Articles Canon Law Priest Peter James

On the Question of Clergy Compensation in The Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia: Canonical Considerations

From the Editor

This paper has been written for Canon Law-725, a graduate-level class offered at Holy Trinity Orthodox Seminary in Jordanville, NY during the Spring semester of 2022. The former student approaches the issue from theological and historical perspectives, while there are implications that affect people’s lives: families of clergy become hostages of poverty.

I do not believe that we in the ROCOR do all that we can to support full-time priests. I wonder if it would help if your hierarchs would review the amount and system of parish dues, bringing them closer to reality, and address the flock with an epistle, encouraging the faithful to materially support their clergy. 

Protodeacon Andrei Psarev
June 29, 2022

When the émigrés fled persecution in the wake of the 1917 Revolution, they found themselves in desperate circumstances. By virtue of their sudden isolation from their homeland as well as the collapse of the Empire, the Russian Church no longer had the financial backing of the State. Both in a literal and in a figurative sense, they had entered unfamiliar territory. Due to necessity, the émigré Church continued to ordain men of strong faith and good rapport. In so far as the faithful had been uprooted, the clergy of what would become the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR) took upon themselves the responsibility both to serve their Church and to support themselves through secular vocations. This model allowed the Church to survive under conditions of austerity. It allowed the Church to be scattered throughout the world and take up roots. However, while the ROCOR has maintained this model, be it a matter of convenience or historical inertia, it nevertheless raises several pastoral questions for priestly ministry as well as the status of the cleric’s family. These considerations ultimately affect the growth, health, and future of the ROCOR as a whole. According to the official directory of the ROCOR, there are about 237 parishes in the United States. [1]Aleksandr Andreev. ROCOR Parish and Clergy Directory. Accessed June 3, 2022. … Continue reading Of those, according to the ROCOR Fund for Assistance, only 15 parishes are able to support priests and their families. [2] ROCOR Clergy Appeal – If We Don’t Support Our Own, No One Will. Fund for Assistance. Accessed June 3, 2022. This would account for just above six percent of all parishes in the United States. A quick word search in the official document, Regulations of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, for terms such as “compensation” and “living expenses” yielded zero results. The terms “salary” and “insurance” yielded one result each. However, they were both specific to bishops and their close associates. [3]Regulations of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. The Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia – Official Website. Accessed June 3, 2022. … Continue reading The ROCOR Fund for Assistance website published a story about a priest which illustrates a remarkable and yet somewhat troubling situation. With a family of five children and in full-time employment, in addition to a regular weekend-serving schedule, he conducted services during the week and visited parishioners regularly. Ultimately, this meant that his wife and five children were left alone. Further, while the parish was eventually able to become financially stable, the priest was its main financial contributor. He often even went to the effort to supply the parish with lamp oil, incense, and other small practical necessities as a personal expense. [4] How a South Carolina Priest Was Able to Continue Serving His Parish. ‒ an article by the Fund for Assistance to the ROCOR. Accessed June 3, 2022. His example is one of remarkable dedication, sacrifice for the sake of the community, and ascetic labor. An impoverished clergyman who works full time and commits himself to a parish, as well as his family, is a powerful image. It is one that seems to be somehow authentic to the spirit of Christian self-renunciation. Indeed, this image could very well be appropriated as something which demonstrates the “special” quality of clergy in the Church Abroad. However, this sort of sacrifice is one that affects not only the priest but also his wife and children. It is a sacrifice that they do not choose. It is a sacrifice that could potentially be detrimental to the well-being of the children, the stability of the marriage, and the Church as a whole. Although there is scriptural precedent in the Apostle Paul for self-sufficient ministry (e.g., Acts 18:1-3), several canons which are to be examined later in this essay, affirm the institution of the family whilst simultaneously attacking false asceticism and monasticism. Likewise, other canons affirm priestly devotion to ministry and condemn involvement in worldly affairs. There is a sense of striving for something of a “golden middle” between family and priestly ministry. Does the official (or default) ROCOR practice of priests not being compensated constitute a partial imposition of the monastic life on marriage? If clergy choose to sacrifice regular services and parishioner visits for career and family support, would this not constitute an abandonment of a large portion of their ministry? How are these concerns addressed by the Church in the canons? This essay seeks to examine ROCOR’s practice of clergy support within the framework of the canonical tradition of the Orthodox Church. Scriptural considerations on the topic will be surveyed before looking at Canon 15 of the Council of Gangra (A.D. 340) as well as the sixth-century Apostolic Canon 6. These will be interpreted within their historical and doctrinal context before drawing conclusions regarding contemporary ROCOR practice.

Scriptural Considerations

The question of clerical compensation appears throughout the scriptures, beginning in the Old Testament. Laws which governed every aspect of life around the One God were a unique attribute of ancient Israel. It stands to reason that the divine services were no exception, in so far as life in ancient Israel revolved around them. There were numerous laws governing the priesthood. Sprinkled throughout the Pentateuch are stipulations for various rites, services, dress, and duties of the priestly class. [5] Commonly known as the “Priestly Code,” these laws are derived from portions of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers. Of particular relevance are the stipulations which the Lord gives to the prophet and high priest, Aaron, found in Numbers 18. These convey the notion that the priests are to live off the altar, in the sense that what is sacrificed is theirs for their sustenance. “The Lord said to Aaron, ‘You will have no inheritance in their land, nor will you have any share among them; I am your share and your inheritance among the Israelites.’ ”(Numbers 18:25-26) This would appear to provide a basic principle with respect to clerical support. Moreover, it would seem that priests themselves therefore would be rather limited with respect to their share of goods and property, as the Lord Himself is their share and inheritance. However, it would be incorrect to read this interpretation into the verse, as that would mean taking it in isolation from the entirety of the Law. Firstly, ancient Israel was not only an agrarian society but was itself a completely unique reality. Deuteronomy 23:20-21 forbids interest loans. Leviticus 25 stipulates that every seventh year all debts were to be canceled and slaves freed. Leviticus 19:13-14 forbids exploitation of workers. Furthermore, Leviticus 19:9-10; 23:32 requires that the poor be provided with food from the excess of harvest at the expense of farmers (in addition to their other obligations of tithes and offerings). Likewise, Leviticus 25:35-38 commanded that traveler and the poor be fed and given shelter. Essentially, resident aliens and the poor had moral claims to material support. With respect to the “inheritance” of the priests, it must be said that everything which was offered to the Lord was effectively their inheritance. The offerings in the Levitical period included the best live stalk, cooked meat, fruit, grains, the finest oil, the finest wine, and other goods which were considered exceptionally valuable in that period. Also, the various offerings were, in a sense, commended in a manner which was proportional to income. [6]Gary North. Leviticus: An Economic Commentary. Institute for Christian Economics (Tyler, Texas, 1994). 107-108. [ref/] In an agrarian society, a cow (which also served the purpose of a field plow), a … Continue reading Additionally, the expense of the sacrifices themselves, tithing, gleaning, alms, and zero interest loans would constitute a substantial material investment. The estimated total expense of an Israelite’s religious obligations translated in terms of percentage of gross income for that period could be as high as 25%. In addition to this, when considering civil taxation as well as obligatory charity, the total could be anywhere between 33 – 50% of total income. The majority of all of this went to the priestly class and to the poor. That the priests lived off of the altar in fact would have meant rather comprehensive support — to say the least — despite not owning a portion of property. In fact, in a sense it would be unbalanced if, in addition to all of this, the priests were able to own land which they could cultivate. Living off the altar as such, the priestly class would be able to sustain family life, scriptural study, and other priestly duties.

Within the context of the New Testament, priestly compensation occurs in numerous places and is closely connected to notions of hospitality and offerings to God. Within the Gospels, we find the words of the Lord directed to His apostles just before sending them out to preach.

These twelve Jesus sent out and commanded them, saying … ‘Go to the lost sheep of Israel… provide neither gold, nor silver, nor copper in your money belts, nor bag for your journey, nor tunics, nor sandals, nor staffs; for a worker is worthy of his food. (Matthew 10:5-10)

Here Christ’s words structurally echo those of Numbers 18. He first emphasizes that they are to bring nothing for their ministry which might appear to imply that they are to abandon material concerns. This, however, is conditioned by the following statement (Luke 10:7): “for a worker is worthy of his wages.” While the apostles are indeed to place their trust in God, it seems as though there is a similar assumption that they are to be provided for by those to whom they minister. First-century Israel would have been conditioned by the aforementioned Levitical laws. Thus, there would have been at least a strong cultural sense of communal responsibility, hospitality, and religious obligation, which appears to be assumed in context of the cited passage. It may very well be a direct example of Leviticus 25:35-38, which again commands the provision of shelter and food for travelers and the poor. Perhaps like the laws of gleaning in Leviticus 19:9-10; 23:32, the apostles are to be thankful and accepting of that which they are provided, demonstrating trust in God’s providence. The priesthood of that era, as well as the poor, received sustenance from the rest of society. However, whereas the priesthood received the best portions, the poor received those that were not. Here the apostles, though they minister on behalf of the Word, in a sense are receiving in a markedly humble fashion. However, this was also prior to the establishment of the Divine Liturgy at the Mystical Supper and the subsequent destruction of the Temple in AD 70. Nevertheless, this notion of priestly support is also found in Luke 10:7 where the Lord sends out the Seventy: “Carry neither money bag, knapsack, nor sandals; and greet no one along the road… And remain in that same house, eating and drinking such things as they give, for the laborer is worthy of his wages.” The same is found in Mark 6:8 as well as in the pastoral epistle of 1Timothy 5:17-18, where the Apostle Paul cites the well-known verse from Deuteronomy 25:4 on fair treatment in the context of “those who labor for the word…” He writes:

Let the elders who rule be well counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine. For the Scripture says, ‘You shalt not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain,’ and ‘the laborer is worthy of his wages.’

Moreover, accounts of the early Christians even more clearly connect the practices and sentiments of the Mosaic law to the Evangelical commandments with respect to these views. The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles (the Didache), echoes both sentiments of offering and sacrifice with respect to the support of sacerdotal ministries. The portion regarding hospitality to travelers commands the faithful to:

…receive everyone who comes in the name of the Lord… If he is only passing through, help him as much as you can, but he must not stay with you more than two or three days. If he wishes to settle with you and knows a trade, let him work and earn his bread. If he does not know a trade, use your judgment to decide how he should live as a Christian among you… [7] Didache: The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles. Legacy Icons. Accessed June 2, 2022.

It appears that the early Christians closely maintained this notion of collective responsibility, hospitality, and religious obligation. As in both Numbers and in the Gospels, this first-century Christian document likewise closely pairs the teaching on hospitality with support for God’s ministers. The portion continues:

A true teacher, like the worker, deserves his food. Take every first fruit of the wine press and of the threshing floor, of your oxen and of your sheep, and give as the first fruit to the prophets, for they are your high priests. But if you do not have a prophet, give your first fruits to the poor. And so with money, and clothing, and every possession — take the first fruit, as it seems appropriate to you, and give according to the commandment.

Christians of the apostolic era thus appear to have made a direct link between hospitality, communal responsibility, and the religious obligations of ancient Israel, and their own reality. Likewise, they appear to have adopted the same understanding of practical support for priestly ministry.

With respect to the Apostle Paul himself, as noted previously, we find a precedent for self-sufficient ministry. From Acts 18:1-3; 20:33-35 we learn that he supported his travels by making tents, which we may assume financed a significant portion of his personal expenses. However, there are other aspects of Saint Paul’s ministry which must be understood. It is also clear that he relied on the generosity of other local Churches for financing other communities as well as larger missionary projects. In Romans15:22-29, St. Paul mentions his plans to travel to Rome, Jerusalem, and Spain. From Romans 1:10 as well as 15:22, it is apparent that the Apostle Paul as yet had not yet visited Rome. In the following verses, (Romans 15:23-24;28) he appears to be writing to the Roman Church with the intention of establishing something of a “home base” from which he would be able to plant more local Churches, having already aided in the establishment of Christian communities in the countries of the eastern Mediterranean. Furthermore, Philippians 4:16-18 is clear evidence that the Apostle received material aid: “You sent me aid more than once when I was in need. Not that I desire your gifts; what I desire is that more be credited to your account… They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God.” Again, the Apostle connects material support of the ministry of the Word to the notion of “offering” or “sacrifice,” much in the same manner that is found in the Didache as cited above. Saint Paul addresses pastoral support explicitly in 1 Corinthians 9:7-14. Almost rebuking the faithful at Corinth, the Apostle writes against those who would accuse him of taking advantage of the faithful:

Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat its grapes? …Do I say this merely on human authority? Doesn’t the Law say the same thing? For it is written in the Law of Moses: “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.” … If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you? If others have this right of support from you, shouldn’t we have it all the more? But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ… Do you not know that those who minister the holy things eat of the things of the temple, and those who serve at the altar partake of the offerings of the altar? Even so the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel.

Here, the Apostle echoes what has been cited above, both in terms of structure as well as content. Although he states that the reason for not accepting much aid was done for the sake of maximally spreading the Gospel, Saint Paul states that he is in fact entitled to material support. Thus, the Apostle’s precedent of partial self-sufficiency is, in a sense, a unique one. In the background of this whole discussion, however, lies the question of marriage. The Apostle addresses the distinction between married and unmarried Church professionals in the preceding verses of 1 Corinthians 9 cited above.

My defense to those who examine me is this: Do we have no right to eat and drink? Do we have no right to take along a believing wife, as do also the other apostles, the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas? Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working? (1 Corinthians 9:3-6)

Critically, here Paul introduces a distinction between both himself and Saint Barnabas as celibates versus the other Apostles (Saint Peter and the brothers of the Lord) who are married. Based upon both the content and context of the passage, these Apostles, along with their families, appear to be supported by the altar. Thus, it seems the distinction between celibates and married persons comes not without its own considerations. In 1 Timothy 3:1-13, Saint Paul assumes marriage to be normative for clergy. [8]The Apostle, however, does specifically mention bishops and deacons. Questions surrounding the office of bishop and deacon in the Apostolic period is one which could warrant its own study. However, … Continue reading This brings us to the following section. What is the vision of the canons with respect to clerical support and the responsibilities of Christian marriage?

Canonical and Doctrinal Considerations

The practical implications of a cleric who works full time in a secular career while maintaining the responsibilities of the priesthood would likely mean that time with family necessarily would be sacrificed. Serving the divine offices, educating and visiting the faithful are obediences of the priesthood which involve a great degree of asceticism in a real sense. It would be difficult in such circumstances not to neglect one’s family, given the level of responsibility. It must be said that the canons do not appear to provide specific stipulations for married clerics. However, they do defend the principles of obedience within marriage as well as its sanctity. Perhaps the best example of canons in the Eastern corpus which relate specifically to marriage are those from the Council of Gangra (AD 340). With respect to the concerns of this study, canon 15 would be the most relevant. It stipulates:

If anyone should abandon his own children, or fail to devote himself to feeding his children, and, fail, as far as depends on them, to bring them up to be godly and to have respect for God, but, under the pretext of ascetic exercise, should neglect them, let him be anathema. [9] Saints Nicodemus and Agapius. Translated by D. Cummings. The Rudder of the Orthodox Catholic Church: The Compilation of the Holy Canons (New York, NY, Luna, 1983). 528.

Here, marriage is defended against those who would abandon its realities for the sake of false asceticism. The commentary for canon 15 of Gangra likewise cites I Timothy 5:8 which condemns those who would abandon parenthood, as well as Ephesians 6:4 which urges Christians to raise their children in accordance with the faith. [10] Nicodemus (Rudder). 528. Although this canon does broadly concern itself with those who would abandon parental responsibilities for asceticism, the commentary points to a doctrinal issue which informs the context of the council.

If it is true that irrational animals, including even wild beasts and lions, take care of their cubs and their children, how much more ought rational human beings to nurture them!.. But the heretic Eustachian and those who sided with him. not listening to these Apostoliс commandments, used to teach parents to abandon their children and go in for asceticism. Hence the present Canon anathematizes those parents who desert their children and fail to feed them, and who teach them neither godliness and respect for God nor virtue.

The connection which the commentator draws between parenthood in animals and humans is significant, as it places child-rearing firmly within the realm of natural realities, which the Council of Gangra rigorously defends. In the first few centuries, various sects and schools, which upheld a negative view of corporeality, challenged the Church. The context of the Council was largely the Church’s response to the Manichaeans, a dualistic, missionary Gnostic cult which established communities along the Nile and Oxus valleys. It even spread as far as Spain and Chinese Turkestan. [11] Henry Chadwick. The Church in Ancient Society: From Galilee to Gregory the Great (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009). 170. The basis for its particular flavor of rigorous asceticism, like most gnostic schools, lays in its cosmology. The Manichaeans had trouble reconciling the inner tension between human physical appetites and man’s desire for transcendent goals. [12] Chadwick (Ancient Society). 170. The followers of the sect were divided between a group of lay practitioners and an elite, who did not eat meat, drink alcohol, never bathed, slept on the floor, and were allowed sexual relations only at certain times of the month so as to prevent conception. [13] Chadwick (Ancient Society). 171. Followers believed that to conceive a child meant to bring an immortal soul down and trap it within corruptible matter. All of this stems from their contemptuous attitude towards physicality. The sect accordingly asserted that Adam and Eve were not in fact creations of God, but of evil spirits. Prior to Diocletian’s edict which suppressed the Manicheans at the end of the 3rd century, members held high ranking civil offices which would mean that they were a significant cultural force. [14] Chadwick (Ancient Society). 170. It is precisely in this context that the Council of Gangra made decrees in defense of the goodness of marriage and physicality. The logic of this is visible throughout the Council’s canons. Canon 14 condemns women who abandon their husbands because they disdain marriage; Canon 9 condemns those who remain virgins not for the sake of the holiness of virginity but out of disdain for the realities of marriage; canon IV condemns those who avoid the liturgical offering celebrated by a married priest; and canon I condemns those who condemn wives sleeping with their husbands on the grounds that it is inherently sinful. [15] Nicodemus (Rudder). 523-528. Within this context, it becomes questionable as to whether Canon 14 can be used in the context of this contemporary issue of the ROCOR. The question arises as to whether or not this canon could be understood in a manner other than its strictly doctrinal context. That is, is it possible to invoke this canon for the purposes of this investigation? In all likelihood, the Church Fathers would not look upon the abandonment of family obediences favorably, even if it does not arise from a disdain of corporeality or from an heretical doctrine of creation. However, the canon provides a stipulation against those who would neglect family life specifically for those aforementioned reasons. Accordingly, the application of canon XIV in this context would be rather tenuous. With respect to questions of priestly compensation, however, there are some conclusions which may be drawn from the canonical corpus.

There are no quantifiable recommendations with respect to clerical support mentioned in the canons. Nor are any principles introduced on the topic which would essentially differ from the scriptural considerations outlined above. There is, however, one canon in particular which appears to be directly related to the question at hand. Canon 6 of The 85 Canons of The Apostles [16] Approved by the Council of Trullo (AD 692) but dating from much earlier, possibly from the Apostolic era. provides: “A Bishop, or Presbyter, or Deacon must not undertake worldly cares. If he does, let him be disposed of the office.” [17] Nicodemus (Rudder). 9. Here there is a stipulation which prohibits, or at least strongly discourages, clerics from involving themselves in affairs other than that of their pastoral vocation. The commentary found in The Rudder of Saint Nicodemus provides a rather direct interpretation.

Those in holy orders… are required to devote their time to the divine service of their profession, and to keep their mind free from all confusion and disturbance of life… If, though, he does so and refuses to forgo them… let him be deposed.

What is curious, however, is that the canonical corpus also includes specific professions which are explicitly prohibited. Apostolic Canon 81 stipulates: “We have said that a Bishop, or a Presbyter must not descend himself info public offices, but must attend to ecclesiastical needs…For no one can serve two masters, according to the Lord’s injunction.” [18] Nicodemus (Rudder). 141. Likewise, Canon 83 of the same collection provides “If any Bishop, or Presbyter, or Deacon is engaged in military matters, and wishes to hold a Roman (i.e., civil) and sacerdotal office, let him be deposed. For (render) ‘unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.’” [19] Nicodemus (Rudder). 143. Canon 9 of The One Hundred and Two Canons of The Holy and Sixth Council (A.D. 681) provides:

No clergyman shall be allowed to operate a tavern or bar room. For if such a person is not permitted to enter a tavern, much less is he permitted to serve others in one and do what it is not lawful for him to engage in… if he should perpetrate such an enormity, let him either be suspended, or he deposed from office. [20] Nicodemus (Rudder). 302.

Initially it would seem as though certain professions or activities are approved for clergy, whereas others are forbidden. If Canon 6 of the Apostolic Canons were to be understood in the strictest terms, it would be superfluous to speak of other professions in particular. The answer to this becomes rather clear in the light of the culture of eastern canon law with respect to disciplinary issues. Canons are predominantly reactive and not proactive. They do not anticipate any and all possible disciplinary infractions. Rather, each canon represents a particular issue which was being dealt with. Canon law is therefore “normative” in this sense, as it provides a guideline or precedent for addressing a particular issue. [21] J. A. McGuckin (editor). The Encyclopedia of Eastern Orthodox Christianity. Vol.1. A-M (Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011). 99. From this, it may be inferred that the latter three canons were either responses to precedents, or to a breach of a particular nature such as to require a specific stipulation. A cleric becoming a military officer, a politician, or an owner of a house of ill repute indeed would be something rather extreme, compared to merely taking a full-time job at, say, a bakery. It would not merely constitute a departure from his sacerdotal office with respect to his limited resources of time and concentration, but indeed, a departure that is in opposition to the content of the office itself. Such professions would accordingly be contradictory to the office. That is not to say that there does not include the rationale that the cleric in question is devoting his time to something other than his duties. The commentary in The Rudder for Apostolic Canon 81 provides essentially the same rationale for Canon 6.

Those in holy orders must not meddle in worldly affairs, since it says: We have said that a bishop or presbyter must not lower himself into political and secular affairs and business, but must confine his activities to sedulously looking after the service and wants of the Church…

Likewise, the commentary for Canon 83 provides a reference for Canon 6. It is worth mentioning, however, that the commentary for Canon 83 discusses the division of labor between civil and Church authorities. While it does reference Matthew 22:21 (“Render to Caesar…”), it would also be worth investigating the understanding of that canonical division in the context of Byzantine symphonia. It may be that the canons do not envision an environment where society is not Christian. In the Byzantine era, the Church was an integrated part of society. Considering the commentary for Apostolic Canon 83, which discusses the division between civil and Church labor, [22] Nicodemus (Rudder). 143. It would be interesting to examine this interpretation in the Byzantine context, as it may very well be a stipulation which is just as much civil and practical as it is theological. The Nomocanon (a collection of ecclesiastical law, consisting of the elements from both the civil law and the canon law) is itself somewhat paradigmatic of the interplay between civil and Church matters in the empire. [23] McGuckin (Encyclopedia). 100. We are discussing division of labor in the Church and in the Government. What is interesting is how this complicated relationship between Church and State relates to the ROCOR. As was mentioned in the introduction, before the 1917 Revolution the Russian Church’s organization was not separate from the State apparatus. As such, clerics were, in effect, government officials. How would the reforms of the Russian Church under Peter the Great (1672 – 1725) have been understood with respect to the canonical tradition? Some historians have indeed postulated that to call Byzantium an example of caesaropapism may have been the result of later Western historians anachronistically reading their hermeneutic into the Eastern Empire. [24] Kaldellis, Anthony. The Byzantine Republic: People and Power in New Rome. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University, 2015., 89-90; 95-110. Byzantium was not an example of absolute monarchy. Similarly, we must ask if the canonists of the Byzantine era envision a possibility of Church and civil administration outside of the context of symphonia? To answer this, one might examine historical examples of the Church under Ottoman captivity, as well as several modern examples of Church custom in the United States among the various jurisdictions. However, this would be a much larger project and as such cannot be addressed adequately in this study. For now, we can only recognize that there is an extra element that should later be considered. In any case, all of the aforementioned canons essentially include the same rationale — clerics are not supposed to devote their limited time and effort in other professions, so as not to detract from their sacerdotal and pastoral responsibilities.

Contemporary Practices of Other Local Churches

In this section, we will briefly examine a few local Churches and their approaches to this question. There is admittedly much that should be examined with respect to civil regulations, accounting, taxation, social security, and other considerations which relate to this topic. Another issue which should be addressed is the question of a centralized financial administration in the ROCOR as well as in other local Churches. It is impossible to effectively utilize net financial resources if there is no account of them. However, for the purpose of this work, we will limit our focus merely to what is provided to a pastor who serves full time in other local Orthodox Churches, i.e., how other local Churches have dealt with clergy compensation. The National Center for Children in Poverty (NCCP) published a guideline of what resources would be necessary to meet the minimum financial requirements of a two-child household. Their study, published in 2009, suggests that families in rural areas, such as Curry County NM, would require a minimum income of just under $40,000 annually. [25]Kinsey Alden Dinan. Budgeting for Basic Needs: A Struggle for Working Families. NCCP (2009, New York). Accessed June 11, 2022. … Continue reading A family with two children in a moderate-cost city such as Des Moines, IA, would require a minimum of roughly $46,000 a year. Finally, a family with two children in a high-cost city such as San Francisco, CA, would require a minimum of $59,000 a year. Those figures were generated by taking into consideration rent and utilities, food, child care (center based), health insurance premiums (employer based), out-of-pocket medical expenses, transportation, payroll taxes, income taxes (including tax credits), and other necessary expenses. If we adjust for average inflation from 2009 to 2022, those figures become $54,000, $62,100, and $79,650 respectively. Considering that the majority of Orthodox Churches in North America are either on the East Coast, West Coast, or in larger cities such as Denver or Atlanta, the minimum income for clergy and their families therefore should be anywhere between $62,000 and $80,000 a year. According to a study conducted by religious geographer, Alexei. D. Krindatch, the Greek Archdiocese has roughly 525 parishes in North America with about 440,000 adherents. [26] Orthodox Churches in the USA at a Glance. Accessed June 11, 2022. The OCA has about 456 parishes with about 115,100 adherents. The Antiochian Orthodox Church has about 206 parishes with 83,700 adherents. The Serbian Orthodox Church has about 118 parishes with more than 60,000 adherents, and the ROCOR has about 128 parishes. There is no data available as to the number of ROCOR’s members. Therefore it is understandable how the Antiochian Archdiocese provides its clergy with a monthly stipend ranging from $2,111 to $5,206, depending upon the size of the parish. [27] Clergy Compensation Manual – Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese. Accessed June 11, 2022.

Their support also includes housing, a vehicle, vacation (paid time off), travel expenses, moving expenses, life insurance with a death benefit, long-term disability insurance, retirement planning, support for widows, as well as health insurance. The Greek Archdiocese provides comparable levels of support, but with an annual salary of between $50,000 and over $100,000 depending upon the age and years of total service of the presbyter. [28] Clergy Compensation in Greek Orthodox Churches. Orthodox Christian Laity. Accessed June 11, 2022. Based upon Krindatch’s data, it is understandable how these two local Churches are able to accomplish this. However, it would be worth considering a local Church of a comparable size to ROCOR. There appears to be little available information on the Serbian Orthodox Church with respect to specific guidelines for clergy compensation. What is known is that the Serbian Church in America provides its clergy with pensions, health insurance, and life insurance. [29] Health and Life Insurance Plan. Accessed June 11, 2022. [30] Annual Meeting of The Central Council Held At Chicago. Accessed June 11, 2022. What is clear is that they do seem to operate on a stewardship model and strive to have full-time clergy. [31] Stewardship. Accessed June 11, 2022. From these examples, it is clear that each jurisdiction, through the use of central planning and administration, strives to provide comprehensive support for clergy according to the capability of each jurisdiction. Suffice it to say, today’s economic reality is far more complex than that of either Ancient Israel or Byzantium. However, based upon the data above, each local Church mentioned seeks to “hit the mark” of having clergy be able to fulfill their obligations in the modern setting. Much like the Church of the apostolic era, these jurisdictions appear to operate on models which assume the social as well as religious responsibility of the faithful. There is a strong sense of ownership.


From Holy Scripture, the canons, as well as the practices of other local Churches, it appears that “full time” clergy is and has been the customary practice of the Orthodox Church. The ROCOR’s practice of not providing any guidelines for clergy compensation and presumption of secular employment is therefore an exception to the norm, as attested to by Apostolic Canon VI and its analogues. Moreover, this default position places clergy in precarious circumstances that are viewed unfavorably by the canons. From the evidence cited above, it is difficult to support the notion that the ROCOR’s practice constitutes an imposition of monasticism on marriage and clergy, in so far as it was done, not out of a sense of false asceticism, but for reasons of practicality. Whether this precedent does effectively constitute such an imposition is a separate question. Thus, canon XIV of Gangra does not apply in this scenario. Another question, however, would be if the ROCOR’s practice in the long term does give rise to problematic attitudes which validate the status quo. In any case, the present condition in the ROCOR with respect to clergy compensation clearly constitutes a divergence from normative Apostolic and canonical practice.


1 Aleksandr Andreev. ROCOR Parish and Clergy Directory. Accessed June 3, 2022. %2BStates&Country=United%2BStates&hState1=WY&State=AP&x=4&y=13
2 ROCOR Clergy Appeal – If We Don’t Support Our Own, No One Will. Fund for Assistance. Accessed June 3, 2022.
3 Regulations of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. The Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia – Official Website. Accessed June 3, 2022.
4 How a South Carolina Priest Was Able to Continue Serving His Parish. ‒ an article by the Fund for Assistance to the ROCOR. Accessed June 3, 2022.
5 Commonly known as the “Priestly Code,” these laws are derived from portions of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers.
6 Gary North. Leviticus: An Economic Commentary. Institute for Christian Economics (Tyler, Texas, 1994). 107-108. [ref/] In an agrarian society, a cow (which also served the purpose of a field plow), a sheep, or a goat was by no means an insignificant asset. Moreover, the Lord commanded the Levites to provide one tenth of their earnings to the Lord (Numbers 18). Finally, it has been put forward by some biblical scholars that the expenses for travel and festal offerings were immense, when considering what they mean in terms of average income. The time it would take, simply to travel and leave behind one’s property in an agrarian society, would mean a significant loss of income due to absence. That time taken for travel to observe major feasts could potentially make a 5% loss (for those who live near the Holy City) or 15 % (for those living further away) loss of annual income. [ref] North (Leviticus). 18.
7 Didache: The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles. Legacy Icons. Accessed June 2, 2022.
8 The Apostle, however, does specifically mention bishops and deacons. Questions surrounding the office of bishop and deacon in the Apostolic period is one which could warrant its own study. However, nevertheless this would mean marriage was normative for those in sacerdotal offices.
9 Saints Nicodemus and Agapius. Translated by D. Cummings. The Rudder of the Orthodox Catholic Church: The Compilation of the Holy Canons (New York, NY, Luna, 1983). 528.
10 Nicodemus (Rudder). 528.
11 Henry Chadwick. The Church in Ancient Society: From Galilee to Gregory the Great (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009). 170.
12 Chadwick (Ancient Society). 170.
13 Chadwick (Ancient Society). 171.
14 Chadwick (Ancient Society). 170.
15 Nicodemus (Rudder). 523-528.
16 Approved by the Council of Trullo (AD 692) but dating from much earlier, possibly from the Apostolic era.
17 Nicodemus (Rudder). 9.
18 Nicodemus (Rudder). 141.
19 Nicodemus (Rudder). 143.
20 Nicodemus (Rudder). 302.
21 J. A. McGuckin (editor). The Encyclopedia of Eastern Orthodox Christianity. Vol.1. A-M (Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011). 99.
22 Nicodemus (Rudder). 143.
23 McGuckin (Encyclopedia). 100.
24 Kaldellis, Anthony. The Byzantine Republic: People and Power in New Rome. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University, 2015., 89-90; 95-110.
25 Kinsey Alden Dinan. Budgeting for Basic Needs: A Struggle for Working Families. NCCP (2009, New York). Accessed June 11, 2022.
26 Orthodox Churches in the USA at a Glance. Accessed June 11, 2022.
27 Clergy Compensation Manual – Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese. Accessed June 11, 2022.
28 Clergy Compensation in Greek Orthodox Churches. Orthodox Christian Laity. Accessed June 11, 2022.
29 Health and Life Insurance Plan. Accessed June 11, 2022.
30 Annual Meeting of The Central Council Held At Chicago. Accessed June 11, 2022.
31 Stewardship. Accessed June 11, 2022.


  • The subject of Clergy Compensation in the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR) has RUN OUT of excuses! The lack of centralized and diocesan oversight in finances and administration of Missions and Parishes as regards to CLERGY COMPENSATION borders, or crosses the line in some cases, to the criminality of HUMAN TRAFFICKING!

    This is a crisis exacerbated now by war and global migrations that can NOT be swept under some rug (eagle or otherwise) and a candle lit for these sinful acts and formative molds to which clergy, clergy families, women, and monastics are expected to melt into and meltdown as wax into a broken system that is un-Christ-like, flawed, broken, and theologically deceptive and abusive.

    Given a little more time, I will flesh out my above statements as they related to the academic paper of Subdeacon Peter James and our urgent needs at present for repentance, reform, and change. I am terse here, using a different set of adjectives than the student, as I am a monastic woman now and ‘grandmother/godmother of several generations here in Florida and in the USA and have been an active missionary engaged in church administration. During my years in the OCA, I was centrally engaged to address the issue of CLERGY COMPENSATION and mission development. These are things I need to answer to God for that are interwoven into these bad practices of the ROCOR which currently limit access to Divine Services in my local area of Flagler County, Florida, the historic area of St. Augustine on the Atlantic Coast for the many orphaned Orthodox Christians and the spiritually needy and hungry.

    In this month of July 2022, I am called into a discussion with THE ORTHODOX BOOK CLUB, to address the publication of St. Vladimir Seminary (SVS) and St. Basil in this early Christian Father’s Essays on Social Justice. I have been assigned the chapter to facilitate and discuss ‘the Famine for the Word of God’. Here St. Basil is following up on the prophet AMOS, to be accountable and in line with Holy Apostolic, Orthodox Christian Tradition, and how we handle what God gives us materially and otherwise.

    We can NOT continue in the ROCOR to pass over the CRISIS of CLERGY COMPENSATION.

    We cry out ‘Lord have mercy on us sinners’.

  • Excellent paper and valid considerations. The priest is often the greatest supporter and donor of his parish. More often than not, the Matushka finds herself the breadwinner for the family having the tasks of outside employment, working for health insurance, and raising the family. And they (the priest’s family) undertake the commitment to God joyfully and without complaint. That’s perhaps not the way it ought to be, but it’s reality. Change within the requires time and commitment. Perhaps an annual parish report by the parishes to the ROCOR hierarchy of their level of support to their priest(s) will promote self-reflection and change.

  • First, I believe, in this discussion of Clergy Compensation we must lay out a moral ground floor. For this, I ask you to read it in the language you best understand from the Holy Bible. Go to Chapter 4 verses 36 and 37 and Chapter 5 of the New Testament and the Book of Acts.
    Here in the Holy Bible read the story of what happened to the man Ananias and his wife Sapphira.

    St. John Chrysostom in his Homily XII comments on this story in Acts 4 and 5. St. John writes the story of those who cheated and lied to God needed to be told so that the infection of stealing and lying about money given to the church does not affect the Body of Christ as “gangrene”. What is gangrene? When an infection goes deep to the bone and rots the tissue around it making it is incapable of being healed. Gangrene and its results are so bad that the only chance for the person to go on living is for this foot, leg, whatever needs to be cut off or the whole of the body will die.

    With this image in mind of a deep infected wound with rotting flesh, in this case, a moral wound, or what is discussed in today’s therapy sessions as MORAL TRAUMA, healing that can not occur without coming to terms with the sin causing it.

    As per Acts IV. 36, 37 and Acts V and the whole chapter, we start our review of how money and material goods come into the church and then how that money can be used to do the right thing of paying the priest and Clergy Compensation.

    Where is this money coming from?

    1) Written logs should be in place to account for all monies coming in.
    2) Cash monies should become very limited or completely done away with so
    all monetary transactions have a source
    a. This means no more OPEN PLATE collections whereby cash by whomever and for whatever can be siphoned off.
    b. Candle money – and the concept even of candles rethought especially in small rental units with hanging flammable cloths, children moving around and in express violation of local open flame, and occupancy rules and regulations.

    This is a beginning.

    Consider what you know from where you are how the above is being done in good practice and what needs to be updated and changed so there are better-known income standards for every type of monetary exchange including the cash given to clergy for sacramentals!

    Make these reviews in the full knowledge that God knows all and sees all.

    Clergy Compensation and the development of a more honest means to supply the needs of the clergy can go forward when there is support for accountability and transparency at all levels. When it has multiple people, men, women, clerics, and bishops working together to give regular accountings of all monies and spending, and material donations and their true values are recorded and regularly audited by specially trained and professional people and not all with ties to these income sources.

    In this same St. John Chrysostom Homily XII, St. John notes the writer of Acts (St. Luke) first
    tells the proper and right way to make a gift to the church and describes this in Acts Chapter 4 verses 36 and 37 when he writes about Barnabus. So too I believe we need to emphasize the positive and the negative will fall off when these positive reflections bring to light the goodness of God and how He gives us the Grace of the Holy Spirit to care for all our needs as He does the same for the birds (Luke 12:24).

    This is part 1 of my comment I stated a few days ago I would write more.

    Mother Elizabeth

  • Repeating what I discussed in Part 1 of ACCOUNTABILITY and TRANSPARENCY, in projecting incoming funds through the ROCOR parishes makes it all the more a NOW issue to have these accounting practices a regularized routine involving lay, clerics, and outside eyes, to see how and where these funds go and how they are managed. The PRIORITY from Holy Tradition, Holy Scripture and the Canons, many cited by Subdeacon Peter James, needs to realize and result in PAY THE PRIEST!

    I have been both a Matushka and “The Refugee from Lee Road”. As a new and very pregnant Matushka at the St. Simeon Orthodox Church (OCA) in Titusville, Florida a woman came to me after the Divine Liturgy in 1984 in a sincere penitential manner for not having been to Divine Services in many years. This married couple lived in Ormond Beach a distance of about 2 hours drive to Titusville and in the area where I live now. Her sincere question was “Matushka, what does Father need for the ALTAR?”. Without giving it any cerebral brain thinking and considering my physical condition of pregnancy of my first to be born and due date to give birth any day, I answered from my autonomic nervous system and, politely “THE PRIEST”.

    Yes, it is THE PRIEST to the answer of “What does Father need for the Altar?! This is the financial condition that needs to be prioritized. This well-wishing woman that I have mentioned here had in mind a non-Orthodox parish she knew of in another county that was closing and there were pews to be bought at a good price. At that point in time, the very small house church of St. Simeon in Titusville had neither room for the people who now returning and traveling distances and/or the pews. It would have been a storage fee to hold these pews until such time when they may or might not be used?!?!?

    My clergy marriage dissolved and I have witnessed other marriages dissolve over this misplaced and what our beloved Vladyka Hilarion (Kapral) called GOOD INTENTIONS!

    So how does this bring us to in 2022?

    Yes, our same dear Vladyka Hilarion had asked us to respond to the fratricidal fighting in Ukraine with charity and ‘sharing in the sufferings. At that point in time of Vladyka Hilarion’s statement, we did NOT know this WAR would be at the rage and stage it is at present as an ongoing and full-blown international disaster.

    That takes me to my being the REFUGEE ON LEE ROAD in what one of the new arrivals from Bosnia in the 1990s, referred to me when I was then living in Orlando, Florida without a car, without an income, and post-cancer issues, and was trying to navigate the unknown territory of domestic violence, abuse, and imposed divorce on a former Orthodox Clergy wife. This new arrival from Bosnia was a brave younger man who escaped barefooted with one other friend in the December snows and frozen winter from a Moslem-run prisoner of war camp in war-torn Bosnia. On arrival in America, these two men were able to share an apartment home with funds from Catholic Social Services that paid their rent and utilities for 1 year and were given food and gas cards.

    In this time period, my new arrival friend was a taxi cab driver as his work. He saw me walking with 2 small children in hand on “Lee Road” and gave us a ride. Together with a host of other new arrivals we all worked together to grow, first using the borrowed facilities of an Episcopal chapel in Maitland (Greater Orlando) to then acquiring for our St. Petka Serbian Orthodox Mission in Longwood, (Seminole County), Florida a 5-acre property of a former horse farm, with a barn and manufactured home and swimming pool by a lake.

    My point here is that there were funds for the official REFUGEE, but no designated funding sources for a woman like me. To local community Social Services it meant nothing I had helped a Titusville Family of Vietnamese Refugees reunite with their lost son of 10 years, and teach English to the 3 generations they brought to our small neighborhood street to learn English; the homeless grandchildren of our direct neighbor we helped to feed and school and befriend or any of the charitable workings that made our small mission a home, instructing and directing the choir, engaging in fundraising, mission and enlarging and improving the parish owned property to raise the church roof and increase 4 times the property in its useable dimensions, and ready it to also be used as a Montessori pre-school, and make the abandoned deplorable state of the rectory home livable. St. Simeon parish went from attendance of 3-5 people to protecting the existing neighborhood children of our street, supporting a family taking abused children in the night as an emergency home, and all the existing families enlarging their homes on Eads Court and taking in more children (some refugees as well) and becoming income solvent to contributing to be in the OCA Southern Diocese the 3rd largest tithe from Titusville in the 10 per cent we sent, OFF THE TOP, of the parish income to the Diocese. This tithe from St. Simeon parish in 1988-1989 was the next largest amount given to the Diocese of the OCA to be shared after the then 2 cathedrals of Dallas and Miami.
    Was I paid a salary personally as an employee? NO. So I was without income sources or lacking recent employment history until I could find a way to live across the street from my medical work and later when our little HUG Center for medically fragile children was bought out, return to school through riding and bike and walking there to get funding for a roof over our heads to meet my and my family needs now as a single mother.

    The personal witness I am trying to give here is that accountability is key. Paying the priest and providing for him to have a home for his family is essential and NOT an option. This is a beginning and not a complete model Yet, this Clergy Compensation must immediately take precedent over all other matters. Why? because we must defeat the demons!
    The saying we have known CHARITY BEGINS AT HOME – applies here.

    This is how we obey the Greatest of all and the New Commandment the Lord Himself gives to us “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:3.

    So, for the priest, and in turn the parish/mission to be obedient to the Lord – ‘loving ourselves’ means there is food there for the table and a roof over our heads so we in turn can love the neighbors the Lord sends to us.

    In this time of WAR and CRISIS – the complicating and complex factors, the demons and devils love complexity, we need to be simple and do the right things in the order that they are needed.

    This means PAY THE PRIEST!
    Make Clergy Compensation the now discussion to solve and work together to end this crisis. It is doable.
    The Lord will send HIS GRACE when we are doing the right things and remove it when we are doing the WRONG things!

    The ROCOR-sponsored FUND FOR ASSISTANCE has tried to tell you this in their stories as well.

    This academic paper of Subdeacon Peter James is a PRAYER. I really like his names, Peter the first of the Apostles and James we know from the Bible FAITH WITHOUT WORKS IS DEAD!

    For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also (James 2:26).

    In my recent readings of the Desert Fathers, it says we are not to give advice or teach those things for which we have not experienced ourselves.

    It is with my own sinfulness and in humility and to the best of my ability to be accountable to God and repentant now as a ROCOR Monastic woman, a NUN, I urge you to make this CRISIS of CLERGY COMPENSATION a Number 1 priority and a daily prayer and to work toward solving in a clear-headed manner that is equitable to all our geographic locations and people involved, so together we can not only defend our Orthodox Faith but live it to our salvation. In living, as St. Seraphim of Sarov told us, “Acquire the Holy Spirit and THOUSANDS will be saved around us. Our aim in the Christian life, is to Acquire the Holy Spirit.”

    In my next writing, I will offer a few more practical suggestions. Parts 1 and 2 must first be practiced before we get these other things in place that can help the stability for new clergy families from our seminaries and existing parishes take on the responsibilities the Lord is sending our way.

  • +

    Eve of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, July 11 (June 29), 2022

    In getting going with Clergy Compensation in the ROCOR, we need to address the number of students currently in seminary and set goals they can interact with to begin engaging in their future parish homes.

    My suggestion, and one which with this note I am sending to Metropolitan Mark in Berlin, is to establish an agreeable goal for a wage and benefit support and a group of people who will work together to develop the financing and administration of these monies targeted to the goals of addressing CLERGY COMPENSATION in ROCOR THE CRISIS!

    So let’s ‘dive in’.

    $2500-$3500 a month as a minimum clergy salary, with a portion coming from the Diocese for those parishes that show they can only meet it with Diocese help.

    Diocese support $1000-1500
    Parish support $1500-$2000

    Housing comes at a time when housing is a great challenge to all.

    Housing needs prayer and support and input so that flexible solutions are available.
    The key here: SOLUTIONS not AVOIDANCE!

    Development of a ministry of lay people women and men, seminarians, clergy families who will advise and carry out many of the duties to see this CRISIS of CLERGY COMPENSATION for the ROCOR materializes and is managed in the next 40 day period.

    Through the prayers of the Holy Hierarch Saint Basil and his family to include his sister and grandmother the Saints Macrinas have mercy on us!

    O Holy Mother of God protect us!

    The sinful and unworthy nun,

    Mother Elizabeth (Klipa – Bacha)
    New Tikhvin Skete of the Holy Mother of God
    26 Poppy Ln
    Palm Coast, Florida 32164
    Cell: 386-263-8901

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