Do I have to play by all the rules?

June 4, 2012


Anyone who has ever played the game Monopoly with a group of friends will soon discover that people play by their own rules.  Some players will usually insist that their rules are the official rules of the game.  Others will argue that the way they play is an acceptable alternative according to the manufacturers of the game.  Still others have been playing that way for such a long time that they sincerely believe that the way they play the game is the right way.  But what if you really know that you, your family members, or friends have made up their own rules after years of playing and simply ignoring the official play book? You have collectively decided that you do not have to play by the official rules to be in the game. Do I have to follow all the rules? Can I pick and choose the rules that I want to follow? 

The church – while certainly not a game, but the manifestation of the Kingdom of God on earth, does indeed have her own rules.  Some of those rules are to be found in Scripture, others in Orthodox canon law, others are the decisions of national and local synods of bishops and still others are the edicts of individual bishops and even lay councils. Do you have to follow all the rules of the Church in order to be a member in good standing of the Church? And what if some of the contradictory interpretations of the rules have also been practiced over the years, and are enforced as if they are rules?  And what about the rules that are ignored by those charged with teaching and enforcing the rules?

To give only one example: where are the female deaconesses today in the canonical Orthodox Churches?  Nowhere! Outside phantom and usually unproven stories that there is one in some distant and obscure monastery in Greece – the Orthodox Church has ignored Scripture, canon law and countless edicts and decisions to have a female deaconate in the Church.  There have been countless calls for the re-instatement of female deacons in the Church and yet no official training or seminary courses have been established, and no actual ordinations have taken place. The bishops do not even follow their own decisions about this.  Is it fear? Is it hypocrisy? Are they choosing their own rules to play by?

There are Scriptural passages, canon laws, directives, decisions, edicts and interpretations about homosexuals and homosexual acts that the Orthodox Church has at times chosen to follow and enforce to varying degrees over the centuries.  Yet, those rules and interpretations are no longer valid or make sense, and in fact impede spiritual growth.  If every fiber in my soul, mind and heart tells me that God made me a gay man and has given me the desire, inclination, ability, and fate to love and join myself to another man, is that not a rule to be followed? When you ignore your God given, Holy Spirit infused conscience, you are ignoring one of the most important rules.  And that is reprehensible in the eyes of God.

Metropolitan, later Patriarch, Mstyslav (Skrypnyk) who ordained me to the priesthood used to counsel his clergy with this image: “do not follow the ustav (typicon – order), like the blind man who has to hold on to the wall.” He understood that in Holy Orthodoxy there is the spirit of the law, which is always above the letter of the law.  It is one of the main rules of Christ and His Church.

So, do I have to follow all the rules? As demonstrated by two millennia of Holy Orthodoxy – the answer is no.  No, I do not have to follow all the rules to belong to the Church of Christ.  But is it too much to ask that the bishops recognize this and stop standing on their eagle rugs and proclaiming at their consecrations that they will abide by and enforce all the rules?  To continue to do so is to play a much more dangerous game –with the souls of the faithful.

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