American Orthodox Catholic Christianity

Faith Of Our Fathers Series

The Art of Pastoral Ministry

A pastor is called to minister in various cultural and social strata. His task is significantly easier if he is able to make use of the level of understanding of each milieu: with philosophers-to be a philosopher, with simple people-to be simple. In China the Chinese language is used to spread the Gospel, in Russia-Russian. So, too, in visiting different homes and entering different cultural spheres, a pastor should be able to speak on a level and in a language comprehensible to each person. In our day and age, the "gift of tongues" (I Cor. 12:10) is the gift of being able to get close to each individual human soul, using its understanding, its psychology. He that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man (I Cor. 2:15), that is to say, the spiritual man is able to understand human souls, penetrating through their respective prisms of culture, upbringing, education, moral disposition, character. A true pastor always speaks to a person in that person's language, as it were, not his own. I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some (I Cor. 9:22). "Unto the Jews" the pastor becomes as a Jew; to them that are under the law, as under the law (I Cor. 9:20). Hereby is manifest the gift of love and an understanding of God's work; here the pastor becomes like an angel, who always speaks individually with each man's conscience, precisely taking into account the human personality, its particularities, its strengths and weaknesses. It is especially important during confession and in giving spiritual advice to approach the person not abstractly, not from one's "self," but concretely, individually. Here is where the full depth of pastoral wisdom and love is revealed. There should be nothing stereotypical, habitual or theoretical about a pastor's spiritual counsels. Each piece of advice is wrought as something fresh, warm, drawn from actual experience of contact with a new human soul.

A pastor is a refined artist who sculpts not out of marble but out of an ethereal and priceless material-the human soul. The pastor's task is to fashion the Likeness of God from the darkened Image of God. For this he is given authority from God, and if authority is also given by the person being shepherded (by his acceptance of the pastor's guidance), the pastor is sure to realize his objective. This is the ideal condition for pastoral work: the sheep obey the voice of the shepherd, and if the shepherd faithfully submits to the voice of the Heavenly Chief Shepherd, then the Kingdom of Heaven is established within that person.

But a pastor is also faced with the task of rescuing lost souls which have been drawn away by the leaders and proponents of the spirit and ideas of this age-souls which have given away to this spirit their very hearts. Here the pastor is faced with the way of the Cross-battling for the human soul, grieving, praying for it, and employing all possible means to turn it from the wrong path onto the true path. Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain who build it (Ps. 126). The soul's salvation is achieved when God's will encounters the human will and captivates it. Captive to the will of God, the will of the pastor should draw the will of the other person towards convergence with God's will.

This spiritual battle for the soul takes many forms and goes through various phases. Here the pastor's experience will show plainly that this warfare is not only with the evil human will (which is rarely altogether evil), but with the consummately evil will of the demons. The fifth chapter of St. Paul's epistle to the Ephesians clearly reveals itself to the pastor, and he begins to understand more deeply and more thoroughly that his entire personal experience, all his capabilities, all his knowledge, even his faith, are of little use in the warfare with these dark forces without the grace bestowed from above; that the grace of the Holy Spirit is alone the true power and the fulfillment of all his pastoral hopes and aspirations. This awareness does not, however, cause the pastor to be passive; rather, it gives him a special boldness. A lack of trust in one's own power and one's own "experience" leads to greater reliance on the power of God and to the recognition, When I am weak, He is strong (II Cor. 12:10). The pastor exerts himself-for the Kingdom of God is taken by force-not only for himself but for the sake of others. Our "force" is love-prayerful and incarnate in life-towards God and neighbor, a love in response to which God's blessing descends upon the world. A pastor is confident that there is no prayer from the heart that does not reach God (although it may not be fulfilled as the person desires). Nor are their any pastoral endeavors that do not contribute to the establishment of the Kingdom of God.

Another aspect of pastoral ministry consists in repenting for those who have sinned. A pastor can develop this ability to repent for another person if, each time he hears or notices a sin, he turns his mental gaze to the Throne of God: "Lord, forgive him... Lord, cleanse and strengthen Thy servant!" This habit of interceding is formed by another holy habit of the heart-not to judge the sinner but to have compassion on him, offering for his sake at least a sigh of repentance. At the foundation of this pastoral love, which is concealed from outward view, lies the pastor's own personal repentance.

(Translated from Nadezhda, vol. 1, Possev, Frankfurt; pp. 170-171.) 

See also On the Duty of the Flock Toward the Pastor


Back To: Orthodox Catholic Communications Center