Faith in the Church

Holy Icon of All Saints

A week ago, the Orthodox world was trying to get used to the idea that a Metropolitan of a major Jurisdiction in the United States had resigned in a cloud of controversy.  (I am not implying that he was involved in anything illegal here.) I do not know why it happened and I am not part of that jurisdiction but it highlights a topic that has been going around the internet all week.  Some have said that this incident has caused them to lose faith in the Church.  I find this statement difficult to comprehend.

As you know, if you have been reading these pages for any length of time, I was raised in the Roman Catholic Church.  During my first year of seminary began, what some call, the dark ages for the Church of Rome.  The clergy sex abuse scandal broke one Sunday morning as we emerged from our yearly retreat.  The events that would follow would shape the priesthood of generations of priests to come.  I heard people say this caused them to lose faith in the Church, and some, sought refuge in other faith groups.  Again, I find this difficult to comprehend.

I think we need to be careful when we speak of “the church” because it has two radically different meanings.

First, the Church is the collection of people, called by Christ, and baptized in the name of the Holy Trinity.  The Church is the people of faith, gathered together as community large and small, for the purpose of working out their salvation.  In an Orthodox context this would be those who call themselves Orthodox and are by virtue of their baptism.  This is the Church that was founded, if you will, by Christ Himself on the day of Pentecost and this is the ONLY church that one should have faith in.

Second, the Church is the building and the institution.  The political, and by that I mean the administrative unit, that was designed by man to keep things running.  This is the Church that has the Tax exempt status and institutes the rules and regulations that govern the earthly organization, the one that caused the many foibles that we have witnessed in these days.  This is the very flawed man made institution that is necessary in the modern world.  As Orthodox we believe that the actions of the bishops of our Church are guided by the Holy Spirit, but sometimes we flawed men try and run things our own way and that usually leads to disaster.  Any study of history will show that, from time to time, this institution be Byzantium or Rome has been corrupted by greed, lust, and any of the other sins that afflict man in his fallen nature.  Reform happens from time to time, and this is not always a bad thing.

So where then should of faith be?  Our faith should be in our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ as He, and he alone, is the one who gave His life on the Cross for you.  Our faith needs to be focused on Christ and on Christ alone.  We need to have some faith in the structure of our Church, but we also need to recognize that any man run institution will have its flaws.  Bishops are men, and as men they come will all of the baggage that we all have.

We are fallen human beings in search of salvation and bishops are no different.  I would also suggest that bishops come under far great spiritual warfare than any of us could imagine.  Bishops are not perfect; they are sinners just like the rest of us.  I am not suggesting that this excuses the bishops when they go off the rails.  Like the rest of us, when we sin there are consequences for that sin.

Those of us who serve in pastoral ministry at any level, know that we will be held accountable for the actions, and in actions that we make as pastors.  We have been entrusted, by God, with a flock and it is our responsibility to guide and guard that flock here on earth.  The bishop carries a staff as a visible sign of that ministry.  The staff is a reminder to him, and to us, that he is to guide us and lead us a father would lead his children.  But if there comes a time that the leading is going in the wrong direction then we have an obligation to point that out.  In the case I mentioned in the first paragraph of this essay, if the canons of the church were violated, if the internal rules of that particular jurisdiction were not used properly, then by Church law those involved need to be held accountable and punished accordingly.  As leaders we have an obligation to lead by example and to follow the rules of the Church.  If we break the rules, we should face punishment.

Put no trust in Princes, Scripture tells us, because they are men and are sinners just like the rest of us.  Place your trust, your hope, and your faith on Jesus Christ who is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.  He will never let you down.


  1. Thank you, Father Peter Preble, for this timely and well-written article. Church-folks (the flock), and others, need your focus and gentle guidance from time to time. Thanks, again!

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