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Lenten Chapel Readings

During the season of Lent, some Patristic edifying writings are read at the chapel of the Seminary, which is at the same time the worship hall of St. Andrews parish. This year the seminarians heard the book of St. John Chrysostom On the Priesthood. Last years reading, Confessions of St. Augustine, was directed at all those present and caused a great interest among the staff members. The readings this year are mainly directed at the future pastors.

St. John Chrysostom speaks of the great responsibility that God gives to the ministers who are entrusted the care of the Body of Christ and administration of the Holy Sacraments. It is necessary to carefully prepare for this great ministry and not come to it thoughtlessly, remembering that the teachers will give an account to God for how they cared for the souls with whom they have been entrusted. Hell is paved by the skulls of the priests. This strict warning of St. John is as pertinent nowadays as it was in the fourth century.

The treatise is presented in the form of a dialogue with Basil, a recently ordained friend of John. Basil rebukes John for fleeing from the Holy Ministry. St. John demonstrates that he did it, not because of pride, but, on the contrary, because of his unworthiness. Those who claim the opposite have completely misunderstood the essence of the Holy Ministry. In the third book of the treatise there are some of the finest words written on Christian ministry in the whole history of the church: For the office of the priesthood is executed upon earth, yet it ranks among things that are heavenly, and with good reason. For it was neither an angel nor an archangel nor any other created power, but the Paraclete Himself that established that ministry, and commanded that men yet abiding in the flesh should imitate the functions of angels. For if you consider what it is for a man yet clothed in flesh and blood to approach that pure and blessed nature, you will easily understand to what dignity the grace of the Holy Ghost has raised priests. It is to priests that spiritual birth and regeneration by baptism is entrusted. By them we put on Christ, and are united to the Son of God, and become members of that blessed Head.

Many first year students are enthusiasts (Luthers Schwärmer) who feel ready to engage in a spiritual fight without any preparation. They think that they are ready to begin the task of ministry in the church, while the study of the biblical languages and theology would not be so useful for the practical work in the parish, as they think. But St. John shows to us again and again that everyone is to examine himself carefully before he engages in such ministry. His exhortation based on the words of St. Paul Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands (1 Tim. 5:22) is addressed to the church at large. The instructions of Chrysostom point to the importance of the spiritual formation and growth in knowledge of the Word, which in todays ecclesial context is acquired precisely through the process of seminary training.

The Church of both East and West has long appreciated the significance of St. Johns book on the priesthood. A few years after the death of St. Chrysostom, Isidore of Pelusium wrote:

No one has read this volume without feeling his heart inflamed with the love of God. It sets forth how venerable and how difficult is the office of the priesthood, and it shows how to fulfil it as it ought to be fulfilled. For John, bishop of Byzantium, that wise interpreter of the divine mysteries, the light of the whole Church, composed that work with so much skill and accuracy, that they who fulfill the priestly office as God desires, and they who fulfill it with negligence, find in it their virtues and faults portrayed (Ep. I, 156).

Now the students of the Novosibirsk seminary are also learning the treasures of this treatise. The book On the Priesthood was already read at the seminary chapel during Lent of 2001, although at that time it was not done as regularly as it is now.

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