ON JUDGING PRIESTS

Concerning the priesthood and judging those who occupy this holy office. It is tempting to think that we should not deal with a priest who commits sins or other misdeeds, judging him harshly for any errors he may have committed and refusing the sacraments he serves. Abba Mark the Egyptian teaches us by his example that we should not be so quick to judge. His experience shows us why:

 

St Mark the Egyptian.jpgIt was said of Abba Mark the Egyptian that he lived for thirty years without going out of his cell. The priest used to take Holy Communion to him. But the devil, seeing the remarkable endurance of this man, decided to tempt him, by making him blame the priest. He brought it about that a demoniac went to the elder, under the pretext of asking for prayers. Before anything was said, the possessed man cried out to the elder, "Your priest smells of sin, do not let him come near you anymore." But Abba Mark, filled with the spirit of God, said to him, "My son, everyone rids himself of impurity, but you bring it. It is written: ‘Judge not for that you be not judged.’ (Matt. 7:1) However, even if he is a sinner, the Lord will save him, for it is written: ‘Pray for one another that you may be healed.’" (James 5:16)

 

When he had said this and when he had prayed, he drove the devil out of the man and sent him away healed. When the priest came, according to his custom, the elder received him with joy. Seeing the absence of malice in the elder, the good God showed him a marvel. When the priest prepared himself to stand before the holy table, this is what the elder related: "I saw the angel of the Lord descent from heaven and place his hand on the priest’s head and he became like a pillar of fire. I was filled with wonder at this sight, and I heard a voice saying to me, ‘Man, why are you astonished at this? In truth, if an earthly king does not allow his nobles to stand in his presence in soiled garments, but only arrayed in glory, how much more will the divine power purify the servants of the holy mysteries who stand before the heavenly glory?’" And the noble athlete of Christ, Abba Mark the Egyptian, became great and was judged worthy of this grace because he had not judged the priest.

 

 Sr. Benedicta Ward, "The Sayings of the Desert Fathers," (Kalamazoo, Mich.: Cistercian Publications, 1975), Number 59 in the Cistercian Studies Series, pp. 150-151