THE ORTHODOX PASTOR: A GUIDE TO PASTORAL THEOLOGY
“There is nothing more awe-inspiring and more blessed than the service of pastorship. Through earthly and heavenly shepherds the Lord feeds His flock of the believing, or of the not yet believing souls. True pastorship is Christ’s life continuing in the world,” writes Archbishop John Shahovskoy in “The Orthodox Pastor: A Guide to Pastoral Theology”. Father Stephen highly recommended I read this book for my internship. It is a basic introduction to pastoral theology in the eyes of the sacramental priesthood of the Orthodox Church. However, this book has ageless wisdom that any pastor charged with imparting “the one thing needful” to souls within his care. Archbishop John shares such sage counsel in this practical and helpful guide to being the shepherd of a faith community. I believe that beginning with the premise of pastorship being the continuing of Christ’s life in the world is a highly sacramental way to begin one’s pastorship journey! We are the presence of Christ to our flock and to the world. We offer his healing presence through our pastorship. I think this is foundational to the work of a pastor
The beginning of the book addresses that there is but One Shepherd and One Pastorship and it is that of Christ Jesus’. He says, “Only those who know the One Shepherd can be shepherds on earth or in heaven.” To be a pastor of Christ showing His presence to the flock and to the world, one must know the Shepherd. I think that it is a great way to begin this book! We must work out our own salvation as pastors first and foremost. We must learn via the disciplines to silent the craziness of our thoughts and minds and to enter into the place of the heart where our true selves lie. It is there that we begin to know God and be known by Him. We take this time to know our Shepherd and to be shepherded by Him. We then can take this and give from our hearts to our flock.
Archbishop John writes, “Pastorship in the spirit of Christ is for the parish the pastorship of Christ Himself.” We must take on the spirit of Christ in our pastorship. We must be like Christ the Good Shepherd in our thoughts, actions, and lives. What does this look like? Archbishop hints at it here: “A priest must know that growth is the work of the Divine grace, through sunshine, warmth, light, air, food, water, dew–and the task of the gardener-priest is merely to weed the plants in God’s garden and to water them with the waters of the sacraments.” A job as pastors is to cultivate a garden, a garden that is as weed less as possible and is teaming with life with luscious plants that spring up from the ground. We are after all nothing but fancy dirt and a saved soul.
Archbishop John also talks about what makes up evil pastorhood. An evil pastor is one who does his own will instead of Christ’s. An evil pastor follows the devil and not Christ. He lays out some characteristics of evil pastorship: 1) Love of money and materialistic, 2) The pastor does it for pomp, show, and theatricality, 3) Fawning on the rich and the powerful. A contemptuous attitude to poor and humble people, 4) The preaching of earthly values and attainments in the church and being absorbed in some side issue or work, 5) Seeking honor and glory for oneself, vanity, and 6) A lack of care for the human soul. By contrast he says that a good pastor is one who is in the Shepherd’s fold. A good pastor “is a spiritual architect—a builder of souls, constructing out of these souls the House of God—the communion of peace and love.” A good pastor “knows his farm, understands the processes of organic life and knows how to further them. He looks at every plant and takes care of it. His work is to prepare and till the soil, to sow seed, to water the plants, to weed, to graft good stock, to spray the vines, to protect the fruit from thieves and birds, to watch over its ripening and harvest it in due season…” A good pastor has a physician’s knowledge who can diagnose, apply treatment, prescribe and even make up the necessary medications. “A good pastor is a warrior and a commander; a helmsman and a captain; a father, mother, brother, son, friend, servant; a carpenter, a polisher of precious stone, a gold seeker; a writer writing the Book of Life. True pastors, like pure mirrors of the Sun of Righteousness, reflect for mankind the radiance of heaven and give warmth to the world.”
Archbishop John also speaks a word about pastors in regards to education, school, social life, apologetics, and preaching. He says of preaching, “A sermon may be prepared beforehand, or it may not be. If it is to be stronger than a double-edged sword (carrying Truth on one edge, and cutting down falsehood on the other), it must first of all be prepared in prayer. If the Spirit of power is given from above, the sermon will be ‘a success’ (i.e. will convince, inspire, heal, liberate, help the building of the Kingdom of God). If the spirit is not given, the sermon will either distract or weary the listeners…
Sermons in church should not be unctuous, abounding in archaic words, and platitudes and no artificial rhetorical devices are necessary. The preacher’s words should be direct, simple, spiritually pure and have no ‘worldly’ taint about them…” I believe that one critique we must make of expository approach is that it is so very easy to make the Bible the authority instead of a revelation and revealing of a higher Authority. It is easy to make the sermon Bible-centered or text-centered. I am all about expository preaching, but we must always remember to preach Christ and Him crucified. Our preaching must be centered on Christ! We must not supplant God the Word with the Word of God. I think his advice to keep in prayer and to pray for the Spirit’s uprising in our sermon is absolutely vital to preaching well and with passion, conviction, and the Spirit of Christ!
I do not have time or space to comment fully on this wonderful little book that is just 120 pages. I could not recommend this book enough! It is a delightful book full of practical knowledge, sage advice, and godly wisdom. I am very grateful that Father recommended this book to me and even loaned me his copy!