Elder Zacharias once remarked that pastoral ministry is something like being thrown into an ocean: one must either sink or swim ashore. In this effort, a point of reference is crucial. Blessed Pastorship: The Challenges of Pastoral Service is just such a guide. The late Protopresbyter Valery Lukianov speaks from over fifty years of pastoral experience in this once brilliant and yet approachable volume. Addressed equally to clergy as to laity, Blessed Pastorship is a must-read, whether one is preparing for ordination, has been a priest for many years, or is a member of the laity seeking to more fully support the pastoral ministry of the church. Father Valery’s approach is a well-seasoned balance of insightful caution and warm encouragement. In every page, his enthusiasm and veneration for the work of the Orthodox pastor is measured by his humility and a remarkable lack of grandiose verbosity.
Compiled at the close of his long and venerable life, one might be inclined to assume that the majority of the pages would be devoted to the past. This is not so. Father Valery is anxiously concerned with addressing the needs of the present. The opening three chapters bear the theme of “our time” and the challenges therein. The subsequent chapters contain a degree urgency and immediacy that makes a lively read and quite applicable. The overarching theme of the book is the “grace-filled collaboration” between the priest-shepherd and his flock and practical ways to achieve this. Father Valery’s chapter on spiritual fatherhood speaks primarily to the laity, suggesting ways to form a “amicable collaboration” and “mutual trust” during the sacrament of confession. Likewise, his address to those offering their voices on the kliros praises the consolation and joy that a well-appointed choir brings to the pastor. Blessed Pastorship also contains time-tested advice on the art of preaching in today’s environment, on the beauty of celebrating the Divine Services, the role of the priest’s wife and family, and on the special challenges presented in pastoring the children and youth of today’s parishes.
Father Valery, speaking as the senior priest of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, is conservative in his approach to the received traditions of the Orthodox Church, in particular, the tradition of the Church of Russia. In this he is a faithful son of St. John of San Francisco, with whom he spent the early years of his life. This approach by no means detracts from the universal appeal to Father Valery’s words. Not once does he descend to the level of religious tribalism. The reader easily recognizes the treasure that Father Valery wishes his reader to care for and is taught to value their own tradition in the same manner.
A remarkable book for its wisdom and vibrancy. An essential reference for pastor and parishioner alike.