Emelyanov Nikolay, archpriest

Crises and stages in the ministry and life of a priest

Emelyanov Nikolay (2022) "Crises and stages in the ministry and life of a priest ", Vestnik Pravoslavnogo Sviato-Tikhonovskogo gumanitarnogo universiteta. Seriia I : Bogoslovie. Filosofiia. Religiovedenie, 2022, vol. 99, pp. 30-56 (in Russian).

DOI of the paper: 10.15382/sturI202299.30-56


In this paper, we reconsider the ways to understand the ministry and life of a priest, based on empirical evidence. We propose supplement the understanding that sees it as a normative way of exercising the priesthood as unaltered throughout life with an approach to priesthood as changing over time and therefore going through a number of significantly different stages that involve specific conditions to proceed to the next one. In contrast to the normative image of a priest in pastoral theology, empirical evidence suggests that the ministry and life of a priest are constituted by a series of different stages -- from accepting the priesthood after ordination to aging and the leaving at the end of life. The concept of pastoral temptation used by pastoral theology can be contrasted with the concept of developmental crisis. The latter can lead to mistakes and temptations, up to the abandonment of the priesthood, but in case of productive comprehension leads to the passage to a new stage of ministry.A developmental crisis is a passage from one stage of ministry to the other, which is characterized by following: 1) it brings to collision with something fundamentally new, which arises from the accumulated positive experience but finds the priest unprepared; 2) it is potentially dangerous, 3) it ends up with a breakdown or passage to a new stage, 4) it is never repeated afterwards, e.g. during the passage to a new stage.Pastoral temptation is always a situational distortion of ministry. This implies: 1) the danger of distortion of the ministry as a whole, up to its collapse and loss of the priesthood; 2) potential threat throughout the entire period of the priest's ministry, temptation can come back regardless of the accumulated experience, 3) possibility of a developmental crisis.If temptations must be avoided, although this is not always possible, if they are external, then passages are not only inevitable, but directly necessary for the spiritual growth of the priest and and help acquire the fullness of pastoral experience.The passage to the next stage is not always accompanied or is a reaction to a crisis, understood as a pastoral temptation or a life catastrophe. On the contrary, it can be interpreted not as one-time, but as an extended period of accumulation of pastoral experience that occurs at every stage of the ministry and life of a priest.In the paper, we provide a primary description of the main developmental crises and stages in the ministry and life of a priest: the acceptance of the priesthood, pastoral development, an active priest, a mature priest, an experienced priest, aging and leaving”. Each stage corresponds to the corresponding group of steps of the "Ladder" by St. John Climacus. Situations in which the crisis component of the passagts appears, and various types of reaction to them are analyzed.Criticism of the psychological understanding of the ministry and life of a priest is offered. Including criticized the concept of "pastoral burnout".


Russian Orthodox Church, pastoral theology, theology of the priesthood, pastoral ministry, the ladder of divine ascent, crises of passage, pastoral temptation, passages and stages of ministry and life of a priest


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Information about the author

Emelyanov Nikolay, archpriest

Academic Degree: Candidate of Sciences* in Philosophy;
Place of work: St. Tikhon’s Orthodox University for the Humanities; 6/1 Likhov pereulok, Moscow 127051, Russian Federation; Research Fellow, Ecclesiastical Institutions Research Laboratory;
ORCID: 0000-0001-5940-9140;
Email: pr_nikolay@mail.ru.

*According to the International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED) 2011, the degree of Candidate of Sciences (Cand.Sc.) belongs to ISCED level 8 — "doctoral or equivalent", together with PhD, DPhil, D.Lit, D.Sc, LL.D, Doctorate or similar.


The project was supported by the Russian Science Foundation in a form of a grant (project No 19-78-10143). The grant was given to Saint Tikhon’s Orthodox University.I would like to express my gratitude to my colleagues from STOU Kirill Aleksin, Tatyana Krikhtova and Deacon Dmitry Markov, who helped in carrying out the field part of the study; I would also like to express my gratitude to I.V. Zabaev (Socrel STOU), who participated in the discussion of the field research project and the initial analysis of its results.