Most Reverend and highly honored Clergy
Honored Monks and Nuns,
Dearly beloved in Christ Lay Sisters and Brothers:
God’s blessing and peace in the Lord!
Dearly beloved in Christ!
The main spiritual theme of the past year 2008, according to the decision of the Synod of Bishops of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church of 2007, was Christian vocation. We hope sincerely that during the year which is running to an end we all – clergy or laity, older or younger – indeed were enriched by realizing that everybody who is born in the world in addition to the gift of life and holy faith obtains from the Creator a special task in life, which is a vocation. We hope also that every faithful person tried to recognize more intently his or her own vocation, to cherish and very conscientiously carry it out for the divine glory, for the good of one’s neighbor, and, most importantly, for understanding the meaning of one’s own life. We prayed sincerely for this, singing during the Divine Liturgy in the litany: «Again we pray for all people that they accept with interest the vocation given them by the Lord, that they thank God for it sincerely, and conscientiously and persistently carry it out and serve by it God and people gladly.»
The Synod of Bishops of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church, which took place on September of this year, decreed to continue in the following year, 2009, the theme of Christian vocation with an accent on the priestly vocation, and instead of the above-mentioned petition, to sing in the litany: «Again we pray for our priests, deacons, seminarians, and for their holy vocation.»
In this letter to you, dearly beloved in Christ, I want to explain in more detail this main theme of 2009 A.D. For our pastors and seminarians will be published another, special appeal.
Foremost I want to turn your attention to the fact that in our prayers and reflections we have to continue the theme of Christian vocation in general, and, even more, to try yet deeper, with more detail, to understand it, and most of all to carry it out in our daily life. During 2008 you, probably, listened to sermons, read books, and participated actively in various events on this theme. Such events in particular were organized by eparchies and inter-eparchial commissions, each in the special area (families, youth, laity, and others). Each of us in the future should ask him- or herself how deservingly and pleasing to God they execute the vocation given to him or her and how sincerely they try to help children and youth recognize and carry out their vocations. In addition to this task, the Synod of Bishops calls all of us in 2009 to pay special attention to the priestly vocation. Why? Because for the development and growth of our Church good spiritual leaders are needed, and first of all pastors are accordingly prepared and appointed for this. The bishops invite all members of the Church to consider the sacred character and importance of the priestly vocation and what we, the greater Church community, can do so that our priests be exemplary pastors to God’s glory and for the general good of all the Church and their native nation. We want to offer you a few ideas in relation to this aspect of next year’s spiritual theme.
When we talk about vocation and, in particular, when we call for prayers for priestly vocations, we think usually that our main and unique task is to ask the Lord God to call a sufficient number of candidates to the priestly order or, humanly speaking, to fill our seminaries. Entering the seminary is certainly a very important element, because the realization of the priestly vocation begins with this. However this does not reach the depth of the vocation to the priestly order. First of all, it is necessary to say that study in the seminary is preceded by other stages in this vocation. A good pastor often preaches about vocations and intently looks closely to the members of society, trying to recognize at least its embryo in concrete persons and, if such will notice, to take care to cherish it. A good parish is fruitful soil which bears the beautiful fruits of priestly vocations. One of our parishes in the USA can be an example, in the state of Pennsylvania, which in the 1920s and 1930s gave 37 lasting priestly and monastic vocations. The priests, monks and nuns who came from this community unanimously consider the merit of this in the pastor. A good Christian family, which is like a cradle or hothouse of new spiritual vocations, assists even more in the awakening and growing of a spiritual vocation. In a family of believing people the attitude to the priesthood is honor. Even if an unworthy priest is spoken about, this is said with pain but not with spite. And if there are boys in a family, this vocation is examined as the best possible one.
Not less than the work of father-pastors and the zealous prayer of the Church community, the example of heroes of the faith leads to an awakening of priestly vocations. In connection with this we remember the words of Pope John Paul II of holy memory during the Divine Liturgy in Lviv on June 27, 2001, A.D. Proclaiming 27 members of our Church blessed martyrs, the Holy Father appealed to the priests present at the Liturgy with the words: “If God blesses your land with many vocations and if the seminaries are full – and this is a source of hope for your Church – that is surely one of the fruits of their sacrifice. But it is a great responsibility for you.”
There should be no doubt that the Lord God, as a good Father and Master, calls a sufficient number of workers for the harvest (see Luke 10:2). If there are not enough deserving candidates, however, often we people are guilty, in particular through the decline of spiritual life in our families, through a lack of proper sermons and encouragement, and also through a lack of honor for the priestly status. There is no hope in gaining priestly vocations in families in which the greatest value is money or in which parents’ major care is family relations. It is necessary to remember here the negative influence which the modern mass media has, which quite often becomes the transmitter of anti-Christian ideas and visions. And already quite shattering is the bad life example of some priest, especially the local pastor.
These obstacles are very large, but they are not insuperable. Recently we have more than once heard criticism addressed at priests because of their unworthy conduct or superficial implementation of pastors’ duties. Let us ask ourselves: Did we pray for the correction of such priests, people who fell into a great spiritual crisis? How much did we help them get out of such a tragic state? In fact the priest is not a single island among the wide sea of humanity. He especially needs support from the people who are around him, because he is visible and his every step is well known. Here one should also not underestimate the attacks of the enemy of Church, who operates according to the well-known principle: “I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be dispersed.” (see Zech. 13:7; Mt. 26:31)
Among the means of support which the whole church community should use for its priests, the first place is occupied by prayer. The priest exists and operates with the help of the strength of prayer, not only his own, but also the prayer of the community which he serves. Therefore the Synod of Bishops calls all the members of the Church to pray for priests and deacons – not only for the intention that they be in sufficient quantity, but also first of all that those who enter this holy status in accord with the divine will live out their vocation and fulfill it in a holy way.
Believing people help their priest. For great requirements stand before him: as a person, a pastor, an administrator, a teacher, a citizen, and if he is married – a husband and father. A priest’s life is not covered with a path of roses, except for in those cases when he wants to be a lying prophet and satisfy the whims of the people, instead of leading them to the Heavenly Kingdom. If he tries indeed to be godly, his life is rather a thorny path. Against this background we will understand better who we want to be: the Pharisees who mocked Jesus Christ, or the one from Cyrene who helped Him carry the cross.
Dearly beloved in Christ! We begin 2009, the Year of Christian Vocation with a special accent on the priestly vocation. Let us think about ourselves, about our vocation. Let us reflect on the vocation to the priesthood, because all of us want to see our priests as God’s exemplary servants, the content of whose life is to lead the souls entrusted to them to the Heavenly Father. Together with Jesus Christ, the High Priest, let us pray for and support our priests and deacons.
May the Lord’s blessing be on you!
Issued in Kyiv, at the Patriarchal Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ, December 31, 2008
Prayer of the Servant of God Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky
for good Ukrainian clergy,
for which we entrust all the faithful of our Church to pray
Lord, O Lord, look down from heaven and visit the vineyard which was planted by Your hand.
May Your all-powerful hand be always on this people which You have loved. Give it, Eternal God, in every generation, until the end of the world, holy bishops and priests, filled with Your Spirit — pastors and teachers of Your law, who would be able unchanging to keep the truth of Your holy incarnation and with love to teach and to lead this great people.
Grant to the Ukrainian clergy the grace to be never afraid of sacrifice, where the only matter is Your glory and the good of this people.
Set on fire in the hearts of Ukrainian priests the spirit of zealousness for the salvation of souls. Open before their eyes the wisdom of Your revelation and give them high feeling for the holiness of those things to which you called them. Bless their work and their intentions. Protect them from every misfortune. And unite them with Your blessings, so that in love they be one – as you, Father with Your Son and the Son with You. Amen.