Ah, a controversial topic, yes, I want to go there. Why? Because my heart goes out to people who are trying to find a church home, or have had a change within their parish that upsets the old order of things. When I’ve made moves or traveled, I’ve hoped to find a parish and priest just like the beloved one I left behind. Traveling the world, I’ve realized more than ever that each has their own personality. Not one has ever been “perfect,” (in my humble opinion – not that there is such a thing,) but all have been filled with earnest people and priests doing the best they can to uphold the tremendous responsibility bestowed on them. It can be discouraging unless you understand that, like silver in a fire, conflict purifies us, and this also holds true in our church families. Love conquers all.
When I was an Evangelical, I attended a mega-church. From time to time, someone would become disgruntled with the pastor and start their own “church.” What really confused me is when I saw spin-offs – spin off again. At one point I seemed to be watching the reformation all over again in real time! At last count, I heard that we had over 33,000 Christian denominations. Researching further, I found the source:
According to the World Christian Encyclopedia….
World Christianity consists of 6 major ecclesiastico-cultural blocs, divided into 300 major ecclesiastical traditions, composed [sic] of over 33,000 distinct denominations in 238 countries (Vol. I, p. 16).
So according to the WCE, the 33,000 figure represents “world Christianity.”
The WCE then goes on to break down “world Christianity” into the following broad categories:
I have no clue what “Marginals” mean, but as Orthodox Christians we know that there are not 781 denominations…that’s just plain silly. What I can deduce here is that the definition of “denomination” has been distorted. Setting that aside, I think we all know that there are way too many splits in the church, and this is a travesty.
Why do people become disgruntled and run off and create their own church? I can only speak from the knowledge of my own sinful nature. Maybe I don’t like the homilies or sermons that my priest/pastor gives. After all, I want to feel good after he/she preaches from the Word of God. Did the sword get turned on myself, and I don’t feel so good? I’m outta here!
“For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12
This is why I think that this is Step One. Do a self check on pride and humility. Why are you at church? One of the things I love about the Orthodox Church is that the priest’s name isn’t on the sign outside the door. For instance, I don’t go to the church of Father Mike, I go to the church of Saint John the Baptist for example. That really puts it into perspective. It’s not about the priest. Is this a place I can worship God to the fullest extent of the word? That’s the question.
Years ago, when I started attending an Orthodox church, I had a friend tell me that she thought it was ok…as long as I felt like I was “being fed.” Hmm…well…case in point. I’m not there to feel fed. I’m there to worship God. But back to the priest. He is there as a servant of God, to lead us in worship. If your priest is hindering your worship, that is an issue. If you don’t like his sermons, the way he tries to uphold the integrity of the church, or if he takes his responsibilities too seriously, (is that even possible?) well, back to step one.
Of course you can always stop going to church…but that really isn’t an option since we are called to worship as a body. The body is physical and spiritual. Despite accounts of people saying that they can worship on beaches and golf courses, separating yourself from a body of believers in a parish is not a Christian answer.
You can go to a different church. During my recent research into biotoxins and mold exposure, if you find that you have mold in your home, the best thing to do is find the source and start remediation. Over 50% of homes have mold, so moving isn’t necessarily the answer. Jumping from the frying pan into the fire doesn’t get us anywhere. May I propose that no man is perfect, even when it comes to priests?
Talk to him personally. Let him know that you are unhappy and why. I know this can be uncomfortable, but if it’s done with love, the Holy Spirit will guide the conversation, and foster humility on both sides. In the Orthodox Church, he is called father for a reason. He is responsible to love you as one of his children and guide you on the path of salvation. A bunch of siblings getting together and complaining about their dad is not as effective as sitting down with him and having a good old fashioned talk. Your dad was probably doing the best he could too.
You can report him to his Bishop. This is one of the many advantages of Orthodox Christianity. There is a hierarchy of accountability. Are there priests out there that should be reported? Yes. But be careful here. This should take much prayer and self examination first. Are you getting him “in trouble” for seeing things differently than you do? Or, has he really done something wrong in God’s eyes, that would be against scripture and against his ordained duties? Is he making it impossible for you to worship?
Recently I read an article that really caught my attention. In it the author writes:
“The final aspect of living a balanced life is your spiritual side. This could be anything from taking a walk in the woods to making a trip to church on Sunday-whatever fills up your spiritual cup. This is how we renew ourselves when we’re down-and it’s something that can be easily neglected. If you score low here, make the time to rethink your connection to God, nature, or whatever. You’ll feel refreshed and ready to tackle the world.”
Ah…your spiritual cup. We go to church to renew ourselves, make ourselves feel good, and to seek refreshment. (?)
I’m not saying that this doesn’t happen, but if this is your sole aim…that you walk out every week smelling like a rose, the world is coming up daisies…and you think that your priest has the responsibility to make this happen…I refer you to the prayer said during his ordination:
While the Senior Priest intones the petitions, the Hierarch reads the following prayer with his hand still on the new presbyter’s head:
Bishop: O God, great in might and inscrutable in wisdom, marvelous in counsel above the sons of men: You the same Lord, fill with the gift of Your Holy Spirit this man whom it has pleased You to advance to the degree of Priest; that he may become worthy to stand in innocence before Your altar, to proclaim the Gospel of Your kingdom, to minister the word of Your truth, to offer to You spiritual gifts and sacrifices; to renew Your people through the font of regeneration, that when he shall go to meet You, at the second coming of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, Your only-begotten Son, he may receive the reward of good stewardship in the order given to him, through the plenitude of Your goodness.
For blessed and glorified is Your all-holy and majestic name, of the Father and the Son and of the Holy Spirit, now, and ever and to the ages of ages.
A friend recently told me that “The hard truth is that conflict is absolutely necessary for communion to exist. The absence of conflict is not peace. The truth is, usually the absence of conflict means a very shallow experience of communion and community. Conflict is necessary for deep communion. The challenge is learning how to handle the conflict well and have it lead to deeper community.”
Are you going through a tough time finding just the right parish? Is your parish going through a tough time? Try to embrace the process. Know that, as with any relationship, communication can make a community stronger and more alive than it’s ever been. Hang in there and know that God, and the worship of Him is our foremost goal.
And…I wish I could take credit for this…but alas…it was said by the same friend who is much wiser than me…
“As long as I’m self seeking even “good” things, I never receive them. It is only by forgetting my own needs that my needs are ultimately met.”
Thank you, Cynthia, for this thoughtful message on a critical topic. It has been 25 years since I relocated to a place with a, shall we say, less established Orthodox presence. It was so different from what I had experienced growing up in the Midwest, and later in the northeast, that I didn’t know how to cope with it. I did everything wrong, thinking that it was the job of the church and priest to live up to my standards. Never did it occur to me that God in his providential mercy had placed me there for a reason. He has been very merciful to me and used my experiences to learn and to increase my humility and sensitivity. Today I attend a large Greek Orthodox parish which I love. A few of the aspects of its parish life would have been unacceptable to me 20 or 25 years ago, but I guess I am a bit less judgmental these days so I barely notice. My purpose there is to worship God, love other people and to find ways of serving. In the end, we need to decide if we are going to be part of the solution or part of the problem. Over the years, I have been fortunate to visit many Orthodox parishes all over the country, and so many of them are struggling. We all need to try to be as loving, supportive and helpful as we can.
Oh Donna, Thank you so much for your thoughtful message! This is so encouraging, and I completely understand what you mean. I fell into the trap of church shopping as though I was trying to find one that fit into my vision of what it should be, instead of fitting myself into the church. You said it beautifully! I am blessed to live in an area with about 30 Orthodox churches in the area…but many people don’t have that choice. Your personal story can help so many people.
I grew up hearing all the time about going to church to be “fed”. I used to say, “I go to church to worship. I can feed myself.” By God’s grace I am now Orthodox and I can worship and also be fed through the Eucharist. I have wonderful priests and no complaints but I must admit it is easier to sit through a boring 15 minute homily than a boring 30 or 45 minute sermon!
I love the point that you make…yes…we truly are being fed through the Eucharist! Your priest only speaks for 15 minutes? 🙂