- "The lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you. The Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace."
– The Bible, Numbers
A priest is a person who leads worshippers in performing religious ceremonies and rituals. The position was of extraordinary importance in early cultures, since men believed that their day-to-day survival depended upon the favor of the gods. The earliest priests were probably elderly men and women too infirm to hunt and gather, but revered for their holiness and wisdom. As the lines between the spiritual and physical were much less rigid than today, priests might also be the tribal healers or leaders.
Many branches of Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism still employ priests, and though their secular power is greatly diminished, in recent years priests have played important roles in getting societies to adopt social changes that benefit the people. In South America, priests are famous (or infamous) for their active participation in politics, while the late Pope John Paul II, the highest-ranking Roman Catholic priest, is given credit for hurrying the demise of the Soviet Union.