The Crisis in the Orthodox Episcopate

There are just over 1,000 Orthodox bishops in the world, although well over 100 of them are retired through ill health or extreme old age .Despite this figure, which is much greater than a generation ago, though far less than in the early centuries, there is a great shortage of bishops in certain, though not all, Local Churches. A figure more than double, of about 2,200 bishops, to care for the world’s 220 million Orthodox Christians, would be far more appropriate. For example, the Russian Orthodox Church has only 400 bishops, a figure that needs to be quadrupled for the 164 million Russian Orthodox, 75% of the total. This would give one bishop for every 25 parishes, which is not unreasonable, given that the number of parishes is still rapidly increasing.

The problem in this matter is that bishops must be single, that is, celibate, specifically in most cases, they must be monks. As this severely limits the pool of available episcopal candidates, what can be done?

Some of a Protestant and modernist ilk immediately suggest that married men should be allowed to become bishops. This is absurd. It is also uncanonical. The canon forbidding married bishops (Canon XII of the Sixth Council in Trullo) is there for at least two reasons:

Firstly, there is the ever-present danger of corruption and careerism. We can think of the case of the schismatic Filaret, who appointed himself ‘Patriarch of Kiev’, who was married and allowed his wife to vet all candidates for the priesthood, according to what bribe they gave her. And inevitably, a married bishop will be tempted to find jobs for his children.

Secondly, poor wives! It is bad enough being married to a priest. When would a bishop’s wife ever see him? He would be far too busy.

However, the situation is even worse. Since a potential bishop has to be single, you will inevitably attract perverts. A single man does not make a bishop. He can, however, be a homosexual, either physically or else psychologically (psychological homosexuals are generally narcissists who persecute married clergy because the married have everything that they do not have, or, far worse, they may be pedophiles – as the Roman Catholic world knows to its cost. Thus the pool is even more limited. It has to be a single man who is sexually, and so psychologically, normal, not a dry and formalistic monk who has everything, but because he has no love, only a sadistic jealousy, he has nothing (1 Cor 13).

What is to be done, given such a very limited pool of candidates? While we are waiting for a monastic revival and so more candidates, bishops will simply have to delegate far more than they do at present, to married priests and laypeople. Ultimately, after all, there is only one thing that they cannot delegate – and that is ordination.