Fr. Andrei, the question is, I would say it this way, of abuse in the church on the part of either priests or overly active parishioners. How can they be defended against? For example, there can be a tyrannical priest who imposes unattainable obediences upon his parishioners, totally without regard to the fact that people can have a family, or that these are elderly or sick people. So people simply cannot maintain this, and we often lose such parishioners.
The fact is that we cannot avoid responsible membership in the Church. And, of course, discernment, which is a supreme virtue that is only linked with humility, so it is quite difficult to make up any kind of directive here. Although, in fact, we do have a directive – our Synod adopted “Guidelines on Issues of Sexual Misconduct by Clergymen Under the Direct Authority of the Synod of Bishops” It is possible that similar recommendations could be given, seeing that the diocesan assembly of the Moscow Diocese adopted a similar directive regarding mladostarchestvo (The phenomenon of young and inexperienced clergymen adopting the role of elder). And, of course, the criterion is whether the clergyman is leading a person to Christ, whether he is trying, if not to help him, at least not to harm him. This is because each of us will be giving an answer for onself, and we have free will. In Confession, the Prayer of Absolution says that the priest is only a witness, but, of course he should engage very meticulously in pastoring souls and caring for them. It is precisely because of this that only specially ordained priests can hear Confessions in the Greek Church. In our case this is granted automatically to the overwhelming majority of ordained priests. And here I also come up with questions – how are they prepared for this delicate mission? A person totally opens himself up, it’s as if he’s in a doctor’s office, and he undresses, often in such a vulnerable state that he could be traumatized. So of course, what takes place in parishes should be a concern in preparation for pastors and for our leadership. And we ourselves should be circumspect, the same way as when we visit a doctor and decide whether this doctor helps us or doesn’t help us. And, perhaps, the same criterion can be applicable here. In other words, people should utilize definite safety techniques in their relationships, and if something is uncomfortable, if their conscience tells them that something is occurring that shouldn’t occur, they should direct their attention to it, but not do anything that goes against their Christian conscience.
Well, fine, but I understand that the only thing that a parishioner can do is to leave this priest, leave this parish. But the situation in ROCOR is that often the nearest church is too far, and there is no place to search for spiritual aid. But when people are really depressed and have serious problems with a priest and in a parish they require realistic help. So where can they turn to? And in general, how can we help in such a situation?
Well, thanks be to God, priests are different. They should turn to the one they trust. They should consult with someone and act with humility, of course, since it’s possible that they also misunderstand something. We should always remember that we might ourselves misunderstand something, or not understand it fully. And our Lord tells us to come if you have anything against him., find out, and ask your brother. And, of course, this also helps if we humbly pose questions, without any kind of self-confidence, without the idea that one knows answers to all question and is simply looking for some kind of confirmation. In other words, one should precisely pose questions and look into the situation, and if the priest will likewise speak calmly, then perhaps the situation will somehow be clarified, something will become understandable. But again, it is difficult to speak of some kinds of directives. If it is really a criminal problem, it should correspondingly be judged as all law violations are judged, if we’re speaking of sexual demands or something of the kind… But if we’re speaking simply of some sort of confrontation of different personalities, or if the priest, as you have said, demands obedience, perhaps one should turn to the dean, but starting with the priest himself, if at all possible. So such is the perpetual, so to speak, Christian directive.
And what about relations with overzealous parishioners who set down their own laws and rules?
I had one acquaintance who started coming to church, and she was literally terrorized by the sisterhood, since the ladies started phoning her regularly, telling her that they had such and such a menu and she had to buy this and that. So she simply stopped going to that parish, since she was taking her first steps into the church and was totally unprepared to become a cog in the sisterhood wheel, to put it bluntly. So once again, this should be managed by the individual, who should figure out how much strength he or she has and can simply say, “You know, this is too much for me, I simply cannot handle this.” As a consequence, it turned out that she stopped coming to that parish and kept bad memories of that church. So this leads to the conclusion that we need to be, speaking roughly, qualified users. We should understand that we are also responsible for what takes place and should manage relationships.