We hear a bishop say when he ordains a deacon or priest, “Divine Grace which heals all things and which fulfills the missing”. Certainly, our prayer is that Christ covers the shortcomings of each clergyman. However, what can we say about the obvious “missing parts” of our confessor? Would a priest be a hypocrite if he asked us to do things that he himself finds difficult?
There is a story….
There was a man who had two great faults. He was a drinker, and he was also a fornicator. He decides to go to confession.
The first confessor he stumbles upon was a priest who was always very sober and serious and hated drinking but who had a big battle with his own flesh. The penitent confessed his two big sins of becoming often very drunk and of indulging in fornication. The priest scorned him for drinking as “opening the door” to all sin and making the icon of God into a foolish state. But the confessor went on to say that as far as fornication goes, it’s a natural thing.
This man found another priest to confess to. This second priest was very moral but unfortunately enslaved to alcohol. This second priest chastised the man for his immorality but announced that drinking even to the extreme of becoming unconscious wasn’t really a sin at all but rather was a use of “wine to gladden the hearts of men”.
You can see in these two examples that each confessor ignored the sin to which he was also addicted to. Would it have been hypocrisy for a priest to advise someone to steer away from a sin that he himself often falls into?
Not at all! A confessor should never judge or be harsh with the penitent. According to St. John Chrysostom, God chose men to be confessors and not angels because a human, realizing his own shortcomings, might be patient with the shortcomings of his fellow man. A priest should, however, not downplay a sin as not a sin at all. He should realize that he is also a transgressor of the law of God and advise his spiritual children to steer away from all sins, including the ones that he is also “attached” to. A priest’s personal sins shouldn’t lead the flock astray.