- Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be a bishop desires a noble task.2 Now the bishop is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4 He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect. 5 (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s Church?) 6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. 7 He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.
I Timothy 3, 1-7
The Church belongs to Christ, as all agree. Christ, and no other person or institution, however powerful, is the Head of the Church. However, as for the Church on earth, it is purposeless without the people. It exists to save souls. Nearly three years ago a certain very young foreign bishop, parachuted in from abroad, tried to impose his own alien culture and language on us, take away from us our church building, bought by the people and valued by the insurers at £2.35 million ($3 million), and all its contents, which he enumerated like an accountant in minute detail and for which he had composed an act to be inserted into the deeds of ownership. (For £340 our Church solicitor informed us that this act was illegal and amounted to theft). We warned the bishop and his superiors that if he continued, he would find himself with an empty building, quite expensive to run, no clergy, no choir and an empty bank account, as the people would categorically not follow him. As usual, he refused to listen to anyone, including to his own Patriarch.
The people had already obtained a very bad impression of the bishop from earlier visits, with his outbursts of rage, threatening demands for more money and bullying, basic theological and liturgical errors, as well as racist utterances against Romanians, Moldovans and English – half the parish! Sadly, as he was such an inexperienced neophyte, born after most of us, and had never taken or listened to any advice at all, he continued his threats which he published on his several de facto personal websites and on other sites where he had friends, issuing bits of paper about clergy having ‘no grace’ and discrediting himself among the whole Orthodox episcopate throughout Europe. By persecuting the faithful, he only managed to destroy his own cause and isolate himself from the Christian mainstream. It was suicidal on his part. Thus, he destroyed his own future clerical career.
We can see similar problems in many other parts of the Russian Church today. For example, in Latvia, the local Metropolitan, in connivance with the government, has declared his Church independent (‘autocephalous’) and banned the commemoration of the Russian Patriarch. The people, a smallish and predominantly Russian minority and with a strong nationalist twist, which comes from the anti-Russian persecution they have borne for over thirty years from the US puppet government in Latvia, are furious. They had already been suffering for years from the homosexual scandals there, which nothing had ever been done about in sleeping Moscow. Now, since they have no canonical alternative to the Russian Church (no other Orthodox jurisdiction is present here), the people are voting with their feet and staying at home or else crossing the borders to go to churches in Lithuania or Estonia, where they do commemorate the Russian Patriarch.
At the moment, as far as I know, only two Russian priests in Latvia are defying their Metropolitan and the government and are commemorating their Patriarch. We await further developments in EU Latvia. This could go all the way to the European Court of Human Rights, though that Court actually seems to encourage religious persecution against Russian Orthodox, as in the Ukraine. The boycott of churches in Latvia means a fatal lack of income for the Metropolitan and it is perhaps this factor that will be decisive. For the moment, the very elderly Metropolitan has consecrated a very ill priest to the episcopate without his Patriarch’s blessing in order to create four bishops, the minimum required in order to be an independent Church. This has created even further division. It is suicidal.
In Moldova the situation is very different. Here, Orthodox are not a small minority as in Latvia, but some 98% of the whole population. The mass of people, who are in fact Romanians, are divided between two Churches, the Russian and the Romanian. The former was the obligatory Church in the Soviet period after 1945 and is still the majority, perhaps some 80% or more. However, the Romanian Church, whose territory this was before the Second World War, is gaining ground, quite rapidly since the conflict in the Ukraine stepped up in 2022 and since the Russian-appointed bishops in Moldova began intimidating and persecuting the clergy and the people who have left. This intimidation, by spoken and written word has, as in England nearly three years ago, had very negative consequences for the bishops who are speaking and writing thus.
Showing themselves not to be Christians by issuing threatening bits of paper about clergy who no longer ‘have grace’ is the worst thing they could do. What began as a slow movement towards the Romanian Church could easily snowball because of their actions, just as it did in England nearly three years ago. The people are urging their priests to leave the Romanian Church. Can the pastors desert their flock who want to return to the legitimate, pre-Soviet Church? No. Several of the Russian-appointed bishops in Moldova, where, as in Latvia, the set-up goes back to Soviet times, were already very compromised by videos and other leaked information, just as in England and Latvia. This is also suicidal and it is happening, exactly as in England, where there is a canonical alternative to the Russian Church and plenty of canonical Orthodox bishops who are happy to take persecuted Orthodox into their jurisdictions.
Here the situation is better known, partly because it is so catastrophic. There is in the Ukraine only one canonical Church, which, living in an independent country with which Moscow is at war, has, quite reasonably, declared itself completely independent of Moscow, as indeed it used to be, though long ago. As a result, it has become the victim of persecution from centralist Moscow and also from the atheist State in Kiev. It is like Christ on the Cross, against Whom the two thieves railed, until one of them repented (Matt. 27, 44 and Mk. 15, 32). The atheist Kievan State has even set up its own rival State-run ‘Church’, given a veneer of ‘legitimacy’ by a piece of paper issued by the Patriarchate of Constantinople under US pressure, with the help of ‘a very large sum of money’ (rumoured to be $25 million). Since very few practising Orthodox in the Ukraine are interested in this fake Church with its fake clergy – they can see through it – the fake Church has been stealing church buildings from the canonical Church, which it then locks up and leaves empty, as there are no clergy and no people to fill them. It is Soviet-style persecution all over again.
This is similar to the situation in England, only in the Ukraine the gangsters have the backing of the atheist State; in England the State is simply contemptuous of religion, not actually hostile. You can try and take over churches through outbursts of rage, bullying demands for money, threats and intimidation, but you can only succeed in doing so by force, if the atheist State supports you. And even then you will only succeed in emptying them. Nobody goes to them, neither the authentic clergy, nor the people. We are reminded of the prophecy of St Seraphim of Vyritsa (+ 1949): ‘A time will come when not persecution, but money and the pleasures of this world will turn people away from God and far more souls will perish than during the times of open persecution. One the one hand they will raise up crosses and gild cupolas, but on the other hand the kingdom of lies and evil will come. It will be dreadful to live until those times’.
The fact is that the Church on earth belongs to the believing people. There must be consent and agreement from the faithful people. When whole parishes, clergy, their multigenerational families and the people in solidarity, apart from a tiny number of naïve, misinformed or hoodwinked individuals or recent converts, fewer than 1%, leave their bishop, it is because the bishop is in the wrong. In these cases, in truth, ‘vox populi, vox Dei’, the voice of the people is the voice of God. And the saints confirm that by their miracles.
However much the bishop may offer in bribes to clergy to set up parallel churches in the same city, sends letters to denounce the clergy and the faithful to other bishops (which they ignore, as they only discredit the bishop in question) or tries to divide the families of clergy, attempting to set son against father, a bishop cannot succeed against the impregnable fortress of real Faith. At best he will win a Pyrrhic victory, but for the most part he will utterly humiliate himself and lose everything, as has happened and is happening in all the above and other cases.
Conclusion: The Corruption of Part of the Episcopate
I remember meeting the late Fr Alexander Schmemann in Paris in May 1980. I asked him for his impressions of the episcopate inside the then Soviet Russia. He answered me: ‘Half of them are saints, the other half are demons’. Indeed, in Russia there is a popular saying that when a priest is consecrated bishop, a demon tries to enter him: sometimes he succeeds, sometimes he fails. When the demon succeeds, the consequences are awful. Visiting Florida in the USA in October 1996, I spoke to a much older priest who explained to me the struggles of his three-thousand strong parish in Pennsylvania against the intrigues of what he called ‘the lavender mafia’, (homosexuals), who controlled his previous jurisdiction. Their demands were all about property and money. That type certainly love their comfort.
Roman Catholicism in Western countries is rapidly dying out, largely because of the enforcement of celibacy on its priesthood and all the associated homosexual and pedophile scandals. In the Orthodox Church, it is not the priesthood that is the problem, but the episcopate, which also is obligatorily celibate. Thus, the pool of candidates is very small, especially where monastic life is very weak. Our unsurprising conclusion is that to be a good bishop you must have a pure soul (see I Tim 3, 1-7 above). For bad bishops will consecrate others in their own image and even more unworthy than themselves (their homosexual boyfriends, as we have so often seen) and that is why there are so many woeful metropolitans and bishops in the Church: ‘But, when the Son of Man comes, shall He find faith on the Earth?’ (Lk 18, 8).