The Bishop and the Diocese

“‘Apart from the bishop, let no one do anything pertaining to the Church. Let that be considered a valid Eucharist which is celebrated by the bishop or by a person appointed by him. Let the people be present wherever the bishop appears, just as the catholic Church is wherever Jesus Christ is. Apart from the bishop it is not lawful either to baptize or to celebrate a Eucharist, but whatever he may approve is also pleasing to God, so that whatever you do may be sure and valid.’ (St. Ignatius of Antioch – d. 107 AD)

It was perhaps in the eucharistic liturgy that the leading role of the bishop could best be discerned. Ordinarily he alone presided. As he prayed aloud at the altar, the presbyters stood silently on either side of him, while the deacons assisted him in such matters as the distribution of the consecrated bread, or saw to it that order was maintained in the church.  From his cathedra, the chair that was the symbol of his teaching authority and that was usually situated at the center of the back wall of the sanctuary, and flanked by the presbyters’ benches, he was accustomed to preach. This was the bishop’s most important task, and, until about the beginning of the sixth century, it was only infrequently that priests and deacons preached.”   (Boniface Ramsey, Beginning to Read the Fathers, p. 115).


St. Silouan: What is a Bishop?

Since the OCA‘s Diocese of the Midwest Special Assembly this past week nominated  Fr. Paul Gassios to become our next bishop, it is a good time to think about what a bishop is or should be.  St. Silouan the Athonite (d. 1938AD) says this about a bishop:

St. John Chrysostom

“The Lord calls His bishops to feed His flock, and gives them freely of the grace of the Holy Spirit. It is said that the Holy Spirit stablished the bishops in the Church, and in the Holy Spirit they have the power to bind and remit sins. And we are the sheep of the Lord’s flock whom He loved unto the end and to whom He gave our holy pastors. They are heirs to the Apostles, and by the grace accorded them they bring us to Christ. They teach us repentance; they teach us to keep the Lord’s commandments. They proclaim the word of God, that we may know the Lord. They guide us along the path of salvation, and help us to climb the heights of the lowly spirit of Christ. They gather the afflicted and straying sheep of Christ into the Church’s fold, that their souls may find rest in God. They pray to God for us, that we may all be saved. As the friends of Christ they are able to entreat and be heard of the Lord, attaining humility and the grace of the Holy Spirit for the living, forgiveness of sins for the dead, and for the Church peace and freedom from bondage. They carry the Holy Spirit within them, and through the Holy Spirit forgive us our sins.

Three Hierarchs

By the Holy Spirit they know the Lord, and like the angels they contemplate God. They are strong to tear our minds from the earth and attach them to the Lord. They grieve when they see us grieving God and preventing the Holy Spirit from dwelling in us. All the troubles of the earth lie on their shoulders, and their souls are carried away with love of God. They pray without cease, beseeching comfort for us in our afflictions, and peace for the whole world. By their ardent prayers they draw us, too, to serve God in a spirit of humility and love. For their own humility and love for the people, the Lord loves them. Inasmuch as they continue in great toil and struggle, they are enriched by the wisdom of the Saints, whose example they seek to follow in their own life. The Lord so loved us the He suffered on the Cross for us; and His sufferings were so great that we are unable to apprehend them because we love the Lord so little. Likewise do our spiritual pastors suffer on our account, although we often do not see their sufferings. And the greater a pastor’s love, the greater are his sufferings; and we who are His sheep should understand this, and love and revere our pastors” (St. Silouan the Athonite, pp 400-401)

The Midwest Diocesan Effort to Discern God’s Will

The Diocese of the Midwest is in the process of electing a new ruling bishop.  This is a normal part of the life in a hierarchical church, though in the long history of the Orthodox Church many times the selection of a bishop took place in unusual circumstances, and sometimes they elected an unusual character as bishop.


A few years ago the diocese followed an active selection process in which it attempted to discern the will of God for the Diocese.  At least some Orthodox historians have felt  the theological process of selecting a bishop is not “electing” (in  a modern ‘democratic’ sense of the word) a man to become bishop, but rather the diocese is trying to discern who is it that God would have serve Him in this capacity.  The election of a bishop is thus an effort by a diocese to discern the divine will.   Our diocese followed a process in which a committee narrowed the field down to three ‘vetted’ candidates who were then presented to the diocese for consideration.  Some thought the process was a return to ancient Christian practice, while others thought the process placed too much emphases on a modern sense of democracy and choosing between competing candidates.  However, the OCA follows tradition which does not allow campaigning for the office of bishop.  So the members of the diocese had to use their own wits in determining which one of the three men to put forward as the candidate to become our diocesan hierarch.

Unfortunately, the chosen candidate’s own stay in office was truncated as he had to step down from office.   And so, far more quickly than we ever envisioned, we are back at the point of having to choose a man to be our diocesan bishop.  Perhaps we can say that we did not do well in discerning God’s will, so the fault is our own.  Maybe we relied too much on believing we knew what was best for the diocese, rather than on really trying to discern what is it that God wants for His Church in the 21st Century.   Or perhaps we took our eyes off of Christ and looked for a prince or a son of man, rather than looking to Christ.   We relied too much on what we thought was good for the Church rather than allowing the Holy Spirit to show us what direction the Church was to be taking.  That is a temptation for the modern church in the West.    Democracy, for all of its virtues in choosing secular leaders,  is not a fool-proof way of discerning God’s will.

Thus, we are faced this year with choosing another man to present to the Synod of Bishops and to ask them to elect him as our next archpastor.  The Diocesan Council has set us on the path of accomplishing this selection of a bishop this year in as much as it is calling for a special diocesan assembly in October to chose the man we want the Synod to elect as our next diocesan bishop.

GassiosIn some ways this is simply a continuation of what was started several years ago.  It is following through on that process as we consider again a man who was chosen by the diocesan episcopal search committee as one of three final candidates.  We did chose a man in 2010 who we asked the Synod to elect as our bishop, but he is no longer in office.  We have before us a priest who served in our diocese for many years, Fr. Paul Gassios, who was vetted both by the Synod of Bishops and by the diocesan episcopal search committee.  Fr. Paul was not chosen in that 2010 assembly, but that certainly was not because he is unqualified for the position.   At that time, we the members of the special diocesan assembly collectively did not discern that Fr. Paul was to be our bishop.  We thought otherwise, and yet the man we chose did not long remain in office but had to step down.  Apparently He was not the one God wished we would have to be our bishop.  So we are given opportunity to try again and discern God’s will.  Like a number of other priests, I think Fr. Paul is the obvious candidate for us to put forward.  He still meets the criterion for the office as was determined by the process we chose to follow.  For his part, he has not actively pursued this office but rather has shown a willingness to obey a call to serve the church.

Maybe in this process we learn again the lesson that God’s people have had to learn before about selecting a leader.  As the Lord said to Samuel the Prophet, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the LORD sees not as man sees; man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).  Those words are just as true today as they were when Samuel heard them and as they were in 2010.  If we rely too much on external appearance, on whom we think looks like a bishop, we may fail to choose the man who has the heart which the Lord looks at.  Doesn’t matter how much we think a man looks like a bishop, what we have to discern is whether he is the man God chooses to be bishop for our diocese.

We can see that choosing a bishop has proven through history to be a difficult task – even when a candidate for the office has all the appearance of a pious man.

Renouncing World Serving“Reflecting on Christ’s exchange with Peter in John 21, Chrysostom remarks  that Christ does not say to this apostle, If you love me, practice  fasting, sleeping on the ground, prolonged vigils, or any particular deeds  of justice or mercy. Rather, he instructs his disciple, “Tend my sheep.”  In a similar vein John argues that mortification of the body and other ascetic  rigors are insufficient to produce the discernment and vigilance required of a leader in the church. Indeed the isolated and inactive life of monks may hide the defects of some men, while those who serve the church in public must expose their souls to all.  In another passage he points out that even the example of an apostolic life is of no avail in  disputing heresy and false doctrine, yet this is the constant struggle of  the priest.”  (Andrea Sterk ,  Renouncing the World Yet Leading the Church: The Monk-Bishop in Late Antiquity,  kindle Loc. 2013-17)

Let us pray that God will direct our thinking and open our hearts and minds to discern what it is He wills for our diocese.

Canonical Ordination and Deposition

I read with interest Fr. Alex Rentel’s “A Comparison of the Liturgical Rite of Ordination and the Canonical Act of Deposition” in the St.Vladimir’s Theological QUARTERLY , Vol 55, No 1, 2011.   It seems timely to me, which may reflect the unfortunate fact that in the Church we deal not only with birth but also death, not only with saints but also with sinners, not only with clergy ordinations but also with clergy depositions.

Having myself served for the last several years on the OCA’s Sexual Misconduct Policy Advisor Committee and also on the Metropolitan Council’s Ethics Committee, Fr. Rentel’s article spoke to issues which I have had to contemplate.  I don’t intend to write a review of his article but just note a few points that were pertinent to things I’ve thought about.

St. Basil the Great says:

“On the matter of priesthood, if you fell into a sin of the flesh – fornication, adultery, sodomy, bestiality – and were above 13 years old, even if you didn’t know that these sins are impediments to the priesthood, you are not allowed to become a priest … examine yourself well, and if you fell even once even out of ignorance you cannot become a priest. No matter how great a need the Church has. God will care for His Church. If there are no priests and lay people, then the Lord will destroy everyone. If you have an impediment to the priesthood, you are able by repentance and confession to perform miracles and to become a saint, but not a priest.”

That is a pretty high standard for ordination.   But note, he says such sexual sins are impediments to ordination but not to becoming canonized as a saint.  The criterion for becoming a saint are different than from becoming a priest.  Fr. Rentel notes from the canons:

“Nikodemos the Hagiorite (ca. AD 1749-1809) …. observes that ‘all sins’ that would depose a clergyman, whether committed before or discovered after ordination, also present ‘an impediment to someone becoming a priest.’   ….   1 Nicea Canon 9 says … when some sin committed prior to ordination is discovered, the canon refuses to admit such a man to the priesthood, because ‘the catholic church vindicates (ekdikei) only what is above reproach.'” (p 34) 

“A candidate cannot hope that ordination will simply blot out his pre-ordination sins.”  (p 36) 

The goal of canonical penalties Rentel notes is for the laity or clergy to “withdraw from sin.”  It is not punishment but a help towards salvation.  The same is true of deposition from the clergy which is viewed as part of the cure for the man who fell into sin after ordination or who committed a serious sin before being ordained.

“Apostolic Canon 25…. ‘If a bishop, presbyter, or deacon is caught in fornication, perjury, or theft, let him be deposed.'” (pp 40-41)

And if the clergyman  exercises “‘his own private judgment to the subversion of the people and to the disturbance of the churches’.  Such a cleric, the canon says, is ‘one who…heaps sins upon himself.'” (p 41)

Cyril of Alexandria around 442AD says “that a bishop cannot simply retire to avoid scandal and canonical punishment.  Rather, Cyril says… ‘if they are unworthy, do not let them leave by retiring, rather let them be judged for [their] actions.'” (p 44)

The practice of moving clergy to a new parish assignment after they have committed an action worthy of deposition is just plain wrong.    So too is the practice of allowing disgraced bishops to retire honorably.    There is a reason for these rules in preserving the high standards of the church for it preserves the integrity of the church and helps prevent the types of illicit behavior that were observed in recent scandals throughout the Christian world.

Archimandrite Matthias Moriak Nominated as Bishop

In the Special Assembly held at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Minneapolis called for the sole purpose of nominating a man to become the next bishop of the Diocese of the Midwest, the Assembly selecting Archimandrite Matthias Moraik from among the three candidates.  The 61 year old Fr. Matthias’s name will now be brought to the OCA’s Synod of Bishops in November for their consideration to make him bishop-elect of the Diocese.

In what was the first election of a bishop for the Diocese in decades (and perhaps the first episcopal election in Diocesan history), the delegates assembled first to pray – a prayer service which lasted longer than the actual voting process.  One might wonder, why pray for seasonable weather and the abundance of the fruits of the earth when all that was on the agenda was the election of a bishop?  For me, it put the selection process in its proper context.  The election of a bishop is not more important than the peace of the world and the salvation of our souls.  Though the bishop is essential for the Church, he still functions in the context of the entire world, which is the primary concern of both God and the Church. 

The prayers did affect me in the sense that they made me think about our goal – to discern what God’s will is for our diocese.  We are trying to determine which man has God chosen to be our bishop.  It didn’t matter what I liked or thought, I had to think about God’s choice.  It made me think seriously about which man I would vote for, to rethink my vote before casting it. 

No one got the required 2/3 vote on the first ballot, so a second ballot was given with only the names of the top two nominees:  Fr. Paul Gassios and Fr. Matthias Moriak.   The mood of the Assembly remained serene.  On the second ballot Fr. Mattias got the majority vote and then by unanimous acclaimation was chosen as our nominee to put forth to the Synod of Bishops.

In selecting Fr. Matthias the assembly chose someone who was not part of the Diocese (as Fr. Gassios was), nor even part of the OCA (as Frs. Mahaffey and Gassios are).  Fr. Moriak only recently joined the OCA.  He also was the only one of the three candidates who clearly was a monastic, though he also is a widowed priest.

The actual consecration of the new bishop is being planned for May, 2011 – almost 1 1/2 years after the death of Archbishop Job.

Christian Unity: Being of One Mind

Philippians 2:1-2

“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any incentive of love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.”

“As  Christ in the flesh was visible, so the unity of the church is to be visible to all.   The unity of the church is manifest in Christians praying together, professing the same faith, and in the Eucharistic celebration, together with the bishop, who is the celebrant, the leader, and the teacher.    He is the local point of unity, the guardian and the charismatic teacher of apostolic tradition.”      (Veselin Kesich, Formation and Struggles, THE CHURCH IN HISTORY. Vol. 1,  pg. 131)

Diocesan Clergy Convocation and The Election of a Bishop

The OCA’s Diocese of the Midwest is in a year long process of nominating a man to become bishop of the Diocese to replace Archbishop Job of blessed memory who passed away in December of 2009.

This week, August 23-25, was the annual Clergy Convocation in Chicago.  This year the convocation focused on introducing to the clergy of the Diocese the three men who are being considered for the episcopal office:  Frs. Paul Gassios, David Mahaffey and Matthais Moriak.    These three men are the final candidates from a list of names submitted to a Search Committee, which then following its own process and procedures worked together with the Diocesan Council and Bishop’s Council to submit the names to the OCA’s Synod of Bishops.  The three priests are thus considered vetted and approved by the Synod of Bishops. 

Currently, the process of electing a bishop is in the stage where the members of the Diocese are getting to know the three nominees.  This is a long process both for the diocese and for the three men who in accepting nomination have agreed to put themselves through a long vetting process.  Orthodoxy is a hierarchical church, and so men are needed who are willing to put themselves through this process to become the diocesan bishop.   It is a very particular calling by the church.

At the convocation each of the priests made a presentation to the gathered diocesan clergy and then answered questions in what was a two hour session.  Additionally, each of the three priests was  interviewed in a tape recorded session which will be made available to the parishes of the diocese, thus giving a chance for all diocesan members to become at least a little familiar with the nominees.   All of this is being done to help the parish clergy and lay delegates to the Diocesan Assembly in Minneapolis, October 4-6, decide for whom they want to vote in the special episcopal election.  Whichever candidate receives the most votes in the election will be considered the nominee from the diocese for the office of bishop; his name will then be submitted to the Synod of Bishops for formal election as bishop of the diocese.  The actual consecration of the nominee as bishop will occur sometime later.

In general in the Orthodox tradition, there is no campaigning for a candidate, and the process is not simply a democratic vote with majority rule.  It is a consensus building process, with the Synod of Bishops having the final say in confirming the Diocesan Assembly’s nominee.

In our parish, we hope to be able to view the recorded interview of the three nominees, and have a parish community discussion on the role of the bishop and on how each of the three nominees might fulfill that role for the good of the diocese and the parish.   The parish delegate to the Diocesan Assembly will certainly consider the comments of the parishioners in our decision of how we vote at the Diocesan Assembly.

I have not yet seen the written answers which the three nominees submitted in response to written questions given them, nor have I seen the taped interviews of the three priests.  Based solely on the live presentations at the Clergy Convocation, I will tell my parishioners that Fr. Paul Gassios impressed me the most.  I am deeply appreciative of the willingness of all three of these men to serve the Church, our diocese and my parish.  May God bless all of them, and guide each of us in this nominating process.

For my parishioners, we will take time to discuss the candidates, and view the recorded interviews when they become available.

The Visit of Bishop Melchisedek

His Grace, Melchisedek, Bishop of Pittsburgh, is at our parish of St. Paul’s today, to celebrate the Liturgy and to bless our new sanctuary icons.  Bishop Melchisedek grew up in the Dayton area. 

Protopresbyter Gus George Christo in his book, The Church’s Identity; Established through Images according to Saint John Chrysostom, offers a thought about Chrysostom’s imaging the hierarchy:

Chrysostom’s description of the Episcopate’s relationship to the Flock of Christ has nothing to do with laziness and worldly honor. Rather, it is connected with leadership,  presiding over the brethren, teaching, ordination, protection and authority. The bishop exemplifies all this as the leader of his sheep by carrying their burdens, bearing all their sins and taking the blame for them, never receiving pardon by his people for his sins, constantly exposing himself to their judgment, and protecting and safeguarding their souls even at the expense of his very own” (pgs. 180-181).

Why do you cry to me?

“Why do you cry to me?” In Exodus 14:15, the fleeing Israelites find themselves in dire straits – trapped by a sea on one side and the pursuing Egyptian army on the other; they have nowhere to go and bitterly criticize their “liberator” Moses for having led them to their scandalous and inescapable situation.  Moses boldly tells the tremulous people, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will work for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again.  The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be still”  (Exodus 14:13-14).No doubt, Moses believed every word he spoke, and he too intended to sit back and watch what God would do for them.  But the LORD, who has a habit of demanding synergy at the darndest times, “said to Moses, ‘Why do you cry to me? Tell the people of Israel to go forward’” (14:15).  The ball was in Moses’ court, not God’s.  It was Moses’ move, not God’s.  God is not going to do for His people what they have to do for themselves.  God warned Noah of the impending flood with which He was going to destroy the earth.  God informs Noah of this cataclysm, but does the LORD build Noah an ark?   NO.  God tells Noah to build the ark.   Salvation is not a spectator sport – you either participate or you lose.To the trapped Israelites, God simply says, “Go forward – move, do something.”  If you want to be saved, get yourselves involved in the process.The members of the OCA, much like the Israelites of Exodus 14 are crying to God for help in dealing with an ongoing scandal and leadership failure.  We are waiting for God to do something to help us.  Perhaps some are just bitterly complaining; others are waiting for God to do His thing.   God’s word is the same to us as to the Israelites – “Move forward!  What are you waiting for –  your complete destruction by the Egyptians?  Why are you just standing there motionless and crying out.  Take action, move forward!”  We need to do some things for our salvation.  And just like God didn’t build Noah’s ark, neither is God going to build our church.  God is not going to do for us what we are capable of and supposed to be doing for ourselves. We have to build the Church in America, just like Noah had to build the ark for his salvation.  We have to move forward in solving our problems and stop thinking that God or someone else is supposed to do our work for us.  God is not our servant to clean up our messes.  We are supposed to be His servants and do His will and establish His Church in America.  The ball is in our courts and we need to build the ark despite of whatever sinfulness we find all around us or even in our midst.The current scandalous mess we of the OCA find ourselves in tempts some, like the Hebrew children, to wish they were back in Egypt, back where there were strong rulers (Pharaoh!), back under the rule of foreigners rather than stuck in the current wilderness of Sin (Exodus 16:1), dying of thirst for the Gospel and for righteousness.  Moses was at wits end, but God told him to strike the rock from which water would pour forth  (Exodus 17:6), and as it turns out that rock was Christ  (1 Corinthians 10:4).   The wilderness sojourn which caused such bitter complaining was necessary for their and our salvation, for them and us to come to Christ, for them and us to learn faithfulness, to trust in the Lord, and to do what is right.  We in the OCA too many be stuck in a Wilderness of Sin, but we also know what is good, right and true, and we are to do these things despite our circumstances.The entire Exodus story has meaning for our current situation.  Exodus is not merely or even mostly ancient history about what God did in the past.  It is a message intended for us today.    Exodus is interpreted by St. Paul in his First Letter to the Corinthians as a message to us, not just a record of past history:  “Now these things are warnings for us, not to desire evil as they did… We must not indulge in immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day (that would be the whole OCA!!!!).  We must not put the Lord to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents; nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer.  Now these things happened to them as a warning, but they were written down for our instruction, upon whom the end of the ages has come” (1 Cor 10:6-11). 

It is we who need to hear their story and to come to the full realization that we like the ancient Israelites have been told by God to move forward.  Again, we can hope like the timid Israelites to return to the past, to return to the old world of Egypt, or we can embrace the autocephaly given to us, traverse the wilderness of Sin and move forward to the kingdom of God.  As St. Paul said so eloquently, “Brethren, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,  I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.  Let those of us who are mature be thus minded; and if in anything you are otherwise minded, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained” (Philippians 3:13-16).

 “Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, ‘Today, when you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness, where your fathers put me to the test and saw my works for forty years. Therefore I was provoked with that generation, and said, “They always go astray in their hearts; they have not known my ways.” As I swore in my wrath, “They shall never enter my rest.”’  …  Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest remains, let us fear lest any of you be judged to have failed to reach it. For good news came to us just as to them; but the message which they heard did not benefit them, because it did not meet with faith in the hearers” (Hebrews 3:7-11, 4:1-2).The dire and scandalous situation of the OCA today is obviously not the first time God’s people have found themselves feeling trapped, or even misled by their leadership.  We have the advantage of knowing the Exodus story which St. Paul says was written for our instruction.  We know how their story turned out BECAUSE they didn’t remain paralyzed in frustration and fear but rather they moved forward in faith and hope, guided by God’s promise (and yes they had to overcome a very persistent reluctance on the part of the majority to do what was before them and who wanted instead to return to what was behind them).  Our biggest fear should not be failed leadership or scandal, but only that we will harden our hearts in disbelief against God because of the problems we face.  Moses in what he believed was faithfulness yelled, “Stand firm!”  God on the other hand, said, “Quit standing there and move forward!”  We have much work to do in the OCA to get to where God is leading us.   

The Process of Choosing a Bishop

While the Orthodox Church is clearly hierarchical, and the bishop is essential to the life of the Church through the diocese, it is amazing how little thought or time is put into selecting, nurturing and training candidates for the Episcopal office in the modern Church.  This is not because we do not have a clear idea about what a bishop is or what he does.  The Tradition contains clear lists which describe the role and character of the bishop.

In the New Testament, St. Paul lists quite a number of prerequisites  and  requirements for a man to be considered for the office of bishop in 1 Timothy 3:1-7   and Titus 1:7-9.  Among them are :     husband of one wife, a good manager of his household, above reproach, temperate, sensible, dignified, hospitable, an apt teacher able to refute those who contradict sound doctrine, a lover of goodness, master of himself, upright, holy, and self-controlled, no drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not arrogant or quick tempered and not greedy or a lover of money, moreover he must be well thought of by outsiders.  St. Paul had high expectations for those who became bishops in the Church.  Obviously some of these have to do with the personality of the man and are not traits which are teachable/learnable.   This of course raises the questions as to whether the process of choosing a new bishop is more about the church membership discerning which of our Orthodox men are “gifted” toward being bishops (or perhaps discerning which live a genuinely Gospel life) or is it more about selecting men based on their well known personality/characteristics and then helping to train them (give them skills) to handle the duties of the bishop’s office?  Most likely both are true; the real question being whether we will use both/either in selecting the next generation of bishops in the OCA or will we limit ourselves to using a man’s not being married as our only criterion for selecting a bishop?

The canonical tradition lists certain requirements for a man to become a bishop including age,  the fact that he is not a recent convert but rather a long time Christian so that his “faith, reputable life, his steadfastness of character and considerateness of demeanor may be well known” (Canon 10, Sardica, 343AD).  He also was to know the Psalter by heart, be a frequent reader of the Scriptures and Canons, and to live according to God’s commandments (Canon 2, of Nicea 2, 787AD).  In these lists we do get a sense that these are not skills one is taught after being selected as a candidate for the office of bishop, but rather these are the lifelong skills that one demonstrates which causes one to be considered for the office.  It is only because of the way that a man conducts his life – a way that is readily observable to the rest of the Church – that he becomes a potential candidate for the episcopacy.

The Statutes of the OCA list numerous duties of the bishop, among which are expounding the faith and morals of Orthodoxy, guidance in all spiritual matters of the diocese, various administrative duties, discipline of the clergy and laity, president of the diocesan assembly, making canonical visits to all diocesan parishes.  One would think that since some of the duties of the bishop are skills which are teachable/learnable, so our real step is to discern which man we want to do these tasks in the Diocese, and then to make sure he is given the training which will help him fulfill the duties of the office. 

The Pauline list is probably closer to the expectations of most diocesan members for their bishop than is the OCA’s Statutes.  But it is also probably true that rarely are any of these characteristics brought up when actually considering specific candidates for the Episcopal office.   In fact the Synod of Bishops seems to discourage any open discussion of the qualities of any man for the office of bishop or metropolitan, fearing some form of campaigning or politicking will enter the process which is deemed to be spiritual rather than political matter.  When electing the metropolitan even basic facts about potential candidates such as their age and educational background are not disseminated.  Voting is done virtually cold – votes are cast with no slate of candidates listed just to see if someone has overwhelming popular support; this is then thought to somehow be the will of God.

When it comes to electing a diocesan bishop, the members of the Synod of Bishops through the Metropolitan often talk about “acceptable” candidates, even though they never define the criteria for acceptability.  At times, “Syosset” indicated the existence of a “list” of acceptable candidates for the office of bishop.  But again we have never been told, “Acceptable to whom?” or “Acceptable based on what criteria?”  And certainly we don’t know who was automatically excluded or included regardless of any criteria.   And the list of names itself, even when its existence is mentioned, never is made public.   One wonders why the secrecy?

One aspect of the canonical criteria for selecting a bishop which is specifically mentioned in the OCA statutes but is not part of the Pauline list nor even part of the early history of the church can be stated in this way:  the bishop cannot be in a heterosexual union nor can he desire to be in one, which in 21st Century America means the gene pool is very small, and is a group of which gay men are a large part.  St. Paul in 1 Timothy specifically listed his notion about who is the right man to be a bishop:  husband of one wife, and MANAGES his household well.  The received tradition basically abrogates the biblical spirit and intent.  What St. Paul saw as the very condition for choosing a bishop:  husband of one wife and a good manager of his married household (which is where he would get managerial experience),  becomes in the canonical tradition precisely the man whom we may not choose to be a bishop.

So how did we get to the point where the very criteria which St. Paul and the New Testament established for a man to hold the office of the bishop becomes reason to reject a man from being considered for that office? 

It has to do with the changing realities of life in the Byzantine Empire, a changing sense of piety, and public opinion.  

In 692AD, the Quinisext  Council of the Church, adopted Canon 12 which forbids bishops from remaining married after their consecration.  The Canon notes that at that time the bishops in Africa and Libya are still living with their wives, according to the more ancient practice which allowed such a thing.  The Canon says it is neither abolishing or overthrowing the Apostolic authority which allowed married bishops but “as caring for the health of the people and their advance to better things” and in order not to give offense to anyone (specifically those who objected to married bishops) it was then decided that from that point on bishops could no longer live with their wives.   The Canon basically acknowledges that piety and public opinion have changed and that it is no longer acceptable for bishops to live with their wives.   The Canon does not in any way fault the more ancient and apostolic practice, nor does it pretend that it is offering a continuation of ancient tradition.  It simply says times and piety have changed and so a new rule is needed to support the new popular piety.   John Zonaras, commenting on this Canon in the early 12th Century, wrote in defense of this new piety for bishops, “When the faith first was born and came forth into the world, the Apostles treated with greater softness and indulgence those who embraced the truth, which as yet was not scattered far and wide, nor did they exact from them perfection in all respects, but made great allowances for their weakness and for the inveterate force of the customs with which they were surrounded, both among the heathen and among the Jews. ”   Zonaras says it was because at the beginning of Christianity we were not ready for a higher morality that bishops were allowed to marry.   But now Zonaras  argues that since the Empire has become Christian and Christians are no longer surrounded by heathens and Jews but are the overwhelming majority in the Empire, a new set of “higher standards” for clergy can be expected.  One such standard is that not only may the bishop no longer co-habit with his wife, but also no women may live in a household with him.    Basically his explanation for this change in practice is that the changing historical realities of the world including that there is now a Christian Empire means “higher” standards can be set for the clergy.  What he and the Byzantines never expected of course was that God might allow their Empire to be swept away into the dustbin of history.  So if we no longer live in a particularly Christian Empire and we Orthodox are a minority religion, would not Zonaras’ logic say it is time to change our practices regarding married bishops again?   Zonaras seems to be arguing that the very thing canonical tradition allows is for the Church to adapt to its changing historical realities.

Quinisext did not forbid electing a married man to the episcopal office; it only said that the bishop can no longer remain living with his wife.   Canon 48 of Quinisext allows for a married man to be elected as bishop as long as he and his wife mutually agree to live separate, celibate lives.   The wife would enter a monastery, the husband would provide for her out of his episcopal provisions.   If the now ex-wife was deemed worthy she was to be ordained as a deaconess but was not to serve with her ex-husband.

By the time of the 7th Ecumenical Council, 2 Nicea (787AD), further changes in piety and standards had occurred.  Canon 18 forbids there to be any woman in any home or property which the Bishop happens to live in or visit.  Even female slaves were required to leave the property when a bishop was present, and the Canon as it literally reads forbids even the bishop’s mother, sisters or daughters to be in the same house with him.   This is probably the case because by the end of the 8th Century bishops were being drawn not from married men who agree with their spouses to live celibate lives, but from monastics who should not have any reason to have women around them – and also it is obvious that there is an increasingly negative assessment of women at this time.   However, if we think that rule seems extreme, we might take note that a rule in adopted in Rome in 595AD forbade any lay persons from being in the Pope’s personal employment – all those working for the Pope had to be clergy or monks – so even the lay man was not permitted in the Pope’s presence.  {On the other side of this exclusion of all lay men and women from the presence of bishops, St. John Cassian (d. 435AD) warned monks to avoid not only all women but also at all costs to avoid all bishops too!}

We have moved along way from St. Paul’s listed requirements for a bishop in his epistles  to Timothy and Titus.   Moreover,  the world which adopted these canons no longer exists.  One would think that so-called “traditionalist” Orthodox who so often are completely hostile to modern American ways and see our current world as “unchristian” would have to admit that the world which existed when the canons were adopted is long gone.  Using the very rationale for adopting the canons in the first place, and in order for us to be most faithful to the Gospel and for us to present the Gospel to modern man, we need to take into account again some of the more ancient ways of thinking about bishops, including the Apostolic tradition recorded by St. Paul the Apostle to the Nations.     

 St. Paul clearly saw the episcopal process of being one in which we choose/discern the right man for the office.   We would do well in the OCA to clarify our criteria for episcopal candidates so that we know what kinds of men we should be considering for the office of bishop.  We could help the process by simply talking about the traits and characteristics of a good bishop instead of focusing on their lack of marriagability which obviously is no particular virtue. 

The Church’s canonical tradition did not foresee in 21st Century N. America that eliminating the married heterosexual from the pool of candidates would so limit the field of candidates as to leave the church virtually void of any skilled managers, or any servant leaders when it comes to selecting a bishop.

Certainly no bishop in recent memory has been chosen because he best fit St. Paul’s list of requirements for the episcopal office.  In fact our bishops lacking any managerial experience often appear to rely on their willingness to despotically tyrannize as a substitute for real leadership.  Or hoping to be liked by others, they avoid having to deal with problems lest they do something wrong (and being wrong is forbidden by “Orthodox” tradition that says they must be always right/correct, that in fact they can never be wrong).  

Years ago when the Midwest Diocese was struggling to find a new bishop, there were several bishop-wannabees who made themselves known to the diocesan chancellor.   He once observed that the one common trait of all of the bishop- wannabees was that they were particularly inept at doing anything practical even for themselves but were quite good at letting others serve them.  Hardly traits we would hope for in our bishops!

Whether our current bishops like the terminology or not, St. Paul saw management skills as essential to the Christian bishop.   One has to wonder with our bishops today whether any of them ever even held a job, let alone managed anything.  And managing as bishop today includes dealing with the changes in communication which the Internet has caused.  No longer are the actions and decisions of a bishop or the Synod unknown to their dioceses or to the world at large.  Instant communications is a real part of the world, and part of the work which a bishop must manage.

Rather than some secret list of “approved” candidates for the episcopacy, perhaps what the OCA really should invest in is running through the seminaries a special 1 semester seminar (residency required) in which men who have been nominated as potential bishops (self nomination not acceptable) must attend.  The course work might include a study ST. Paul’s list of character traits,  a study the New Testament’s ideas of leadership, discussions on the OCA Statutory duties of a bishop and learning the skills to accomplish these duties, discussions with currently ruling bishops (even non-OCA ones), a study of canonical tradition, and learning some managerial skills, as well as studying current law relating to issues such as sex abuse, drug abuse, malpractice and also current professional research on the treatment of such problems.  To get into this seminar, all candidates would have to submit to a psychological examination.  No one could be chosen as a bishop who had not completed this education, and the list of possible candidates for vacant dioceses would include those who have successfully completed the course.

Recent events in the OCA have shown that bishops really are supposed to be overseers and managers of diocesan affairs including financial affairs and the work of chancery personnel.   Bishops are not just liturgical symbols who get dressed in Byzantine imperial vestments to impress, or worse oppress, the uneducated masses.  If the OCA is truly going to be the Orthodox Church in America, it needs men who are trained and qualified to take on all the responsibilities of the bishop’s office which are listed in the OCA statutes and which are dictated by the complexities of modern concerns and issues.   We do need men who are well versed in the Holy Scriptures, and whose lives, thoughts, and habits are well known, so that they can both address the issues facing their 21st Century flocks and model a Christian way of life to the membership which has to deal with all of that 21st Century living presents to us.