The Orthodox Priesthood: Every Man for Himself?

This return to blogging after hiatus is occasioned by a simple recollection of experiences as an Orthodox priest. The following are stories from friends and acquaintances. (Really!) Not a one of these is fictitious.

I am familiar with one priest whose parish leadership has repeatedly refused to pay for him to attend diocesan assemblies and pastoral gatherings. The same parish has previously objected to paying housing costs for the priest who is otherwise meagerly compensated.

I am familiar with a second priest in another jurisdiction and diocese whose leadership has done likewise. This parish has also been resistant to structuring parish finances to allow for a gradual shift to full compensation for this priest. (The more I think about this one, I’ve heard this from numerous brother priests.)

Other priests have taken on bullies in their parishes, only to receive disciplinary letters for telling the bullies to apologize.

Another brother was routinely berated and slandered by his own dean, shattering every attempt to build up a new parish as rumors took hold, such that he finally departed the diocese.

Yet another brother was the victim of an ugly alliance between a controlling layman and the rector of the parish, resulting in the priest’s “termination” (!) without any compensation or any means to provide for his family. He, too, left his diocese.

I know of three priests, all acquaintances, who were removed from their parishes by their bishops for the sole reason that they were not of a particular ethnic heritage. The parishes were healthy and growing at the time of their removal. Instead, the priests had to relocate (at considerable cost), to say nothing of coping with the upheaval of family life.

There is a common thread in all of these. Each of these brother priests found himself in his situation because of his ecclesiastical superiors, the deans and bishops who are supposed to be looking after them. Some of them refused to act, choosing to aid and abet the violence by leaving priests to be slandered by their jealous brethren or manipulated by their parish councils. Others priests were left in the position of advocating for their own well-being. (Diocesan assemblies and pastoral conferences are frequently the only time clergy have the opportunity to gather at the same time to share, develop friendships, and bear each others’ burdens.) Some of the deans and bishops themselves became aggressors, becoming wolves masquerading as shepherds, damaging priests’ standing in their parishes, or demolishing their livelihoods and compelling a relocation for entire families with but a letter.

The Church is not to be a congregational body, and our priests should not be forced into an “every man for himself” way of thinking. Yet, somehow, here in North America, there is a significant fraction of priests who find themselves in just that position. They dare not seek a dean’s or bishop’s counsel, because they might receive a cudgel instead of guidance or a listening ear. Some of these deans and bishops are quite visible through their writings or in the popular perception of their “gentle care.”

It is not confined to my own jurisdiction, the Orthodox Church in America. The examples above are taken from at least three jurisdictions. Worse, the instances I list above are but a subset of the cases I’ve heard. Details are omitted to protect the innocent from further mistreatment.

Dear readers: what cases have you heard of? What can be done about it? Your comments are appreciated. Please omit identifying details. (Be sure to read the preceding post about the new site policy.)

Update: Byzantine, Texas has a post that gives voice to what I have pondered myself. If a post-jurisdictional North American Church is ever established, what recourse would these priests have? At present, abused clergy have the option of pursuing a change of jurisdictions or dioceses. I suspect this is why some clergy aren’t all that positive about the prospect of a unified North American Orthodoxy.

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