Shepherds, Ewes, Lambs and Icons

For various reasons, I am closing the comments on the Midwest Clergy Wives letter post a couple of posts lower. 

I posted the letter not to provide a forum for speculation about the case of  Bishop Matthias or any other specific issue currently happening in any of the Orthodox churches, but because it was a matter of interest to Orthodox clergy wives. When a group of  clergy wives feel strongly enough to write a letter to the bishops, that is news of interest to the whole church I would think, but especially to other clergy wives.

The letter was already in circulation by e-mail and had turned up on Facebook before I posted it here.

This blog is here to be a kind of clearing-house for internet posts and links and other things of interest to Orthodox clergy wives. There are not that many of these things specifically geared to Orthodox clergy wives, and I think it’s useful to have them available in this one spot. It is also anonymous, and allows commenters to be anonymous because of the sad but true fact that clergy wives sometimes, in fact often, need to remain in the shadows. In their parishes they live in the ‘goldfish bowl’ as it is, and don’t need further pressures on their privacy from a place that should be a virtual oasis for them.

The Concerned Midwest Wives letter, as I saw it online, did not have signatures on it, though it was stated on another forum that there were about twenty signatures (I assume in the original copy actually sent to the Holy Synod). 

One comment on the posting of that letter here came from an anonymous clergy wife who gave a different view from that in the letter. That clergy wife said she too was a member of that diocese. I am not a member of that diocese, so I am not taking sides in this case, but I am allowing all these clergy wife voices to be heard, regardless of which views they may have.

I published a couple of other rather long comments after,  and then got more in the queue; but then I realized these were not in fact from clergy wives. And that’s okay, you don’t have to be a clergy wife to comment here. But I do not want the clergy wives to be swamped by other commenters. 

I also do not want this blog to become a debating ground over specific current issues in the church. There are other places where people can engage in that. And I don’t want it to become full of speculations about various motivations of the personalities on any side of such situations. That is happening other places, but shouldn’t.

 I’m not sure if the bishops have made any response to this letter, and I don’t think those of us outside that diocese should expect to hear anything, not at this point at least. I recall hearing that an opportunity for speaking about these concerns was given to the people at  their recent Diocesan Assembly. So I believe the rest of us should leave this where it is until the required course of treatment is complete and some sort of decision is made about Bishop Matthias’s future status and role.  

Having said that, I think there are some generalities we could think about that are raised by the letter of the Concerned Midwest wives.

A scandal of some kind occurs in a diocese, and the bishop is investigated and disciplined by his fellow bishops. Or, in the case of a priest, by his own hierarch. The shepherd, that is, is at least temporarily removed from the flock while the other shepherds decide what else to do about the situation.

 Maybe the shepherd isn’t a wolf in sheep’s clothing. But there are such things, and it is the job of the other shepherds to see that the flock is protected. Sometimes it is a priest or other person in a diocese under question, and then it is the job of the diocesan bishop and in fact the other clergy of that diocese to take those protective measures. I don’t suppose anyone would argue with this.

So what about the flock then? I think it is obvious that for the ewes, the mama sheep,  it is not just their job but their undeniable nature to protect the young and helpless lambs. The mama sheep here are mothers and others, including the clergy wives, who have charge of the vulnerable members of our churches.  If the ewes are bleating because they sense that these ‘little ones’ have been exposed to danger, the shepherds need to pay attention.

Maybe it’s a false alarm—but a wise shepherd can’t afford to take that chance.

God’s flock is not made up of unintelligent sheep, but of men and women (and children too) made in God’s own image. They are Holy Icons, in fact. Imagine how different the Church would look if we treated each other with the reverence and focused attention that we give to the icons of wood and paint in our church temples.

Imagine how shocked and appalled we would be if a church member, and especially one of the shepherds, sidled up to an icon in the nave and started mistreating it. Moving it carelessly around, perhaps setting it in a place where it can be knocked over and damaged.   Or imagine something more obviously blasphemous, even spitting on an icon, or throwing it around and smashing it like an iconoclast.

We would even have cause to raise eyebrows if we saw a shepherd stride into the nave and altar and rush about his tasks without paying the usual formal reverence to the various icons. We expect the shepherds to lead the rest of us by example. 

How then is it that we can tolerate the most blatantly iconoclast behavior by church leaders toward the sheep and lambs who are made in the image of the Chief Shepherd? Not all harm to sheep is done by malicious wolves in sheep’s clothing; some is done by the deluded who think the sheep always need the rod instead of the staff; by what our Lord calls ‘hirelings’ (whether their pay is chiefly money or whether it is the ego inflation they get from being called ‘Father’); or by the simply incompetent.

Yet it is hard to know what to make of such scandalous behaviors as shouting and scolding altar servers in the altar, actual physical abuse, addictions and so on. This is without, as I said, even considering the true wolves in sheep’s clothing.

So. I know sheep can get spooked by something that really is no danger after all. But they don’t, like the mischievous boy in the story, cry “Wolf!” just for the fun of it. Once a shepherd has given some cause for alarm, the sheep may never want to trust him again. Please remember, I’ve moved to general thoughts in this post and don’t want to reopen the Bishop Matthias case. The fact is, these cases aren’t as rare as we would hope, and it may be a priest, deacon, bishop or lay leader in your diocese or your parish some day.

I believe Fr. Hopko summed this up well in the conclusion to his article, which the Concerned Midwest Clergy Wives attached to their own letter: 

 “In the case of a “fallen clergyman”, mercy and compassion are demonstrated in two ways. In regard to the guilty clergyman they are demonstrated by permitting him, after deep and serious repentance, to participate in the Holy Mysteries. In regard to the whole body of the faithful, they are demonstrated by not subjecting the Church’s members to confusion, scandal and a necessity to explain why a clergyman guilty of egregious transgression and/or crime is still serving at the Holy Altar and exercising clerical duties.”

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One response to “Shepherds, Ewes, Lambs and Icons

  1. Pingback: Orthodox Collective

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