In the Orthodox Church in the New World, since early in the twentieth century, the concept of the married episcopate has been an important and urgent issue. The question has arisen with increasing frequency and force: Is it allowable to elect and consecrate married Priests to the episcopate and to allow them to persevere in the episcopate although they continue their married lives full and complete, co-habiting and maintaining their marital relations with their wives? Since the 6th Ecumenical Council, the discipline of Holy Church has been to prohibit the married episcopate, while still strongly maintaining the married diaconate and presbyterate. This discipline has been adhered to since with varying degrees of fidelity in various parts of the world, but it is fair to characterize this discipline as generally uniform throughout Holy Church.
This question came to be of particular importance after His Eminence, Archbishop Aftimios Ofiesh of blessed memory, married Miss Mariam Namey in 1933, many years after he was consecrated to the episcopate. Abp. Aftimios acted out of conviction that the married episcopate is truly Scriptural; furthermore, he was reacting to great scandals in the Orthodox Church involving the celibate clergy (such scandals are still common today). Abp. Aftimios also was moved to marry by his desire to force the issue of the married episcopate to consideration by a Pan-Orthodox Council; a wish which was thwarted then, but may yet be fulfilled. While Abp. Aftimios thereupon retired from the hierarchy of the Church, the remaining Bishops of his Synod made it clear that they thought his expressed belief that the episcopate should include married men was correct and scripturally sound. Since that time, a number of Bishops succeeding after Abp. Aftimios have been elected from the married presbyterate and have remained married as Bishops. This discipline, election of married Priests to the episcopate without requiring them to separate from their wives, is also followed in a number of the smaller Orthodox jurisdictions in the Americas; but the earlier discipline, prohibition of the married episcopate, is still maintained in the "main-line Orthodox Churches," as well as by traditionalist ethnic jurisdictions. It is accurate, therefore, to say that the issue of the married episcopate is controversial within Holy Church in this time and place.
I, myself, am a Bishop and a husband; I was married several years before I was ordained. I was consecrated Bishop in 1985. Since my consecration I have maintained my marital life unamended and hope to do so throughout my life. I believe that the Sacrament of Holy Orders, at any rank, cannot and must not vitiate the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony. I mention this so that the reader knows my analysis of the issues herein is inescapably tempered by my own marital and clerical status. Nevertheless, I believe my analysis to be objectively fair and accurate, or else I would not dare to publish it.
In accordance with the most ancient tradition, the consolation of the Holy Sacrament of Matrimony should not be denied to men who wish to receive the Sacrament of Holy Orders at a later date. It seems obvious that, just as a man, whether single or married to an Orthodox woman, may be tonsured and ordained as a Church Servitor, or a Subdeacon, or a Deacon, or a Priest, if he is otherwise qualified, likewise, a Priest, single or married to an Orthodox woman, should be allowed to be consecrated to the sacred episcopate, if he is otherwise qualified, in accordance with Canon V of the Holy Apostles. Membership in the episcopate ought not to be restricted to monks. In this time of great scarcity of monks, the married clergy necessarily are a resource from which the episcopate must be drawn.
A man who has married a second time cannot be ordained a Subdeacon, a Deacon, a Priest, or a Bishop, according to Canon XVII of the 85 Canons of the Holy Apostles. "Whoever has entered into two marriages after baptism" (Canon XVII) reflects the fact that, under the very strictest understanding, for a man to marry twice is adultery of a sort on his part. The rules about "a widow, or a divorced woman" (Canon XVIII) do not disparage those women's morality; rather, they were already married once, and therefore, again under the strictest understanding, to marry such a woman is adultery of a sort. (See Matthew 5:32 and 19:7-9.) While second (and even third) marriages may be allowed, for the weakness of the flesh, to the laity, the clergy are called to be irreproachable and, therefore, the clergy are not allowed to marry widows or divorced women.
We rarely use the word "concubine" (Canon XVII) in these days; we interpret "concubine" to refer to any woman with whom the man has entered into any kind of illicit sexual relationship. Also, in this modern age, we interpret "a harlot, or a house maid, or any actress" (Canon XVIII) to refer to any woman of infamous reputation or who is known for her moral turpitude. The occupations of domestic servants and actresses in the modern world cannot honestly be generically maligned as immoral; rather, it is marriage with any woman who is in any occupation which can honestly be characterized as immoral (for example, prostitution) which is prohibited. As Canons XVII and XVIII both plainly imply, a man who has married within these Canons and who is otherwise qualified may indeed be ordained "a Bishop, Presbyter, or Deacon, or anything else in the Sacerdotal List."
Also in accordance with ancient tradition, the sacred clergy in Holy Orders should not feel free to marry at will. The Church may exercise discipline in this matter, as seems prudent and expedient at the time and place. A Church Servitor who was a bachelor when he was ordained has the right to marry an Orthodox woman, in accordance with Canon XXVI of the Holy Apostles and Canon XIV of the 4th Ecumenical Council (451 A.D.). A Subdeacon, Deacon, Priest, or Bishop who is a bachelor, once he is ordained, is not permitted marriage thereafter by Canon XXVI. Yet, traditionally, we may make exceptions: a Subdeacon or Deacon who announced before his ordination to his ordaining Bishop that he plans to marry may be dispensed from this prohibition, by the same Bishop or his successor, to marry after ordination, in accordance with Canon X of Ancyra. Thus, the principle of allowing, by the exercise of Economy, ordained clergy to marry and remain clergy is well established in ancient precedent. We respect the ancient tradition which discourages men already in holy orders from marrying and encourages special caution regarding the marriages of ordained clergy. However, in light of the permissive precedents established by Canon XXVI of the Holy Apostles, Canon XIV of the 4th Ecumenical Council, and Canon X of Ancyra, and considering a footnote to Canon V of the Holy Apostles which states that "the custom prevailed of not letting those in holy orders marry ...", showing that this was a custom rather than a necessary discipline, we cannot absolutely condemn marriage after ordination.
It seems to us that when Abp. Aftimios married, this very provocative act catalyzed the active reconsideration in Holy Church of this issue of the married episcopate. Prior to his marriage, the occasional married Bishop (there were some) was not publicly approved by the Church, but was tolerated and kept quiet. Once the issue was publicly raised, the discovery of the scriptural truth and the reaffirmation of the Apostolic teaching in this regard became more possible.
The continuing witness of several small Orthodox jurisdictions with married Bishops gives us hope that the facade of ecumenical unanimity amongst Orthodox Churches on banning the married episcopate will one day fall away and the anomalous and anti-evangelical practice of an exclusively-monastic episcopate will be finally overthrown in Holy Church.
Some of our brethren in the Eastern Churches may object to allowing married men to be consecrated as Bishops, for the discipline generally current throughout Orthodoxy at this time is that only monks may be consecrated as Bishops. It behooves us, therefore, to examine the matter of the married episcopate in the light of Holy Scripture and the Sacred Canons of the Church.
Holy Scripture -- The Holy Apostle Paul gave explicit and clear directions in his epistles: "A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife..." - (I Timothy 3:2); and again, "ordain elders in every city.... If any be blameless, the husband of one wife,...for a Bishop must be blameless...." (Titus 1:5-7). (The word "blameless" is best translated as "irreproachable," according to The Rudder (Pedalion). The Orthodox Church agrees, as attested by St John Chrysostom (noted in the Interpretation of Canon XII of the 6th Ecumenical Council), that the word "elders" in the original means "bishops.") But how should Bishops deal with their wives? "Art thou bound unto a wife? Seek not to be loosed." - (I Corinthians 7:27) "Defraud (deprive) ye not one the other, except it be with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency." - (I Corinthians 7:5) "Marriage is honorable in all, and the bed undefiled:..." -(Hebrews 13:4); for a Bishop to shun his wife would make it apparent that he dishonors marriage, and that he thinks bed and intercourse to be impure, but the Apostle calls marriage "honorable" and bed and intercourse "undefiled." During His Sermon on the Mount, the Lord said, "But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery; and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery." - (Matthew 5:32; see also Matthew 19:7-9). The Lord also said, "What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder." - (Matthew 19:6). By the clear testimony of Holy Scripture, a man who is married to one woman may be a Bishop, and he is in most grave error if he shuns her bed or divorces her for any reason other than fornication.
Therefore, only a hypocrite could argue that Holy Scripture forbids the married episcopate. Indeed, the manner in which the Apostle Paul writes in his epistles, I Timothy (3:2) and Titus (1:5-7), suggests that the married episcopate was even normative. Further, the other Scriptures cited above make it unmistakably clear that any married man, including a Bishop, must respect and honor his marriage, including intimate relations with his wife, and that it is grave error to divorce his wife or to entirely shun intimate relations with her. It is impossible to enforce, as having doctrinal significance, any Canon which actually contradicts the clear meaning of the Holy Scriptures. Hence, the Canons to which we subscribe are those which are most truly consistent with the Holy Scriptures.
The Sacred Canons -- The 85 Canons of the Holy and Renowned Apostles is the first collection of Sacred Canons in the authoritative and official English-language text of the Sacred Canons, The Rudder (Pedalion). These Canons are those which are considered by many to have been promulgated by the Holy Apostles themselves (either by all of them together or perhaps only by Saint Paul and Saint Peter) through Clement, the Bishop of Rome. ( See pages lvii through lxi of The Rudder (Pedalion) for a discussion of the apostolic origin of these Canons.) These Canons are of the highest degree of importance to us, being apostolic in origin.
First and most importantly, Canon V of the 85 Canons of the Holy Apostles, which I cited earlier, makes it explicit and clear beyond any honest argument that the ancient tradition of the Holy Church recognized, valued, and positively promoted the married episcopate.
This Canon reflects the equally explicit and clear directions of the Holy Apostle Paul to Timothy and Titus. Only a hypocrite could argue that Canon V of the Holy Apostles can be interpreted, in any manner whatsoever, to forbid the episcopate to married men. A footnote to Canon V of the Holy Apostles in The Rudder (Pedalion) explicitly states: "Please note that in old times it was permissible for bishops to have wives." The footnote gives the following as cases in point: "Felix, the bishop of Rome, was a son of a priest named Felix, Pope Agapetus was a son of a presbyter named Gordianus. Pope Gelasius was a son of a bishop named Valerius, and many others were sons of priests." The footnote goes on to state that it was Canon XII of the 6th Ecumenical Council which sanctioned the custom of the married clergy except that "bishops alone should not be allowed to have wives."
Those who now forbid the episcopate to married men (viz., most Eastern Orthodox jurisdictions) cite other Canons as the bases for their discipline in this matter. Therefore, we must ask ourselves if Canon V of the 85 Canons of the Holy Apostles was ever rejected by the Ecumenical Councils and rendered ineffective. The answer is quite inescapable: both Canon II of the 6th Ecumenical Council and Canon I of the 7th Ecumenical Council explicitly accept and ratify all of the 85 Canons of the Holy Apostles. Moreover, Canon XIII of the 6th Ecumenical Council verifies verbatim Canon V of the 85 Canons of the Holy Apostles, but unjustifiably excepts Bishops from its applicability. Canon V of the Holy Apostles always was and still is a Sacred Canon of Holy Church.
These two Canons, XVII and XVIII, also cited earlier, both plainly imply that a man who has married acceptably can be "a Bishop, or a Presbyter, or a Deacon, or anything else in the Sacerdotal List;" otherwise, the prohibitions contained in the Canons would be moot and absurd with regard to Bishops.
Canon XL of the 85 Canons of the Holy Apostles directs that the difference between the property of the Bishop and the property of the Church be publicly known, and it prohibits a Bishop both from leaving the property of the Church to his wife and family and from depriving his wife and family from their rightful inheritance by leaving his own property to the Church through there being confusion as to whose the property really is. This Canon plainly takes for granted that some Bishops will have wives, whose inheritance could be at issue.
This Canon LI plainly assumes that there will be men who do not abstain from marriage who will be Bishops, Presbyters, and Deacons. It is those who have refused to marry who are at risk of deposition from the clerical state and expulsion from Holy Church under this Canon. This Canon is an eloquent witness to the high regard that the Apostolic Church had for marriage, and explicitly for the marriage of Bishops, Presbyters, and Deacons. It witnesses to the Orthodox and unchangeable truth of the Christian Faith that "all things are exceedingly good," and that it is blasphemous to misrepresent God's work of creation by holding that certain things (including lawful sexual relations, meat, and wine, which are simply those things about which errors arose early on) are in themselves unclean, and that it is blasphemous to abhor them.
What then are the true and allowable sacrifices? "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise." - Psalm 51, Verse 17.
Further, the Apostle Paul calls marriage honorable and marital relations undefiled: "Marriage is honorable in all, and the bed undefiled:...." - [Hebrews 13:4]; and our Lord Jesus Christ sanctified marriage by His attendance at the marriage feast in Cana; thus it is un-Christian and anti-scriptural to consider bed and intercourse to be impure. Yet, despite the Orthodox Faith, and despite Canon LI of the Holy Apostles, beginning with the Council of Carthage and culminating in the 6th Ecumenical Council, the hierarchs of the Church enacted Canons which suppressed the marital relations and even the marriages of the clergy. The 6th Ecumenical Council could have condemned those in Africa who wished to suppress the marriages of the clergy, as they did with the very same situation in Rome, but they did not. Instead, they unreasonably and unjustifiably extended a ban on married Bishops throughout the world; this was obviously the result of the erroneous anti-marital sentiment which had become generally accepted since marital relations had come to be viewed, blasphemously, as unclean, particularly for a minister of the Sacraments.
"Neo-Manichaeism," as used herein, refers to the heretical impulse behind various erroneous doctrines which call for a more austere and rigid physical purity than is proper and correct according to the teaching of Christ our Lord and His faithful Apostles and disciples. The concept of impurity and purity as being susceptible of physical expression predated Christianity by many centuries; it appeared again in the heresies of the Manichees, Gnostics, and others.
Neo-Manichaeism refers specifically to heretical doctrines within Orthodox Catholicism which mirror the particular heresy of the Manichees, who combined Zoroastrianism, Gnostic Christianity, and pagan elements. Zoroastrianism, the pre-Islamic Persian religion, included a belief in an afterlife and in the continuous struggle of the universal spirit of good (Ormazd) with the spirit of evil (Ahriman), the good ultimately to prevail. Gnostic Christianity included this theological dualism and therefore despised the body as being evil and considered the soul to be trapped within the body.
The Manichees' fundamental dualistic theological concepts, of a spirit of good and a spirit of evil, on an essentially equal footing, that is, of two contending principles of good (light, God, the soul) and evil (darkness, Satan, the body), are antithetical to Orthodox Christianity which holds the fundamental monotheistic belief in One God, Who is all-good and all-powerful, and Who is opposed by Satan and the other fallen angels (i.e., the demons), all of whom are inferior to God in every respect. Canon LI of the Holy Apostles, cited above, confirms the Orthodox Faith: "that all things are exceedingly good, and that God made man male and female" and that abhorrence of marriage is a "blasphemous misrepresentation of God's work of creation."
The anti-Christian dualism of such Neo-Manichaeism demands compliance with laws of external cleanliness of the sort denounced by Jesus in the 23rd Chapter of Matthew. Jesus Christ taught us that it is not external things, but what comes from his heart that makes a man clean or unclean.
This divine instruction is a hard saying for many people; it is particularly hard for a few of those who have put their feet on the path of monasticism. It seems that there are some monastics who do not know, or cannot keep in mind, that they abstain from some things (e.g., marriage, meat, wine) because they wish to mortify the flesh and grow spiritually stronger (this is truly Orthodox, to sacrificially abstain from good things). Too many believe that they abstain from things which are unclean, thus making themselves more pure for God (this is the heresy of Neo- Manichaeism). Such an attitude leads to erroneous anti-marital policies. This is not Apostolic Christianity; this is the error of men. Witness the Orthodox, Apostolic Canon LI.
Neo-Manichaeism, which Canon LI reveals to be outright blasphemy, and the hypocrisy which promotes and defends it, seem to be the abiding sins of the institutional Churches, East and West, because men seek ritual purity on the basis of their own wisdom, despite the fact that God, in His wisdom, redeemed the whole world and all things are good in His eyes. Neo- Manichaeism is the result of the rejection of this very important and fundamental teaching of Christ. Neo-Manichaeism is heresy! When those who are perhaps most prone to falling into the error of Neo-Manichaeism are also the sole hierarchs of the Church (that is, with the exclusively-monastic episcopate which has been imposed upon Holy Church since the 6th Ecumenical Council), the danger of further distorting the Christian Faith in favor of Neo-Manichaeism obviously is very much increased. Of course, since virtually all Bishops have been monks for over a thousand years, the reversal of this erroneous trend will occur only by a great movement of the Holy Spirit. How, then, did a Canon forbidding the married episcopate come to be? Canon XII of the 6th Ecumenical Council is the primary basis for the currently widespread discipline of forbidding the married episcopate.
Canon XIII of the 6th Ecumenical Council deals with the then current Roman discipline which required ordinands to the Diaconate and Presbyterate to "solemnly promise to have no further intercourse with their wives." Canon XIII cites the long tradition (discussed above) of the married clergy and decrees that the Roman discipline is an error.
The omission of "Bishop" from the list of persons in sacred orders in Canon XIII of the 6th Ecumenical Council is very significant, reflecting Canon XII, which deprived Bishops of the rights of marriage. Thus, Canon XII commits wholesale the very offense (violation of Canon V of the Holy Apostles) for which, in the individual cases of Priests, Deacons, and Subdeacons, Canon XIII excommunicates and deposes!
In Canon XII, the 6th Ecumenical Council legislates in direct contradiction to Canon V of the Holy Apostles (while self-consciously declaring "We assert this, however, not with any intention of setting aside or overthrowing any legislation laid down Apostolically...."), and in direct contradiction of the Holy Scriptures [Matthew 5:32 and 19:6-9; I Corinthians 7:5 and 7:27; Hebrews 13:4; I Timothy 3:2; and Titus 1:5-7]; and then, immediately in Canon XIII, the 6th Ecumenical Council legislates precisely on the basis of Canon V of the Holy Apostles and Holy Scriptures ("If, therefore, anyone acting contrary to the Apostolic Canons require any person who is in sacred orders.... Likewise, if any Presbyter or Deacon expel his own wife on the pretext of reverence, ....") The kindest characterization which one might make is that Canon XII is anomalous and wholly inconsistent with the entire meaning and import of Canon XIII. One could, therefore, paraphrase Canons XII and XIII to implicitly say: "If, therefore, anyone acting contrary to the Apostolic Canons require any person who is in sacred orders - any Bishop, we mean - to abstain from intercourse and association with his lawful wife, let him be. Likewise, if any Bishop expel his own wife on the pretext of reverence, let him be."
Isn't that absurd? This is in direct contradiction to the Apostolic Canons and to the very arguments used by the same Council for Canon XIII! Remember, "No Bishop, Presbyter, or Deacon shall put away his own wife under pretext of reverence. If, however, he put her away, let him be excommunicated; and if he persist in so doing, let him be deposed from office." - [Canon V of the Holy Apostles.]
Thus, Canon XII of the 6th Ecumenical Council is an anti-evangelical and (vis-a-vis Canon V and Canon LI of the Holy Apostles) an anti-canonical attack on the marriages of Bishops.
There were two primary causes for this anomalous and illegitimate legislation.
First and most disturbing, there was a longstanding and accelerating trend of excessive disparagement of marriage (this has disturbing undercurrents of the widely held pre-Christian concept of ritual purity; remember that the Apostle Paul calls marriage honorable and marital relations undefiled: "Marriage is honorable in all, and the bed undefiled:...." - [Hebrews 13:4]; thus it is anti-scriptural to consider marital relations to be impure) and also of excessive exaltation of monasticism. Monastic excesses have proven to be a bitter fruit of the heresy of neo-Manichaeism. This was the unspoken subtext of Canon XII, and of other later Canons which suppressed the marital relations and even the marriages of the clergy. Excessive exaltation of monasticism and disparagement of marriage is an anti-evangelical error which still besets the Orthodox Churches. It is not at all overstating the case to frankly define misagomy (hatred of marriage) and misogyny (hatred of women) as both being blasphemous (as is proven by Canon LI of the Holy Apostles) and heretical (being premised on the neo-Manichaen tenet that the body is evil and impure). [Obviously, misandry (hatred of males), as held by some modern radical feminists and others, is identically blasphemous and heretical.]
The second cause for the anomalous legislation of Canon XII was the proximate cause: the scandal caused the faithful in North Africa by their married Bishops. This may have been a good reason to ban married Bishops in North Africa, but not throughout the world. Yet, this concession to the priests in Barbary, Africa was not given to the Roman clergy (see Canon XIII of the 6th Ecumenical Council) because the Romans were considered more docile regarding morals, while the African were considered to have a wild character.
The interpretation of Canon XXX of the 6th Ecumenical Council (see below) notes that the Africans had "a strange notion of what constitutes good order as respecting ecclesiastical morals, according to Balsamon, and [a] lack of firmness of faith...." Thus, the Council could have as well condemned those who were scandalized in Africa, as they did in Rome, but they chose not to.
The unreasonable and unjustifiable extension of the ban on married Bishops throughout the world obviously was the result of the Council's hidden agenda, viz., the erroneous anti-marital sentiment discussed above. Let us look beyond Canons XII and XIII of the 6th Ecumenical Council, at additional canonical evidence of this error.
Canon XXX discards the unnatural crypto-celibacy within cohabitation legislated in Canon XXXIII of Carthage (see below). Also, this Canon is quite clear that the Barbarian discipline was a circumvention of Canon V of the Holy Apostles. Nonetheless, the Council distorted the Tradition by allowing marriage to be dishonored amongst the Barbarians, against the clear teaching of the Holy Scriptures (not to mention Canon IV of Gangra (see below) and Canons V and LI of the Holy Apostles) because the Barbarians were pusillanimous and bizarre.
Canon XII and Canon XXX of the 6th Ecumenical Council, and Canons III, IV, and XXXIII of Carthage (see below) all embody a conscious policy of appeasement of those who are demonstrably and admittedly in error. Appeasement is always and everywhere a bad policy since it seeks to mollify evil (thus belying truth) rather than to confront and overcome evil. This appeasement is hidden under a cloak of not wanting to give offense: "We assert this, however, not with any intention of setting aside or overthrowing any legislation laid down Apostolically, but having due regard for the salvation and safety of peoples and for their better advancement with a view to avoiding any likelihood of giving anyone cause to blame the priestly polity. For the divine Apostle says: `Do all everything for the glory of God. Give none offense,'" - [Canon XII of the 6th Ecumenical Council]. Certainly, the selfsame 6th Ecumenical Council did not stop at offending the Romans by name in Canon XIII. But the real impetus, of course, was the hidden agenda - the growing heresy of neo-Manichaeism, pursuing "ritual purity."
This is clearly the authentic Apostolic teaching! This venerable Canon condemns the heresy of the Eustathians, the Manichees, and others who forbade the married priests to celebrate the Liturgy. But see how quickly it is forgotten by the Council of Carthage:
This is precisely the erroneous Roman discipline, which required ordinands to "solemnly promise to have no further intercourse with their wives," and which was completely condemned by Canon XIII of the 6th Ecumenical Council. It was carried from Rome to Africa by Bishop Faustinus of Picenum, the legate of the Pope of Rome and the man who proposed this Canon IV of Carthage. The absolute premise of these Canons is that women are unclean, a tenet which is blasphemous and heretical, as discussed above, not to mention being proof of the perpetrator's misagomy and misogyny. The reasoning follows that, if women are unclean, then to touch a woman sexually defiles a man and makes him unfit for sacred service. So much for the Word of God! So much for Marriage is honorable in all, and the bed undefiled [Hebrews 13:4].
This Canon distinguishes between crypto-celibacy on the one hand, and real marriage on the other hand. It commands unnatural crypto-celibacy - the clergy continuing to cohabit with their wives, but doing so without having intimate relations. This promotion of unnatural marital relations is totally out of conformity with Holy Scripture. (Note that, even in such an anti-marital Canon as this one, the implication is clear that Bishops have wives: "and even Bishops, on the same terms, must abstain from their wives...".)
Canon XII of the 6th Ecumenical Council is, at best, anomalous. While I will not condemn Canon XII nor any jurisdiction which continues to follow that Canon, I believe we Orthodox should be permitted to follow the still-standing, never-revoked, God-pleasing Canons V and LI of the Holy Apostles, and Canon IV of Gangra, which promulgate the discipline which is consistent with the Holy Scriptures: qualified married Priests must be admitted to the sacred episcopate and must be allowed to keep their marriages whole and complete, as intended by almighty God.
What the 6th Ecumenical Council intended for the wives of Bishops is made clear in Canon XLVIII of the 6th Ecumenical Council. That Canon provides that women who are wives of Priests about to become Bishops and their husbands must first divorce by common consent and, after his consecration, she is to enter a convent; if she is worthy, she may be ordained a Deaconess. Given the high office of the episcopate, there is real reason to expect some degree of coercion of candidates' wives to cooperate, so as not to block their advancement in the Church hierarchy. I believe that this should be considered to be the rule, rather than the exception, given the human realities of such situations.
Furthermore, remembering that our Lord said, "What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder," we should not actively promote this practice, lest Priests abuse the right and coerce their wives into entering convents. In fact, remembering that a married couple are one flesh in the eyes of God [Genesis 2:24], even truly voluntary divorces for this purpose should not be permitted to all who request them. Nonetheless, because there are those rare married couples who honestly and piously both wish to enter into the Angelic vocation, and where the prayerful discernment of the Bishop may find that, for that particular couple, such a course would more likely work toward their ultimate salvation, we ought to allow, very rarely, an exception so that husband and wife may become monastics. The Bishop examining such a case should be extraordinarily attentive to the real motivations of the wife and to the likelihood of coercion by the husband.
In summary, the hierarchy should admonish the clergy of every rank that they must keep their marriages whole and complete, honorable and undefiled, as intended by almighty God, and that they must not harm their marriages in any way on the pretext of reverence because they are "in the Sacerdotal List." While voluntary celibacy is a wonderful thing, the idea that marriage is in any respect unclean must be attacked whenever it arises, as the blasphemous heresy that it is.
It bears repeating once more: When those most prone to falling into neo-Manichaeism are also the sole hierarchs of the Church (that is, the exclusively-monastic episcopate), the danger of further distorting Christian Faith in favor of neo-Manichaeism obviously is very great. Since virtually all Bishops have been monks for over a thousand years, the reversal of this erroneous progression into heresy will occur only by a great movement of the Holy Spirit. The monastic hierarchy now teaches that the Angelic vocation of monasticism is superior to the vocation of marriage. This kind of excess scandalizes the faithful. Every person who knows the Scriptures knows that the union of man and woman is God's plan [Genesis 1:26-28; 2:21-25]. They know what the New Testament says: "Marriage is honorable in all, and the bed undefiled" [Hebrews 13:4]; "What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder" [Matthew 19:6].
To say that the monastic vocation, invented by holy men and women inspired by Our Lord Jesus Christ, however excellent it may be, is superior to God's own plan for men and women - that is scandalous. To back up this excessive evaluation of monasticism with misagomous and misogynous arguments and offensive disparagement of women and marriage - that is scandalous. To ignore the human problems that can and sometimes do arise in the unnatural state of monastic life, such as homosexual behaviours, phobic attitudes toward women, and so forth, while extolling monasticism as superior to married life - that is scandalous. To legislate (as the sole legislators) changes from the Apostolic Church discipline to force the laity to follow ascetic monastic lifestyles (like the excessive fasting rules now in force in all traditionalist jurisdictions) - that is scandalous. To deceptively disparage married Bishops as false Bishops and no Bishops at all, knowing full well that the married episcopate was normative in the Apostolic Church and for centuries thereafter - that is scandalous. After so many centuries, these scandals have not been without their corrosive effect on the faithful.
The few married Bishops now remaining in the Orthodox Churches are, in fact, the first line of defense against the proponents of misagomy and misogyny, of neo-Manichaen heresy and blasphemy. In their persons, they and their wives embody the Christian truth, that God made man male and female and that all things God made are exceedingly good. They show what a heresy it is to say that the body is evil and that a woman defiles a man. They are witnesses of God's plan for the propagation of the race of mankind, the heterosexual relationship of man and wife; the exclusively-monastic episcopate cannot make this witness.
The issue of the married Bishops is far from being a minor matter of Church discipline, long-since resolved and no longer relevant or important. To the contrary, this is a very urgent matter of the greatest importance to the Church of Jesus Christ, for, if such a fundamental heresy as neo- Manichaeism cannot be overcome, if it continues to seduce the minds and hearts of most of the Orthodox episcopate, then the central Church organizations, the visible Church, will one day be found to be apostate. The visible Church will be an heretical organization, no better than the Manichees, no better than the Gnostics, fit only as a bride for Anti-Christ. The Church has been in the catacombs before, in the beginning of the Christian era, and in this century. It may go to the catacombs again, if that is the only place where genuine Christianity can survive. If we do go back to the catacombs, you can be sure that the Bishops will be married men, not careerist monks.
As I said earlier, when Abp. Aftimios married, it catalyzed the active reconsideration in Holy Church of the issue of the married episcopate. Once the issue was publicly raised, the discovery of the scriptural truth and the reaffirmation of the Apostolic teaching became more possible. This question of the married episcopate has been posed, not only academically, nor only in the context of proposals for canonical legislation, but it has been embodied and lived in sacrificial Christian witness by Abp. Aftimios and Mariam Ofiesh, and by the many Bishops in succession from Abp. Aftimios and their co-suffering wives who followed in their courageous example, acting out of conviction that the married episcopate is truly Scriptural. Abp. Aftimios' desire to force the issue of the married episcopate to consideration by a Pan-Orthodox Council was thwarted in 1933, but by the grace of God, it may yet be fulfilled.
"What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder."
[ Matthew 19:6 ]
"No Bishop, Presbyter, or Deacon shall put away
his own wife under pretext of reverence.
If, however, he put her away, let him be excommunicated;
and if he persist in so doing, let him be deposed from office."
[ Canon V of the Holy Apostles ]
"If any Bishop, or Presbyter, or Deacon,
or anyone at all on the sacerdotal list,
abstains from marriage, or meat, or wine,
not as a matter of mortification, but out of an abhorrence thereof,
forgetting that all things are exceedingly good,
and that God made man male and female,
and blasphemously misrepresenting God's work of creation,
either let him mend his ways or let him be deposed from office
and expelled from the Church. Let a layman be treated similarly."
[ Canon LI of the Holy Apostles ]
"If anyone discriminates against a married Presbyter,
on the ground that he ought not to partake of the offering
when that Presbyter is conducting the Liturgy, let him be anathema."
[ Canon IV of Gangra (340 A.D.) ]
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