"The contract that binds the bishop, the priest, and the people together in the OCA is broken. We have been forced to live in a cult of personal obedience to bishops who are themselves living outside of the norms of the Church. The question now is what to do about it."
We received the attached from a group of anonymous priests in the OCA. Monomakhos, too, has been hearing similar concerns coming from other jurisdictions.
In the Church, we have a contract. The contract is between the bishop and the priests who serve the Holy people of God.
Every priest is obligated to perform certain duties and meet certain expectations. He is also required to live within established parameters to ensure we are each performing in service to one another, so the necessary order of the Church can be maintained.
The Holy Spirit instructs the Holy Church. The protocols, the contract, and shared experiences are the Holy Spirit’s ongoing revelation of God’s desire to save mankind.
This contract has come to us by way of the canons, ecumenical councils, and ecclesiastical jurisprudence. It is confirmed through Liturgical worship and the prayers of the Church. It is handed down by the witnesses of the Church, especially through the lives of the confessors and the martyrs. This shared experience forms the norms of the Church, which have become our Holy Tradition.
For us, Holy Tradition is unshakable and remarkably unprogressive.
The Church is to be a constant. During wars and rumors of war… the Holy Church remains steadfast. During famines, pandemics, and personal misfortune… the Holy Church remains unchanged. The upheavals in daily life are of no concern to the Church. The Church has operated like this for more than 2000 years.
However, all that changed in the year 2020.
In the year 2020, bishops across jurisdictions were ordered to close their parishes. Priests were told they could no longer administer the Body and Blood of Christ in communion with its members, the Body of the Christ. The Eucharist was not offered at the end of Liturgy after the reading of the Gospel. It had to be scheduled for another time. The belief was that it was better to die outside, than to risk exposure within. The Body of Christ was paralyzed with fear and anxiety, as result of these changes. Fear of death occupied every their every thought, as the media presented model after model of the anticipated number of deaths. Hospital and firsthand responders buckled under the pressure. Patients lined the halls of hospitals and emergency rooms. Cancer treatments, surgeries, outpatient procedures, and doctor appointments were all put on hold to accommodate the needs of the sick and the dying. Families were separated from loved ones. Suicides and domestic abuse reached an all-time high. Parents worked at home, while homeschooling their children. Stores were emptied and restaurants closed. If ever the Church was needed, it was now, but the same bishops who were wined and dined by the governors in their respective states, failed to convince them that the Church was essential to living through a pandemic. Instead, liquor stores and marijuana dispensaries were to remain open to minister to our needs.
Priests were instructed to not visit their parishioners because they might inadvertently spread disease. Services were livestreamed on flat screen TVs. “Come and see,” became “don’t come.” The veneration of icons was strictly forbidden, and in some cases, icons had to be removed by order of the bishop. Gone were Holy Weeks and Paschas of years past. Baptisms, chrismations and weddings were put on hold. Funerals could be performed only if the priest did not stay to comfort a grieving family.
Without the sacramental rudders and moorings of the Church, the OCA bishops were cast adrift, as they tried to navigate the political landscape. They seemingly closed their minds to reason, as they closed the doors of the Church and they wanted no input from the priests fearing it would undercut their point of view.
So, in the OCA, we were ordered to be obedient and not to question the wisdom of our bishops. The Traditions of the Church became secondary to protecting the health of its members. Suspicion set in. Bishops spent Monday mornings looking for violations on zoom feed and afternoon threatening the priests for their infractions. Priests and their wives were terrified that these threats would come to fruition, adding to the enormous stress the priests were already under. A priest, husband and father could lose his job for serving a Liturgy with too many people and yet more and more people were showing up at the door. Some had lost family members to the virus. Others were simply scared. All wanted to be in Church to help manage their pain and quell their anxieties. Priests struggled with how to meet the needs of these families without angering their bishops.
The Church has suffered multiple outbreaks of various pathogens during her two millennia and never once closed her doors. She is a panacea for healing, not a place for focusing on death and disease. The eternal health and healing of the soul that has always been the objective of the Church was suddenly replaced by the fastidiousness of good hygiene.
Priests have been taught from seminary that they are to be martyrs to their parish communities. They are to witness the faith and be an icon of Christ, even if it means forfeiting their own lives. However, now, in addition to dispensing the Holy Mysteries, they needed training in epidemiology.
The bishops, on the other hand, occupy their time critiquing their priests, while flipping back and forth between CNN and MSNBC to get the latest news. They busy themselves with writing encyclicals to explain the unexplainable, like how it is possible to be an Orthodox Christian and vote for a platform that promotes abortion, knowing in two states full term babies are being murdered. This has become their witness to God and the Church during the most difficult year in recent history.
In one notable instance, an Archbishop, claiming to lead the Orthodox contingency in America, marched with throngs of people in a protest, forgetting he had recommended to other bishops that they were to lock down the Church to limit physical contact between people.
Isolated, the bishops seemingly care more about the optics than the reality.
The other great influencer in 2020 was the advice of counsel. Not Church counsel, but legal counsel. And not just lawyers, insurance companies, too. The OCA has been stung again and again and compelled by the courts to pay out large sums of money, because the OCA failed to follow procedures and the norms laid down by Holy Tradition.
The bishops, in many cases, ignored Holy Tradition, especially with regard to sexual misconduct on the part of priests and even the bishops, themselves. They not only allowed it, they continue to allow it. They threaten innocent victims. They pay people to keep silent and to cover up the truth. As a result, institutions like Fordham fail to understand or believe the Church has a well-formed Holy Tradition regarding human sexuality.
The courts are right when it comes to the OCA. They have consistently disagreed with the Synod and have ordered that our insurance companies pay up. Their only recourse has been to set up a sexual abuse policy which transferred the matter completely out of the bishop’s hands. Holy Tradition was just too much responsibility for them.
Lastly, the great influencer of the Church’s new practices has been the government of the United States. “Put not your trust in princes nor in the son of men,” they say. Yet when the governors, the CDC, or a physician tells us to stop acting like the Church, we obey. Isn’t that what the Church did when Caesar, the Turks, and Stalin wanted the Holy Church to cease and desist? Did we not comply with disastrous results? Are we doomed to repeat the same mistakes?
The elevation of a virus to epic proportions, the threat of lawsuits, and the force of the government left the Church utterly depleted and redefined. The bishops folded. She stopped acting like the historical Church she was. She had no strength to take a stand in what could have been the Church’s finest moment in American history, an opportunity to show the whole of America who the Church is and how vitally important she is during extraordinary times. Sadly, she has become that dimly lit candle under a bushel. The Church may never get another opportunity in this country to demonstrate that she is the only hope and stability for mankind.
Sadly, our bishops failed to contend in the public square that we were a vital service. On this they were silent.
Here is the rub. The clergy in the OCA are sworn to be obedient to two things: Holy Tradition and to the bishop. But what if a bishop orders a priest to do something outside of, or contrary to, Holy Tradition? Does a bishop have greater authority than the teachings of the Church, Sacred Scripture, and Holy Tradition?
They did in 2020.
- The clergy are strictly to observe the teachings of The Church regarding Christ, the Sacred Scriptures and Holy Traditions (Ephesus, c. 6, 7; Trullo, c. 1; Carthage, c. 2).
- The clergy are under the complete authority of the diocesan hierarch, without whose blessing they cannot function and to whom they must show proper respect (Laodicea, c. 57; Holy Apostles, c.31, 39, 55; Carthage, c. 10).
Canon law in the Church is used as a juris prudence. Canon law clearly states that if a priest refuses to celebrate Holy Liturgy he is to be put out of the priesthood. In 2020, however, priests were threatened again and again with suspension if they celebrated Holy Liturgy even during Holy Week.
Canon law also puts both bishops and priests out of their offices for excommunicating their faithful for anything but a limited set of behaviors relating to the healing of the soul. Last year, priests were ordered to excommunicate their faithful because they might get a virus and if they do, they might die.
The bishops ordered that no one could come to Church. Some of the priests who kept their parishes open and gave the mysteries were called apostate. They were actually called apostates! Priests who kept the doors of the Church open and continued in the celebration of the Liturgy were told that they did not care about their people. They were told that they were guilty of attempted murder! These priests were told they would be tried, and the bishop guaranteed conviction in the Church courts on a murder charge if anyone in the parish died of COVID! This is not only immoral; it’s insane! These priests were guilty of disobedience to their bishop, who was disobedient to the canons and the history of the Church.
The priests were compelled to tell their people that icons could no longer be venerated. Wait, what about the 7th Ecumenical council, Your Grace? People died so that we could venerate these icons! Shut up, don’t think, just obey. Then the priest was given orders to enforce this new commandment. The priests were expected to punish their people for venerating the icons and disobeying the new command. If a priest did not disallow veneration of icons, he would be deposed. If people would not obey and venerated them anyway, the priests were told to excommunicate them. Did the bishop ever stop and wonder what they were doing to the permanent relationship of Synod to their priests and parishes? Ask your bishop if he did this and get him on record.
The new wisdom of the bishops told the people to isolate at home; to be solitaries in prayer. This was the very worst of the malpractice of the bishops in 2020. Only the most severe monastics are given the blessing by a spiritual elder to be solitary and live away from the community of the monastery. This is an obedience given to very few and for limited amounts of time. For good reason. Most people are destroyed by the devil in isolation. This advice was some of the worst that could be given and we are just beginning to see the effects. The new knowledge manifests as ignorance of the soul. This obedience ignored the experience and wisdom of the Church.
Over time, people in solitary feel surrounded by demonic chaos and need the Church. It wasn’t there. The OCA did not manifest as the rock of Christ but drifting as secular sand. The bishops should fall down before God and His people and repent. They have harmed the relationship of their fellow priests and have divided parishes. They seem hell bent on making war with Holy Tradition. They will not repent. The last bishop that repented was a brand-new bishop, not yet guilty of any of the crimes and coverups of the OCA. They sent him out before the AAC to speak for the cowards behind the curtain. We heard from that bishop what we longed to hear and what we all knew. There was faithlessness and secularism within the Synod. That new bishop became metropolitan because of his repentance. That gets you thrown out of the Episcopacy in the OCA by those who do not repent.
To our faithful people, you should know that many of your priests objected to their bishop. The priests did their best to care for your souls. They were shut down and threatened in the cruelest ways. Many priests secretly had Holy Week services and celebrated Liturgy, distributing the mysteries to all who came. Many priests, with the support of their parish community, did not remove icons. These priests did not scold when their people continued to kiss, icon, chalice, and each other. They did not compel the people towards any iconoclastic behavior. Many of our priests went to the homes of COVID sufferers and anointed them. We heard of a priest who was snuck into a nursing home by the nurses by a back entrance at night to take care of the sick. Some of priests locked the doors of the Church and turned off the zoom feed in an effort to be faithful to the Holy Tradition of the Church. These priests were frightened of COVID just like you. They loved God and the people more than they feared their bishop and the disease.
But this “sneaking around” of a priest was not to be allowed. The bishops allowed it to go to a new level. The new knowledge of the bishops insisted on absolute obedience. If a priest and his people were not strictly enforcing these new obediences, the other priests were encouraged to turn in one another. People began turning in their priests.
As there was an attempt to open the Churches a little, a new problem began to manifest in the parishes. Priests were trying to maintain the unity of the faith, as various factions began to arise. These factions were based on temporal and fleeting political and health realities. Parishes began to experience a single spoon faction and a multiple spoon faction. One claims the historical position of the Church and the other claims science and the bishop’s new order. The bishop says you can’t get sick from the chalice! Yet, the bishop’s order to use clear and separate spoons is because he knows the science! We now have the mask believers and the mask deniers. The vaccine doubters and the vaccine believers. Each group accusing the other of being unscientific or not trusting God. What a well thought out plan! It will be the priest that is left to clean up the bishop’s mess. This will take years to resolve and some of our people will never return to the confusion that our new progressive Church offers them. Many have already gone to ROCOR. Others to despair.
As the priests, one by one, objected they were told that they were the only priest having the problem. Some priests who objected were told they might need a psych exam. After all, if someone doesn’t care if people die and are continuing in practices leading to death and are therefore guilty of murder, the priest must be crazy! Lock him up for his own good!
We have been hearing about personal obedience to the bishop. We priests and have always been servants of Christ and the Church. Now we are servants to the bishops? Priests have been told that they were not to think only to obey. The implication is that the bishop will think for the priest. Every Liturgy we pray being endowed with the grace of the priesthood. We ask God to cleanse our soul of an evil conscience. The pure witness of our priestly conscience has been replaced with the bishop’s conscience alone. Freewill is replaced with tyranny of a temporal magisterium that can change from day to day. This is the definition of a cult and not the Holy Church. We did not swear obedience to a bishop for anything outside the Holy Tradition. The bishop has no authority in the parish or the life of a priest where he departs from it. Priests are now on the advice of their own legal counsel recording, and documenting conversations between a priest, his dean, and bishop. Threats to one’s status and employment are being documented. Do the bishops have any idea what they are doing to the Body of Christ? Your short sighted, temporal decisions have eroded all trust.
By statute, the bishop maintains a relationship with his priest that is “at once hierarchical and conciliar and is marked by obedience and collaboration”. The way this can easily be explained is that the priest must remember that the bishop is his head, but at the same time and with equal measure the bishop must remember that this is a brother priest and equal to him. Problems always occur and division happens in the Church if the priest forgets that the bishop is his head, or the bishop ignores his equality with the priests.
2020 has seen no effort in collaboration and conciliarity. Without a doubt, the parish priest, also referred to as rector or priest-in-charge, by virtue of his ordination and canonical appointment, serves as the spiritual father and teacher of that portion of the flock of Christ entrusted to him, the first among the parish clergy, who presides over Liturgical worship in accordance with the Tradition and the norms of the Church. The priest must provide for the administration of the sacraments and the celebration of all liturgical services.
For priests who have faithfully served for years to suddenly be labeled unfaithful because they are presiding over Liturgical worship “in accordance with the Tradition and norms of the Church” is alarming. Saving people from temporal death is not our job! Everyone in the history of the world has thus far died. The Church has one job and only one! And that is to offer the antidote for death which was entrusted to the apostles. The same is given to every priest, as well as to the Bishop. The antidote is not a vaccine. It is Christ.
The Church has one job. The contract that binds the bishop, the priest, and the people together in the OCA is broken. We have been forced to live in a cult of personal obedience to bishops who are themselves living outside of the norms of the Church.
The question now is what to do about it.
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