22 June 2009

Great Dignity = Tending the Flock

Jesus said to Simon Peter: Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these? He said to Him: Yes, Lord, You know that I love You. He said to him: Feed My lambs. He said to him again: Simon, son of John, do you love Me? He said to Him: Yes, Lord, You know that I love You. He said to him: Feed My lambs. He said to him the third time: Simon, son of John, do you love Me? Peter was grieved because He had said to him the third time: Do you love Me? And he said to Him: Lord, You know all things: You know that I love You. He said to him: Feed my sheep. (John 21:15-17)

What advantage could be greater than to be seen doing those things which Christ with His own Lips declared to be proofs of love to Himself? The Master asked the disciple if He was loved by him, not in order to get information but in order to teach us how great an interest He takes in the superintendence of these sheep. It will likewise be manifest that a great and unspeakable reward will be reserved for him whose labors are concerned with these sheep, upon which Christ places such a high value. For when we see anyone bestowing care upon members of our household, we count his zeal for them as a sign of love towards ourselves; yet all these things are to be bought for money -- with how great a gift then will He requite those who tend the flock which He purchased, not with money, nor anything of that kind, but by His own death, giving His own Blood as the price of the herd.

His words were, "Peter, do you love Me more than these?" Yet He might have said to him, "If you love Me practice fasting, sleeping on the ground, and prolonged vigils, defend the wronged, be as a father to orphans, and supply the place of a husband to their mother." But as a matter of fact, setting aside all these things, what does He say? "Tend My sheep."

The priestly office is indeed discharged on earth, but it ranks among heavenly ordinances; and very naturally so; for neither man, nor angel, nor archangel, nor any other created power, but the Paraclete Himself, instituted this vocation, and persuaded men while still abiding in the flesh to represent the ministry of angels. Wherefore the consecrated priest ought to be as pure as if he were standing in the heavens themselves in the midst of those powers.

When you see the Lord sacrificed, and laid upon the altar, and the priest standing and praying over the Victim, can you then think that you are still among men, and standing upon the earth? Are you not, on the contrary, straightway translated to Heaven, and casting out every carnal thought from the soul, do you not with disembodied spirit and pure reason contemplate the things which are in Heaven? Oh what a marvel! What love of God to man! He Who sits on High with the Father is at that hour held in the hands of all, and gives Himself to those who are willing to embrace and grasp Him. And this all do through the eyes of faith!

If any one will consider how great a thing it is for one, being a man, and compassed with flesh and blood, to be enabled to draw near to that blessed and pure nature, he will then clearly see what great honor the grace of the Spirit has vouchsafed to priests. For they who inhabit the earth and make their abode there are entrusted with the administration of things which are in Heaven, and have received an authority which God has not given to angels or archangels. For it has not been said to them, "Whatsoever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in Heaven, and whatsoever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in Heaven" (Matthew 18:18). What authority could be greater than this? The Father has committed all judgment to the Son (cf. John 5:22). But I see it all put into the hands of these men by the Son. For they have been conducted to this dignity as if they were already translated to Heaven, and had transcended human nature, and were released from the passions to which we are liable. For transparent madness it is to despise so great a dignity, without which it is not possible to obtain either our own salvation, or the good things which have been promised to us.

~Saint John Chrysostom~