“I am the Good Shepherd”
by Metropolitan Anthony (Bloom)
I will say a few words about today’s event. The Lord said in the Gospel, “I am the Good Shepherd. And the Good Shepherd lays down His life for His sheep.” Today, by the power and grace of the Holy Spirit, our deacon Michael has become the priest Michael, and he has been now commanded to be a shepherd: a shepherd who guides the sheep towards the completion of their lives, towards the fulfillment of their lives.
But he must do that at the cost of his own life: be ready for his soul to be torn by compassion, by love, and his life to be completely given to those whom the Lord will send to him unto salvation. There is a passage in the Scriptures that says, “Give your soul to be torn to pieces, that others may be fed.” This is what he has accepted today by becoming a priest: to become your servant, not your master but your servant; to give all his life for you.
I remember when I was a child about eighty years ago, on the confines of the Persian and the Asiatic desert, I saw a small flock of sheep and a shepherd. And they looked so incredibly small and vulnerable, between the immensity of the sky and the endlessness of the desert. They were as vulnerable the ones as the other.
The difference between them – I understood it only much later of course – was that the sheep needed protection. They needed a wise intelligence, a generous heart, to make sure that they were not devoured by the wild beasts that roamed in this desert. And that the shepherd loved his sheep, in self-dedicated manner, ready to give his life to protect them.
This is what a priest is called to be. And in doing this he must learn something more: not only to love with his heart, enlightened, warmed by divine mercy and grace. But he must learn – and that he cannot do on purpose, he cannot do that by choice – he must learn to be an icon of Christ.
Again, when I was a boy of ten or eleven years of age in a boys’ camp we had a priest who seemed to us so old. He was probably about thirty years of age, but we were small; but there was something which we could not understand and which I understood many, many years later. He loved us with an undivided heart. When we were good his love for us was exulting joy.
When we were not good his love for us was searing pain, but it never was less, it was total, entire. He loved us with all his being. I understood later that he was an icon of Christ, an icon of Love Divine, of this God who loves us with exulting joy when we are worthy of Him and of ourselves, and with a love crucified when we are unworthy – and I say crucified thinking of Christ dying on the cross and before that praying, praying on Calvary for our salvation and abandoning Himself to His own death that we may live.
To achieve this a priest needs not only a generous heart. He needs the help, the support, the love not only of God but also of all those to whom he is sent as a shepherd. And therefore, all of you, support Father Michael on his new life.
Support him giving him courage, showing him that it is not in vain that he has chosen to live and to die for the sake of each of us. Ask God to send him His blessing, His grace, His love, and also ask the Lord to remember the parents, who have brought him up and made him the man he has become, who has chosen to be a living sacrifice for the salvation of others; and his friends, who have been his support and his encouragement.
We will sing in a moment Mnogaya Leta (Many Years) to him, to his father and mother, to the father and mother of his wife and to his wife, to their child, to all those who they carry in their hearts. Let us sing it truly, wholeheartedly, asking God to send His blessing, and make of him truly the good shepherd. Amen.
Cathedral Newsletter (London), No. 339, March 2000