A priest’s confession
What makes a young man dedicate his life to the church? Three Greek Orthodox priests in Australia confess.
A place of worship for some, others consider it to be a place of salvation, but why would a young man in 2012 decide that he wants the job of serving the church by becoming a priest? The church has been a sanctuary for people for over 2000 years, but will this safe house become obsolete due to the lack of community participation? I decided that it was time to enhance my spiritual knowledge and to see if this was an accurate assumption. Was the church in a dying state? Speaking with three young priests from Moonee Ponds, St Albans and Thomastown in Victoria, I found that they gave me the insight I was looking for.
Entering each church I was greeted in the same warm manner, the smell of incense and candles burning. Reverend Father Emmanuel from Saint Dimitrios in Moonee Ponds says that his infatuation began at a young age.
"I was actually brought up in the church environment, as my grandfather was a priest." He has always had a fascination with God and started his journey towards priesthood while studying an Accounting Degree at Swinburne University.
"In 1994, after I had finished my degree at Swinburne, I made my way to St. Andrews the Theological College in Sydney and by my second year I knew that this was my place, this was my calling to be part of the priesthood."
The priesthood was established even before Christianity was officially recognised and comes from the Old Testament, which continued after Christ's arrival and his teaching. Reverend Father Demosthenis Nikolaou from Saint Paraskevi, Saint John the Merciful and Saint Barbara in St Albans says, that priests in the older times were depicted to faithful followers as the image and voice of God.
"Priests were seen as someone who was the holy servant of God, someone who always spoke and preached His word."
Father Demosthenis adds that he became a priest because it was his birth right.
"As far as I can remember from birth it was something that I had in me, I had no doubts in my mind that this is the way I wanted to serve God."
Another decision that priests need to make before they are ordained is whether they will marry or remain celibate. Reverend Father Evmenios Vasilopoulos from The Transfiguration of Our Lord, in Thomastown, says that his decision to remain celibate was a spiritual one.
"It's not something you can explain, it's an inner calling that you receive from God Himself, something in your soul that just tells you that this is what is for you."
Innate faith, love for God and hence love for people and a calling is what convinced them to enter priesthood.
Waiting in anticipation to ask another question, my thoughts were fixated on the family life of a priest and how they deal with such a responsibility.
Father Evmenios says: "To my parents, becoming a priest wasn't the issue, it was more the fact that I was remaining celibate, as they had other dreams for their youngest. I'm sure mum wanted to see grandchildren from me."
However, Father Emmanuel's reaction from his parents was quite the opposite.
"I broke the news to my mother first as she was the more religious one in the family. She was a bit shocked because I was leaving accounting behind to pursue priesthood. My father was actually the one who supported me and said, if it's in your heart then do it."
Father Demosthenis was religious from a young boy, though his family wasn't.
"My parents and siblings had little to do with the church but over the years this changed," he tells Neos Kosmos.
"Initially, they assumed that becoming a priest stops you from living your life. They encouraged me to look into different fields as being a priest wasn't something that a young person should do, but maybe I could become one at an older age.
"When I did become a priest, I can say they were standing proudly next to me as they realised how happy I was."
At first the families were not impressed by the young men's decision to become priests, but ultimately it proved to be a great one, making them all very proud.
St Andrew's Theological College, founded in Sydney in 1986, is the only civilly accredited orthodox tertiary institution of its kind in the southern hemisphere. At St Andrews, men develop their knowledge in basic theology, pastoral care, study of the bible, understanding faith and the position of orthodox faith with other faiths.
"Today it is essential that our priests have a theological background, in the olden days there was a great need for priests, so anyone who was pious or who had a bit of a background in the life of the church was ordained as a priest," Father Evmenios says.
Father Demosthenis agrees that there are many qualifications that you need to become a priest but they do not necessarily have to be academic.
"I studied at St Andrews after my VCE, which helped me, in addition to having qualities such as devotion, being able to love, share and live by Gods word. Studying theology or knowing the bible inside out doesn't necessarily qualify you for priesthood. When we don't apply them in our life, especially in our ministry as priests, then really we don't have many attributes."
For Father Emmanuel, St Andrews provided him with the knowledge and insight needed to deal with a variety of situations.
"A lot of people say that the uni course they complete has nothing to do with the job you're going to take on, but at St Andrews what you learn is what helps you to deal with who comes through the door."
To embrace the young generation a priest needs, above and beyond, the qualities of human nature and knowledge of the word of God. Theological education is mandatory in order to deal with the expanding problems that young and old are confronted with today.
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