Tag Archives: Church and Clergy

Three Types of Clergy and Their Temptations


As the decades roll by, we realize that we have in our lifetimes met several dozen Orthodox bishops and many hundreds of Orthodox priests, of different generations and different nationalities. Among them we can begin to see three different typologies, three tendencies. All of these are in themselves good, but all of them have their temptations. What are they?

The Administrator

Every bishop and every priest has, among other things, to be an administrator. If we take the finest saint of the Diaspora, St John of Shanghai, as an example, we know that he was a fine administrator (not at all a fool-for-Christ, as some have imagined), spending much of his time almost every day answering letters, dealing with financial and other difficulties, not least at his cathedrals in Shanghai and San Francisco, and pastoral questions, administrating. But he never confined himself to administration, becoming a bureaucrat, forgetting human-beings, leaving aside other necessary qualities, making it an end in itself. The description of a bishop or priest as ‘just an administrator’ or, in today’s jargon’, ‘an effective manager’, can be one of the worst insults. Why?

It is because such fall inevitably into the double temptation of money and power. They become civil servants, like so many State appointees before the Revolution in Russia and in State Churches today, in Greece and Romania. Their allegiance is therefore more with the State than the Church, with this world, not the other world. At worst, those who love money more than God become simoniacs and those who love power more than God ally themselves with the local national State apparatus – like the notorious defrocked ‘Patriarch of Kiev’, Filaret, who as a Communist spy built himself a palace and today calls for the genocide of the Ukrainian people. Such mercenary people end up losing their faith, believing in nothing at all – if they ever did.

The Intellectual

Every bishop and every priest has to be educated. The Church Fathers were highly educated. Indeed, they could in one sense be called intellectuals. If we take the finest saint of the Diaspora, St John of Shanghai, as an example, we know that he was well-educated and wrote several theological works. However, his theology, like that of the Fathers, was inspired by his prayer, not by his brain. In the Church, the brain is just a tool used to express the Holy Spirit, it is not an end in itself. It is embarrassing to meet a bishop or priest who lacks basic knowledge of the Church, the services, the lives of the saints, the Fathers and the Holy Scriptures. However, the description of a bishop or priest as ‘just an intellectual’ can be one of the worst insults. Why?

It is because those who confine themselves to intellectualism, making it an end in itself, are inevitably bad pastors, better with books than with people. If bishops, they dislike their priests and flocks and insult and condemn them, refusing to spend time with them; if priests, they dislike their flock, mock them and flee them. If bishops, they can wreck the Church, if allowed to do so, treating their flock like a mob. They dislike listening to confessions because they dislike people. Many such proud intellectuals, usually very vain to the point of narcissisism, are driven by some private ideology or pathology or both; to make of the Church an ideology or pathology is always fatal because it is to cease being a pastor, to cease loving others. That is spiritual death.

The Unworldly

Every bishop and every priest has to be unworldly. If we take the finest saint of the Diaspora, St John of Shanghai, as an example, we know that he was unworldly, without any attachment to the things of this world. Such unworldliness may mean that they are impractical or incompetent – which is why most monks make neither parish priests nor bishops. However, this is not necessarily always so. This is because the unworldly can delegate – to the right people, which is vital. If they are married priests, they can be supported by the right wife. Many an unworldly married priest depends on his wife in this way. Unworldliness seems therefore to be essential and yet the description of a bishop or priest as ‘unworldly’ can be one of the worst insults. Why?

It is because there are the false unworldly, those who pretend to be unworldly, the frauds. They make themselves into gurus, imitating real pastors with long hair and long beards. We have seen their affectations, which deceive only the new or the naïve. In fact, such are not unworldly at all, but are attached to their own persons. Their desire and ability are not in gaining money or power, in the sense of obtaining power the Church, but in gaining power over human souls. Sometimes using the power of hypnotism to create dependency on themselves, such frauds are known as false elders. Lacking spiritual experience and so discernment, they want to control and, deluded themselves, they give deluded advice, which leads to catastrophe, loss of faith or even suicide.


Of course, the separation of the above tendencies is very rare. In reality, the best clergy have mixtures of all three of these qualities, being good administrators, educated and unworldly, like St John. Only a few fall into the temptations which exclude the qualities. Nevertheless, the temptations have to be resisted. We have seen too many falls.


Problems in the Contemporary Russian Church in the Russian Lands


Difficulties, scandals and compromises in Church life always stem from a lack of spiritual freedom, which come about because the outward Church organization is subjected to secular interests, not to Christ. At the present time, we can perhaps identify the following four areas of concern in the life of the Church inside the former Soviet Union.

1. Paperwork and Statist Bureaucracy.

One thing that most clergy inside Russia complain about today is the mass of paperwork they are faced with. Is it really necessary? Is it the natural result of being a huge Church? I cannot say, but I do wonder. I cannot recall the apostles dealing with paperwork.

2. Simony, Money and Luxury

Simony seems to be rare in Russia, whereas the Constantinople and Romanian Churches are infected with it. In fact, in Russia I have only come across one case (a demand for $10,000 for an appointment to a parish in Moscow 12 years ago), but there may be more. I remember how one of our bishops in the Church Outside Russia once said: ‘We do not have problems of financial corruption in our Church. This is not because we are particularly virtuous, it is simply because we have no money’. He was right of course. Opportunity makes the thief, as the proverb goes.

The vast majority of parish priests (and even some bishops) in Russia are poor. However, a few clergy and monks, in the big cities where there is a lot of money, seem to be very rich. The stories of black 4 x 4s and Mercedes etc are true. I have seen them. He who drives one is not a priest (svjashchennik), but a bad priest (pop). Here there is corruption, and financial corruption quickly leads to other scandals, private flats and ….

And why do churches have to contain marble and gold? Wood and gold paint are fine. Then you can build three churches instead of only one for the same price. There is something wrong here. But then it was also like that among a minority before the Revolution, especially in the capitals. There is indeed nothing new under the sun: but that is no justification.

3. Nationalism and Ritualism/Superstition.

The attitudes of the unChurched masses can be very nationalistic, for example confusing the Church with Stalin, who persecuted the Church. This seems to go hand in hand with a formalistic ritualism to the point of superstition. Holy water does many things, but it will not cure cancer. No educated Orthodox says that a woman cannot pray in church during her monthly period. Patriarch Pavle of Serbia did not. Some clearly believe in a superstitious god of hatred and punishment resembling some sort of crazed dictator, not in the Christian God of Love.

These are the views of non-Churched people, those who say that children are born handicapped because of their parents. Such shocking, pharisaical and totally unChristian views do not come from the Church, they come from a lack of Churching and that is a voluntary matter. Here 75 years of Soviet-imposed ignorance have played a pernicious role; but there is no excuse today. For 25 years there have been plenty of books, now websites. The only reason for ignorance today is that you do not want to learn. And that is serious.

4. Different Attitudes towards Catholicism.

Today’s Russian Church has little time for Protestantism as such. The aggressive activities of mainly US Protestant sectarians (often CIA-funded) in the ex-Soviet Union since the 1990s, together with the complete secularization of most of the Protestant world with its subjection to political correctness, means that it has little attraction for Orthodox. However, attitudes to Roman Catholicism among the educated vary.

At one extreme, there are those who seem to admire modern, liberalized (Protestantized) Neo-Catholicism and the associated ecumenistic Paris /Crestwood philosophy of the liberal, deChurched emigration. However, most of the supporters of this trend are now quite elderly. At the other extreme there are those whose sympathies lie, somewhat naively, with traditionalist Catholicism and idealized concepts of the medieval West.

Of course, the Orthodox Church is neither, nor is it somewhere between the two extremes, but is different again. The Church is inspired and informed by the Eternal and All-Pure Holy Spirit, not by the spiritual impurity of manmade, secular and always political trends, whether liberal or conservative. For the Church and the Churched, Roman Catholicism is irrelevant.


We must distinguish between the Church and the clergy. The Church belongs to Christ, the clergy are human. The Church is perfect, the clergy are not. And we go to Church for Christ, not for the clergy. Definitely not the other way round. The clergy are called on to be mirrors that reflect Christ: sometimes we are, sometimes we are not. May God forgive us.