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Eastern Dioceses Hold Clergy Retreat: "The Spiritual Life of the Pastor"

2012’s clergy retreat for the Eastern Dioceses (the Dioceses of New York and Washington, D.C.; and of Charleston, Oakland and the Mid-Atlantic), held from September 17-21, centered on the spiritual life of the pastor. Its keynote speaker was the distinguished Dr. Christopher Veniamin, Professor of Patristics at St. Tikhon’s Orthodox Theological Seminary. Dr. Veniamin spoke with thoughtful and true words about spiritual renewal, but “beyond that,” he said, the retreat was really about “inspiration: the art of inspiration in the Orthodox patristic tradition.”

How do clergy, how does anyone, live by inspiration? To be inspired, to experience Christ, is necessary for any pastor if he hopes to arouse in people that which will attract the grace of God. Two interrelated fonts of inspiration were offered by Dr. Veniamin. The first source of inspiration is prayer, and the second is the Divine Liturgy.

Prayer is essential for the pastor’s spiritual life, as it is essential for any life lived in Christ. We must stop and turn toward God; to pray to God before we make and implement our great plans for the parish. We need to turn toward God and pray before we act, and before we speak. St. Silouan the Athonite once said “How do the perfect speak? The perfect never say anything of themselves. They only say what the Holy Spirit inspires them to say.” If we want to be inspired by the Holy Spirit, indeed if we desire to acquire the Holy Spirit, we must begin to practice the prayer of the heart.

This prayer must be done by participating in the whole life of the Church, and first and foremost the Divine Liturgy. The pinnacle of our inspiration is when our prayer is united to the experience of Christ in the Divine Liturgy. Following Orthodox patristics, Dr. Veniamin taught that, “If you want to understand man, to know yourself, you must look at the God-Man Jesus Christ,” and the ultimate encounter we have with Him is at the Liturgy.

All of us, especially pastors, must prepare for the Liturgy and give it the highest of ourselves. This begins with prayer. Prayer the night before, days before, and indeed prayer at all times. Pastors and laity alike must celebrate the Liturgy deliberately, sincerely, and with reverence, for the Liturgy is a most awesome gift that we enter into and receive the very Life of Christ.

Prayer together with the Divine Liturgy is nothing short of true inspiration that we can live by. Make a beginning, for God will respond to even the humblest of efforts. Then with this true inspiration we can fill the temporal externals of our lives with eternal content. In other words, by prayer and the Divine Liturgy we fill ourselves, and God willing the people we serve, with the Holy Spirit.