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The unworthy behavior of clergy: sin of the Church or sin before the Church?

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Author: Priest John Burdin of the Kostroma Diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church, who became the first Russian priest to be tried under the new law on “spreading false information about the special operation in Ukraine.” A repressive law that legitimizes repression and gossip. Father John was arrested at the behest of his parishioner, who was outraged that his parish priest had declared war on him. More than a month has passed since then, and the priest has been relieved of his parish activity “at the request of the parishioners.” Father John continues to preach, but there is no insult or condemnation in his words. This is his advice to Christians who are deeply saddened by what is happening in the ROC and feel it as a betrayal of Christ.

The text is from the author’s telegram channel

The unworthy conduct of pastors poses the question to many members of the Church: is it possible to go to church, to receive the sacraments, if the priesthood does not keep the commandments of the gospel?

Particularly serious doubts arise when the clergy utter words filled with hatred and malice, claiming to be in sync with the teachings of the gospel. What is this but blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (Matt. 12:31)?

We know where the blind lead the blind. Increasingly, however, people who have not lost the ability to distinguish good from evil, who have not lost their mercy and conscience, ask: will I not fall into the same pit if I remain a member of this deluded flock? Is it enough that I do not accept with my heart someone’s blasphemous words and deeds? Moreover, the Scripture also says: “Therefore come out from among them and separate yourselves, says the Lord, and do not touch the unclean, and I will receive you, and I will be your Father, and you will be My sons and daughters.” says the Lord Almighty ”(2 Cor. 6: 17-18).

This is a complex and ambiguous question. During the two millennia of the Church’s existence, it was decided in different ways, as the circumstances in which it arose were different.

The closest analogue to us (in time and in essence) is the movement of the “non-mentions” and the “catacomb” church of the 20th century.

They arise in the conditions when the official church in the person of Mitr. Sergius states that he shares the “pain and joys” of the Soviet government and the Soviet people, thus sharing with them the responsibility for the persecution of believers, the executions, the killings, the mass executions, the repression, the torture.

The non-men (catamobniks) cut off communion with the “Sergians” and did not maintain Eucharistic communion with them until the early 1950s. Almost all of them were destroyed. By the way, like most members of the “official” church.

It is difficult for us to judge whether they were right. However, seeing their experience, we cannot fail to note that those who did not mention the survivors for the most part returned to the bosom of the official church, sometimes even repenting of the schism.

One illustrative case in this regard is the repentance of a candle. Valentin Swieczycki in 1930. He not only repented of “falling away from the unity of the council” and called on his spiritual children to do the same, but also wrote that the Church does not accidentally canonically allow only one possibility to break communion: in the fall in heresy. There can be no reason for this for any political or moral reasons.

The most authoritative figure among the “catacombs” who called for union with the official church was Ep. Athanasius (Sakharov), who was persecuted for decades. After the election of Patr. Alexius I, he stated that there were no grounds for a split: “Patr. Alexius and his associates do not preach the heresies condemned by the fathers тр Patr. Alexius has not been condemned by any legitimate supreme hierarchical authority, and I cannot, I have no right, say that he is ungrateful and that the sacraments performed by him and his clergy are not valid.

However, still in the late 1960s, several million people in the USSR remained members of the “catacomb” communities.

However, brutal repression has gradually led to the complete degradation of these communities. The catacomb Christians died without confession and communion, the funerals were performed without a service, the newlyweds were left without anointing, the newlyweds – without the sacrament of Marriage. Gradually, in the absence of priests, their role was taken over by itinerant preachers, elderly women…” They hold memorial services, baptize, marry, and some even confess and receive communion. Thus, the Catacomb Church, originally defined as a conservative movement, marked the beginning of the so-called new Russian sectarianism. And this, after all, is the fate of every schism that has arisen for any reason other than heresy.

However, how do we deal with the sins of shepherds, especially when they clearly violate God’s commandments?

He most accurately formulated his position on this issue candle. Valentin Sventsitsky: “Can the grave sins of individual representatives of the Church, even of the hierarchy, be called sins of the Church? These are not the sins of the Church, but their sins before the Church.

We know that sin throws man out of the Church: evil has no place in the Body of Christ. And return to the Church is possible only through repentance. This is what the permissive prayers that the priest reads during confession speak about.

From here arises a kind of theological paradox: a man dressed in the rank of patriarch, bishop or priest, can physically stand before the throne, offer the Sacrifice, but at the same time spiritually be outside the Church. Until the moment of personal repentance. Are the sacraments performed by such a person valid?

Church teaching answers this question in the affirmative.

Because the Sacrament is performed not by man, but by God. In the prayer of St. Ambrose of Milan, which every priest reads before the Liturgy, the same thought is repeated several times in different versions: “You who offer yourself are in a wonderful and unspoken way both a priest and a victim.” The Church believes that Christ Himself sacrificed Himself, and the priest is only the unworthy hands with which He does this.

However, all these theological reflections leave one question open: what to do if only moral violence against yourself allows you to continue going to church?

I think it is spiritually safer for a Christian to continue to be a member of the Church, even if he or she thinks he or she is mistaken. To some extent, this can help a person to break away from pleasant fellowship with people and to seek Christ in the Church, but moral violence against oneself can also cause severe depression.

Freedom of choice is given to man by God, and no one has the right to deprive him of this freedom, including manipulating his consciousness by threatening him with destruction and hell. I believe that every person, aware of his weakness, offers it before God as his personal sin, can withdraw from the earthly church for a certain time, without losing irretrievably the opportunity for personal communion with Christ. One must only be aware that this is a path for saints, and in this way only a few will be able to avoid complete apostasy from Christ.

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