EDITOR’S NOTE. With this inspired piece Jackie Morfesis is opening the curtain for one of the most important issues of Orthodox life in today’s America: The issue of our spiritual leaders’, priests and hierarchs, deafening silence on all those important problems faced by each one of us and by the Church as a whole. When are they going to overcome their fear and come out and testify the fundamental tenets of our faith publicly?
By Jackie Morfesis
I have titled this piece “The Tragedy of Orthodox Clergy Who Seek Security Over Truth”, but in truth, we can as easily and rightly say, The Tragedy of Orthodox Christians Who Seek Security Over Truth. However, for the purposes of this article, I would like to focus specifically on Orthodox clergy. For the very reason, that our clergy have received a special calling to be the hands and feet of our Lord in a very public way, indebted with shepherding the Lord’s flock in our holy houses of worship.
As someone who has bold faith and not only bold faith but whose heart is called to testify to what the Lord has done in my life and what the Lord can do in all our lives, I am doubly troubled when I see our clergy and leaders of the faith who display not only lukewarm faith but fear. “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, love, and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7). Every day we have the opportunity and moral choice to choose love over fear. And every day we see evidence, both tragic and disturbing of choices made that betray a lack of faith, and a heart filled with fear. None more so when it comes from the “leaders” of the faith.
Another sin is choosing comfort over holding close to God’s Holy Word. The great irony is that when we hold close to God and His Holy Word, we will know definitively that He is our comfort and our security. He is our rock and our anchor. Through every storm.
Not only when the storms come but every single day, this is the foundation upon which we must build our home and stand. Jesus said: “Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine and doeth them will be liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock. And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon that house, and it fell not, for it was founded upon a rock. (Matthew 7:24 -27).
Jesus is our anchor. Through every storm. In every day and moment of our lives. Because of this, we are not consumed with fear. We do not water down our faith. We are not lukewarm. “So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth” (Revelation 3:16).
We know fully and completely that God has a plan for us and when we surrender to His will. He will guide our footsteps and protect us from the snares of darkness. “For I know that plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, ‘plans for prosperity and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11). Why then, when we so hunger for our spiritual leaders to lead His flock with boldness, courage, and integrity, do we often find ourselves not only hungering but starving for more?
To be clear, I have only the utmost respect for every pastor who has served in every Greek Orthodox Church I have attended and held membership. In this respect, I am blessed. I am speaking to a larger issue that I encounter in the wider and broader context of theological discourse and current events and issues. Most recently, sharing God’s Holy Word thoughtfully to open discussion and instead of it being a moment to dive deeper into God’s Word, I was accused by an Orthodox priest, of having an “agenda” and for my words being “tangentially related” to the subject matter when I specifically used scripture to flesh out the discussion. This is what I am addressing.
Since when is scripture not relevant to a discussion? Since when is loving, testifying, and sharing God’s Holy Word having an “agenda?” It is when we are consumed with fear and towing the line. It is when we have an appearance to uphold. It is when we are more concerned with our comfort and security instead of having bold faith, speaking God’s Word, and standing at all times for those who are oppressed, have suffered, were abused, with an abundance of mercy, compassion, and understanding.
One might assume that I am disheartened. In truth, I am not, knowing full well “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). I am neither disheartened nor defeated. “What the enemy meant for harm God meant for the good” (Genesis 50:20). In fact, moments, and experiences like this only serve to strengthen me. To move me to lift the veil of lukewarm water that flows over us in ways that seek to suppress the fullness of God’s glory within and without in the world.
I suppose my name is now synonymous with a woman who is unafraid. A woman who will risk her comfort and security to speak God’s Holy Word over every situation and circumstance. Even in response to words spoken by those entrusted to be shepherds of the faith if it demands greater reflection. So, someone who I once thought of as a follower of Christ, who I once served with side by side serving the church overseas, needs to circle the wagons and publicly protect himself from an association with me and my supposed “agenda?” It cannot be more transparent. Nor tragic.
The great irony perhaps is that behind the scenes we may support and agree with the writings of others, but in the public sphere we must disassociate ourselves for fear of retribution and the risk upon our security and comfort, as this article addresses. It is long past time for Orthodox clergy to put their faith in Christ and not man. To be fearful of God and not earthly authority.
When we find ourselves in a situation where we fear to be bold in our faith, to testify to God’s Holy Word, to stand against any and all authorities who seek to distort the foundation of our faith and chip away at the very rock upon which we stand we must get on our knees and pray. We also need to go to scripture to find confirmation and to do what is right. Jesus said if we do not testify for Him then He will not testify for us before the Father.
Let us never be ashamed to testify. To have courage to surrender to God’s will. To speak truth in the face of even our own clergy and leaders and friends for that matter who miss the mark. Let us never seek to shame nor smolder the light of our brothers and sisters in Christ, because we do not have the same depth of faith to be on fire for God.
A calling towards a paycheck plus tips…
As my own parish priest, who’s sold out to the 100’s etc and who Claims to live in fear of the koumbari network, cries because he suddenly realized that he has a wife and adult children so therefore needs to kiss the ring. Btw I haven’t any time to be present in his church to be preached to by such a fearful manipulator.
Two thousand years of Faith and communion but no antibiotics has resulted in paralysis from co ronnie. And, with few exceptions, they all capitulated. All the while, they tell us about Jesus. They regale the Saints, who were fearless even in the face of torture and martyrdom. And we’re out.
I wonder how much LP paid for the blah blah matters photo op… or, rather, how much goa ponied up from our money…just saying
Jackie excellent post here and I remember last year you shared how disrespectful NY
Archdiocese was on the phone when you tried expressing your outrage over AB Elpidoforos many offenses.
For the sake of all the innocent good clergy,
I urge you to keep calling GOA and keep
being in their face!
Ella Marie, “They regale the Saints, who were fearless even in the face of torture and martyrdom.” Thank you for these powerful words. This truth aptly fits my article and the points raised and the concerns in question. May we be as fearless as those we venerate.
As a priest once told me, “Bring everything into the Light.”
Jane, thank you. I say: “Nothing is hidden from God” every day.
“Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to Whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:13).
Thank you for a heartfelt article.
Historically, we all know that being a priest is NOT synonymous to being a profession. Even in Greek, there is a big difference between the words Λειτουργημα – Λειτουργος (Service / Celebration – Celebrant) and Επαγγελμα – Επαγγελματιας (Profession – Professional).
In the old days, a non-monastic priest would have an actual secular profession (farming, etc) in order to earn their daily worldly bread, and serve the parish as a “service”. As an interesting contrast, we have several examples over the centuries of real professionals turned physician-saints called “unmercinaries” (Αναργυροι), because they offered their service (skill-profession) free of charge. Yet, for priests, this was expected and voluntary.
Somehow in the modern era, in the Greek Church, free service has become an anomaly, and “paid service” has become accepted as “normal”…Historically, for the first 1800+ years, salaries and “price lists for services” were definitely NOT normal.
The argument we hear frequently is “without money, nobody would become a priest”… Is that really true? What is the minimum requirement to be a priest? The modern school of thought in North American GOARCH circles will likely tell you the following:
1) You fulfill the Canonical requirements: male, of age, not having fallen into any one of a list of very specific sins (although this latter requirement is frequently “overlooked” these days, sometimes with tragic and embarrassing consequences down the road)
2) You have a theological degree
3) You have attended formal seminary
Yet, in Greece, we see a very important modification in requirement #2.
2a. In 1922, the rule was “you have completed the 6th grade (See life of Fr. Demetrios Gagastathis)”, so that you can recite the Gospel to the people, and read from the service books…
In 2022, it’s more like “you have completed the 9th grade”
2b. If you have completed the 9th grade, you can be made a “category D” priest, which means you can serve, but you will remain silent when it comes to sermons, because you don’t have the education to preach…instead, you can read the bishop’s encyclical.
2c. If you have a high school diploma (or equivalent), you can be a “category C” priest, which is similar to 2b, but your salary will be a bit higher
2d. If you have a university degree, you will be a “category B” priest, which “may” entitle you to be allowed to preach if your bishop feels you can handle it.
2e. If you have a theological degree, you will be considered a “category A” priest, with the highest salary possible, you will generally be able to preach, etc…
Why do we go into this analysis? It’s because historically, there is NO requirement linking priesthood to a theological degree. If that were the case, there would be no priests during the Tourkokratia (Turkish occupation), no priests in villages in Greece, etc. The Church of Greece solved this problem with the long-standing categorizations above….it successfully realized the difference between “celebrant” and “theologian”…the Church of Greece successfully covered the “liturgical needs” of its people by sticking to tradition on this matter, and NOT creating an artificial barrier to entry, like GOARCH did…St. Paisios of the Holy Mountain reiterated in our modern era that the basic requirement for priesthood in his opinion is Faith and Piety (Πιστη και Ευλαβεια).
By barring otherwise “able, qualified, pious” men, on the artificial pretext that they don’t have a theological degree, this becomes a “self-inflicted wound” that exacerbates the supply challenges that exist already…yet, the original REQUIREMENT in Acts 6:3 is very clear:
ἐπισκέψασθε δέ, ἀδελφοί, ἄνδρας ἐξ ὑμῶν μαρτυρουμένους ἑπτὰ πλήρεις Πνεύματος καὶ σοφίας, οὓς καταστήσομεν ἐπὶ τῆς χρείας ταύτης
And based on Acts 6:3, there is actually a Canon that the hierarchs of both Constantinople and the Church of Greece have “buried”, which stipulates that the people need to be involved in the election of any bishop. The only remnant of this Canon and ancient Church practice is the opportunity for laity to exclaim “ANaxios” in order to stop the proceedings of a hierarchical tonsuring service. Yet, for it to be successful, even this opportunity presupposes that you will have “all the dirty details” of proof ready for examination…
As an interesting point, the Archbishop of Cyprus is still elected directly by the people in a formal voting process…they are closer to the original “requirement” in the book of Acts.
In short, GOARCH has somehow managed to create something that resembles a classic “guild” out of the priesthood, with non-traditional “barriers to entry”, for many reasons that are self-evident. Of course, as an “unintended consequence”, artificially limiting supply increases the price (salary), according to Economic principles…(ref: the definition of a Cartel according to Economics textbooks)
Yet, there are other non-GOARCH jurisdictions in North America which have parishes that are currently thriving, with multiple deacons and priests, who DO NOT TAKE A SALARY, but who have families and a secular job, and who successfully share the burden of parish services among them, so that no one man is overburdened. Many of them are stellar priests, with top reputations, too…Interesting, isn’t it? No salary, yet a thriving community….
And as a final thought, if priests were NOT dependent on a salary (or 30 pieces of silver), what would that do to their propensity for compromising the Faith? Perhaps the bishops wouldn’t be able to exercise as much control over them, right? We have a lot to think about here…
So, in reality, the problem is actually easy to solve, but the willingness to solve it is obviously not there right now…
Markos, thank you for your educational comment. I might only add – in regard to your final thought: The true test of character is speaking truth and doing what is right even when we have something to lose. Especially when we have something to lose. I always say Jesus paid the ultimate price for me. No man can buy me.
Amen Jackie…. Well said. You’ve done nothing wrong. The true state of an Orthodox Christian is winning the constant battle with the devil, even the ones wearing robes. It’s warfare, we are warriors of Christ, as we stand in the face of adversity and every heretical teaching they try to make us believe and follow. We must all read daily holy scriptures and the Synaxarion; true guides to Orthodox sainthood…. All doubt that we are wrong disappears immediately…..
Team Jesus, thank you for your encouragement. Indeed, if someone criticizes us sharing God’s Holy Word in whatever context, that is a sure sign of the enemy at work. I, too, identify as a warrior in His kingdom. I am very familiar with spiritual warfare. God protect us.
Markos – excellent Post enlightening us.
We didn’t vote for the pathetic Archbishop Elpidoforos of America aka
look how that turned out…
he’s first Kardashian AB
& must step down!
Zoey is right>
keep calling Archdiocese & get in their face.
You cannot let GOA get away with their
Thank you, Jackie. The fallen angel Mammon is rampant in the GOA, and he uses “golden handcuffs” to subdue unwary clergy. ICXC NIKA.
Panagiotis, you see the unseen warfare.
Most GOA priests are just theatrical actors. It’s just a yop! Either that or they dissociate into abuse because of the contradictory finger-wagging yiayias, each of which wants things HER way. It is impossible to satisfy all the yiayias at once, hence they dissociate into abuse. Else those wagged fingernails can be sharp sabers.