meditating on “ministry”

The wonder and the majesty, as well as the sacredness and the importance, of the Church’s ministry have taken many diverse tangents throughout her history. His imminence Patriarch Ignatius indicates that “it is high time” that “pastoral ministry [be seen] as primary in the life of the Church.”[1]

Life is not about trappings, coverings, or appearances of Man; Christian life is about the existential Man. If the man beneath the appearances and behaviors is not Christian, he is not free and moral, and is not living the life God made for him. The ontological truth of existential Man and his salvation is that he lives in community. Man’s existential freedom is a reality that exists and is always being realized by man through his willingness to be as God created him to be; this is the only way for man to be truly human and become a person.

The only way for Man to live is for him to exist in relationship with God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.[2] To imagine this to be an individualistic pursuit is to miss the point and to miss the mark.[3] Man is created in community, and so his fulfillment—his “wholeness” or his “holiness”[4] in fact his completion—is realized in a redeemed relationship with himself, the world, and God. This realization is still in the process of being fulfilled. The faithful fulfillment of the process is the willingness of humanity to choose to live in the potentiality that God created him in. The fulfillment of that potentiality is Theosis.[5]

Theosis is the destination of human life and is accomplished through transformation and the process just mentioned. To attain to them is the reward in and of itself; just as is the missing of the mark its own punishment. “Theosis serves as a goal which calls “ordinary” persons—not only ascetic fathers—to think, act, and choose in a certain way.”[6] But the ‘blocks” which hinder such a choice (e.g., flawed expectations, sickness (somatic and emotional), and sin)[7] are myriad.

Change, metanoia is the largest stumbling block. There is a willingness for a human being to accept change around him which is truly a virtue. However, for a human being to will or allow himself to change is something entirely different. The “blocks” which have been mentioned are very important for the exercise of ministry, and especially for spiritual direction. The trust that must be placed by someone in their spiritual director/counselor is enormous. But for all the trust and all the willingness, there is the ultimate consideration of whether a person really wants to change. The inchoate fear within every human heart is that they prefer their present circumstance—no matter how little understood—to the fear of that which they do not know. Either they insist on their control of their circumstance or they prefer their present hell to the heaven which they are not truly convinced of.[8] I have seen this unconvinced mentality expressed in a person’s disbelief of whether they were truly created in God’s image and likeness, whether there ever was a state of primordial bliss, whether they believe that they really were created ‘very good,’ etc.[9] This intransigence, this willfulness to not believe, this stubborn refusal is probably the most difficult aspect of my priestly ministry, my pastoral care, and many of the challenges in spiritual direction which I have attempted.

“For the pastor in his ministry to persons… the unfortunate truth which places this theology of growth (Theosis) into the dynamics of human life is this: although God created the person with goodness… and with a natural capacity to grow into himself, this does not mean that he will![10] And the recognition of this ‘unfortunate truth’ is a critical realization for me in my priesthood. To not allow an individual the right—even the privilege—of failing is to deny their humanity. By removing the very choice of another person to deny the grace and consolation of the Holy Spirit, their growth into the fullness of the stature of Christ, to become all that God in His infinite goodness has in store for them is to usurp, to undermine the very ground which the ministry of the Church is founded upon. To not allow another to miss the mark is to insert my control and my will and myself in the very place of God. While this is a conundrum of profound proportions for me, while it is a source of deep consternation and huge disappointment, it is necessary. It is as necessary for me to watch another fail as it has been for me to have failed. Perhaps these are some of the humble tears the spiritual director must shed at the perceived loss of a soul. Perhaps these are the present and temporary tears which must be shed in the hope we must always hold on to. There must always be hope in pastoral care, there must always be faith in the ultimate design of God, and there must always be charity toward those who turn away from God. After all, even Jesus had compassion and expressed his love for the rich young man who eventually went his own way.[11]

[1] Joseph J. Allen, The Ministry of the Church (Crestwood, New York: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1986), 9.

[2] Christos Yannaras, The Freedom of Morality (Crestwood, New York: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1984), 19 “The reality of man’s creation ‘in the image’ of God is related to the unity of ethos or morality with being. In the light of the truth about the trinitarian hypostasis of being, the Church is enabled to shed light on the mystery of human existence, and to give an ontological foundation to human morality.”

Also: “God not only grants beings their existence, and in the case of man, an eternal existence; but he also assigns to them a goal to reach, and in the case of man this goal implies a free movement toward God.” John Meyedorff, Christ in Eastern Christian Thought (Crestwood, New York: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1975) 137, quoted in Allen, 180.

[3] Yannaras, 142 “…the renewal of human morality is not a result of individual conformity…”

[4] Allen, 178, 179.

[5] Allen, 181.

[6] Allen, 184.

[7] Allen, 184-200.

[8] Milton’s Paradise Lost, I, 263. “…Here at least We shall be free; th’ Almighty hath not built Here for his envy, will not drive us hence: Here we may reign secure, and in my choice To reign is worth ambition though in Hell: Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heav’n.”

[9] Allen, 179,180.

[10] Allen, 182.

[11] Mark 10:21.


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