Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov

Study Notes: Pastoring in the Shadow of the Cross

Posted in D.Min. Study Notes by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 30 May 2015

We often think of pastoring as having one primary function–to take care of the flock. This may be expanded into a list of tasks: feeding, leading to green pastures, protecting from wolves, etc. But can there be other aspects of pastoring that are not found under the function of caretaking? For many years, I had a flock of goats, and in my experience, while protecting and feeding are very important in the work of a pastor, there are other things that cannot be ignored. For example, Paul so famously mentions that the pastor is also to take of the fat of the flock or of its milk. In other words, the relationship between the flock and the pastor is mutual in nature–it is not just the pastor who does things for the flock, but also the flock who does things for the pastor. If fact, in the case of my goats, this was why I kept them. I did not keep goats in order that I might take care of them; rather, I kept them because I wanted the milk, and caretaking was a means to that end. But while this reasoning works for people who keep flocks of animals, it cannot be true of the Church. God did not establish His flock in order to take care of priests and bishops. Neither did He establish His flock just so priests and bishops would have someone to take care of. Caretaking is a means but to what end?

Christ is the Lamb of God. To say this is not to say that Christ is a cute fluffy animal that God enjoys for a pet. To say ‘the Lamb of God’ is to say ‘the animal which has been chosen to be slaughtered as a sacrifice.’ Christ was born in an animal shelter–the way lambs should be born, in a field which had lambs being raised by a band of shepherds or pastors in the primary sense of the world. The one interesting thing about this arrangement is that those other lambs were raised for the temple sacrifice (yes, it was that large of an industry that they had herds of lambs being raised just for sacrifice). Moreover, Jews simply did not raise animals the way we do. Imagine a modern Christian farmer who is raising sheep. He may want to have his flock sprinkled with holy water, and he may even offer a lamb or two for a parish potluck, but we have lost the sense that what we have is not actually ours, but God’s. We think that what we have is ours, and that from that which is ours we offer something to God. The ancients did not think exactly that way. They thought that everything was God’s, everything belonged to Him, everything was to be sacrificed (brought, set aside) to Him in the icon of “the first and the best,” and only after it was brought to Him, the people partook of the leftovers. Imagine a king who is eating supper. His servants prepare for him the best cut of meat and eat the rest. But the servants know that what they are eating is the master’s food. At no time do the servants think that the food belongs to them and that they share their meat with their master. In other words, in essence, the servants eat the leftovers from the master’s meal. Something similar can be observed in the Eucharist. The people bring bread and offer it to God; they offer all of it to God; the best is chosen for the actual Lord’s supper, and the rest is distributed among the Lord’s servants as the antidorion. In other words, people share in the Lord’s meal, but they understand that it is the Lord’s meal, not theirs.

These are lofty concepts, of course, but how are they relevant? Christ did not come to us as the Lamb in order that we may feed Him or protect Him. He came to us in order that we may sacrifice Him for our sins in order to to partake of Him. And as priests, we do not get a flock of spiritual sheep in order to feed them or protect them, nor for them to feed us. No, there has to be a more profound reason. We raise them for a sacrifice. They have to become a sacrifice if they are to be in the Body of Christ–because this Body is the Sacrifice. We can talk about it in terms of ascesis, bearing the Cross, being crucified with our sins and passions, or using any other words or images, but we could also say: “We are counted as sheep for the slaughter” (Ps. 44:22; Rom. 8:36). When we look at our flock and think that Christ call us to “feed His lambs” (John 21:15) or “tend His sheep” (16), a thought should cross our minds that there is a reason why Christ calls them ‘lambs’–the real meaning of this word, the real purpose of a flock of lambs would not have been lost on Peter or any other disciple. Christ was not giving Peter a flock of pets; He was giving him a flock to be raised for a sacrifice to Him. Thus, Christian pastoring is always done in the shadow of the Cross.

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