26 Years in the Priesthood
Twenty-six years ago today, on the feast of my patron saint, Luke the Evangelist, I was ordained to the priesthood in Tirana, Albania by His Beatitude Archbishop Anastasios. My beloved Presbytera Faith - my partner, my co-worker, and my soulmate in life and in ministry - and I began our ministry in Albania trying to love the Lord and hoping to serve the beautiful people in a country ravaged by its communist and militantly atheistic past. What an incredible 10 and a half years of adventure, challenge, struggle, and blessings with which we began our ministry!
We felt so privileged to begin serving the Lord in this unusual context, with so many difficult trials combined with amazing blessings. We served under the most inspired and saintly hierarch, Archbishop Anastasios, who not only set an example of what it means to be a faithful and true follower of Jesus Christ, but who became our beloved spiritual father, mentor, and dearest of friends. We worked side by side with such devout co-workers, fellow missionaries from Greece and United States, monks and nuns, faithful priests and wonderful lay leaders, and we became truly brothers and sisters with countless Albanians who expanded our family of faith and deeply enriched our lives. Life in post-communist Albania was quite unusual compared to life in America. We experienced life in the poorest country of the world at that time, facing sporadic electricity and sometimes one hour of running water those first years. We shared the Gospel with people who were never allowed to talk about God and knew nothing about Him. We faced dangerous conflicts like in 1997 when utter anarchy reigned – an uncertain period when the US Marines flew into Albania and evacuated Faith and almost all the other Americans from the chaos and violence that engulfed the country. Yet, I can’t imagine a more beautiful and blessed way to begin our ministry of service to our Lord!
After that first decade of service as a priest and presbytera, we then came to central Massachusetts and have served and been enriched by this blessed community of Saints Constantine and Helen, while also teaching at our Hellenic College Holy Cross School of Theology for these past 16 years! Again, what marvelous years these have been. Quite different from our Albanian decade, yet so abundantly clear how God is present and active and alive here. We have witnessed a Church community that struggled to survive 16 years, and today has truly become a beautiful Family of God. We are a Church Family that supports one another, tries to care for and nourish every member, and offer a blessed witness of love and faith and hope to a changing and sometimes dark world – to act as a light house and a hospital to a society where so many people are struggling and lost, turning away from God. Yet this Church Family offers a witness of love and light to the world!
I can’t thank God enough for these past 26 years of priestly service. What an unspeakable blessing to serve as a priest of God. Pres. Faith and I, along with our children, have been enriched by the co-workers and countless brothers and sisters in the vineyard of the Lord. I can’t thank God enough for the blessing to serve Him and His people as priest and presbytera!!!
I remember like yesterday my ordination 26 years ago, first to the deaconate in my home parish of the Annunciation in Lancaster, and then to the priesthood in the Annunciation Cathedral in Tirana. I remember my fear of unworthiness and inadequacy to serve God as a priest, and yet, in my ordination sermon I prayed for God’s grace. Our Lord said to St Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in your weakness” (2 Cor 12:9).” Well, I know how weak I am and I prayed, “Here I am Lord, full of my many imperfections and weaknesses. Accept me, cleanse me, change me, transform me according to your will. Use me in whatever way You see fit.”
I also placed my hope in the words of St. Peter when he reminded us “that all baptized believers are a part of the ‘royal priesthood’ of the Church.” I understood that our ministry would never be OUR ministry ALONE. Faith and I understood and received so much support throughout these years from this “royal priesthood” of believers in the church. YOU and the entire community of faith in Webster and Albania and throughout the world have been coworkers and partners with us in this ministry of the Lord.
In numerous of his letters, the Apostle Paul often asked for the prayers of the people he served – “I appeal to you brothers and sisters, to join me in earnest prayer to God on my behalf … that my ministry may be acceptable to the saints.” (Romans 15:30) This prayer of St. Paul became a common prayer for me and I continue to ask all of you to pray unceasingly for me and Faith to remain faithful and committed. Pray also that we will always be filled with a spirit of love above all else. Before being a priest, a preacher, a teacher, a theologian, or an administrator, we want to be lovers – one who receives and experiences God’s intimate and personal love, one who loves God back with all our heart, soul, strength and mind, and one who radiates His divine love onto each and every person with whom we have contact.
Please pray for us that we may overcome every temptation of pride and arrogance. We need the gift of humility. Pray we all struggle to “work out our salvation” and to grow in holiness, with God’s Spirit to help us see more clearly the beauty of God all around us. Pray we all may grow in wisdom and discernment, so that we understand the Good News of our Lord, courageously applying it in our lives and setting an example for others to imitate. Pray also we may be aflame with the unwaning light of Christ. In Revelation, the Apostle John describes how God condemns the Christians in Ephesus for “abandoning the love they first had” (Rev 2:4). Pray that we all hold on to our first love, maintaining a desire to boldly proclaim this love and truth while courageously living under the reign of God, experiencing this heavenly kingdom here and now.
My prayer as a priest for all of us is that God may bless us with a little dose of
The strength of Samson
The prayerfulness of Hannah
The wisdom of Solomon
The heart of David
The patience and integrity of Job
The courage of Moses
The prophetic voice of John the Baptist
The humility of the Virgin Mary
The love of Mary Magdalene
The hope of the myrrh-bearing women
The faith of Peter
The perseverance of Paul
The eloquence of Luke the Evangelist
The boldness of John Chrysostom
The peace of Seraphim of Sarov
The zeal of St Innocent of Alaska.
And the radical love and hospitality of Maria of Paris.
Reflectin gon 26 years as a priest, my heart overflows with deep thanksgiving to our Lord Almighty for his unlimited blessings. I thank Him especially for the wonderful and faithful people that we have served in Albania, here in Webster, at the seminary, and in the world at large. With the deepest gratitude and joy, I thank God for serving Him as a priest, for in my mind, there is no greater blessing in life than to serve our Lord and His people in this manner.
Let me conclude by asking for the prayers of my patron saint, Luke the Evangelist, whose feastday we celebrate today. My parents consciously named me after St. Luke, so that I would always have his prayers be with me and have his writings and example inspire me. Archbishop Anastasios blessed me by ordaining me on this feastday. St. Luke was a devoted disciple of the Apostle Paul and co-worker, co-missionary in spreading the Good News of Christ throughout the world. His writings in the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles have inspired generations of Christians over the past 20 centuries. He was a physician whom some scholars think started life out as a slave yet he dedicated his life as a servant of the Lord. He was the first iconographer, offering the world an icon of the Virgin Mary and he ended his life faithfully as a martyr. How blessed I am to have such a patron saint, and how blessed we all are to learn from him, to be inspired by his life and works, and to honor him today on his feastday.
May the prayers of St. Luke the Evangelist bless me in my priesthood, bless us all in our lives, and guide us to stay faithful on journey with the Lord, serving Him and glorifying Him with our lives!
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