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In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
In the first Gospel we heard this morning we learned about a Pharisee. Now remember, the Pharisees were very proud and very strict teachers of the Jewish religion, who held themselves, and others, to a very high standard of behaviour. This Pharisee, whose name was Simon, invited Jesus to his house for dinner. Why? Well Jesus was a celebrity. He was the up-and-coming thing. A kind of religious rock star of the day. Please don’t think that’s how I think about Him, God forbid! But some did. He attracted huge crowds wherever he went and His popularity was growing. People were very eager not only to see Him, but to be seen with Him. Thus, the dinner invitation. As they were eating, a woman, a very sinful woman, a woman whose life reminds us of the wicked life that Mary of Egypt lived before her miraculous conversion, crashed the dinner party and fell down at the feet of Jesus. She had brought with her a bottle of the most expensive perfume oil available. Weeping, she began to wash His feet with her tears, and wiped them with her hair. She kissed His feet and anointed them with the fragrant oil. Now when Simon the Pharisee saw what was going on, he was horrified, he was embarrassed, he was beside himself with anger. This horrible woman crashed his party, ruined the impression he wanted to make on everyone, and was stealing everyone’s attention away from him! His mind, filled with with every malevolent thought, began to search for someone to blame for this hideous breach of social and religious correctness. His eyes, like daggers, fix on Jesus. “This Man, if He were a prophet, would know who and what manner of woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner.”
In the second Gospel reading we see Jesus exhorting His disciples not to be the kind of people who need to “lord it over” other people. He says to them, “Whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”
In the first reading salvation was happening. Mercy and grace were flowing. Forgiveness was flowering like a Spring garden. But Simon the Pharisee, whose sole purpose was to help people to get closer to God, was actually doing the opposite. He was so full of himself, that he got angry when the Lord allowed this holy scene to unfold. In the second reading, the disciples are warned not to follow such examples, or they too will be guilty of the same pride, the same arrogance, as Simon, and actually stifle the grace of God in the lives of those wishing to be saved.
Dear ones,  I want us to hold these thoughts in our minds, but now I want us to think about something else – about the Life of St. Mary of Egypt. Her life, her conversion, her ascesis, these are all things that astonish us, fill us with wonder, inspire us, and make us want to make deeper changes in our own lives too. I’ve heard the story, every year for close to fifty years now. Each time I hear it I still find it stirring; each time I am brought to tears. And that’s how it should be. But a couple of days ago, a dear priest friend, Fr Paul Yerger from Holy Resurrection OCA church in Clinton, Mississippi, sent out a little email to his priest friends, and this is, in essence, what he said:
“I love the Great Canon and I notice something new about every time I hear it. For what it’s worth, I’ll share what I noticed tonight. It struck me how many times St. Mary reminds Fr. Zosimas that he is a priest. Just listen:
“Abba Zosimas, it is YOU who must bless and pray, since you are honored with the grace of the priesthood. For many years you have stood before the holy altar, offering the Holy Gifts to the Lord.”
Abba Zosimas, as you are a priest, it is for you to pray for me and for the whole world.”
“What are you doing, Abba? You are a priest and you carry the Holy Mysteries of God.”
“Abba Zosimas, bury on this spot the body of humble Mary. Return to dust what is dust. Pray to the Lord for me. I reposed on the first day of April, on the very night of the saving Passion of Christ, after partaking of the Mystical Supper.”
Prior to his encounter with St. Mary in the desert, Fr Zosimas didn’t seem to think much about his priesthood, or his ministry to anyone else, or love, or even God, really. It seems to me that he yearned for some kind of spiritual perfection as an end in itself, as someone might yearn for perfection in golf or writing or music. St. Mary did not need a perfect ascetic, she did not need a spiritual teacher. What she needed and wanted from him is what priests do: bless people, pray for people, hear peoples’ confessions, give them the Holy Gifts, bury them. These are things the priest can do purely because God and the Church have given him authority to do them; he cannot take any credit for it. Zosimas, suffering from the vice of vainglory, thought that no one on earth had accomplished what he had accomplished in the spiritual life. He was wrong, of course, as the story shows. And St. Mary certainly knew his spiritual state and honored him and loved him anyway, and thereby teaches him to honor and to love.
I know that I minister every day to some people who are far more pure and holy than I am. But they still need me, and I am grateful that I can give them priestly ministry in spite of my own unworthiness. Amen! Just for fun, I have included the Oath for candidates for ordination:
Oath Sworn by the Candidate for Ordination to the Holy Priesthood
I, the undersigned, being now called to the priestly ministry, do swear an
oath by Almighty God, before His Holy Cross and Gospel, that I desire, and will do my best, to conduct my ministry according to the will of God,  the canons of the Church and the instructions of my ecclesiastical authorities:  to perform the liturgical services with diligence and piety, according to the prescriptions of the Typikon,  without altering anything arbitrarily;  to uphold  the doctrines of the Faith, and to instruct others in the precepts of the Holy Orthodox Church and the teachings of the Holy Fathers; to protect from heresies and schisms the souls that will be entrusted to me,  and to enlighten and bring to the path of Truth those who will fall into error;  to lead a life which is pious, sober, far removed from sinful, worldly habits, in the spirit of humility, wisdom, meekness, and to bring others to piety by my example; in all aspects of my labor to have in mind not my personal dignity or profit, but the glory of God, the good of the Church, and the salvation of my neighbors. In all of this, may the Lord God help me by His grace, through the supplications of the Mother of God and of all the saints. In confirmation of this my oath, I kiss the words and Cross of my Savior. Amen.


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