Suffering: Sharing in Christ’s Life and Work

St. John Kochurov

 “Orthodox theologians approach the problem of suffering form a perspective rather different from that of St. Augustine or the Western scholastics.  Eastern Church tradition views pain and suffering as evil consequences of the Fall, unintended by God but allowed as a kind of spiritual pedagogy.  Generally speaking, suffering is not considered to be punishment for sin inflicted by a God of wrath, nor is it explained simply as a function of theodicy.  Nor does Orthodoxy tradition understand suffering to be a condition or essential prerequisite, a necessary ‘price to pay,’ for our redemption and salvation.  To recall the apostle Paul’s assertion to the Corinthians, ‘You have been bought with a price!’  That is, our redemption from the slavery of sin and death is accomplished entirely by Christ’s own suffering and death.  As the Suffering Servant foreshadowed in Isaiah 53, Christ bore his passion for us, on our behalf.  Although we can share in his sufferings through acts of ‘martyrdom’ or witness, such ‘works’ are never understood to be the condition for our liberation from the consequences of sin and death.”  (John Breck, THE SACRED GIFT OF LIFE, p. 213)

Allegations and Accusations

 Allegations of misconduct of any kind by church officials often bring strong reactions from the public, the press and parishioners.  Some are scandalized, some angry, some sickened, some dismayed, and some disbelieve.

In the current age, the church must make response to allegations against its leadership regarding misconduct whether sexual, moral, financial, or pastoral.  Allegations when they are made cannot always be judged immediately as credible or not, and so investigations into allegations are needed, even if the allegations seem farfetched.  That is what a true investigation is supposed to determine.

Sometimes as soon as an allegation is made people take sides, either, on the one hand vindicating the accused declaring such an event could not have happened or is unbelievable because the accused is innocent, or on the other hand vilifying the accused as guilty even if nothing is proven.

In the church such allegations are painful and threatening partly because the church has a responsibility to minister to all parties – the victims, those reporting problems (whistle blowers), those asked to testify (witnesses), as well as all the  accused.  (Note: Victims are those directly abused, as well as the larger group of people who might be affected by the events whether witnesses, innocent bystanders, family members, fellow parishioners, etc).  The church and its leaders do not always know the truth of the events.  However, the church has to come to grips with what it means that allegations must be taken seriously, how to investigate allegations fairly and thoroughly, and how to minister to all the parties involved.  When both the accusers and the accused are members of the church, how does the church fulfill its responsibilities to all?

Recently allegations surfaced regarding Archbishop Seraphim of Canada.  One can see on the internet the strong emotional reactions to this from those who declare his innocence, to those who suspect truth in the allegations and from those who do not know what to think.

The church has an obligation and a responsibility to investigate serious and credible allegations, this most would agree with.   But these days, fairness and due diligence demand all allegations be investigated.  Obviously fairness is viewed very differently by those who allege themselves to be victims of abuse and by those who are the accused. 

Metropolitan Jonah has publicly stated numerous times that the church will have a zero tolerance policy toward sexual misconduct and that clergy will be defrocked for violating standards of conduct.  This stance itself means that allegations of sexual misconduct must be thoroughly investigated to determine what course of action the church must take.

An allegation is a statement most often from someone claiming to be a victim of abuse, against another person.  Allegations may also come from third party people who have witness or learned of an abuse.  An allegation does not mean the accused has been found guilty of anything; it is a statement saying that someone was or may have been wronged by another.

 Taking allegations seriously is important for any church since the very being of church as community is based in trust.  If people violate that trust for their own sinful ends, it is an evil.  Unfortunately not all people are equally capable of defending themselves from abuse, and so the church has to take an interest in protecting all of its members from abuse, especially those who might be termed, “the weak.”   Part of that protection involves looking at complaints of abuse, no matter who makes the allegation and no matter who is the accused. 

The church must take allegations seriously – investigate all serious complaints.   It has a responsibility to hear the cry of those who have been victimized by abuse, especially if it comes from church leaders.  Investigating all allegations protects both church members and church leaders.  If everyone believes a full and fair investigation will always take place, then people will trust the system to work and to work for them.

While an investigation into clergy sexual misconduct is ongoing, there are many temptations of passion that can affect the membership of the church: anger, judgmentalism, impatience, unbelief, despondency.   It is a time for prayer, and waiting on the Lord to reveal the truth.