To the Beloved Mothers of Priests
Dearly Beloved Mothers,
Christ is Risen!
During my life as a layman, priest and bishop, I’ve come to realize that perhaps the most solemn and awe-inspiring moment that can be experienced by a faithful member of our Church is to have the privilege of being present at the ordination to the Holy Priesthood of a young man, and to receive his first priestly blessing at the conclusion of the Holy Rite of Ordination. Truly, it is difficult to imagine an event that is more joyous for the Church! The hearts of everyone present: bishop, con-celebrating priests, parents, family, friends and faithful, are invariably filled with unspeakable happiness and awe as they witness the solemn transforming action of the Holy Spirit upon one who has been chosen and taken from among themselves and consecrated to a life of service.
There is normally one person present, however, whose joy is incomparably greater than anyone else’s, whose heart is literally bursting with pride and love, whose eyes spill over with tears of joy, whose lips burn with sentiments of praise and thanks to the Lord. This person is the mother of the priest, and she feels these sentiments so much more deeply than anyone else, because she is closer to the new priest than perhaps any other human being. In fact we can say that she, in a very real way, takes responsibility more than anyone, for the new shining knight in the army of Christ that stands before the congregation of the day of his ordination. Perhaps in the soul of each mother at this moment is born the same feeling that the Mother of the Great Priest of our Church – Metropolitan Andrew had, in her memoirs about the First Divine Liturgy of her son in their native Prylbychi she writes: “You cannot express with words the beauty of this Divine Liturgy, his blessing and spiritual uplifting of all present…when he blessed laying his hands on our heads we kissed them, those hands sanctified by the Lord’s Sacrifice…” Perhaps as for each believing mother, for Sophia Fredro-Sheptytsky the vocation of her child, “to serve at Christ’s altar,” using her words became “the most precious among the blessing of the Lord”.
Today is Mother’s Day, the day in which we express our love for our earthly mothers in a special way, and offer our prayers for their health and blessings if they are still with us, and pray for the repose of their souls if the Lord has already taken them to Himself. And today I bow my head in humble gratitude before every mother of every priest. With special love I would like to embrace today my mother who always has been watching over me since the first moment of my life. With her heart she feels all of my joys and tribulations, she dedicates on behalf of me, her health and her prayers, she is a companion in my priestly service on all of the paths of God’s Providence.
I thank the mother of every priest for everything she is, for all the sacrifices she makes, but primarily, for her faith, a lived faith, a loving faith, which she has taken and lovingly grafted onto the heart of her son, who has become a priest. The vocation to the priestly and religious life is a gift of God and, at the same time, a mystery. The Holy Spirit “blows where it wills ” (Jn. 3:8) and no one knows for certain where or when or upon whom it will descend. But certainly the seed of God’s call sprouts more quickly in soil that is fertile and watered. The voice of God is heard more clearly and accepted more readily in a heart of a young boy whose mother, since the time he was a small baby, has lovingly cupped his little hands in hers and traced the sign of the Cross on his breast each morning and evening. The voice of God is heard more readily by the boy who, at his mother’s knee, has been taught the prayers to God, the Blessed Virgin and the Saints, and who, at every opportunity, has been led by her to the parish church where he has often taken a burning candle from her hand to place before the icon and has knelt down beside her to pray beneath it. The voice of the God is heard more readily in the heart of a young boy, who, following the example of his mother, has frequently approached the Holy Mysteries of Reconciliation and the Holy Eucharist for the cleansing and rejuvenation of his soul. For your faith as the mother of the priest, I thank you.
I also thank the mother of every priest today for her constant prayers for her son, who has become a priest. A mother always prays for her children. The prophet Isaiah asks: “Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? ” (Is.49:15) The answer, of course, is ‘no.’ No matter what happens, the heart of a mother remains true. She can never forget her child, from the moment she feels its stirring for the first time in her womb, until the day, surrounded by her children, she closes eyes for the last time in this world. Nothing is stronger or more insistent or more efficacious than the prayer of a mother for her children.
Because of your prayer, the prayer of a mother, your son has not only heard the call of God in his heart, but has had the courage walk against the current of modem society and answer this call. Because of your prayer she has withstood the temptation of the Evil One to abandon this call, to rationalize it as something not meant for him, but for some else. Because of your prayers he has been persistent in his pursuit of knowledge and holiness of life; because of your prayers he has come to know that the service of God and one’s neighbour is the most exalted goal for which one can strive in this life. And because of your prayer she is supported and sustained in all the joys and consolations, and through all the sorrows, hardships and temptations he will experience in his priestly life and service. For your prayers for all your children and especially for your son who is a priest, I thank you.
Today, as we concentrate our thoughts and prayers in thanksgiving to all the mothers of priests, we know that Mary, the Mother of God stands near us, praying with us. She is the supreme image of priestly motherhood and each mother of a priest is a reflection of her motherhood. Who better than she, the mother of Christ the Divine Priest, understands the joys and consolations as well as the sufferings and sacrifices that comes with being the mother of a priest? Who, more than she, is the model of faith and prayer for every mother of a priest?
Think of the faith in God she displayed on the day of the Annunciation. Standing before a mystery that cannot be understood by human thought, in total faith and love she said ‘yes’ to the Father. yes, she said. I agree to become the mother of the Messiah in a manner that passes all understanding. “May it be done to me according to your word.” (Lk 1:38) Think of the intensity of her prayer for the safety of her child, when her l2-year old son, Jesus, was lost for three days in Jerusalem where she and Joseph had brought him for the Feast of Passover. Think of the depth of her sorrow, when, standing at a distance, she watched helplessly as her beloved Son was scourged, spat upon, and nailed upon the Cross by sinful men, to die a horrible, painful death. And think of the joy that filled her heart when the angel appeared to her, telling her of His Resurrection from the dead, as we sing in the triumphant Paschal hymn: “The angel cried out.”
My dear beloved mothers! Each one of you, each and every mother of a priest has shared in some way, in the joys, the sorrows, the prayer and the faith of the Most Holy Mother of God. Each one of you, on your life’s journey as the mother of a priest, have had the occasion along with Mary, to “ponder all these things her heart” (Lk 2:51). Each one of you, as Mary was, has been a willing instrument of God in the mystery of the priestly vocation of your son.
In a very real sense, the priest does not belong to himself. He does not even belong to his mother. The priest belongs to everyone, because he serves everyone. The priest belongs to God, because he serves God. Every priest can rightly say along with the prophet Isaiah: “the Lord called me from birth, from my mother’s womb he gave me my name ” (ls 49:1). What a privilege it is, to be the mother of a priest! What a noble vocation it is, to share in God’s work for the salvation of the world by being the mother of a priest!
Let this realization be a consolation for you during those times, when perhaps, the priest, your son, is far from you, or seems to have forgotten about you amidst the obligations of his priestly service. Remember that he prays for you, remember that the bishop prays for you, the entire Church prays for you in humble gratitude for the gift of your son in the service of the Lord. May God bless you and keep you in good health and happiness!
Bowing my head before you with thanksgiving and deep reverence I call upon you and all of your relatives the blessing of Almighty God Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Given on the 26th day of April 2013 A.D.
in the City of Kyiv,
at the Patriarchal Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ