Community of Tampa | St. Pete | Florida

Plain-Clothes Priests

In today’s epistle reading from Hebrews it says that “every high priest is put in charge of things pertaining to God on their behalf, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins.”  In a similar passage in Peter’s epistle it says that each of you are part of “a royal priesthood, God’s own people.” That’s right you are all priests! This begs the question; what am I here for?  Is it to sing the priest’s parts?  Well actually, Albert’s a deacon and he can sing the priest parts. Even our altar servers, in studying for ordination, have learned my parts.  Some even bless things. A couple of years ago, a parishioner came to the vestry door and was greeted by a young altar server.  The parishioner said can you bless this cross, meaning ‘you all’ i.e. Fr. Hovnan. The altar server proceeded to bless it right then and there himself! So much for job security!

Seriously though, while we will rejoice with Albert when he is ordained a priest, and will rejoice if this parish produces an ordained priest in the future, we have cause to rejoice today right now. Because, you and you and you, are all called to be a part of a royal priesthood.  Based on today’s passages, the Protestant churches formed a doctrine called the “priesthood of all believers.” Some Protestant take this concept to mean that there should be no ordained priests only lay leadership.  We, on the other hand, believe in both the need for ordained priests and lay ‘priests’. We believe that an ordained priest is just a special example of the same mission we all are called to, to be priests of our own lives and families; on Sunday and every day.

So what do we priests do?  Well it is hard to explain when people ask.  Sometimes when I am ‘off duty’ and people ask what I do, my answer can be a conversation stopper. When people hear I am a priest, they bring lots of assumptions and associations. They act differently. They want to get into long emotionally charged discussions about church and faith.

So one time on a plane ride to Chicago for a clergy retreat, when I was dressed without a collar, I decided to have some fun with it.  I’m in the plane minding my own business. An older woman sits next to me. “Hi.” “Hi.” “Are you from Chicago?,” she asks. “No I’m from Tampa. Just attending a work meeting in Chicago,” I say.  “What do you do?,” she asks.  Oh boy, I thought, let me be creative. “Well I work for an international organization.”  “Is that right?” “Yes, we have branches in over 30 countries.” “Really wow!” “Yes we have some old age homes, schools, hospitals, we do marriage work, we have a couple orphanages and we do a lot of adult education. Basically we look after people from birth to death and we deal in the area of behavioral alteration.” “You don’t say! That’s amazing what’s it called?”  And I said “it’s called the church, have you ever heard of it?!” (Adapted from Pastor John Ioannou)

If we are a follower of Jesus, then we are part of a global enterprise. Not just as Armenians, but as part of the greater world church, we have branches literally in every country, tribe, hut and igloo. And we are not only a global body, but an intergalactic one, spanning the centuries and all of time. And you and I are to be priests of this organization, priests whose most basic function is to bring God into ourselves and others.  Russian theologian Paul Evdokimov sums up our basic priestly calling in this way; “In the immense cathedral which is the universe of God, each man, whether scholar or manual laborer, is called to act as the priest of his whole life — to take all that is human, and to turn it into an offering and a hymn of glory.”

So you see, church is not just something you do on Sunday, certainly not something the priest does on Sunday. It’s not what we do, but what with God, we become.  God is always present all the time.  The priest has little power in himself, he simply points to the source of all power and life. You are to do the same.  In your family to always point to God’s blessings of your health, your home, your family’s love.  In your work, to lift up the mundane, and remember that the people around you are eternal souls fearfully and wonderfully made.  In your heart, to put off all the temptations to be less than who God has ordained you to be, “a royal priesthood, God’s own people.”

In this way, God’s church is as vast as the heavens, and his need for priests in that church-for you-is great. For as Jesus Christ our great high priest said, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.”  And with the Christmas season upon us, where God became man and dwelt among us, we have our greatest reminder of the priesthood of all believers and our highest calling to let Christ be born in all places and all hearts, now and always, amen.

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