The Orthodox Priesthood: Every Man for Himself?

Update 2: Priests who are or are have been in similar situations are invited to submit private summaries, either in the comments or via the contact page. Again, please omit identifying details. I will not divulge your identity (if I know it). I’m looking for trends along with representative samples that can be used to correct this sorry situation.

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10 comments on this post.
  1. Randy:

    Oh, heavens, dear father, why are you sticking your fingers in the mouth of The Beast? The fact that the average priest has to beg off of the same people he us called to be ‘father’ to is not enough of an outrage? What of the priest who needs a sabbatical or some time to repair from burn-out? No, priests are thrown away like last week’s leftovers. The cynical ones are in fact the most successful and happiest. That’s because they dwell in Realville and know that the bishops, and that means all of them, are incompetent at best and demonic at worst. The present batch has been groomed under such institutional depravity that they have no idea what a real bishop is supposed to do.

  2. Fr. Yousuf Rassam:

    I think a strategic plan would be clergy compensation coming from the diocese, not the parish. Why shoudl a priest not be compensated by his employer, the bishop?

  3. Fr. Peter:

    Well, I’ll post this here and at ByzTex. Guaranteed recourse, due process, etc. are not guaranteed in a unified church whether old or new, if this article is to be believed. My brother posted the Romanian version today on Facebook. The google-translated page is rather rough (as it attempts to translate names and has other difficulties), but you can get the gist: http://translate.google.com/translate?sl=ro&tl=en&js=n&prev=_t&hl=en&ie=UTF-8&u=http%3A%2F%2Fconstanta.ro%2Fteodosie-l-a-repus-in-preotie-pe-betivanul-roman-arhiepiscopia-e-plina-de-penali%2F

  4. M. Stankovich:

    I am reminded of the Russian story of the question posed to wise old monk, “What would you do if you happened upon a priest accompanied by an angel?” His reply, in so may words, is a quote from our Father St Chrysostom: “For they who inhabit the earth and make their abode there [i.e. priests] are entrusted with the administration of things which are in Heaven, and have received an authority which God has not given to angels or archangels. For it has not been said to them, “Whatsoever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in Heaven, and whatsoever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in Heaven.” (Matt. 18:18) Executive summary: “I would first ask the blessing of the priest, then greet the angel.” Alas, this memo never seems to have made it into the “swearing-in ceremony” for a parish council.

    But likewise, I am also reminded of the post- “Lombardi” seminary days warnings of “get yourself a graduate degree in something you can fall back back on to support your family.” And I catch my breath, saddened for my classmates and schoolmates who drove school buses, delivered bread, and had newspaper routes to make ends meet because they failed to heed that warning.

    And finally, I would say to those who would blame and heap scorn on the bishops, I would agree to a certain extent that they bear responsibility. But I personally witnessed defenders of the priests like Archbishop Dmitri, of blessed memory, so disrespected and disparaged by the laity and parish councils that it was, literally, unimaginable to me. In effect, there is enough blame to go around, and in my estimation, no one is blameless. As long as we are talking, forget the cynicism – what a dumb idea – and let us be radical.

  5. Karen:

    What can we do about this? Lord, have mercy! I have no idea–other than the obvious: redouble our own efforts of repentance and prayer and determine with God’s help to stand steadfastly with the truth whatever the cost and in whomever it may be found insofar as we can discern it. Also, earnestly pray for and sincerely love our Priests and Bishops and fellow Orthodox (in deed as well as word), whatever our perception of their worthiness or unworthiness. “Love covers a multitude of sins,” and it alone has the capacity to break and transform a stony, cold and dead heart. In undergoing Holy Baptism, we enjoined a cosmic battle that has already been won for us by Christ. If we die with Him, we will live with Him (in the joy of that victory)–this is the sure hope in which we live, but nobody ever claimed the dying part would be easy!

  6. Bubba:

    I am in concert with Fr. Yousuf. The bishop/diocese handling compensation as well as benefit packages would solve a lot of problems. I am uncertain how this practiced developed. I assume that when Orthodox came to this country, they didn’t know how to handle compensation, perhaps because they remembered how their churches had been supported by the state in the old country. I presume that they modeled compensation off of congregationalist parishes and left it at that.

    There’s a lot of power in money. And oftentimes it forces priests to be beholden to their parish councils and not their diocesan bishops. And there are many wealthy parishes where priests “milk” their flocks. I often liken it to Roman governors who, in classical times, squeezed their provinces, and when it came time for appointments, they hoped for the most lucrative assignments, which were profitable and closer to Rome. For parishes, it is the same thing. And all too often the assignments are not fair. Say you have two recently ordained priests, just out of seminary. You send one to a mission parish where he’ll have to work a secular job. But then you place the other graduate in a cathedral where he’s making at least 80K a year. What’s up with that?

    The reasonable solution would be to place compensation into the hands of the bishops, or perhaps even a compensation committee overseen by the archdiocese. Start all new priests, no matter what their assignments are, with a salary reasonable to their graduate-level degree (i.e.: a modest proposal would be starting all newly ordained priests at around 35k, similar to most primary school teachers who hold M.Ed.s in this country). As they increase in seniority and age, then increase their salaries. That way the playing field is equal and it eliminates cronyism.

  7. Fr Basil Biberdorf:

    Bubba,

    A sample of *first year* (new graduate) teacher salaries with a B.A. or B.S. (as appropriate to the subject) and *no* graduate hours:

    Conroe, TX school district (where I lived previously): $47,300 for 187 days (9 months) = ~$63,000 for 12 months with benefits
    Average Pennsylvania school district (where I live now): $41,400 for 9 months = ~= $55,200 for 12 months with benefits
    Wichita,KS (in the middle of the country): $31,400 for 9 months = ~$41,800 for 12 months with benefits

    It’s easy to find this information for other areas.

    I’m not aware of ANY parish where the *priest* milks his flock. That’s not to say they don’t exist, but it’s certainly not our usual problem.

  8. M. Stankovich:

    There is a certain naïveté here in presuming that these arguments – salaries commensurate with education and salaries comparable with equal degrees and experience within a given community – have not been made. And many times over. The history of clergy compensation is complex and there are, in fact, numerous “studies,” explorations, and chapters, devoted to this contentious matter. I could tell you stories, witnessed with my own eyes, that occurred at parish annual meetings withing the last 25-years – not 50, not 75 – that remain so shockingly disrespectful to the clergy as to be unimaginable.

    Nevertheless, I do not believe that the issue is financial in and of itself. I agree with the comment above that parallels the answer of St. Theophan the Recluse to the question: “What do we do with a bad priest?” Change him. How? “By prayer and fasting and being the best Christians you are able, you can force him to change.” I presume St. Theophan would respond similarly to a priest who asks, “What do I do with a bad parish?”

    Compensation will be resolved when the bishop takes the position that until the priest is reasonably compensated commensurate with his level of education and with a comparable salary & benefits in the community, the parish will not be assigned a priest. OBVIOUSLY this is a standard for parishs that can, etc., etc., but it is a mindset of respect and recognition that must begin. And when it comes to drawing a line in the sand, as it always has, it is time to force the bishops to change as well.

  9. Fr Basil Biberdorf:

    Michael,

    For myself, I was simply providing some more information.

    Clearly, specifics of compensation, or benefits, or days off, etc., are all just indicators of a broader situation, whether positive or negative.

    But, having dealt with ugly spiritual situations in the past, what every parish should desire is that the priest be able to undertake this work without having to worry about “When can I schedule this so I don’t miss work?” or “How will I pay someone to care for my children while I go do this?” and the like. Further, the priest needs to be secure in his *position* so that can he speak the Gospel or give needed rebuke freely without worrying about being undercut by his bishop or other ecclesiastical superior. Parish councils need to see themselves as providing aid and counsel to the priest rather than as a “check” on the priest, as in a check-and-balance system.

    The article you mention from St Theophan (“What to do about a bad priest?) can be found here: http://www.stmaximus.org/files/Documents/BadPriest.htm

  10. Mark C. Phinney:

    Fr. Basil,

    It is good to have you back blogging.

    Fr Yousuf and Bubba,

    Why would you consider having the diocesan hierarchs set and manage clergy compensation when the hierarchs have proven themselves less able to handle administrative matters in a responsible and timely manner than the parish councils? Why would you give more power to men who are already effectively unaccountable to any human agency? When it comes to administrative matters, conciliarity (AKA “participative management”) should be the goal; if that is not possible, then the fallack position should be local administration (“administrative congregationalism”) rather than hierarchical administration (“central planning”).

    All,

    Isn’t the underlying problem involving respect for the hierarchs and clergy by the laity — shown in particular through clergy compensation — the ignorance of all regarding Biblical, especially New Testament, direction and its application?