"A priest here, you say? To see me?" Who does he think he is? I pay my dues to the temple, Yaltur knows they get enough of my money too. I trust he at least had the good decency to use the servant's entrance, instead of walking up to the main gate like he's somebody. What's that? It's a girl? Of Zedtur? Ah, well. Hrumph. About time. I've been asking for months."Within The New Empire of Belyos, whilst religion in undoubtedly important and there is no question about the existence of the gods, religious figures are often seen as a supplementary occupation, fit only for those unable, or unwilling, to work within other industries. Often the third or fourth child in a household finds that the priesthood is the only occupation available, as the eldest tends to inherit the lands, and the second either get a smaller portion, or tend to be accepted as an apprentice to a craftsman. High ranking priests of important gods do have significant political influence, but this is a hard and long road, and most who enter the priesthood spend their days in small towns and villages, performing ecumenical rites for a population who takes their presence for granted.
There are no formal qualifications to enter the priesthood and, officially, everyone starts at the bottom and is expected to work their way up through the ranks of whichever temple they serve. Unofficially, high ranking nobles tend to ensure that their offspring are given significant advantages in this progression, by offering substantial donations to the temple involved. Devotion to the god to whom the temple is dedicated is expected, should the temple be for a specific deity, although as a citizen of the Empire, all the Inheritor Gods are given appropriate attention. Those who serve in smaller towns and villages may find that their temple is far more ecumenical, and such single-minded devotion is not necessary. The ability to work well with the grieving, and a strong stomach for dealing with the deceased is a necessity for those priests who serve the Keepers of the Dead; those who find themselves in this line, but are unable to manage their emotions in such a way, are often siphoned off to other temples.
All prospective priests start out as a Novice, and for their first few years are expected to learn the history and lore of the god or gods of the temple they serve. Most, if not all, novices at a temple will be children, dedicated to service in the temple from the age of about 7 or 8, but there is no age limit on joining the priesthood. Progression beyond Novice is only granted once an individual can recite the appropriate litanies, describe the important legends and stories, and have a good awareness of the rituals that a priest will be expected to perform. The next step is to serve as a Cleric. Clerics serve a temple in practical matters, assisting the Priesthood in acting as scribe and helper to the temple's physical needs. Maintenance of the building and its equipment is generally the task of a lay craftsman, but clerics are expected to help in all things and have a good understanding of the physical needs of a temple. Whilst doing this, Clerics must also keep their religious education going, and assist priests in temple services, offering assistance to visitors, and generally doing what is asked of them by their superiors. At this stage, Clerics are allowed to leave the temple grounds, on properly assigned tasks, as a test of their ability to resist outside distraction, and also accompany Journeymen on their rounds. When a cleric is deemed ready to begin leading the faithful on their own, then they progress onto the next rank. In rural areas, away from large towns and cities, the next role is that of Journeyman. Not all small villages and farming communities have a dedicated priest, and instead rely on visiting Journeymen to conduct services and perform the many small duties within whatever building or structure is used for religious ceremonies. Journeymen are expected to be very ecumenical, accommodating to differing beliefs and customs, and are often seconded to temples far from where they originally served, to better understand how religious belief varies across the Empire. Most priests spend a decade on the same route, getting to know their parishioners, and passing on this knowledge to any Clerics that may accompany them. Where the role of a Journeyman is not applicable, and after a Journeyman has gained substantial experience, the next stage is that of Priest itself. Priests conduct temple services, intercede for the public between them and the gods, read religious texts, or write their own theological theses. This is the end stage for most in this career path, and one they will settle into until they die. Priests rarely stray far from their temple, even in the biggest of cities, and tend to become more insular and hidebound as they grow old. A select few will move onto the next stage. The highest rank within the priesthood is that of High Priest. A High Priest is not automatically the final authority in the worship for a given deity, but they are the leader of a specific temple. They guide the priests underneath them and are the upper management for all things relating to that temple. The High Priests of a deity's most important temple, usually in Belyos, are considered the head of all High Priests for a given deity.
All but the most senior of priests are seen as a burdensome necessity, a profession that exists because most people do not have the time to devote to the gods on a fulltime basis. Farmers, craftsmen, traders, etc, all see the Priesthood as important, but largely a role for those unable to work in a proper trade. They are accorded respect for their position and relationship with the gods, but largely ignored otherwise.
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