"The priesthood is an awful thing."
So reads the translator's description of a chapter in John Chrysostom's Treatise On the Priesthood (3:4), as found in the venerable NPNF collection, volume 9. It's a funny remark -- many of us, over the years, have found our vocation to be awful indeed, in the colloquial sense, and yet we soldier on. But that's not the point.
Obviously, the word "awful" has changed its sense a bit, as latterly has even "awesome." Chrysostom is trying to say that priesthood inspires awe, particularly in the priests themselves. He is certainly correct, and the way that he says it is worth considering. Here is the passage, lightly edited for clarity:
[T]he priestly office is indeed discharged on earth, but it ranks among heavenly ordinances; and very naturally so: for neither man, nor angel, nor archangel, nor any other created power, but the Paraclete himself, instituted this vocation, and persuaded human beings still abiding in the flesh to represent the ministry of angels. This is why the consecrated priest ought to be as pure as if he were standing in the heavens themselves in the midst of those powers. [...]
For when you see the Lord sacrificed, and laid upon the altar, and the priest standing and praying over the victim, and all the worshippers empurpled with that precious blood, can you then believe that you are still among human beings, and standing upon the earth? Are you not, on the contrary, carried at once to Heaven, and casting out every carnal thought from the soul, do you not with disembodied spirit and pure reason contemplate the things which are in Heaven?
Oh! what a marvel! what love of God to the human race! The One who sits on high with the Father is at that hour held in the hands of all, and gives himself to those who are willing to embrace and grasp him. And this we all do through