Protection of the All Holy Theotokos
The Very Reverend and Reverend Rectors, Parish Clergy, and The Parish Councils of the Diocese of the West
The blessing of the Lord be upon you!
Those of you who have been with me since the first days of my episcopate in 1987 know that I have characterized as "two of the most important goals of my episcopate" the fair compensation of the parish clergy and development of charity on every level of Church life within the Diocese. The topic of this Letter of Instruction relates to the first of these goals. I believe that it's obvious that a diocesan bishop (and the All-American Councils that have so vigorously addressed the topic) has this kind of goal because this is an area of church life in need of improvement. Why? Why has this become a problem and pre-occupation? We have to turn to comprehensive or even "social" histories of the Church. One may find the problems of clergy compensation considered in almost all histories of, e.g., the Russian Church written in the last two centuries. In America, the scholar Gregory Freeze has published in our lifetime two extremely informative works characterizing all the conditions of clergy life in Russia during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.(1) Here is a selection from Professor Freeze's The Parish Clergy in Nineteenth Century Russia:(2)
"By the time of Nicholas' accession in 1825, the parish clergy still depended entirely upon their traditional sources of support: emoluments, holiday collections, and cultivation of parish-church land. A few churches enjoyed some other forms of support: cathedrals had small subsidies from the state, and some urban churches and small capital endowments or rent from real estate bequeathed by parishioners. In very rare instances the clergy too enjoyed fixed support--mainly in kind and known as RUGA--usually provided in lieu of land or because of the parish's small size. In most parishes, however, the clergy enjoyed no such support and had to depend on the traditional emoluments and parish land for sustenance. That support, as both Church and state authorities agreed, showed major weaknesses.
"To begin with the monetary income from emoluments was simply inadequate. The clergy themselves, in their annual written reports, often described the income from gratuities as 'scanty,' occasionally as 'average,' very rarely as 'satisfactory.' The clergy's superiors, like the bishop of Penza, confirmed such negative assessments: 'The parish clergy receive no more than one hundred rubles in the very best parishes (here) as monetary income, and on the average they receive no more than fifty rubles, or even thirty rubles, per annum.'"
Such facts are known not only to those who read, but also to those who have an acquaintance with the conditions of a generation or two ago from the anecdotes of aging clergy from, say "Kholmshchina" or Volhynia, main sources of "Metropolia" clergy or from their children. Even in America, it has taken some time for the Orthodox parishioner to realize that the parish clergy do not have any income from the state or central or diocesan church administrations, nor even their own plots of land for subsistence farming. Many alive today remember that Archpriest Leonid Turkevich (the late ever-memorable Metropolitan Leonty) and his Matushka stood in line at the soup kitchens of the Bowery during depressed times.
All the above is to make it clear that I consider it perfectly understandable, justifiable and honorable (though the conditions mandating it were deplorable) that clergy OF THOSE DISTANT TIMES AND NOW MOST FOREIGN PLACES tended (or rather were FORCED by appalling circumstances) to set minimum rates for their accomplishment of such routine, ordinary, essential, typical, customary, habitual, usual services as crownings, burials, baptisms, house-blessings, panikhidas, moliebens, etc., etc. It has to be acknowledged that in addition to these "services of need," even the Divine Liturgy, or more accurately the Memorial Divine Liturgy became subject to such "charges!"
While I know of this practice and that it may even be continued by certain, let us say, "dinosaurs" among the clergy, living in countries where the Orthodox are a somewhat economically depressed minority among Christians, I've believed and would have informed any inquirer so, that no clergy in the diocese of the West and, by and large, in the entire Orthodox Church in America, continued such practices as setting fees, suggesting fees, hinting at a certain RATE, and so forth. I've learned only recently, in the last month, as a matter of fact, that one Priest for sure, and therefore, possibly, other Priests in our Diocese, allows himself to set rates and even suggest amplified and, therefore, more remunerative services in order to augment an income I myself approved on the basis precisely of the non-existence of such a practice! This is not to be tolerated in the Diocese of the West.
I want to be very clear: What I am writing about here, please understand, is not in any way to relate to freely-arrived-at decisions of Orthodox Christians vis-a-vis a purely VOLUNTARY giving of a donation to a clergyman or to a parish treasury, AT A RATE AND FOR A CONSIDERATION DETERMINED SOLELY AND WITHOUT ANY COACHING OR SUGGESTIONS FROM SUCH CLERGY OR THOSE IN CHARGE OF PARISH TREASURIES. Income from such UNSOLICITED AND NOT-TO-BE-EXPECTED donations, remains the property of the parish clergy and such is not to be considered in setting an equitable rate of compensation or salary.
I feel very strongly on this topic. All previous policies and public utterances on the topic of clergy compensation remain in effect, including the provision that a clergyman's salary, once set and approved at the time of assignment or adjusted upward at a parish meeting or parish council meeting or by other official means, may not be adjusted downward without my stated blessing and permission. However, all these policies are null and void in any case where a clergyman is known to have adopted the stated practices of the oppressed clergy of other times and places at a time and place where even persons on WELFARE enjoy a standard of living far superior to that of most of the people alive on earth today.
In short, the Reverend and Very Reverend Clergy are forbidden to require any fee, emolument, gratuity, charge, honorarium, etc. for any prayer, collection of prayers, visitation, blessing, service, etc., and, even in the case of VOLUNTARY, unsolicited donations on the occasion of such prayer, collection of prayers, visitation, blessing, service, etc., they are forbidden to suggest, recommend, propose, hint at, provide, or otherwise make direct or indirect reference to any cash amount, rate, or schedule of payments to any individuals, parish councils or other instances.
Any questions on matters addressed in this Letter of Instruction may be addressed to the local Dean, the Diocesan Chancellor, or, in case they are unable to provide necessary guidance, to me personally.
Sending an archpastoral blessing and assuring you of my constancy in prayer for you all,
With love in Christ,
(1) THE RUSSIAN LEVITES: Parish Clergy in the Eighteenth Century. Gregory L. Freeze. Harvard University Press, Cambridge and London. 1977. And THE PARlSH CLERGY IN NINETEENTH CENTURY RUSSIA: Crisis, Reform, Counter-Reform. Princeton University Press, Princeton. 1983.
(2) Op. cit. Chapter 2: The Structure and Economics of Parish Service, p. 55.
His Beatitude and Members of the Holy Synod
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