Cont'd: The Ministry (3)
Pope Shenouda III | 5 January 2009
The Spiritual Minister
A question often occurs to my mind and heart: Are we truly ministers? It is easy for one to think of oneself more highly than one ought to think (Rom 12: 3), but ministry in its spiritual depths has high measures which probably we have not yet attained. Perhaps we have started as spiritual ministers, but could not keep this spirituality along the way! Let us discuss then, who may be called "a minister"?
A spiritual minister is a beautiful tune in the ears of the church, and a pure icon whoever sees shall be blessed, or rather a ladder unto heaven on which the minister's disciples always go up.
A spiritual minister is a bridge carrying the others from the shore of the worldly things to the shore of spiritualities, or from temporal things to eternal. He is God's voice to people, not a human voice, but a mouth on which God speaks to them His word.
A spiritual minister is a divine grace sent from heaven to earth, or a visitation from the grace to some of God's people offering them the taste of the kingdom and the true life.
A spiritual minister is the Gospel incarnated, a moving church, the image of God to the children, a high ideal and a good example, and a means leading to all virtues.
A spiritual minister always has the feeling of being in the presence of God. Ministry for such a minister is like a holy altar on which is offered sweet smelling incense, which is the minister's work. The only concern of such a minister is to introduce God into the ministry, saying within with the Psalmist, "Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it." (Ps 127: 1)
A spiritual minister always has a contrite heart, feeling undeserving of the ministry.
He feels that it is something above his rank to prepare saints and a holy people to the Lord. He is fully aware that the salvation of souls is beyond his ability; it is the work of God! Any participation on his part with God or communion with the Holy Spirit toward the edification of the Kingdom and cleansing of hearts is something he is not worthy of! However, in spite of this feeling, he does not flee from the ministry, but this feeling leads him to more prayer. He says continually to the Lord, 'This ministry, O Lord, belongs to You. It is not my work. You will do it through me or through any other person. I just watch Your work and become happy and rejoice (Jn 3: 29). Indeed, for "neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase." (1 Cor 3: 7) Do act then, O Lord, and make the hearts of Your children happy. Do not prevent Your Holy Spirit from working in them because of my sins, weaknesses or defaults.' By such supplications a minister receives the grace of God, and when his ministry prospers he gives glory to God for the whole work done.
A spiritual minister is all the time lifting prayers.
By prayer he serves his children and solves the problems of the ministry. Prayer to him is like a breath coming in and out. One of the holy fathers once said, 'Some ministers think that the utmost loyalty to ministry is that they work for it, but a spiritual minister sees that the utmost success of ministry is to let God work!' However this does not mean that a minister can slacken or keep idle! Nay, he works with all his power and effort, while aware that it is God who works in him. Therefore St. Paul said, "I labored … yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me." (1 Cor 15: 10) "It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me." (Gal 2: 20)
A spiritual minister is a kindled flame of fire.
He is a fervently zealous for the salvation of the souls, and says with David the Prophet, "Surely I will not go into the chamber of my house, or go up to the comfort of my bed; I will not give sleep to my eyes or slumber to my eyelids until I find a place for the Lord."(Ps 132)
A spiritual minister is the sweet aroma of Christ.
People smell the sweet aroma of Christ in him, being His legible message to all the people. He is a burnt offering, a sweet aroma to the Lord on which the divine fire burns and never goes off till it is turned into ashes.
A spiritual minister is a permanent movement towards God.
He is rather a movement inside God's heart due to a divine motion in his own heart. He labors continually for the rest of the others, and his true rest is in leading everybody to God's heart. He is a candle giving light to whoever comes within its sphere, and which may melt with heat and light and love to give light to the others fulfilling the Lord's words, "You are the light of the world." (Mt 5: 14)
A spiritual minister is always struggling with God.
A spiritual minister struggles with the Holy Trinity for his own self and for the others, and receives God's promise for his children in the ministry that they may prosper and be acceptable to God (3 Jn 2).
A spiritual minister is spirit, not mere mind.
He is not a mere teacher or knowledge-bearer conveying knowledge to the others, but is rather a great spirit that has united with God and experienced life with Him, tasted that the Lord is good, and wants to convey such a life to the others, through emotions, live ideal, good example, prayer and supplication to God for those whom he serves.
A spiritual minister does not deliver a lesson, but he himself is a lesson.
He is the sermon rather than the preacher giving the sermon. He is aware that preparing a lesson or a sermon is not mere collecting of knowledge, but preparation of his own self to be fit for the Spirit to work in him. He continually recalls the words of the Lord, "For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth." (Jn 17: 19) He puts before him the words of St. Paul the Apostle to his disciple Bishop Timothy, "Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you." (1 Tim 4: 16)
A spiritual minister's children do not need visitation.
This is because his children long to listen to his words. When they see him in the church they feel that they have found many riches. They benefit from seeing him and seeing his way of dealing, perhaps more than they benefit from his words. Through love he binds them strongly to the church. Hi lessons are the desire of their souls, spirits, minds and hearts.
A spiritual minister loves his children and is keen on their salvation.
His love for his children is part of his love for God and His Kingdom. He loves them as Christ loves His disciples, for He loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end (Jn 13: 1). A spiritual minister loves God with all his heart, and likes to have his children love God as he does. As their love for God grows, the minister's love for them will grow, accompanied with compassion towards them and zeal for their salvation. Such great love gives a shining image of religion and of God.
The children of the spiritual minister are spiritual, the same like him.
He educates them in the life of the spirit to be like him in spirituality. So, the children of a sociable minister will be sociable like him, and of the intellectual will be intellectual like him, mere books carrying knowledge! Truly said in the story of creation that God created the fruit tree that yields fruit according to its kind (Gen 1: 11, 12). Let us be aware then, for in our likeness our children will be!
A spiritual minister feels that his children are in his charge, under his responsibility.
He knows that he will give account for them before God on the Day of Judgment, because they are God's children. God had entrusted them into his hands to serve them and to give them their food in its time (Lk 12: 42). This makes him work with God's fear before his eyes, aware of the responsibility he shoulders.
I like that every minister asks himself about three matters, the spirituality of his ministry, of his life, and of his children.
As for the spirituality of his own life, it is for the sake of attaining eternal life and salvation of his soul, and having spiritual influence on his children. As for the spirituality of his ministry, it is in order to be fruitful, creating a spiritual generation. For the spirituality of his children, it requires effort, patience, and long suffering on his part.
A spiritual minister ought to have patience and longsuffering till his seeds yield fruit and grow.
He never gets bored or despair if the fruit delays, but struggles as far as he can, and lets God in, putting before him the words of the apostle: "We then who are strong ought to bear with the scruples of the weak." (Rom 15:1) Some souls actually do not yield fruit, and some others cannot readily get rid quickly of their faults. Such types need someone to suffer them long until they be saved, as God has suffered us long to lead us to repentance (Rom 2: 4). St. John Chrysostom said, 'If the embryo needs long months to complete its growth and come out, let us them be patient towards the spiritual embryo till its growth is complete.
I cannot finish all that I want to say about the spiritual minister in this article, so let us meet in the coming article next week, God willing.