Revere the Lord with your whole being, and honor his priests
– The Book of Sirach 7:29
In the Tewahedo Orthodox Church, Priesthood is an esteemed and honorable gift granted by God. As our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ said, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain” (John 15:16). The Scripture is clear, no one takes this honor upon himself, this honor is granted and given by God, just as He granted the honor to Aaron and the Apostles. The term “Apostles” – the Greek word apóstolos means “one who is sent out”. The Holy Apostles where selected by our Lord and sent forth to teach, instruct, baptize and administer the Holy Eucharist. Likewise, Christ did not glorify Himself to become High Priest, but it was He who said to Him:“You are My Son, Today I have begotten You.” As He also says in another place: “You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek” (Hebrews 5:4-6).
In the Tewahedo Orthodox faith, the Sacrament of Priesthood is a holy sacrament through which the bishop lays his hands on the head of the elected deacon, so that the Holy Spirit will descend on him and grant him one of the priestly ranks. He is then given the authority to officiate the Sacraments of the church, doctrines, and others. The fact that the Priest handles the Holy of Holies, that is, the Body and Blood of Christ, when he offers the Divine Liturgy, is recognized in Tewahedo Orthodox, as a great and honorable gift. The hands that touch and offer the Bloodless Sacrifice on the Holy Altar; the hands that give to us the Body and Blood of Christ; the hands that baptize and anoint us with Holy Chrism; the hands that absolve us in the Sacrament of Penance; the hands that bless the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony and anoint our bodies with the healing oil of the Sacrament of Holy Unction; the hands that sprinkle upon us the Holy Water of Sanctification; the hands that bless us, alive and dead, these hands are the instruments of salvation. For this reason and because of the Holy Scriptures, Tewahedo Orthodox Christians are to never disrespect any priest.
In 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13, St. Paul wrote, “We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work.” Listen to the words of St. Paul: “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God; consider the outcome of their life and imitate their faith; Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings. Obey your leaders and submit to them; for they are keeping watch over your souls, as men who will have to give an account. Let them do this joyfully, and not sadly, for that would be of no advantage to you” (Hebrews 13:7-9, 13, 17).
Unfortunately, we are currently living in times where these simple instructions are not being followed by the Faithful (Me’menan), Executive Board (Sebeka Guba’eye) and Mezemeran (Choir), as they feel there is nothing wrong with dictating, mistreating, slandering, disrespecting and gossiping about their priest. Some have gone as far as causing great hardship and pain to their priest and of course to his family. Sadly, some churches are even guilty of persecuting their priests and driving them out of the parish they were assigned to by their bishop. By doing so they have brought the wrath of God upon themselves. What a dangerous mistake they make when they do so, for these priests were not chosen by men but rather by God.
This type of behavior is not godly and is against all Tewahedo Orthodox doctrine, teachings and belief. As a Tewahedo Orthodox believer, please remember you are never above a priest. So humble yourself when you talk to a priest, show respect at all times when you are in the presence of a priest. Never lie to a priest and never slander a priest. Most importantly, you have no authority to ever instruct or dictate to a priest what to do or what not to do. Please understand, with the exception of a Bishop, no one else has the authority to order a priest.
All throughout the Bible there are examples of how God dealt with those that rose up and spoke against God’s servant leaders such as:
- When the people of Israel spoke against God and Moses , the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and many of the people of Israel died (Number 21:5-6).
- When Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses, Miriam was plagued with leprosy (Numbers 12:9-10).
- When Korah and over 250 others spoke against Moses and Aaron, God allowed the earth to swallow Korah and the others up (Numbers 16:2-3).
- When children mocked God’s man, Elisha. God allowed two female bears to destroy 42 of the mockers (II Kings 2:22-24).
The Holy Bible is clear, disobedience towards a priest should never be tolerated or accepted. If you witness anyone disrespecting, slandering or gossiping about a priest. I pray and trust you will correct them and let them know it stands against our Tewahedo Orthodox belief. And if you are guilty of dishonoring your priest in any way, I urge you to seek immediately forgiveness and reconciliation. As a Priest has the power to remit sins. If we are bound by a Priest here on earth than we are also bound in heaven. As our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ said, “Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 18:18).
A Priest is a spiritual father of his flock; he is a teacher, confessor, sanctifier, and healer and his job is never easy. Therefore, as Tewahedo Orthodox believers, we should always strive to adhere, honor, support and pray for our Kahenat (Priest). And may God help us to do so, through the intercession of our Blessed Mother the Holy Virgin.
Author Selam Seyoum
Sources: Holy Bible, Book of Didascalia, The Coptic Orthodox Church Network