But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience…”  I Timothy 1:15ff

I am a priest and I say it every Sunday when I come out of the altar with the Body and Blood of Christ: “I believe, O Lord, and I confess that Thou art the Christ who came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.” I’ve  wondered if anyone believes it, including me. Oh, I certainly know that I’m a sinner, but the chief of sinners?  I hear confessions, so I have an idea of what others are doing or not doing. I know I’m a bad sinner, but the worst of sinners? I think not! When I read St. Paul’s statement in Timothy, he must have been using hyperbole. St. Paul had his problems and quirks, but he wasn’t worse than say Herod or Judas or Pontius Pilate.

I have an idea about the title “chief of sinners.”  It has to do with the story of the ten lepers (Luke 17:12-19).  Jesus tells them to go to a priest and on the way they are cleansed. When the lepers were cleansed,  only one returned to say thank you to the Lord. The Lord points out that the one that returned was a Samaritan, someone that the Jews considered to be the most unworthy. Think of it! To be healed of leprosy and you can’t even take the time to say thank you to your healer.

Now I know why I can claim the title as chief of sinners. The Lord has forgiven me and has sent me on the way to be cleansed of my disease. He has provided everything that I need for the journey. I have seen healing in my life. I am loved, I am warm and safe, I am fed and clothed, I have money, and every day I am given time to continue on my way. I have the Church, the Saints, the Theotokos, the Scriptures, the writings of the Fathers, Vigils, the Sacraments and the Liturgy, and my Orthodox brothers and sisters.  I really am a blessed man and  I have all I need or want.

I am the chief of sinners because I am such an ungrateful wretch.

I grumble over giving the Lord a few minutes each day to pray. I grumble over giving up hamburgers during the fast. I grumble when the Church needs more time and money. I grumble when someone calls and interrupts my trivial pursuits. I grumble when its time for another “long” vigil service. Most of the time, and despite the abundance of my material blessings, I grumble and complain because life just isn’t going the way I want it.

Clearly, I am the chief of sinners because I am such an ungrateful wretch.

There’s only one thing that is positive about being the chief of sinners: it serves as an example to others. I mean if the Lord is patient and refuses to give up on a self-centered, self-righteous, and ungrateful wretch like me, then no one needs to despair. It is a great mystery that in his patience and love, he raised this wretch up to be a priest.

Go figure!

So, take heart my friends. You salvation is sure. If the Lord is patient with an ungrateful wretch like me, the chief of sinners, how much more patient will he be with you? Observe my example, but don’t follow it. Don’t be an ungrateful wretch! Take time every day to express your gratitude to the Lord who heals and sustains us all. Show it not only by what you say but also by what you do. Then my job is secure; I will remain the chief of sinners.

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