July 12, 2016 - What is the traditional way to pastor?

July 12, 2016

What is the traditional way to pastor?

In order to answer this question, we first have to understand the meaning of “ecclesiastical tradition” and then, we have to distinguish what constitutes the authenticity and ecclesiastical spirit (character) of the pastor.

According to St. Irenaeus, the tradition of the Church is based on its apostolic succession (the continuation of Divine Grace as it was given on the day of Pentecost) and on the apostolic kerygma that proclaims the love and philanthropy of the Triadic God and the salvation of the world from death. The aim of ecclesiastical tradition is to preserve the Truth and not the customary habits of local Churches. St. Cyprian notes that Christ is not a customary habit but the Truth!  Thus, true tradition preserves the Holy Covenant[1] and the oneness and unity of all. The Church tradition is not limited to its historic past; it is a living articulation of the ecclesiastical experience of everyone in all times. The tradition of the Church and its pastoral work is a dynamic principle, a happening which is constantly being realized, that is increasing and developing.[2]

The authenticity of the pastor is granted by the Body of the Church and is recognized by its members when he lives the actualization of the Church as a community of love and as a relationship. “There is not a single authority or a single coercive “revelation” that rightly guarantees truth. Truth is only rightly attained by way one’s efforts in forming and maintaining relationships.[3] The pastor’s knowledge is not acquired solely from research and studies. The genuine pastor is continually shaped and matures within the experiences he acquires from his personal struggle, his failures and sins, and from his participation in the joys, the pains and the agonies of his fellow humans. Knowing his failures and sins, he is not insistent that he holds all the truth. Neither is he obstinate in his views. For the authenticity of the pastor does not depend so much on his actions; it mainly depends on how much he is open to the possibility of allowing the love of the Father and the grace of the Holy Spirit, which sanctifies every human existence and all of the universe,  to penetrate into him.

Lastly, the true pastor bears witness to the truth and lives in reality. “Truth is that knowledge that is certified from each one’s experience (from his relationship with reality) and is verified by the witness-formulation of which all concur (by the way all relate to one another and with reality).” As a social being, he confirms his knowledge when he conjoins the way of knowing with the way of existence. He binds truth “with the common effort of community relations of life”. In his way of existence, he knows reality. This way of existence bears witness to the fact that he knows how to exist (how to live); that he knows the way that existence is realized and is revealed.[4]

Reality is not something that is relative. It is not limited to the present. It includes “everything that we know and everything that we do not know; everything that we see and everything that we do not see”; even those things that we have not learned and that have not been revealed. Living this reality, the pastor’s consciousness does not bear witness only to the past or the present, but above all is a witness to eternity.

Conclusion: The lack of pastoral consciousness observed in today’s clergy indicates how we have ignored or misinterpreted the true meaning of ecclesiastical tradition, the authenticity of the pastor, ecclesiastical spirit (character) and the role the pastor can play in society. It is obvious that we have forgotten the way to know and the way to exist – the way to live – as communicates of Truth. The Church has the pastoral responsibility to show how Man can reobtain these ways so as to truly live. Limiting pastoral care to impersonal and superficial social work and projects, which appears to predominate in our times, only demeans the great contribution that the Church’s diachronic tradition and genuine care can offer to the disappointed and pain stricken man who is in search of salvation.

+S. K.


[1] “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16)

[2] See π. Γεώργιος Φλορόφσκυ, Το Σώμα του Ζώντος Χριστού – Μια ορθόδοξη ερμηνεία της Εκκλησίας, Μεταφ. Ι.Κ. Παπαδόπουλος, Εκδόσεις Αρμός, 1999, σ. 87-120. 

[3] Χρήστος Γιανναράς, Οντολογία της σχέσης, Εκδόσεις Ίκαρος,  2008, 2.5.1-2.

[4] Ibid. 2.5.3