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Question 19.

Dear Fr Christopher,
According to our faith the sins that are confessed to a priest are considered as non-existent and the person that has committed them is fully forgiven. Despite of that, certain sins prevent someone from becoming a priest. Why does this happen even after absolution?


Answer to Question 19.
Dear Constantine,

Firstly I think you have misunderstood the Sacrament of Holy Confession. Yes, all sins confessed are forgiven and one is given a clean slate, but it does not make the sin “non-existent”: it happened at some time in history and probably involved another person who was affected by it in some way. When hearing confessions, a Priest today largely ignores the sacred canons in favour of the use of Economia”, but when it comes to the Priesthood they are strictly adhered to. In our day and age, where it is becoming more and more difficult to find men eligible for the priesthood, the Church would love to be lenient with many men who would make excellent Priests, but because of something in their past, they are barred from this exclusive office. The reason is not because the person is unworthy, but because the Church must at all times protect the image of the Priesthood: it must protect the Church from every possible scandal that may appear at a later date from someone’s past. If, for example the man in his youth fornicated with a woman even only once, and then broke off the relationship, this under normal circumstances is forgotten and life goes on. But what if the same man is ordained a Priest and the girl comes along later saying he was not worthy to be a Priest because he had slept with her, or worse still, that their one time “roll in the hay” left her pregnant and she bore a child with that priest, would not the media have a field day and cause a scandal for the Church? Thus to avoid any possible scandal everyone who has a ‘past’ or a police record is barred from entering the Priesthood. But because as I said before there is a great need for young men to enter the Priesthood, some bishops take a lenient view when sex before marriage involved the fiancé that actually became the wife as long as there wasn’t also a pregnancy before marriage. Other instances, where someone’s past is ignored, is when the person at first belonged to another church and was then received through Baptism into the Orthodox Church. In such cases, of which there are many, the person is accepted into the Priesthood because his history is indeed wiped clean: his old life is buried and he is reborn with a new life in Christ: only the sins committed after Baptism are valid.
Another reason why the Church remains steadfast to the canons when it concerns the Priesthood is because the source of the Priesthood is the God-man, our Redeemer and Saviour himself, who alone is in reality the High Priest of the Church. Bishops and Priest do not have a priesthood of their own, but receive the one and only eternal Priesthood of Christ. They bear this Priesthood of Christ throughout their entire life and perform the divine Sacraments of the Church. But at all times they perform these Sacraments in the Priesthood of Christ and not their own. Thus those who are to receive this grace must be blameless. And it is not only the canons of the Church that tell us who may become a Priest: the New Testament is very clear on the matter. When the Apostles were to choose the Seven Deacons what did the Apostles say? “Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom”. (Acts 6:3) Of honest report, e.g. of good repute and reputation, faithful, modest, holy, worthy of this grace and ministry. But probably the strongest rules for the Priesthood were laid down by St. Paul in his Epistle to Timothy. He says: “This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work. A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach; Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?) Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil. Likewise must the deacons be grave, not doubletongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre; Holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience. And let these also first be proved; then let them use the office of a deacon, being found blameless. Even so must their wives be grave, not slanderers, sober, faithful in all things. Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well. For they that have used the office of a deacon well purchase to themselves a good degree, and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus.” (1 Timothy 3:1-13)
But if anyone wants to enter the Priesthood, he should not hasten to receive this dignity, but wait until God calls him to it. I would first advice him to read St. John Chrysostom’s “Six Books on the Priesthood” and then rethink, because wanting to enter the Priesthood for its honour and glory is the wrong approach. St. Paul says: “If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work”, (1 Timothy 3:1) but he also says: “And no man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron. So also Christ glorified not himself to be made an high priest; but he that said unto him, Thou art my Son, to day have I begotten thee.” (Heb. 5:4-5)

With love in Christ
Fr. Christopher.