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.