In the old television show “Dragnet,” the announcer began by saying, “Ladies and gentlemen, the story you are about to see is true. The names have been changed to protect the innocent.” I would like to share some of my pastoral experience and begin by saying, “Ladies and gentlemen, the story you are about to hear is true. The names have been changed to conceal the heroic.” That is, in my experience as a pastor in the Archdiocese of Canada over the past thirty years, I have come across the ministries of priests who have exercised a heroic and unsung ministry and whose heroism in the service of God and their parishes will (probably) never come to light. In their anonymity in this age they will find their reward in the age to come. I would not deprive them of that reward by revealing their names, and so I will leave their identities concealed. But I assure you that, in the words of Sgt. Friday of “Dragnet,” their stories are true.
I know a man in Christ who laboured for decades in a rural parish far from any other Orthodox priest. His rural parish had all the strengths and weaknesses of rural Canadian parishes, including a lack of sufficient appreciation of their pastor. His nearest priestly neighbour was several provinces and times zones away, and yet he laboured long and faithfully to care for the souls committed to this charge with no one with whom to share his burdens and problems, no one from whom he could ask counsel, encouragement, or advice. This meant that his faithful spouse also bore the burden of such pastoral loneliness, as she watched her beloved husband struggle in isolation, and their children grow up in the fishbowl that was their parish, far from the fellowship of fellow Orthodox children their age. No one knew of such a burden of isolation but God, who watched over His servant labouring in the cold and lonely prairie. The Church, I think, awarded him a gold cross for his long labours—or rather, the right to wear the gold cross. I do not recall if he actually wore the gold cross. But such an award would anyway have been scant reward for the lonely decades of service he offered to God under the vast and empty prairie skies.
I know another man in Christ who laboured in an urban parish, building it up through years and years of energetic and ground-breaking service, only to experience pastoral burn-out from his labours. His burden included health problems from within his own family. He served faithfully in his own parish and sought to lift the burdens of other parishes in adjacent provinces, shining as a light and an example far across his diocese, bringing his community from being a small struggling mission to a major force within the diocese, and an example of success and vigour. He had to leave active ministry after a number of years, exhausted from his martyric labours.
I know yet another man in Christ who laboured for many years at a secular job for the privilege of serving at the altar of his little mission, inadequately reimbursed and often taken for granted by those who received the weekly benefit of his sacramental ministration, devoted pastoral care, and faithful preaching. His community will probably never make front-page news, but his quiet dedicated service throughout the week and at Saturday Vespers and Sunday Liturgy every weekend has enabled the Lord’s light to shine in a small and isolated corner of the country which otherwise would not know the witness of Orthodoxy.
I could continue, but the point is that these men, like multitudes of other priests throughout North America, quietly serve Christ with zeal and dedication and in almost complete historical obscurity. The price they pay in terms of health, money, and family will never be accurately counted or known by us in this age, but their reward remains reserved with God in heaven, for their sacrifice is a kind of martyric offering. I would ask therefore that the laity remember before God such men as these, and honour their life’s offering. You will probably never know the names of the men to whom I here refer. Perhaps you might try to honour them by paying honour and gratitude to your own clergy whom you do know—including their wives and family. For the price of ministry is not simply paid by individual clergy, but also by the families who support and love them.