The Priest and Obedience

In a previous post, I wrote about a priest being removed by his bishop for wearing a cassock. I fear I may not have been fair in my treatment of that post and hope to clear up some of the questions with this post.
First and foremost the priest owes his allegiance to the bishop. We Orthodox do not make vows as our Roman brothers do as I always say they are implied. Obedience to ones bishop is as old as the church and it is part of the job and we know this from the very start. Like it or not the bishop is in charge. We may not always agree with him but we say yes and move on. We serve at the pleasure of the bishop.
Part of the problem of American Orthodoxy is that is look more like a congregational church than an orthodox one. Orthodox Churches in America a ruled by the parish council and many of these councils feel that the priest is nothing more than an employee of the Council and is to do whatever they say. Well in reality, and in our Orthodox theology, the priest “works” for the bishop and is assigned to the church by the bishop and I would say this needs to be done in consultation with the parish council.
The local parish is an extension of the ministry of the bishop and since the bishop cannot be in all places at all times, he delegates the “presidency” of the parish to the priest. In a theological sense the word president is the one who presides at the head. The parish cannot be presided over by a lay person as that person cannot preside at Liturgy that is the function of the priest or bishop. On the other hand the parish council can be, and is, headed by a lay person elected by the council, to preside at meetings. That is the extent of their role, they are not, as in some cases they have been referred to as, “the President of the Church” that is just bad ecclesiology.
Back to the dismissed priest. If I as a priest, am told to do something or not to do something by my bishop, I have an obligation to do it weather I agree with it or not. I can plead my case sure, but in the end if he wants me to do it or not, then I have to do it. He is my spiritual father and I have an obligation to obey. Now can I choose to disobey, sure, but then I would have to face the consequences of my actions. I am lucky that I have a bishop who works on the consultation model of governance and he listens to his priests when we speak. He still makes up his own mind and then we carry out his decisions but he listens.
As I wrote yesterday, I am not sure of all the parts of this case but it does seem extreme to me for a priest to be removed for wearing a cassock but if he was told not to by his bishop and he continued to wear it, well game over. Like it or not he is the bishop.
The Orthodox Church in the USA has come under the influence of the Congregational model of governance which is not proper Orthodox ecclesiology and until the time that we come to this realization we will continue to struggle with the bishop/priest/council relationship. I would like to see us adopt the title of Parish Pastoral Council and a more collegial relationship established between the priest and the council where we work together. I am lucky that I have that relationship with my present parish council and I pray that it continues. Not all priests are as lucky as I am.
At the end of the day, based on the facts as we know them, this priest was wrong for his disobedience of his bishop. I do think removing his is extreme but I am not the bishop in this case. I will also add to this discussion by saying public remarks that are disparaging towards ones bishop are also wrong. We are the bishop’s representative and we should not speak ill of him in public no matter what, there are forums for that and the public square is not one of them. With that said, and as I wrote yesterday, if the bishop goes off the reservation we have an obligation to speak up and face whatever consequences comes down the pike because of those actions.
Being a bishop is not easy and we need to pray for our bishops at all times.


  1. Father Melitios Webber (in an interview on "Steve the Builder" podcast – you should listen to it!) underscored what you said, indicating that proper Orthdoox Ecclesiology has us to be members of the Diocese – not the parish. It's our American ideas of "this congregation but not that one" that hinder us in this. We are members gathered around the Bishop – not the priest, as such.

    This was brought home to me last night at Vespers when the Bishop entered (quietly, after the service had started) and took his place in the choir. All the clergy came to him and got a blessing to continue with what they were doing. It was interesting to see happen and underscored that all ministry in a parish church from acolyte to liturgical presidency, is the ministry of the Bishop: what the Apostles did. It is delegated to others by the office of the Bishop. But it is his ministry.

  2. First of all, the Metropolitan was not and is not Bishop of the diocese in question so your entire line of reasoning is off. He has no authority over the priest in question.

    Second even if he did, there is no evidence that the priest in question was disobedient.

    Third, throwing a family on to the street at the onset of nativity bears the mark of antichrist. Equivocating on that is sin.

    God have mercy on us all.

  3. @Stranger I have to disagree with you. +Philip is the Bishop of the Diocese by decree of the Holy Synod. You can disagree with that if you wish but in the Orthodox Church the Holy Synod is the absolute rule in any jurisdiction. You are correct that there is no evidence other than the letter from +Philip. The issue is and remains obedience. Priests have an absolute obligation to obey their bishops, disobey if you like but you will have to face the consequences.

  4. Fr. David, from what I've been told, obeyed Philip's directives about wearing a clergy suit. He also denies making disparaging remarks about Philip. Priests obey their bishops, fair enough. There is a problem however when your bishop treats the canons as something he can do with as he pleases. Philip allowed Fr. Joseph Allen to remarry after his wife's death-and to remarry a woman he counseled through a divorce. This is a matter of public record-not gossip. He then proceeded to be very vindictive to priests who expressed their dismay at this action. He does these things and then he worries about a priest dressing as the canons tell him to? He really has nothing better to do than to punish a priest for wearing a cassock and (perhaps) saying something negative about him? ROCOR allows priests to trim their hair and beards when they have to work in secular jobs-this is very different from telling a priest that he may not dress and groom in a traditional (and canonical) fashion, even when he is able to do so. Nonetheless, whatever Fr. David did or did not do, if an action can get any more unchristian than Philip's, I would hate to see it. By the way, I'm Antiochian myself.

  5. Bishops, by canon, are the interpreters of the canons for the diocese they are placed in charge of. I am not deffending what was done, I do not have all of the facts as you obviously do. If the priest is correct, he can appeal the bishops decision to the Holy Synod.

    One needs to be careful when quoting canons. The canons are a guide for us they are not juridical in the same sense that Roman canons are. Canons are organic and are interpreted by competent authority i.e. the bishop.

  6. I wouldn't say I have "all the facts." That would be a bit much. I would say that it is obvious that even if Fr. David is guilty of wearing a cassock when he shouldn't, and even if he said something nasty about the Metropolitan (which he should not-and yes, he should strive to be an obedient priest), this action by Philip is uncharitable and out of proportion. I understand well that the canons are different for us than for Roman Catholics. I used to be RC, and I have a degree in Catholic theology. I also understand that the Bishop is given the job of interpreting the canons. We have strict applications and less strict applications-thank God. I'm not saying Philip doesn't have the "right" to demand his particular dress code (I'm not sure he does, but OK, for the sake of argument….). I'm saying that I cannot understand why by any stretch of imagination such a punishment as has been given would be reasonable given the infraction. As to interpreting the canons….yes, the bishop does this. But, as a person who teaches philosophy, I would say that there is a place where interpretation is not interpretation-it's blatant abuse or ignoring. It's not the letter nor even the spirit of the law, but a twisting to suit a pre-chosen end. I can't call Philip to account for this, as I have no authority or role to do so. I can think it however, and I can say it and offer it as an argument against what he has done. I am deeply grieved and ashamed.

  7. Unfortunately the synod, in taking this action, is unringing a bell. These priests were consecrated as bishops in Damacus. +Philip got the synod to grant autonomy only to find to his dismay that his bishops would act as, well, Bishops. There is an awful canonical sloppiness that, frankly, stains all worldwide Orthodoxy and which the hierarchy refuses to address. Eventually, the laity will address it for them.

  8. >'Stranger' hit the nail on the head – the Metropolitan threw a priest, with his family mind you, out onto the street and everyone seems to be debating about how we're not Catholics and American Protestants, we can't just do as we please, we have to be obedient to the bishop. Are you kidding me? For wearing a cassock? This is an embarrassment. Is this what Orthodoxy is doing battle with nowadays?

  9. Well, I was not able to send my original reply and I see others have noted: the Synod is subordinate to the canons – and no, they don't get to make them say whatever they want. They may certainly not attempt to undue the work of the Holy Spirit accomplished in ordination to the Episcopal office. That is not Orthodoxy.

    Moreover, all is subordinate to our head, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. And all Bishops are obligated to manifest Christ, which I am confident no one on this thread is suggesting is the case with the Metropolitan.

    Priests indeed owe obedience to their Bishop – even subservience. They are not required to obedience in sin, a caveat that ought to be noted.

  10. I would agree with you to a point. Obedience ends when the Bishop asks a priest to do something immoral or against the teachings of Jesus Christ. While I disagree with the degree of reaction of removal over a cassock, (if that is all there is to it) the Bishop was within his right to do it. If that priest was removed for not following an unlawful order from the Bishop, then that would be different.

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