The ancient shepherd’s staff is a symbol of strength, discipline, protection, and rule.
With it, the good shepherd fights off wolves, guides the sheep toward safe locations, and leans upon it for stability when traveling difficult paths.
The candy cane, on the other hand, is a weak, brittle, sugary locus of entertainment and tooth decay. It is new, invented little more than a hundred years ago. It looks pretty and it tastes good, but you cannot use it to fight off predators and protect your sheep.
Thus, the candy cane seems to be a very appropriate symbol for much of the modern Church. With all of our robes, incense, and ten-minute homilies, we look good and sound sweet. But most of us are failing to protect our sheep.
How many Orthodox parishes can you find where the priests utterly fail to protect their flocks, failing to provide loving, corrective discipline? How many priests knowingly give the Eucharist to people who are “pro-choice”–people who openly advocate murder–in opposition to official Church teaching? How many priests give Holy Communion to those who favor “gay marriage” and “gay rights”? How many priests allow sexually immoral congregants to partake of the Body and Blood of Christ?
The laxity of priests sometimes causes the Church to be seen as a joke, worthy of mockery in many contexts. Just for example:
- In popular media, the Orthodox Church is depicted more as a “culture” than as a genuine “faith”. For example, in My Big Fat Greek Wedding, the couple sleeps together before marriage, but that isn’t addressed from the Church’s perspective. All that really matters is for this foreigner to be baptized into the
ChurchGreek culture. His baptism seems to be desired more for the sake of the culture, than for the sake of repentance. Why does the Orthodox Church lend itself so easily to these sorts of depictions in popular media?
- Tom Hanks and his family are part of the Orthodox Church. Yet he is openly in favor of “gay rights” and “gay marriage”. Since Tom is unwilling to repent of his views, why is he invited to partake of the Eucharist? And since he disagrees with the teachings of the Church, why would he even want to?
- I recently talked with a man who for decades has been a priest in the Orthodox Church. He admitted that several of his parishioners want to keep abortion legal. He also admitted that he allows these people to partake of the Eucharist. What is he thinking?
Thankfully, not all Orthodox priests are this inept. My priest made it very clear that he will not Chrismate anyone who is pro-choice. Ever. If a person believes it should be legal to murder unborn children, then that person is not Orthodox, regardless of what he or she claims. Such a person has no business partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ. Repentance is the necessary prerequisite to Communion. I respect my priest for being strong on this point.
In the holy priesthood today, what we need are real shepherds. We need real men who are willing to defend the Faith, and valiantly protect the sheep against the Devil’s wiles.
Sin is to be driven out, washed away with the tears of repentance. We need men who are bold enough to use a genuine “shepherd’s staff” in their priestly ministry.
We do not need limp-wristed pansies, pretending to be shepherds. In lieu of a true shepherd’s staff, their sugar-coated substitutes are nothing more than candy canes.