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Selected texts from the Holy Fathers on the pastoral ministry

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“Woe to you, because you shut up the kingdom of heaven from men” (Matt. 23:13). This is said to the bishops, who neither themselves teach the people the way of salvation, nor urge the priests to do so; it was also said to the priests, who leave the people in ignorance and do not care to explain to them what is necessary for the salvation of their souls. Because of this, the people sink into spiritual blindness, and one part of the people remains convinced that they are walking rightly, and others, although they see that they are not on the right path, do not take the right direction, because they do not know how and where they should go .

Because of this, various senseless and stupid judgments appear among the people, and because of this, every evil teaching easily finds access to it. The priest usually thinks that everything is fine in his parish, and takes action only when this evil is already growing and coming out. But then nothing can be done. As a fundamental duty of his conscience, the priest must accept the improvement of adults in the knowledge of the Christian faith, and prepare the young generation from their first conscious years, explaining what they need and what they should know.

St. Theophanes Prisoner

* * *

How can the shepherds preserve unharmed the Body of Christ, which wrestles not against the flesh, but against invisible forces, if they do not possess a virtue far superior to that of other men, and do not know every treatment useful for the soul?

St. John Chrysostom

* * *

Why do you hold on to evil so stubbornly? Why do you with all your might insult virtue? Why do you desecrate the temple? Why do you not tremble, blaspheming the divine ordinances? Why do you make people who pay attention to your life think that they are harmed in the sacraments themselves? If you don’t fear God, who shows long-suffering towards you, at least respect people! If you are not afraid of the Court, then at least try to keep a good opinion of yourself! If you think that nothing will reach you after leaving this world (this is what your actions say), then be afraid of the chorus of ridicule! If you consider this to be nothing, be afraid of the overthrow! People, seeing how you touch the holy Sacraments with impure hands, will all flee from you and decide to stay away from the Sacraments rather than accept from impure and filthy hands the Pure Gifts… What shall we call you if we have to tell the truth? And what can we tell you to save you from this madness? What should we write to you to make you stop this unnecessary and sinful work? Either stop committing iniquities, or remove yourself from the Holy Table, so that the graduates of the Church can approach the Divine Mysteries without fear, without which it is not possible to be saved!

St. Isidore of Pelusia

How will you, the defiled one, sanctify others? How will you, the unclean, cleanse? First you must cleanse yourself and then cleanse. First you must stop blasphemy and then you will be a priest. Stop ruining not only your soul, but many others for whom Christ died!

St. Isidore of Pelusia

* * *

Woe to the shepherd if he, with his temptations, opens the way to iniquities for his sheep.

St. Tikhon Zadonsky

* * *

If the pastor or any other teacher falls into a great sin, his fall will be heard far and wide, and it will seduce many people. It is not possible, indeed not possible, to hide the downfalls of the pastor and the teacher, however much they try to hide them.

St. Tikhon Zadonsky

* * *

Fear God, not man. If you fear man, you will be humiliated by God. And if you fear God, you will be honored by people.

St. John Chrysostom

* * *

If, professing that there is a God, you act as one who thinks that there is no God, do not your deeds bear the condemnation of your words, and do not your morals and morals refute your assertions? Therefore, confirm with your deeds that there is a God, so that both your words and your morals preach this. Only then will the listeners believe your words. If you talk and don’t act, no one will believe your words.

St. Isidore of Pelusia

* * *

Until my flesh is conquered by me according to my efforts, until my mind is purified, until I am nearer to God than others, I consider it unsafe to take upon myself the care of souls and the mediation between God and men , which is actually the priest’s duty.

St. Gregory the Theologian

* * *

My child, know that in the last days, as the apostle says, hard times will come. And here, as a result of the impoverishment of piety, heresies and schisms will appear in the churches, and then, according to the predictions of the holy fathers, there will be no people experienced and skilled in the spiritual life on the holy thrones and in the monasteries. Because of this, heresies will spread everywhere and deceive many. The enemy of the human race will work cunningly to lead to heresy, if possible, even the elect. He will not start rudely rejecting the dogmas about the Holy Trinity, about the Divine dignity of Jesus Christ, about the Holy Mother of God, but he will imperceptibly start to distort the Tradition given by the Holy Spirit to the Holy Fathers – the teaching of the Church itself. The insidious designs of the enemy and his devices will be noticed by few, the most skilled in the spiritual life. Heretics will take power over the Church, they will place their servants everywhere, and piety will be neglected. But God will not leave His servants without protection and in ignorance. He said, “By their fruits you shall know them.” Here you too, by their fruits, by their heretical actions, try to distinguish them from the true shepherds. These spiritual thieves squander the spiritual flock “and they enter the sheepfold and jump over from somewhere else”, as the Lord says, that is, they will enter by an unlawful path, violently exterminating the Divine statutes. God calls them robbers.

Indeed, first they will persecute the true shepherds and send them into exile, because otherwise they will not be able to scatter the sheep. Therefore, my son, when you see an insult to the Divine order in the Church, to the patristic Tradition and the order established by God, know that heretics have already appeared, although perhaps for a while they will hide their wickedness or pervert the divine faith unnoticed , so that they can even more successfully seduce and entice the inexperienced. Persecution will be not only against pastors, but also against God’s servants, because the devil who leads the heresy does not tolerate piety. Recognize them as wolves in sheep’s clothing – by their proud nature, lust, lust for power. These will be slanderers, traitors, sowing enmity and malice everywhere, that is why the Lord said: “by their fruits you will know them”. True servants of God are humble, brotherly and obedient to the Church.

There will be great concern from the heretics towards the monks, and the monastic life will then be in contempt. Abodes will become scarce, monks will decrease, and those who remain will suffer violence. Those haters of the monastic life, who have only an apparent piety, will try to sway the monks to their side by promising them patronage and life’s benefits, and will threaten the disobedient with exile. From these threats to the faint-hearted then there is great humiliation.

If you live to those times, my son, then rejoice, because then for the believers, who have not acquired other virtues, crowns will be prepared solely because of their standing in the faith, according to the words of the Lord; “Everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Heavenly Father.”

Fear, my son, lest you offend the Lord your God! Fear not to lose the crown prepared by the Lord! Fear not to be rejected by Christ in outer darkness and eternal torment! Manfully stand in the faith and, if need be, gladly suffer exile and other sorrows, for with you will be the Lord and the holy martyrs; they will happily watch your feat. But woe in those days to those monks who have attached themselves to property and wealth, and who for their love of peace will be ready to submit to heretics. They will lull their conscience, saying: “We will preserve or save the abode.”

With heresy, the devil will also enter the monastery. Then the abode will lose its sanctity and be mere walls, suddenly grace will completely depart from it Until the end of the world. Then they will choose secluded and desert places.

 Do not be afraid of sorrows, but be afraid of the insolence of the heretics who seek to separate man from Christ. That is why Christ commanded us to consider them pagans and publicans.

And so, my son, strengthen yourself through the grace of Jesus Christ! With joy rush to the feats of confession and suffer the sufferings as a good soldier of Christ, who says: “Be faithful unto death and I will give you the crown, and I will reveal life to you.” To Him be power and glory together with the Father and the Holy Spirit forever and ever. Amen.

Rev. Anatoly Optinskyi

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