not criticize "the Church."

Further, you assert that my motivation is jealousy. But as many of the participants in this thread and my own comment suggest, if I wanted to be ordained I would simply get myself into one of the several jurisdictions in America which would ordain me. Those who want it and have a moderate ability to work the system (that is, to bullshit) almost always get what they want. I am an exquisitely talented bullshitter, and thus if I wanted to be ordained, I would be ordained.

As for non-Orthodox, I hope that inquirers do read this blog, as they will encounter here a perspective of a (quite human) human being who reflects a love of God, and not a faux theosis play acting autobot who parades trite spiritual inanities in the thinly veiled act of self-worship, with all of the requisite emphasis upon those utilities which demand that we always put the best spin on things so as to get more American Religion addicted self-worshippers into our trendy boutique faith party. No, from s-p inquirers will find a not so utilitarian and feigning take on Orthodoxy, and for that I am thankful.

Have a blessed day.

JD said...

I find it interesting that your post mentioned the words "motivation and jealousy" while mine did not. My comment was that it seems you have had a lot of bad clergy experiences for some reason. I, and many others, have had the good fortune not to have encountered those situations be they in Orthodoxy or otherwise. So I hope you find some relief and will serve in the laity end of things and good brother don't be shy about grabbing some decaf if necessary. I will pray for peace for us all.

Ochlophobist said...


I don't understand why you are dissing the church just because you made some bad decisions along the way.

= dis the church because you cannot become a priest

= jealousy

Helpful hint: just because you do not use a specific word whilst writing in the English language (or any other language for that matter) does not mean that you have not written something which clearly and unequivocally infers the meaning of the word not used.

I have known some wonderful priests in my life. My pastor now is a very good priest. Our priests need a great deal more support than they usually get. Roughly speaking, most, but not all, of the priests I know under the age of 45 are to some degree spiritual les enfants terribles and most of them I know over the age of 50 are not. This leaves me hopeful as I assume that the 50+ year old priests I know now were not altogether different from the 30something priests I know when these older priests were in their 30s. It does seem that most American males grow up between the ages of 45 and 55. Because of, among other things, vocational experiences which took me around the country meeting a lot of clerics in the past, I have met a considerable number of priests. And I’m not so given to the glossy pamphlet version of GetToKnowTheOriginalish Orthodoxy which happens to be the power of positive thinking Orthodoxy being sold at an increasing number of places these days.

Power tends to attract people who want power. And spiritual power tends to attract people who want spiritual power. Add to the equation an ecclesial culture which provides more outward forms of respect and veneration of clergy than other Christian traditions, and you get even more motivation from persons who desire to be publicly respected and venerated. This isn’t a complex or strained psychological observation, it is Human Life 101. Would that more young persons seeking to get their spiritual willy-nillies out of the priesthood were told by their priest or bishop that most desires for the priesthood in America today are, naturally, desires for spiritual power and a desire for a public recognition of holiness. Of course the reality of the priesthood in America today often involves various humiliations and a serious lack of power. But particularly in some of the more convert oriented circles this is often enough overlooked in the operational myth, and though the sems weed out some of the more impatient graspers we still could benefit from a culture that was more honest and direct about the normal human motivations to get into a position of spiritual power.

JTKlopcic said...

Again, wonderful post.

When I joined our parish, having resigned my position as a priest in a Charismatic Episcopal Church, everyone (including me) assumed that I would be on the short road to seminary or ordination of some sort. Thankfully, God knows best.

Instead, I found a deep-seated aversion to cassocks and all the responsibility that goes with them. All I really wanted to do was feel special and get the honor and respect due the collar.

Now, I find it is more than enough to be the guy who sings tenor and bakes prosphora and chases the unruly kids around. I'm sure that I can still craft a pretty good sermon, but if it doesn't come from a proper motivation, it's better off left unspoken.

Chrys said...

T.O. (The Ochlophobist) wrote:
"It does seem that most American males grow up between the ages of 45 and 55."

Exactly! Our culture fosters an extended adolescence that impedes maturation - primarily, I suspect, because maturity largely seems to be fostered by our commitments, and the increasing array of options available to us allows us to defer or avoid them.

As you note, the same fellows over 50 who bless today were likely the no different than the 35s you see today. This does, indeed, give us hope. (Of course, a more canonical approach: 30+ would still go a long way.)

To tie these two thoughts together, I know that when I first got married, I was - in retrospect - insufferably selfish. It was marriage and work - and the ego-sacrifices (which always feel like suffering) that commitment demands that are largely responsible for whatever changes have occurred. I wouldn't go back for the world - and I can only hope that I will look back in 10 years and feel the same way then about who I am now.

As for motivations, we all start with pretty selfish motivations. Unless we have achieved a degree of sanctity, we are usually much, much more selfish than we are willing to recognize. In general, pure motives belong largely to the saints. This is no excuse for ignoring motives; rather, it is the reason why we MUST look at them - and why the most toxic should be exposed at once. To do so is an act of love for both the individual involved and for the others who would be affected.

Like others here, I experience revulsion when someone tells me that they feel authorized to proceed because "have prayed about" something they want. I am glad they have prayed; unfortunately this is almost always offered in order to use the authority of God to short-circuit due diligence. I am pretty certain that most of us who have spent enough time in the church could attest to how common - and transparent - this is. The older one is, the more evident it becomes that the depth and pervasiveness of self-delusion is staggering - all the more so as I see how deeply it runs in me. (Which is just another reason why "seasoning" is necessary.)

Curiously, I have never met anyone who heard in their prayers that God wanted them to give everything away. Instead, these "leadings" seem to be curiously self-promoting. Wonder why.

JD said...

The height of arrogance is to take the words of another and contort them to suit one's selfish and twisted motive. This often comes from limited understanding or limited vocabulary or possibly both. Get some help brother.

Unknown said...

I grew up with a father just like you. Nice to see that you came around. Have you confessed this privately to your kids? Seems to me that they are the forum for this confession, not the web.

Personally, I have never understood how anyone could read the Gospels and see what Jesus had to say to the religious zealots - priests in particular - and then say, "Yeah! I wanna be like them!" rather than perceiving the mercy in his words and saying, "Wow, I wanna be like Him." Consequently, I don't really trust "professional" religious people to really have much of a clue as to the heart of God. To date, that skepticism has served me well.

Out of curiosity, do all the positive responses to your blog also swell your ego? Not to be an arse or anything but it seems disingenuous to post a confession that you know will result in praise. To me, this "confession" has the aura of bragging about it.

Chrys said...

I doubt that a presumption of distrust serves anyone any better than a presumption of trust. Both are earned. But it is evident in the last paragraph and the way you have read the post. Especially since the unvarnished sharing of one's failings is a fairly "expensive" way to get praise. Nor is there anything in the post to indicate that it was sought by the author. It has simply resonated with a lot of folks. As for being "an arse," it appears that you decided it was worth the risk in posting the comments. I will suspend judgment since I am in no position to do so - and may be a worse one anyway. But it is worth pointing out that a presumption of distrust would take that to be a given. Mercy - at least human mercy - by contrast, can not proceed from either presumption, since it recognizes the true value of the other and is too aware of its own debt.

Anonymous said...

I've never quite known the truth of this until my husband became a seminarian. I'm now watching the "formation" and ordination of men whom, in some cases, I am fairly sure are not qualified. Does anyone notice if *I* don't sing "Axios" at their ordinations? I still have to call them "Father," in the end, don't I?

Ochlophobist said...


All good points.

I especially liked:

...I have never met anyone who heard in their prayers that God wanted them to give everything away. Instead, these "leadings" seem to be curiously self-promoting. Wonder why.


On the age matter - sometimes when sharing my thoughts on these matters a friend will offer St. Paul's words regarding St. Timothy's youth as a rebuttal.

But here's the rub as I see it. St. Paul's culture was not one which cultivated and perpetuated adolescence. Ours is. I think it quite possible that your typical American 40 year old male of today is less mature than your typical 20 year old male of 25AD Palestine. That the Church of the Ecumenical Councils saw fit to have 30 years old as minimum age at a time when most men did not live much longer than that should perhaps keep us a bit more chaste at a time when most men live into their 70s. I am not saying we should change any rules, simply suggesting we might keep in mind that using 30 as an "age of full maturity" for the universal Church is sometimes complicated, especially when the Church encounters a (post?)culture like that of America, where puerility and excess abound.

Elisha said...

I for one, in case it makes you feel better, am a convert male under 40 (although converted when I was 11) who currently does not and has never desired to be clergy. I've had a couple of people try to prod me in that direction (as Och said, because I show up a lot (I sing/chant/read/whatever), but I would like to continue to just do that.

Ochlophobist said...


Good man.

If you loudly swear at the pusher in the nave they usually leave you alone after that.

Chrys said...

T.O. - I agree completely about your reading of St. Paul's culture and ours. In fact, you said it much better than I could (and I've tried a number of times.)

As for swearing loudly in the Nave, that would indeed work!
Not bathing would work, too, and you could claim it was a monastic practice. (If so, I have met a number of people on our city buses who have adopted this practice and it works well for them, too.)

Our culture's obsession with appearances (a very adolescent characteristic) almost cries out for the "Fool for Christ" approach. Or maybe just an appreciation for obscurity, since I have seen too many people use the whole Fool for Christ motif to justify their personal eccentricities.
Obscurity is said to be a wondrous corrective to all sorts of delusions and highly recommended by the Fathers. (So far, however, I must admit that I am not on a first name basis with the practice.)

Steve Robinson said...

Andrew, No offense taken at an honest question. Curmudgeophan would ask that too. I would venture to say that all "confessional literature" has an element of ego in it. Why would anyone want to parade their private sins in front of the world except to arrogantly believe that their sins and lessons can be instructive to someone else, or to play the Protestant "my former sinful life testimony oneupmanship game"? I've been speaking, writing, teaching etc. for about 40 years, and blogging for five, and yes, I've always tended to be pretty transparent, sometimes to the chagrin of my family. I've actually learned to reel it in and confess only my own sins and not those of others in the process. I can honestly say I expected few responses and little of any substance other than "Nice post" (those don't feed the beast, sorry folks). The track record of the blog is, if I post something too close to home, ESPECIALLY about the priesthood and goofy convert delusions, comments drop like the Dow. This "epiphany" has been a few years in the forming. This week I was working my ass off to pay off past due bills etc. But instead of resenting it, I saw it as my priesthood at "my true altar": my vestments are my stained, torn, sweaty stinky work clothes. I was actually serving at it willingly and with gladness for my "domestic church". So yeah, it has been over 40 years of wandering to get here. I thought I'd share the epiphany. I had no clue there were so many goofy people out there that would see themselves here. :)

So, do I like to get comments on blog posts? Of course I do. I like being told I'm clever and funny and pithy as much as the next guy. In some much older blog posts, I wrestled publicly with the Catch-22 of having a gift for public ministry but having an ego to go with it. As I mentioned in the current post, seeking praise and recognition used to rule my life, now by God's grace and 40+ years of wilderness they are moving toward being a sidebar, not the substance of my existence. Some day I might get to the point I don't give a damn at all. Until then I have to live with myself and figure out how to serve God with the gifts He has given me (and I might add, in obedience to my priest to use those gifts within the Church) without vainglory. I'll blog about it and let everyone know when I figure that out.

Anon, I hung out around seminarians for 3 summers at St. Stephen's Course, and have friends who have been seminarians. You are correct, there's an element of anaxioi that will get ordained and no one notices if someone is not singing. You still call them Father, but Curmudgeophan has given instructions about what you are required to kiss. :)

Chrys said...

At the risk of inflating your ego, s-p, your last comment was worthy of its own post. The candor was especially welcome.

Everyone I know who is any good at what they do tends to have a heavy mixture of ego and pride (both the good and bad kind) mixed in. If we really love something, it tends to feed something in us. But beneath the heavy layer of ego is, I believe, a genuine gift of God. (Sin doesn't create anything; it can only bend it, per-vert it, layer the ego over it.) My sense is that our "dreams" (at least those that are not infected with delusion) are often built on real gifts that are then bent to serve us. How to truly offer up the gifts we have, and the joy we (legitimately) receive in their exercise is a real ascetic task.

Thanks, again, for expressing my own struggle so well - and for revealing some elements of it that I had not seen before. The humility and kindness with which the insights were offered revealed my lack of both and yet made it easier to digest that discovery. It's always helpful to have something further down the road to show the way. Thanks.

hill said...

Steve, for the past few days I have not been able to comment on your blog under the "open ID" label. I'm posting under a google account, but this is

Loved the post and the discussion that followed. Understanding the potential pitfalls of confessing publicly like this, I personally think there's more danger in keeping things quiet. That is one thing that drove me from Protestantism. I confided in spiritual leader after spiritual leader, seeking help for my sin issues. Then watched as one after another fell and their own deep sins were revealed. Why weren't they transparent with me as I was with them? Years of this left me quite disillusioned.

I'm sure you know the precedent of public confession...Matthew 3:6, Mark 1:5, Acts 19:18, James 5:16, and the writings of the early Church.

I found your words refreshing and encouraging. They give me courage to face my own skeletons. I realize that leaders have to be careful, but when does their discreetness cross over to being a facade they hide behind? You're a leader. You're a public figure. And yet you're brutally honest. It does a great deal of good for the body of Christ. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

You don't know how much I needed to read this one.

I need to give it up and go back to God in obedience with the life I actually have, and not the life I've been fruitlessly seeking.

I, too, have wanted to be a priest with a capital "P."

But I'm realizing this is sheer folly on my part, at least at this moment in my life.

I was reading how one protestant leader came to Christ when he finally realized he was a completely selfish person and that he needed to change.

That's the path I need to take as well.

The church needs lay priests who are sold out to God and to their families and children.

Thanks be to God for this wonderful posting.

Steve Robinson said...

Anon, May you be blessed. It will be a struggle to not look back or forward but to stay in the present moment with joy and thanksgiving for it. I don't know if you follow "Steve the Builder" but I did a podcast on "Work" and its meaning for a husband while at St. John's monastery building their Church. That was part of my awakening. You might find it helpful too.

Anonymous said...

Hi. I was referred to this post by a friend. I wonder if you can clarify for me this idea of being a "Priest" in your family. I don't really understand what distinguishes a man who is working to provide for his family, who freely expresses his spiritual views to his family, and who (basically) is being a responsible guy from being a "priest" to his family. Seems to me that loving God and sharing that love with your family is in fact being a "priest" to your family. Am I missing something?

Also, can you please clarify for me what exactly it was about being ordained that was such a draw? What flummoxes me is your describing yourself as having a good reputation as a layman. If you are already receiving praise and positive input from the people that you are serving, why is that not enough? Seems to me that if we all had that work ethic and were viewed as you described that this would be most gratifying. There is simply nothing in me that can relate to the desire to show off in church. Church is one day a week. Why glory in that two hours out of your life and give it greater importance than the other 104? I truly don't understand this.

Unknown said...

I am coming to this thread a little late, through Rod Dreher, but I'm grateful for the thoughtful post and the many wise comments following up.

I became a pastor not because I loved God and wanted to serve Him, but because I wanted to love God, and felt like going to seminary and being a pastor would bring me closer to Him and to my true life in Him.

Of course, the opposite occurred, since the actual life of a pastor is a continuous distraction from a true spiritual life. I became so caught up in and dependent upon the "religious system" of ecclesial politics, promotion, and preferment, which I imagined to be worse in my denomination (I was United Methodist), but which I suppose is pretty bad in all churches.

My identity got bound up in the "status" of being a rising young pastor. Instead of growing closer to God, I grew further and further away from Him, gaining the world, albeit a "religious" world, but losing my own soul. It was all about pleasing people, being popular, and using those skills to advance through our system.

God had to break me out of this life of religious idolatry, and used a serious moral failure on my part--the moral failure coming out of this life of emptiness--to do so. (It was addiction to internet pornography.)

It was hard to go through at the time, but I thank Him every day now. My phony "priesthood" had to end so I could find a new life in God.

I imagine authentic priests and pastors are those men who already have a well-grounded spiritual life and who can keep that front and center, even in the midst of all the distractions from a true spiritual life that the work of a priest, and the system he is embedded in, provides.

Steve Robinson said...

JCS, You didn't miss anything. A man is the "priest of his domestic Church" by virtue of his labor, love, offering of himself and offering praise and thanksgiving to God for the blessings of family. His is a sacrificial love (Ephesians 5) for his wife as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself for her. This is why I believe St. Paul puts such an emphasis on a good marriage and family as a qualification for priesthood.

The draw to the priesthood? It is multifaceted. It is not merely the 2 hours on Sunday, it is the whole identity. You are correct, I probably have gotten more praise and notoriety as a layman as almost any convert in the last decade through all the stuff I've done, but I always viewed all the radio show, podcasts, monastery building, blog stuff etc. as "consolation prizes from God" because I couldn't be a priest. It was as if the priesthood would validate my existence but also give me a legitimacy in the eyes of men that you just don't get as a layman no matter how good you are at what you do. Vainglory and ego are at the root of discontentment with what God has blessed you with. I look back on all the last decade of work and ministry and, while I could intellectually say "wow, I'm being given a lot of opportunities to do some pretty cool stuff for a layman", I could not be truly thankful to God because I wanted something else and all else was being "thrown a bone" from the table scraps. The obsession with "being a minister/priest" at the expense of family is wrong and a bad thing; however, at the expense of God it is frightening when you realize that you are worshipping and serving an ego created idol of yourself and not God. Discontentment with one's life, I believe, is a sure signpost of self-idol worship.

Marc, you're experience I think is more common that not, that people think they can work out their salvation through ministry. Because of my own experiences, I have a LOT of thoughts on the relationship between sexual sin and ministry based on seeking validation and a personal identity via ministry. That may be another post some day.

Unknown said...
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