The Lenten period is a time dedicated for us to intensify our ascetical practices like fasting, prostrations, and charity. Through these struggles, and the grace of the Holy Spirit, we develop a greater awareness of ourselves. Overtime we scrub away at the mud caked on the spiritual eyes of our soul to understand realities which leads to a deeper relationship with our Creator. Paradoxically, as the saints personally testify, the more clearly we see, the more we are aware of our sinfulness and distance from Christ. This paradox is captured succinctly and beautifully in the Paschal canon: “Let us purify our senses and then we shall see Christ shining vividly by the unapproachable light of the Resurrection.”

These cycles of purification and illumination are necessary for us to grow as individual Christians. They are also important to develop as a body of believers. We experience these cycles individually and collectively. Looking at the history of the Orthodox Church, we see cycles of purifying struggles followed by illuminated blossoms. We should acknowledge that it is often unpleasant to see ourselves more clearly: who enjoys confronting their inadequacies? However uncomfortable it may be, there is no doubt that in the face of collective struggle there is the blessed opportunity for systematic growth and improvement.

As a Church we are emerging from a period of purifying struggle. Now is the perfect time to look in the mirror as a group and challenge ourselves. One set of assumptions that we should question relates to the priesthood. Here are just a few potentially difficult questions to help us “look in the mirror” both at home and in our parishes: What do we think of priests? What should priests do? How should they act? What do priests do for me? What does a calling to the priesthood really look like? How would I feel if my son became a priest? Do I think priests are valuable? How many priests do we need?

This last question is one that is worthy of deeper discussion as some people discuss an impending clergy shortage. The general assumption is that every community that is financially solvent needs at least one priest. Some people rightly worry that there will be an insufficient number of priests to fulfill the minimum one priest for every one community ratio. Many of us would be surprised to learn that one priest can probably only effectively serve 150 people. This figure is based on the work of the 20th century anthropologist Robin Dunbar who theorized that one human has a cognitive limit to maintain 150 stable relationships. Strangely enough this figure is also supported by a 16th century registry of clergy and households in the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Constantinople. From this registry we see that the ratio of priests to households served is 1:28, which assuming 6 people per household translates to a ratio of 1:168.

Coming out of our period of purification, do we have the courage to change our fundamental assumptions? Now is the time for bold faith - not for “circling the wagons.” If we move forward with 1:150 as the new paradigm for how many priests the Church needs, scraping by with three to five new priests per year is not sufficient. To accomplish this ambitious goal, we would have to commit to inspiring and growing more priests than we have ever done before. Putting this into perspective, based on the active households in 2019, our Metropolis would need at least 200 active priests to meet the 1:150 ratio. Along the way we’ll need to revisit the tough questions posed previously about the nature, responsibilities, and expectations of the priesthood. This radical corporate metanoia could be the catalyst for a new and expansive growth of Orthodox Christianity that our fragmented world desperately needs.

This Lent as we do the tough work of purifying our senses through prayer and fasting let us not neglect the importance of reflection as a body of believers. May we have the courage to ask tough questions to challenge preconceived notions, leading us down the path of improvement. Let us offer our whole life as individuals and as a community to Christ our God. Finally, let us pray to God that He will work with us to bring forward an overabundance of clergy to preach repentance and bring more people to the authentic vision of Jesus Christ preserved within the Orthodox Church.