At seminary, now nearly forty years ago, a debate raged about which was the most important subject: Dogmatic Theology, Liturgical Theology, Moral Theology, Ascetic Theology, the Holy Scriptures, Patristics, Church History, Canon Law, the Typikon, Languages, Psychology, Homilectics, Philosophy…Each teacher put forward convincing arguments for his subject and how vital it was. I listened attentively, ready to be convinced, but feeling that Moral Theology had a weaker argument, since it is only a branch or consequence, of Ascetic Theology, and that Philosophy was completely irrelevant in our impoverished Diaspora situation.
In retrospect, I now believe that the most important subject was the one not taught: Pastoral Theology. This, for me, is the summary of everything else, all else is contained within it, and it is the gauge of whether a parish works or not: if the priest does not understand the needs of his flock, does not adapt to them, while at the same time the flock adapts to the pastor and he leads them forward, on to repentance and so to an active Church life, then nothing else has any significance.
Sadly, the pastoral crisis rages everywhere. Outside the Church, Roman Catholicism has been largely destroyed by pervert clergy and a majority of Protestant clergy either seem to be atheists or else moralizing fanatics with some personal, sexual problem. However, inside the Church, we have little to be proud of. We have far too few churches and laypeople often distrust clergy, who are often seen as moneygrubbers. This comes about because a few actually are. As we say in Russian: ‘he is not a priest, but a ‘pop’’ (the contemptuous word for an ignorant, dishonest and, above all, heartless priest).
A rotten apple (and Judas was one of twelve apples who was) spoils the basket. Sadly, bandit-priests can be very manipulative – I have seen them, in all dioceses or ‘jurisdictions’, in all Local Churches, in all generations. They can manipulate and flatter naïve or already corrupt bishops, destroy a parish or even diocese, and a group of them can actually compromise whole Local Churches. This is why bishops have to listen to the people: they will boycott parishes, dioceses and Churches, where they allow such priests to perform services, or rather, to perform disservices. They are no example to anyone.
And so we come back to pastoral theology, which, actually and quite simply, is about loving our neighbours.
Blessed Pelagia of Ryazan said the following of the anti-pastor bandit-priest hypocrites, ‘do as I tell you, not as I do’, ordained by naive or else simoniac bishops, including those who before the Revolution betrayed the Tsar (as also did many bishops):
‘Rich priests crucified Christ, rich priests overthrew the Tsar, rich priests will lead the people to Antichrist’.