comes with authority, not the authority of a group of people who voted 51-49 to make us who we are, but rather the authority that comes with being part of a larger chain of trust and responsibility leading all the way back to the Apostles and Christ.
And as clerics our words matter, our conduct matters. Our calling is an awesome thing in the best sense of the word, worthy of awe and respect but not for its own sake. We forget that sometimes. All the people calling you “Father”, the kissing of the hands, the seat at the head of the banquet, the accolades. It’s all very intoxicating and like all intoxicants it can be very dangerous.
It easy to lose ourselves in the role, to believe our own press releases as it were and get caught up in the fine vestments and privileges of our office. It’s easy when our pictures are on the wall and our name is on the letterhead to lose direction, focus, and purpose. It’s infectious for us all, myself included, and like all infections left untreated it can make us very sick, even kill us.
Because in the end its all about trust. People submit to us, people follow our lead, not because we have a name or title or credentials. Those things may open the door but they mean nothing after the first few impressions. The people we serve, the reason behind the titles and the roles and the vestments, will know whether or not we have their best interest at heart, whether we are a shepherd or a hireling, whether they matter or not. Trust is the currency of authority and when it is squandered its most difficult to recover.
And perhaps the saddest thing in all that has been happening in the Antiochian Archdiocese is that this precious trust, the thing that binds those who lead and those who follow seems to be thrown to the wind for ends still not clear and causes still not certain. At the very moment when those who look to us are trying to find their way perhaps we have forgotten that all that we have been given, our gifts, our authority, is a trust from God a trust the people we serve hope will be used for their increase in holiness, a trust even for those outside the Church, whether they know it or not, that there is light, truth, grace, and holiness to be found in this world.
Does it make a difference who is in charge and how the precious gift of the Church is governed. Yes, it does. Yet, the structure and order of the ancient Faith is not an experiment or an exercise in how best to finesses the system for advantage, rather it is for the care and nourishment of the faithful and so its shape and functions matter. If our concern in all this is pastoral it would be a worthy thing to ask the question “How does our polity best serve the people entrusted to our care?”
Yet how much can we all, all of us who are in some role of authority in this Holy Church, often look like James and John trying to secure the seats next to Jesus in the Kingdom? How often can we forget that the charism is not ours but rather a trust for which we will be called to account? And yes, how often can we forget the people, the ones who kiss our hands and serve us at festivals, the ones to whom, like Christ, our lives are supposed to be dedicated? Have we remembered them in all of this? Have our deliberations, our maneuvers, our opinions, and our actions been designed to bless them, help them, serve them, and increase their faith?
The answer to those questions lie within us, within me, and perhaps the way out of these struggles as well.