Blessed Disobedience or Evil Obedience? When Should We Defy a Bishop?

"We are all responsible for the Church, and not only the bishops, for the Church is not someone else's private property. . . . Often, when patriarchs and hierarchs fell into error, only the elders and monks stood up to protect the Church from all kinds of heresies, and the faithful people have for centuries been generally recognized as the guardians of Orthodoxy."

"Holy disobedience is absolutely necessary when heresy and moral decay take on enormous proportions, when the Church, in the person of the hierarchy, falls into error . . ."

This article is from chapter 2 of the excellent booklet — Blessed Disobedience or Evil Obedience? — written by Archpriest Theodore Zisis. The full booklet is available via these links:


Chapter 2

Blessed Disobedience or Evil Obedience?

For a number of reasons, the great virtue of obedience, unfortunately, is misunderstood by many. Because of this, believers lose their freedom in Christ, their inner, spiritual potential and all ability to fight and practice asceticism. And in the hands of some, seemingly pious, “confessors” often turn out to be weak-willed and unfree creatures, into some kind of wordless and meek slaves...

The issue that has long existed in the Church has prompted us to seriously turn to the subject of obedience: most of us often identify the hierarchy, the primate and bishop with the Church itself, individuals with the whole institution, which the Church undoubtedly is. And therefore, the manifestation of disobedience in some issues to any of these persons is perceived as disobedience to the Church itself.

But what does obedience to the Church really mean? 

Does obedience to the Church mean obeying the head of the Church, the bishops and priests as individuals - regardless of whether they are good shepherds, or mercenaries throwing sheep to their fate or even into the arms of wolves? Despite the fact that they themselves might not be obedient to the truth of the Orthodox faith? Are they “faithfully teaching the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15)? Should we obey them regardless of whether everything they say and do is in accordance with the Orthodox teaching or a fallacy? And is it proper for us to follow any clergy and obey all of them, good and evil, observing everything that they teach, not deciding whether this is true or false?

Of course not! If such a distorted idea of obedience prevailed in the Church, then heresy would reign in it today, for the saints would have to remain in obedience to the heretical patriarchs and hierarchs; then Nicolaism [22], coupled with homosexuality, would have established itself forever in the Church...

All that the Holy Scriptures and holy fathers say about obedience to priests means obedience to good shepherds, vigilantly rejoicing in the truth and the salvation of the faithful. A classic example of this is an excerpt from the Epistle of the Holy Apostle Paul to the Hebrews: “Obey your teachers and be humble” (Heb. 13:17). However, he considers a necessary condition for such obedience, first of all, to be the vigilant care of the pastors for the spiritual salvation of the flock: “For they vigilantly take care of your souls, as they must give an account” (Heb. 13:17).

The apostle also encourages believers to remember their teachers. But what teachers? Those who, by an example of their lives, teach the word of God: “Remember your teachers who have preached the word of God to you, and, looking at the end of their lives, imitate their faith” (Heb. 13:7). 

The same applies to the words of St. Ignatius of Antioch [23] about obedience to the hierarchy. Many advocates of bishopric centered ecclesiology appeal to his messages quite rashly, trying to find a legitimate basis or justification for the undivided authority of bishops, which often takes the form of tyranny even worse than that of the papacy.

Indeed, in his epistles, St. Ignatius encourages full obedience to the archpastor. But to every one? Father George Metallinos [24], attending various meetings of the clergy, where, with reference to the saint, substantiates the need for unquestioning and absolute obedience to the bishop, he always notes that he should also specify what merits he must have in order to demand obedience to himself. Indeed, not every bishop meets the high criteria that a true bishop must meet.

And in his epistles, St. Ignatius the God-bearer certainly implies obedience to the good archpastor, without a doubt, like he was himself. How many of the current hierarchs, like the saint, are an examples to follow - with their humility, ascetic character and active work against heresies, as well as their confession and willingness to suffer for the truth even to death? But it is precisely such worthy bishops who faithfully teach the word of truth that the Church commemorates during the celebration of the Eucharist. 

Is it conceivable to obey clergymen who do not preach the truth of the Gospel, who lead their flock to the abyss of perdition by the example of their lives, or who justify the heresy of heresies — ecumenism? And what would be worth imitating in the lifestyle of such clerics?

Holy disobedience is absolutely necessary when heresy and moral decay take on enormous proportions, when the Church, in the person of the hierarchy, falls into error, as is the case today with respect to the arch-heresy of ecumenism ...

Heresy defiles and afflicts the whole body of the Church, and therefore it does not matter that the pontiff visited only Athens or that the WCC met within the metropolitan area of Attica [25]. In matters of faith there is no such thing as "in my jurisdiction" or "in someone else's competence." So, the heretic Arius [26] appeared in distant Alexandria [27], and the Cappadocian fathers began to fight the new false doctrine [28]; or, for example, Nestorius began his heretical sermon in Constantinople [29], but the struggle was conducted mainly by Bishop Cyril of Alexandria [30].

Thus, no bishop can justify the fact that the pope’s foot didn’t enter the boundaries of their dioceses, or that the WCC conference was not held in their metropolis, or that they personally did not perform joint prayers with Catholics and Protestants. Since they did not oppose this, did not oppose it in any way, did not protest and did not raise their voice against this wickedness, it means that, along with all those involved in the heresy of ecumenism, they share responsibility and bear blame for what was done, and are equally involved with others in this error. After all, according to St. John Chrysostom [31], the bishop should  not only watch over his own diocese, but also over the Ecumenical Catholic Church [32] as a whole: “The primate should take care not only of the Church entrusted to him by the Spirit, but also of the ecumenical ".

Since we do not see anyone in the church hierarchy fighting ecumenism, opposing it, or somehow resisting the onslaught of Catholicism and the anti-Orthodox activities of the WCC, we are forced to raise our voices ourselves. But as soon as the Lord enlightens the archpastors, and they  begin to do at least something in the current deplorable situation, we will immediately be silent. And until this happens, we, simple clergy and monks, will have to fight it ourselves.

We are all responsible for the Church, and not only the bishops, for the Church is not someone else's private property. The bishop, together with the clergy, as well as the laity, as one body with the head - Christ, are responsible for it, each in their own way. Often, when patriarchs and hierarchs fell into error, only the elders and monks stood up to protect the Church from all kinds of heresies, and the faithful people have for centuries been generally recognized as the guardians of Orthodoxy.

And finally, having represented the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Greek Church at inter-Christian conferences, we have seen that such theological dialogues not only lead to nothing, but, on the contrary, lead to apostasy [33] and falling away from Orthodoxy. Orthodox ecumenists participating in various meetings should do not witness about the truth of our faith, although they claim that they do. Actually, they simply hide behind this claim, using arguments to justify their participation in the WCC and other such organizations, and nothing more.


This article is from chapter 2 of the excellent booklet — Blessed Disobedience or Evil Obedience? — written by Archpriest Theodore Zisis. The full booklet is available via these links:





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