On the Meaning and Power of a Priest’s Blessing

Instructions for the Spiritual Life, Part 1

In sending His Disciples and Apostles to preach the Gospel, our Lord Jesus Christ gave them this command: “When you enter into some house or city, then say: ‘Peace to this house,’ or: ‘Peace to this city!’ If there is a man of peace there, that is, a man worthy of peace, then your peace will remain with you, and if not, then your peace will return to you.”

The Holy Apostles handed on such authority and rights to their successors—the bishops appointed by them. From these successors, their authority and right to transmit peace passes to all lawfully appointed bishops and the priests ordained by them to our day, as having received such authority and rights successively through the Holy Apostles from the Lord. And we, humble pastors and servants of your salvation say to you about the Lord: “Peace be upon you! May this peace of Christ be in your souls, and in your families, and in your society.” You always hear these words of peace in church from the pastors assigned to you. Every time a priest proclaims: “Peace be to all” or “The blessing of the Lord be upon you,” accept these words as the word of the Lord Himself, sending you peace and blessing by the mouth of the priest. If you accept these words of peace with faith, as from the Lord Himself, then this peace will abide with you. But if you accept them as simply words of benevolence that don’t actually give anything to the one who hears them, then you won’t receive this peace, that is, the peace of Christ; He will pass you by and stop at the one who desires it, who is worthy of it.

What does this peace, or blessing given us by our pastors mean? It’s not an empty sound, not a simple gust of the wind; no—it contains the power of God. This power can’t be seen with the eyes or felt with the hands. It can’t be weighed or measured; but it undoubtedly lies in the word, just as healing power lies in healing plants and other substances. As the healing power of a plant can’t be seen, felt, or weighed, but it’s revealed through its work on the human body, so the power of a blessing lies in the word and is revealed by how it works on a man. The power of a blessing is a creative force—it creates, it animates. At the beginning of the universe, everything was created by the word of God, and the Lord spoke His blessing to every one of His creations; there was life in this blessing. By this blessing, everything began to grow and multiply. While God’s blessing rested on earth and on the people, the people were blissful, and there was Paradise on earth. But when the curse was pronounced on the earth in the works of man because of his sin, then it began to bring forth thistles and thorns to him.

The Lord also gave such power to the human word. It’s good for that man whom the people bless for his goodness—he feels the power of this blessing with his soul. But woe to the man who will be cursed.

The Lord gave a special power of blessing to the words of some people. Thus, Holy Scripture talks about one man, a certain Balaam, who blessed a man and there was a blessing upon him that was expressed by success in deeds. But when Balaam cursed someone, whomever his cursing fell upon would become an unfortunate soul. The Lord also granted such power of blessing to parents in relation to their children. Thus, Noah blessed his sons Shem and Japheth, and they and their descendants were happy and ruled over other peoples; but the son of Ham whom he cursed, Canaan, with his descendants, was a slave of his brothers and their descendants. The Canaanites, the descendants of Ham, were given over to annihilation. The Egyptians, also a people of Ham, were subjected to God’s punishment and then remained ever in slavery to other peoples. Therefore, it’s not in vain that Divine Scripture says that the blessing of the father establisheth the houses of children; but the curse of the mother rooteth out foundations (Sir. 3:9).

It's no wonder that we developed the folk saying that with a parent’s blessing, you won’t burn in fire or drown in water.

If the blessing of some people had such power, if a parental blessing makes children happy, and a curse—unhappy, then what can we say about the blessing of a bishop or a priest, who received in succession from the Lord through the Apostles such authority as has no superior on earth. Although a priest doesn’t have the rights granted to earthly authorities—he has no authority over the body: he doesn’t deprive the guilty of earthly rights, doesn’t confiscate property, doesn’t bind, doesn’t imprison—he does have authority over the soul, and can deprive a man of his rights to the Heavenly inheritance; for the Lord said to the Apostles, and through them to bishops and priests: Whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in Heaven (Mt. 18:18). That means that if a priest binds anyone on earth, he will be bound in Heaven; and those bound will not be allowed into Paradise—his place is in the dungeons of hell. But when a priest looses a sinner in the name of Christ and tells him: “I forgive you and release you from your sins,” then the sinner will be loosed in Heaven, that is, he will receive free passage into the Heavenly abodes.

Such power is given only to priests, not only to the righteous, but also to sinners, sometimes very humble and weak in appearance.

So, there is great power within the words of a blessing. Great is the power of a parental blessing, but it extends only to their children. But a priestly or hierarchical blessing extends to everyone who receives it with faith. If that is so, then with what reverence must we relate to these humble bearers of authority and how ought we to value their blessings. Thus, fear God and honor His priest. Honour thy father and mother both in word and deed, that a blessing may come upon thee from them. For the blessing of the father establisheth the houses of children; but the curse of the mother rooteth out foundations (Sir. 3:8-9).

Part 2

St. Makary (Nevsky), Metropolitan of Moscow and Kolomna
Translation by Jesse Dominick



Afanassy11/1/2022 6:11 am
EDITOR: Thank you. ED: "But we are amazed at how many different kinds of priests you must come into direct contact with, since this is such a burning issue for you." No need to be amazed. It's very simple: I once attend a conference at Hellenic College and Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School Of Theology in Brookline, MA., to celebrate the life and works of Fr Alexander Schmemann. There were many priests in attendance from a variety of jurisdictions and other organizations, and social intermixing was frequent. I was only a Reader. When greeting and being introduced to a new priest, it was, of course, impossible to discern his belief system on the spot. Orthodoxy here is not as uniform as you may wish to believe. Ergo: the problem with Blessings. ED: "You don't seem to know whether to defiantly refuse a blessing or to rate their status by taking one." Yes. Exactly. But your wording implies that it is my problem. It is not just my problem: It is our problem. It is everyone's problem if they live in America or other multi-jurisdictional countries, -- something you may not encounter commonly in Russia. ED: "We can only suggest you read the holy fathers and pray about it." Goes nowhere. Which holy fathers address this topic? Which councils and which canons? Without guidance, any one of us could "chase a ghost" [and not the Holy Ghost!] for years, and never find an answer. I would think that after all this time and experience you have, you would "get a definitive reading" on this issue from your superiors at Sretensky Monastery. Why can you not offer that to us? ==================================
Editor10/31/2022 6:58 pm
Sorry, Afannasy, can't help you here. But we are amazed at how many different kinds of priests you must come into direct contact with, since this is such a burning issue for you. You don't seem to know whether to defiantly refuse a blessing or to rate their status by taking one. We can only suggest you read the holy fathers and pray about it.
Afanassy 10/31/2022 3:32 am
Jacob - - - Thank you. And, Yes, I really want an answer to my questions here, or I would not be asking them: I don't play rhetorical games. The problems with your suggestion are: 1) Most priests are NOT theologians, and the several I asked simply shrug their shoulders; 2) If you are at a meeting or conference or colloquium (for example), how do you tell who is OK and who isn't? [The non-OK guys don't exactly wear armbands that says, "Heretic", do they? (^_^); 3) Even those who hold heretical beliefs by some standards may say they are not heretical, and it's only a "matter of interpretation", so they give Blessings anyway. [Just an example: the Name-worship of Jesus is a heresy, but seems to be present every now and then.] 4) The issue I raised in the last sentence of my previous comment is serious and not related to any one priest: If the Bishop goes "Bad", but the Priests are "Good", does the Bishop's "Bad" erase the "Good", turning all his priests to having invalid Blessings -- those which do not contain "The power of God" and may cause us to "lose grace and fall prey to the devil [your terms]? And, in a more common, non-Orthodox case: are the Blessings of Roman Catholic and Byzantine Catholic priests valid? [Met. Hilarion seems to have said so, but I could be wrong.]. EDITOR: help! ==========================
Jacob10/30/2022 3:00 pm
Afanassy: Why don't you just go and ask a solid and non-heretical priest for an answer--if you really want to get an answer.
Afanassy10/30/2022 10:33 am
Jacob - - - I agree with the first part of your "short answer", which is the conventional guidance I remember from the past. Unfortunately, the 2nd part of your answer may contradict the first part. Considering that "we-ourselves-do-not-lose-grace-and-fall-prey-to-the-devil" could occur if we get the Blessing from a heretic, should we not be VERY concerned to find out diligently whom we might receive a Blessing from? We can't just ignore the history or public proclamations or jurisdiction or hierarchy of a priest, can we? It's not that we need to "go crazy" trying to figure this out, but we can't just willy-nilly get Blessings from those outside our "familiarity base" either, right? So we do have to put some effort and research into this, right? But that brings up another yet related issue: if the priest of concern is "solid" and not heretical, but his bishop is not, does the bishop's divergence from the Faith negate the validity of the Blessings from ANY of his priests, such that they [Blessings] cannot contain "the power of God", but moreover, that they induce "loss of grace and falling prey to the devil"? ================
Jacob10/29/2022 11:05 am
Afanassy: The short answer is: Our Orthodox Church does not bless us to receive "blessings" from heretics. We follow the teachings of our Mother the Church, so that we ourselves do not lose grace and fall prey to the devil. My advice to you: Don't go crazy trying to figure out who we should or should not take a blessing from.
Afanassy10/29/2022 7:36 am
Utrecht - - Thank you for your response. As I carefully read and reread it, I realize this is more complex than it may seem, and leads to more questions. For example, you said, "..many confessing priests have said they won't take a blessing of a Priest or Bishop preaching bare-headed heresy...". Do they not take the Blessing because they don't want to acknowledge or honor a heresy; or do they not take the Blessing because they believe it does not contain "the power of God"? Two different issues. You said, "God is stronger then [sic] our weaknesses." If that's true with regard to Blessings, then can anyone give a Blessing (even laity or heretics) that contains "the power of God"? Continuing, Traditional Orthodoxy considers that Roman Catholicism [RC], for example, is a heresy (or holds onto too many to be acceptable). So, since "God is stronger then our weaknesses", does that mean we can obtain a Blessing from an RC priest that contains "the power of God"? If the "Power of God" is even more present in the Sacraments than it is in the Blessings, does the same conundrum arise in that case? Where does this all stop? ============================
Utrecht10/28/2022 7:24 pm
Afanassy, yes, especially for those who are ignorant of the priest or Bishops heresy - God is stronger then our weaknesses. But many confessing priests have said they won't take a blessing of a Priest or Bishop preaching bare-headed heresy - its not a sin to do that. Thats what I was confused about - would it be a sin to refuse the blessing, even if they are in heresy and not defrocked. For example, St Paisios would not take a blessing from any priest which was out of their cassock.
Afanassy10/28/2022 2:29 pm
Does the Blessing of a priest who is in heresy still contain "the power of God"? ====================
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