Today, September 2, 2012, Dn. Dimitri Tobias was ordained to the Holy Priesthood by His Grace Bishop Demetrios, with the permission, knowledge and blessings of His Eminence Metropolitan Iakovos of Chicago during the celebration of the Divine Liturgy, at St. Nectarios Church in Palatine, IL. Fr. Tobias has been assigned as the associate pastor at SS Peter and Paul in Glenview, IL.
A X I O S !
ORDINATION "PROSFONESIS" by Fr. Dimitri Tobias
Your Grace, Bishop Demetrios of Mokkissos, reverend Clergy, friends, and family.
My beloved brothers and sisters in Christ, St. Paul exhorts us through his 1st letter to the Corinthian “Be watchful, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.” In this exhortation we see the role of the priest.
You will notice in the worship of the Orthodox that the priest does not face the people for the majority of the Liturgy. He faces the same direction as the faithful. Indeed when we entered the beautiful church of St. Nectarios this morning we might have seen in the Narthex the icon of the Good shepherd on the northern wall. Now, many will compare the priest to the shepherd, moving his flock towards Christ, but I invite you to consider another image. For those who have visited sheep farms they will notice that one sheep has a bell about its neck. The shepherd signals that sheep, and that lone sheep responds. The other sheep, then, seeing the movement of the sheep with the bell follow suit and so come to their shepherd. Beloved brothers and sister, the priest is that sheep. That sheep by which all other sheep imitate. For Christ added this when he charged one of his flock, St. Peter to “Tend my sheep.” This shows a mystical transformation from sheep to shepherd in his own right.
Therefore, that shepherd must be watchful of spiritual assailants that would harm the other sheep. I don’t need to say it, but we are very aware of the image of wolves sneaking in with sheep’s clothes and worse, as St. Paul emphasizes when he states. "We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.
That shepherd must stand firm in his faith. In a world where apathy, homogenization of beliefs, and political correctness thrive, a priest must never forget his faith. People need to look to their priest, to that shepherd, as steady, pious, and firm. They need to know their priest will never bend on issues of faith, dogma, and his never-ending crusade for the salvation of their souls.
That sheep must be courageous. Courage is necessary because the priest will always be beset by adversity, both physical and spiritual. St. John Chrysostom states that in the care of sheep, the wolves will leave the shepherd alone having acquired the sheep, but those foul demons that prey on those in the care of a priest will not spare the priest, rather they will set upon him all the more to destroy him. Standing against such attrition takes courage and reveals the character of the priest.
That shepherd must be strong. We are not strong. Priests are no exception. They take strength, from the source of strength. To make steel strong it is placed in fire and refined. The priest is also placed in the fires of the Holy Spirit to become stronger, to lead with conviction and the strength held in his right hand. “Your right hand, O lord, is glorified in strength; your right hand, O Lord, hath shattered your enemies, and in the multitude of your glory has crushed your adversaries. From Exodus, and read when the deacon, priest, and bishop place upon their wrist the the right epimanikion,
Finally, that shepherd must do everything with love. A priest can be intellectual, but ineffectual. A priest can be an excellent planner, but lack luster. A priest can be an amazing chanter or liturgist, but empty. None of these qualities will bear any fruit if the priest is lacking in love. A professor once told me, and I feel it is true. “No one will care what you know, until he or she knows that you care.”
St. Paul gives a model for that leader in his letter to the Corinthians, BRETHREN, be watchful, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.
but Jesus Christ gives a greater message in his lesson found within the Gospel of St. Matthew.
In the parable of the Vineyard, Jesus Christ tells us of the wicked Tenants who were tasked with taking care of the grapes, the winepress, and the property. These wicked Tenants killed the servants of the owner of the vineyard, and then the heir.
The vineyard represents the people of God. The Body of Christ.
These servants the Tenants killed represent the Old Testament prophets who the Scribes and the Pharisees rejected. The Heir, of course is Jesus Christ the Son of God, whom they killed on the Cross.
When asked what should be done to these wicked Tenants, they say “He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons."
The Holy Priesthood is ever aware of the fate of those who mismanaged their sacred trust bestowed on them by God the Father. The people of God, the fruits of the vineyard are not the property of the priest. They belong to God and their fruits are His. While the priest must nurture the fruits, weeding, pruning, watering, tending the soil, he must never think that the fruit is his. It has been entrusted to him. And it is very precious.
But unlike a plant or animal that can in some way be reasoned in its behavior and actions, a priest cares for human beings and acts as the spiritual physician to all in his care. St. John Chyrostom states it is not possible for any one to cure a man by compulsion against his will, so it is necessary for the priest to act wisely and convince those in his care that his treatment is appropriate. This cannot be a treatment too soft or too harsh, but measured just right to save. The priest must convince the lost sheep to return, not by force or compulsion of fear, but through love.
This is a difficult task, and one for which the punishment of failure is severe.
And it is for this reason I tremble as I stand before you. For if the Golden-Mouth uttered these words, of what hope do I have to serve. “For I fear lest if I took the flock in hand when it was in good condition and well nourished, and then wasted it through my unskilfulness, I should provoke against myself the God who so loved the flock as to give Himself up for their salvation and ransom.”
Before the consecration His Grace Bishop Demetrios will present me with the Lamb, the body of Christ and order, “Receive this Divine Trust, and guard it until the Second Coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, at which time He will demand It from you.
I am to be tasked with protecting this trust, this vineyard, these souls. This is not a symbol. This is reality. In return for the supreme gift of mystically standing in both this world and paradise simultaneously, the priest is expected to lead competently. And this is done through right teaching. Not just example.
St. John Chrysostom quotes Christ from Mattthew 5:19 For whosoever shall do and teach them, he shall be called great. And St. John Chrysostom explains, “Now if doing were the same as teaching, the second word here would be superfluous; and it had been enough to have said whosoever shall do simply. But now by distinguishing the two, he shows that practice is one thing, and doctrine another, and that each needs the help of the others in order to complete edification.
Chrysostom warns of what awaits he who fails in this trust. “But how dire is the destruction, and how terrible the fire which such a leader brings upon his own wretched head for every soul which is thus lost.”
He also states of the soul of the priest “Cease then to urge us on to a penalty so inevitable; for our discourse is about an office which needs the virtues of an angel. For the soul of the Priest ought to be purer than the very sunbeams, in order that the Holy Spirit may not leave him desolate, in order that he may be able to say, Now I live; and yet no longer I, but Christ lives in me.”
Given such warnings, one would naturally think it the supreme arrogance to dare and approach the Holy Priesthood. In my years of studies I have often asked myself for what possible reason could I have for approaching this moment before which I stand, a moment for which my entire life has prepared?
Do I honestly believe I posses the watchfulness, firmness, courage, strength, and love a priest requires? Do I think myself up to the task of leadership and the trust to be bestowed on my soul? Do I really think my soul so pure and spotless that it can receive the Holy Spirit and transform bread and wine into the very body and blood of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ?
I do not stand before you in false humility when I say that the answer is a resounding no. I do not possess these qualities, and yet I am here. Yet I am ready to take this step. Because it is not my choice. It is not my will. It is not a step that I take for the power of the priesthood, for the reward of participation in the Divine Liturgy. I am neither arrogant nor spiritually suicidal. It is not a step I take, but a response.
I stand here today in response to a calling from God, a calling I received while still small, one that has pressed my soul forward here before you, a loving call to serve the Church, to tend the sheep ,and to obey my hierarchs.
Therefore, I take courage in this step I take today. Not to say I am worthy, because I know I am not, but because I know that I have been called and that I am not alone. I never have been.
I have my amazing brother clergy that have supported me in my studies and formation. Fr. Demetrios, Fr. Christos, Fr. Peter and Fr. Andrew in particular. I have a patient and loving proistamenos in Father Jim who has directed my fledgling steps at SS. Peter and Paul, pushing me to better myself and better serve God. His supreme respect for the priesthood bolsters my own respect and echoes the words of His Grace Bishop Demetrios when he urged that I do all things with “dignity.”
I have dear friends and precious, precious family who pray for me and support me including the Parish of St. Nectarios that helped in my formation and have been like a family to me. I have the love of my life after Christ who brings me such joy as I cannot describe, my Mary. When she smiles, all of my problems and stresses in life vanish. With her in my life I walk with confidence. Mary, you are my everything, and I am so grateful to God that He placed you in my life to walk with me side by side as we strive for salvation.
I have a metropolitan who has loved me and cares for my well being. And I have you, your Grace. As a leader of people, I will need to answer to the Metropolis, the Archdiocese, and the Patriarchate of Constantinople. There is no greater feeling of support than to know that your bishop loves you and supports you. There is no greater feeling than to know that I have the trust of my bishop and that with his blessing I can serve the flock. He, with the blessings of Metropolitan Iakovos, placed me in the capable hands of Fr. James Dokos to mold me, and into the care of the parish of SS. Peter and Paul to serve with love, a parish that has been so loving and welcoming to both my wife and me. Your Grace, words cannot accurately reflect my love and respect for you. With your prayers, blessings, and support, I know I will not fail.
Therefore, it is with humility that I dare approach and pray that God will give me His strength, fulfill that which is lacking, and allow me to serve Him as best as I am able, being ever watchful, firm, courageous, strong, and loving, in His tender mercies, through the intercessions of the Holy Theotokos, St. Nectarios of Pentepolis, the paramounts of the Apostles SS. Peter and Paul, St. Demetrios the Myrrh bearer who is my model of courage, St. Mamas whome we celerbrate today, and all the saints. Amen