St. Chrysostom, the protector
John Chrysostom is one of the greatest fathers of the Church and is regarded as the most glorious model of absolute and complete devotion to the pastoral ministration of the people of God. This model was impressed with his writings, which became a spring of inspiration for the entire Church, and, mainly, with the practice of his archieratic ministration and mission and was distinguished by the unique pastoral sensitivity and anxiety for the salvation of the logical flock of Christ.
In the framework of his high ministration and responsibility and in order to respond to his hieratic mission he did not hesitate to fight against the corrupted establishment both of the state as well as of the Church of his time; a fight which led to his removal from the archieratical throne, his exile and, finally, his death.
His rich authorial work is characterised by the clear ecclesiastical perspective of his intense pastoral (and preaching) activities originating from the acute social problems. His speech, unique in style, was inspired by his personal experience about the importance of Christian faith in the personal spiritual life of every faithful and the people, in general, and constituted the main weapon in dealing with the moral dissipation and social debauchery of his time.
In his work "On the Priesthood", the greatness of the spiritual mission of the priest is stressed with great sensitivity as well as his personal awe for the spiritual responsibility of the faithful. This work could be characterised as a series of hortative orations to priests and the flock for the realisation of men's salvation.
As priests bear the highest responsibility in front of God for the salvation of the faithful, the Holy Father determines in these orations the framework of the responsible pastoral ministration. Furthermore, this mission of the Church for the salvation of the faithful determined his attitude towards those priests who did not respond to the greatness and responsibility of their office.
The homilies of John Chrysostom on the Priesthood constitute his more general and widely known work which had a great influence on the ecclesiastical body. It is a work deeply influenced in the structure and style by the "Defence of the flight to Pontus" by Gregory the Theologian in which Gregory analyses the responsibilities of the priestly office trying to justify his decision –choice to abandon the priestly ministration and resort to the hermitage of Pontus after his ordination to priesthood by his father (around 362).
It is not certain that the events mentioned in his homilies are historical; they are rather imaginary, created by Chrysostom so that on the one hand, he could prove the greatness of Priesthood and, on the other, to prevent unsuitable persons from entering the office.
The structure of the work consists of the narration between Chrysostom and his friend (someone) Basil –who is the other person of the dialogue and helps in the organisation of the material and the subject (research has not managed to determine his identity yet)- who were chosen to priesthood; an office alternating between the one of the simple priest and of the bishop. According to the dialogue, although they had agreed, or at least Basil was under the impression that if they were pressurised to ordination, they would accept it, Basil accepted to be ordained under pressure whereas Chrysostom avoided it and hid. Defending his flight, Chrysostom accepts that there are times in our lives during which the occasional deceit is allowed provided it hurts no one and aims at the general good so that solutions are found in dead-ends and psychic mistakes are restored. In this meaning, this act must be rather called economy and kind of wise administration. Chrysostom, thus, justifies his own refusal to accept Priesthood calling upon his weakness to respond to the onerous duties of Priesthood.
Indeed, Chrysostom's insistence on declining his selection to the priestly office – because this is really the issue- aims at showing the big responsibility of the priestly office and preventing unsuitable people from entering the orders of the clergy, as it has already been said.
Despite its theoretical nature, this work by Chrysostom has a specific aim: to fight against the frantic desire of unworthy people to enter priesthood or acquire the Episcopal office without having the necessary qualifications. As it has been mentioned, the holy father was not interested so much in the historic accuracy of the mentioned events -(Basil, dialogue etc that were invented for the economy of the dialogue)- but mainly in how he would promote and systematically develop the problems related to Priesthood. According to the content, it could be characterised as a text book on Priesthood and has all the characteristics of a systematic treatise.
It must be noted, however, that not all the problems of pastoral work are touched upon and that their approach does not meet today's needs. The pastoral problems of that time do not always hold the same or similar interest for today's clergymen due to the changes in social structures. Moreover, there are newly created problems in our times and new needs have arisen that did not exist then.
Nevertheless, its value and importance is still extremely high even today because it stresses the feeling of seriousness that must exist in the ones that are going to enter Priesthood and practice the ministration of the faithful.
These were the main reasons that this work was recognised more than any other patristic work and, obviously, this is why no other later father of the Church tried to systematically treat the pastoral issue. Perhaps this is the reason for its big influence and spread. This treatise, anyway, is a protest against the then -and always- existing dark status of the administrative state of the Church and it aims at determining the means with which the bad operation of ecclesiastical organisation can be corrected.
After exposing his unsuitability for the office, Chrysostom mentions the importance of Priesthood, the conditions of accepting the priestly office and the way priestly work must be conducted. Towards the end of the work, after painting a black picture of the dangers of priesthood, he, somewhat, alleviates it with the assurance that Christ, who assigns His ministration and service to priests, will help them to fulfil their priestly- pastoral duties.
The arguments used by Chrysostom are based on the Bible, strengthened by his rich experience and worth-noting personal observation and framed by vivid images and descriptions.
As it has already been mentioned the aim of writing this work is to show a) the greatness and magnitude of Priesthood by describing its inaccessible character; and b) to determine the qualifications of the candidates for the office of priesthood and the duties of the clergy in exercising them.