Whilst I am rightly corrected for my âjust a pastorâ nonsense I cannot accept the praise, no matter how kindly you meant it my friend, implicit in your kind and generous words. I fall back on the words of the holy Prophet Samuel that man looks on the outside but God sees the inside. You only see that part of me turned towards you and others. God sees all of me including all I keep so well hidden from so many, including yourself. If I do a better job than many at keeping some of my sins hidden, this simply reflects my recollection of what I was taught by my vicar forty years ago, that people would forgive me for breaking any of the commandments except for the Eleventh Commandment. The eleventh? Yes, he explained, Thou shalt not get caught! Theyâll forgive you breaking any of the commandments except that one. Thou shalt not get found out. If you break that one, then watch out!
But though a pastor is still a sinner this sinner is still a pastor. And this sinner recalls two things that often give him much, even great encouragement. Firstly the words of our beloved patriarch His Holiness Pope Shenouda III that the joy you feel on reading that wonderful letter is in no way diminished by the ugliness of the postman who delivered it! And secondly one of my most favourite stories from all the Desert Fathers. A monk was so disturbed by the sin of his priest that he felt unable to receive the holy communion from him and he prayed that he might know what to do. The monk dreamed a dream that he was walking through the hot, dry desert and he was thirsty and parched and eventually he came to this crystal clear stream of water and it was the most delicious drink he had ever tasted and refreshed him wonderfully. So he determined to seek the source of this pure water. When he found the source, where the spring bubbled up out of the ground there was the carcass of a dead wolf that had evidently collapsed there as it struggled to drink its last, its dying drink. And there lay the rotting carcass with the mouth open and with the spring bubbling up and flowing out through the mouth of the rotting carcass of the wolf. And yet the stream was pure and undefiled and clear as crystal. And so the monk awoke and went and received the holy gifts from the hands of the priest.
If I ever signed myself Ugly Postman let alone Rotting Carcass I suspect I would risk condemnation for false humility â but it is not feelings of unworthiness that the story of the crystal stream and the rotting carcass produces in meâ¦ I can manage the feelings of unworthiness easily enough without needing that story. No, if I ever signed myself Rotting Carcass it would be with feelings of utter joy that I can hardly hope to share with you, feelings of such joy that despite me and my sins God gives the crystal pure water of eternal life to people through me, yes that through my hands He gives to people His Body and Blood, the medicine of immortality, the medicine of eternal life.
The postman words give me hope and encouragement â but the rotting carcass story, now THAT makes my spirit SOAR. And to all my fellow pastors who read this, especially my dear Father Gregory who once said in a sermon in the Bournemouth Church where I am now priest and pastor that if it wasnât heresy he would say that God made a mistake when he chose him to be a priest!, if you are ever discouraged as a pastor by your sins I hope you remember this story and it gives you the same hope and JOY it gives me.