Reflections On The Scandal
The Episcopacy: A Scriptural Challenge
by David Barrett, Southbury CT
Being faced, as we are currently, with multiples crises in our Orthodox Church in America (the financial scandal in Syosset, the moral and ethical scandal in the Diocese of Alaska), it becomes very easy for us to submit to the temptations of the evil one and lose our spiritual “footing”. One way to secure again such “footing” may be to revisit and meditate on our spiritual foundation, the Word of God found in Holy Scripture.
Spiritual, moral and ethical, and financial scandals are not new to the Church. They have, in fact, existed since the times of the Old Israel. During the Exodus, the people of God constantly disobeyed His commandments and directives. After settling in the Promised Land, the people again sought foreign gods and idols. Then, at the time of Samuel the prophet, they asked for a king. When he prayed to the Lord, God said to Samuel, “Hearken to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being King over them. According to all the deeds which they have done to Me, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt even to this day, forsaking Me and serving other gods, so they are also doing to you.” (1 Sam 8: 7-8) Once they had chosen an earthly king over their divine Savior, the people found out that the warnings of the Lord had come to pass: beginning with Saul and continuing through the descendents of David and beyond, the earthly kings disobeyed God and led the people to idolatry and spiritual harlotry.
At the time of the prophets, also, the leaders of God’s people were unfaithful to Him. As the Lord said via Jeremiah the prophet, “The priests did not say, ‘Where is the Lord?’ Those who handle the Law did not know Me; the rulers [in Hebrew, “shepherds”] transgressed against Me; the prophets prophesied by Ba’al, and went after things that do not profit.” (Jer 2:8) The Lord also spoke thus to his prophet, Ezekiel: “Son of man, I send you to the people of Israel, to a nation of rebels, who have rebelled against Me; they and their fathers have transgressed against Me to this very day.” (Ezek 2:3) The remainder of the Books of both of these prophets, as well as the Books of the other twelve prophets, testify clearly to the abandonment of God by the religious leaders of the people.
At the time of Christ’s earthly pilgrimage, our Lord Himself constantly rebuked the scribes and the Pharisees for their religious hypocrisy. However, after His Ascension to the right hand of the Father, it was in the Epistles of St Paul that we have been given the specific qualifications of what our spiritual leaders, especially the bishops, should have. He says: “The saying is sure: ‘If any one aspires to the office of bishop, he desires a noble task.’ Now a bishop must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, sensible, dignified, hospitable, an apt teacher, no drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, and no lover of money. He must manage his own household well, keeping his children submissive and respectful in every way; for if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how can he care for God’s Church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may be puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil; moreover he must be well thought of by outsiders, or he may fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.” (1 Tim 3: 1-7) St Paul reiterates these qualities in his Epistle to Titus: “For a bishop, as God’s steward, must be blameless; he must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of goodness, master of himself, upright, holy, and self-controlled; he must hold firm to the sure Word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to confute those who contradict it.” (Tit 1: 7-9)
As we work our way through the various crises of our Orthodox Church in America, we need to pray over these texts and to ask ourselves: Does our current episcopal leadership conform to the qualities of a bishop as enumerated by St Paul in Scripture? Do they possess and exemplify the good qualities that are needed by a bishop to lead our Church and her faithful into the Kingdom of God? Do they “work out their own salvation in fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12), surrendering their wills to the will of God and repenting of any of the qualities that St Paul has shown are obstacles and hindrances to their ministries? If the answer to these questions is “yes”, then we should whole-heartedly support their endeavors. If, however, the answer to these questions is “no”, then we, as the people of the Church, “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation” (1 Pet 2:9) need to “speak the truth in love” (Eph 4:15) to correct our situation, work through these crises, and let our Church once again be the presence of the Kingdom of God in a world hungering and thirsting for the truth of the Gospel.
(David Barrett is a MA & MDiv graduate of St Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary in Crestwood, New York. He has been a choir director in the OCA for thirty-two years, currently serving at Christ the Savior parish in Southbury, Connecticut)