Obedience to the Church (1)


The God-preserved Diocese of Canada and we, the local priests, have been exposed to terrible shocks and stresses for months now. Something that had never happened before was occurring in our very own home and, alas, is still going on in this eparchy of the Serbian church. Harsh words and have been thrown around, and are still being flung. We are flooded by too many dirty lies and this muddy flow of filth leaves indelible traces.

Our consolation and hope is in the Gospel from where we know that the Lord will try us and them, (1.Gn. 16, 5) and His word is the last and decisive.

These last months, all of our issues can be summed up through the Church’s understanding of “obedience”.

As always in hard times, our recent misfortune raised to the limelight some inhumane people and given them an opportunity to show themselves for who they really are. All of a sudden, some virtuous orthodox believers crawled out of the darkness and depths of anonymity and aligned themselves with the only place where their vanity and demonic temptation could lead them. These self proclaimed “erudites”, “experts” for each religious question, inviolable interpreters of religious laws and canons have emerged as new “Valsamons” and “Zonaras” of our age, raising their voice all over the world, preaching to us, their priests “canonical knowledge and interpretations”. They started warning us and reminding us of the priests’ oath through various questionable and disreputable media, the foremost of which is the anticlerical site “Borba za Veru” (Fight for the faith).

I do welcome their reminder so that I can, again as I often do, recall the priests’ oath, and through these promises to the Lord given at my ordination screen the events to which we’ve been exposed to without our will and fault.

And after that, their racket about my oath has prompted me to check the oath of the one to whom I owe obedience by my oath – “as to Christ himself”.

Of course, the priests’ oath is terrific and binding. But compared to the bishop’s oath, the priest’s oath is much easier; “a piece of cake” one would say. If the priest’s oath takes up one half of a page, the bishop’s oath takes up five pages of printed text. A priest swears an oath to the Church once; while a bishop does it twice. Before being selected to be a bishop, he would have previously swore to keep three terrifying vows: chastity, obedience, and poverty.

These vows are lifelong and a calling to any greater service in the Church does not negate them.

All three of them are interconnected and tied together.

“Swearing to keep chastity, a person promises the Church and God that they will stray from bodily pleasures for the rest of their life, without any compromise; and that they will at all times wear simple black clothing, be humble and faithful, that they will fast for the rest of their life and that they will abstain from carnal relations for the rest of their life.

Taking a vow of poverty a person denies all worldly property, and anything which they may receive or attain would belong to their monastery. (Zeljko Kotoranin)

In relation to this, the second canon of the Ninth Local Council condemns those who “accept the appearance of a monastic life, but not so that they may serve God with a clean heart, but rather so that with this honourable position they attain the glory of faithfulness such that they fulfill their ulterior wishes, and so having removed their hair (at the tonsuring) they still live in their homes and disobey all monastic rules and practices. ” (Zeljko Kotoranin)

The fathers of this council strongly atone those who take monastic vows yet continue to live in their own homes. What horrid damnation, anathema, or condemnation would these fathers suggest for somebody who would, God forbid such a sin to anyone, gift the monastery’s main source of income, for example a panniers, to a friend or relative; or yet worse to empty the monastery’s treasury and buy himself a house right beside the monastery. And yet worse to mock the honourable brothers and ridicule them and smear their good name.

During his ordination a priest swears, beside other oaths, that “he will be obedient to his bishop as to Christ himself”. The new ”Valsamons” and “Zonaras” especially insist on this. They point out and underline these words of the priest’s oath. “Yes, we have got you”, they rejoice evil-mindedly.

Wanting to or not, standing in front of this oath of obedience to the bishop “as to Christ himself”, a priest must ask himself whether the obedience of a priest to his bishop is absolute and not liable to any test.With my life I answer that it is – not. Absolute obedience belongs only to the Lord and to his Church.

To the new “Valsamons” and “Zonaras”, if anything can enter into their over-heated heads and boiling brains, I would say: A priest is obliged to submit to his bishop “as to Christ himself”; but not, in any way, more than to Christ, God forbid. Our obedience is due to Christ in the first place, and then to all others in order.

To say this would be “enough for a clever man”. But they do not know what is “enough”. And, since nothing can turn them away from their “education” and “wisdom” I will elaborate on this sentence for the sake of our good-willed people, God’s people:

As long as the bishop is obedient to the Church and to the Lord, his clergy-his brothers and assistants-and all of God’s people, are obliged to submit to him, willingly and with love. The bishop has to justify their submissiveness with his life, words and deeds.

These terms of a bishop’s power and ruling entered into Church vernacular through the back door. The original requirement of bishops, as established by Christ is serving. You know that the ones who are considered the rulers over people, rule over them and their noblemen rule over them. But let it not be like that among you – Christ warns his disciples – but, who wants to be great among you, let him serve you; and who wants to be the first, let him serve you.” (Mk. 10, 42-44)

We should pay attention to Christ’s sarcastic statement: “the ones who are considered the rulers”, because there are no other rulers except the Lord God. “The Lord rules”, (1. Chr. 16, 31) exclaims the emperor David. “You are brothers”, (Mt. 23, 8) tells us the Lord. “To one wise God, glory and dignity, power and control before all ages and now, and forever!” (Jude, 25)

I say- since they wave our oath in front of the noses of us the local priests, let us see to what the bishop swears at his ordination, in particular in relevance with recent events in our surroundings at least.

Among many other things, the bishop swears that he will “preserve and firmly maintain the peace of the Church”; that he will always “submit to The Holy Council of Bishops.” “I shall be in accordance and conforming in everything, according to God’s commands and clergy rules of the Holy Apostles and Holy Fathers, with the present Patriarch, most eminent Bishops, Metropolitans and Prelates of our local Serbian Church and the whole Universal-catholic Orthodox Church in universality and with my brothers and co-servants in Christ, and I shall nourish cordially spiritual love for them and I shall respect them as my fathers and brothers.

I shall also consider and protect the priority of my Patriarch’s throne and respect the honour of the First in God’s Church council of this people, according to the canon of the apostles which says that this kind of harmony and harmonious love system celebrates the catholicity and unity of God’s Church by the image of the Holy Trinity.”

I thought many times: if the man to whom we showed obedience as novices for decades had been consistent at least to one part of his terrifying oath, and if he himself showed obedience to the Church to which he had sworn, we would not have the shame to which he exposed us mercilessly and insolently. By his stubborn refusing to submit to the Holy Council of Bishops he made us choose: to pursue with him on a heretical adventure or with the Church, our Mother.

I also examined my personal example; what misfortunate consequences would have happened if I had chosen to turn from the Church to him.

To be continued