We fight against the wrong theory of the Roman Pope’s infallibility. Are we going to say that a mortal man, at one moment raised by the Church to, for him, unbearable heights, that this man does not undergo any controls; that he is unerring just by the fact that he is the bishop?
The Holy apostle Paul teaches us that even the bishop can make mistakes and lead his flock astray. Knowing that his earthly days are counted and settling his life’s accounts, he “sent from Millet to Ephesus and invited the church seniors” – the bishops – to warn them to keep watch of themselves at the first place, and then of their flock as well, “in which – he tells them – they were appointed bishops by the Holy Spirit to graze Church of the Lord and God which he acquired with his blood.” He told them: “I know that when I am gone, savage wolves will come among you who will not spare flock. You’re your own number, men will present demseves distorting the truth and leading astray any who follow them.”(Acts, 20, 17; 29-30)
The apostle warns us to pay tribute to our “superiors in the Lord”, and to respect them very much “with love because of their deeds.” With this, the holy apostle sets two important criteria which should be accomplished by each of the church leaders. The first one is: his relationship to the Lord, and the second one is: his deeds. “Respect everyone, love the brotherhood” – the holy apostle Peter urges us, but “be afraid of God”. (1. Pt. 2, 17) “Be afraid of God, my son!” (Prv. 24, 21)
When the apostles were standing in front of the High priests of their people, it means –their superiors, and when those High priests demanded from them obedience which opposed the Lord, then Peter “filled with the Holy Spirit” refused to obey them, and told them to judge if it was right to obey them more than God. (Acts, 4, 1-22)
God gave man reason and the dignity of freedom. This is the freedom to choose and to be tried and judged according to his choices. The meaning of our Christian hope for salvation is in this. If we had been made like perfect machines, programmed for doing good, if we did not have the possibility to choose, then we could not have been neither judged for bad deeds nor rewarded for good ones. We were given the reason to regulate all our relationships by our freedom to choose, and our relationship toward the authorities as well. We must not devote ourselves to anything unreasonably or blindly. All of history and everyday life teach us so. The Holy Scripture states: “The great are not always wise, and the old people do not always know what is right.” (Jb. 32, 9)
“You question everything, but stick to the good,” (1. Thes. 5, 21) the holy apostle Paul advises us. “Do not be deceived by anybody’s empty words”, (Eph. 5, 6)
Christ’s Church should be our direction pointer and lighthouse in our mediations, doubts and dilemmas. There is no Christ without Church. To follow Christ means to follow Church. The Second and Seventh Ecumenical council – to remind our new “Valsamons” and “Zonaras” – anathematize everyone who puts himself above Christ’s Church. The person who does not obey the Church “let him be like an infidel”, (Mt. 18, 17) tells us our Lord. “We do not trust any single person, even if his life seems to be right – advises us the Russian patriarch, Alexei II. We cannot trust even a group of like-minded persons; we cannot trust neither dreams nor visions, but we trust the voice of Church.”
Obedience is a great virtue and unavoidable for all of us who strive for salvation and hope for God’s grace. “The person who wants to be saved has to be obedient to superiors. Without this obedience the man can go to disaster even though he has the best wishes for salvation.” (Holy Bishop Nikolaj)
With his life, from beginning to end, The Lord is the best example of obedience for us. The apostle Paul (Heb. 12, 2) urges us to follow His example. He was obedient to His earthly parents, (Lk. 2, 51) and to His Father, for the sake of our salvation “He degraded Himself and was obedient until the death, and the death on the cross”. (Phil. 2, 8)
Demonic temptation is a dangerous thing. The man forms a cocoon of, as he thinks, his religious righteousness, of his superiority compared to “other sinners”; he bows, bends and prays, and then taken by the devil’s deception begins to wander and search for a church worthy of his spiritual “ripeness” and personal “holiness”. In that way, with his pride, he cuts himself off from the Church and life in the Lord.
His prostrations and praying are all in vain. Since he is disobedient to the Church, his prayers are not pleasing to the Lord.
We give to the Lord what we possess through our virtues; through obedience we give ourselves to God”, tells us St. Gregory the Great. “For a man who follows his self- willingness, against the will of superiors, there is no need for the devil to try him since he is his own devil.” (St. John of the Ladder)
Our new “Valsamons” and “Zonaras” start with obedience as if it is some kind of a balcony, neither in the sky nor on the earth. They started from us, the priests, and they stopped there. However, nobody in the Church is exempt from obedience. It starts with the youngest ones and goes to the eldest. And the bishop, being the eldest among us, is obliged to be the first to show obedience to the Church. Because, to the faithful people, he should be the model “in word, in living, in love, in spirit, in faith, in pureness”. (1. Tim. 4, 12)
Some time ago the bishop had to (could) be “the husband of one woman”. (Ti, 1, 6) Today his bride is Christ’s Church, and the diocese entrusted to him. The Church is all and everything to him.
A conflicting situation may occur – we are only human, liable to making mistakes – but the Church is unerring. If a bishop is not satisfied with the decision of the court of bishops, he can launch a complaint to the Council, but that does not exempt him of obedience; until the decision of the highest church authorities is brought he must “obey the decision of the first instance court of bishops. Refusing to obey the court of the synod deprives you forever of the possibility to appeal to a higher court, because the disobedience itself becomes a negative sentence”. (Archbishop Rafail (Karelin)) “A bishop, who has broken the oath of obedience to Church, loses apostolic blessing and he should not be called a bishop any more, just as an extinguished beam cannot be called the light”. (ibid)
Persons who take an oath and then brake it, whoever they might be, are classified by the apostle Paul among the worst of human society; among the outlaws, atheists, murderers, and other misfortunate people. (1. Tim. 1, 9-10)
At the end of his oath the bishop pronounces the terrifying words of the vow “before the living God and Church of his holies, composed of angels and of men”, that he will always remember the terrifying words of the Holy Scriptures: Let anyone who indifferently looks at the work of God be damned. Then the bishop swears this knowing God to be his witness and righteous judge.
If the new “Valsamons” and “Zonaras” remind us, the priests, of our oath, hereby I remind the one who needs to be reminded of his oath, incomparably more terrifying than mine.
Hopefully he will turn away from the path of delusion (Jas. 5, 20) and, by his obedience to theChurch, comes back to the path of truth.