by Archpriest Nectarios Trevino
Like Montag, I was to be rid of all my books. I was to unlearn all that I have read and come to believe in. I was expected to ignore centuries of tradition and Holy Tradition. Ultimately, I was expected to ignore the apostolic lineage of truth. I was expected to become ignorant and a pawn. The Bible and letters and texts by the Apostolic and Church Fathers were to be burned. “A book is a loaded gun.”i I was expected to yield without question, “Stand at the top of a cliff and jump off and build [my] wings on the way down.”ii I am expected to put out the stars and extinguish the Son. I refused.
A Mere Footnote to History
After military retirement in 1998, I wandered. I was taken in by a saint, Metropolitan Nicholas of Amissos. His message was simple, “Follow me.” I followed, not knowing where I was destined. Slowly, I was nurtured. Deliberately, I was fed. His time with his students was his greatest gift to us.
I spent the next three-and-one-half years in study—classroom and autodidactic—and travel with His Eminence while in the Diaconate program. I recall asking why he was educating deacons; his answer was direct and simple. “You know, our people are getting old and some of our parishes are very small. And I am going to take care of our people until the last. I will not abandon them. They have sacrificed a lot coming to America.” His love and devotion to his people were unbounded.
The American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocesan Diaconate program was not without controversy. Behind the scenes numerous senior clergy were non-supportive; this I experienced first-hand.
Some of the deacons, of which I was one, were ordained to the priesthood. Each one of us has a different story and His Eminence had differing reasons for our ordination.
The beauty—a divine beauty—of His Eminence was his openness and accessibility. I and others made numerous visits unassociated with weekend classes simply to have breakfast or lunch with him. He was always welcoming and pleased to see us. Because he was constantly teaching, by word and deed, especially storytelling, at every meeting we were always learning that never taught in a classroom.
I recall one day long before my ordination, having journeyed to meet His Eminence for breakfast, that he was annoyed. I, in complete ignorance, asked the source of his ire to which he replied, “It’s that Pretender Patriarch in Kyiv, he’s making trouble again.” Little did I know then that then-would-be-today.
In 2011 His Eminence fell asleep in Lord. Since then, nothing has been the same. In 2012 everything changed.
Under new Trumpian leadership, the first meeting with the hierarch was, without question, confrontational—him to the clergy. He announced the end of the Diaconate program, “If men don’t want to spend full-time at the seminary, they should receive no ordination of any type.” And he stated that all of us who had been ordained to the priesthood via the diaconate program “were impostor priests.”iii
What happened within the diocese became of greater concern, it went from a population of >10,000 in 2000 to just over ~4,000 by 2018.
Without deacons, more than one parish was abandoned by the hierarch. And if a legally state incorporated parish, such as the one in North Royalton, Ohio, was without a deacon and it desired to perpetuate its existence by selling a part of it property, the hierarch filed a lawsuit claiming rights to its proceeds. The lawsuit is being funded by the dues of the diocesan parishes; in other words, the hierarch is pitting every diocesan parish against Christ the Saviour in North Royalton. (It is very much akin to the Metropolitan Emmanuel of Gaul’s legal threats to Archbishop John in Europe.iv)
When asked about the diaconate program at the 2019 clergy convocation, the hierarch responded strongly and negatively: no more deacons and no support to parishes that could no longer economically support a priest with a full-salary, health, housing, and retirement benefits. Earthly treasure takes precedence over eternal souls.
That the sun is setting on the diocese and its people was evident to those of us in the trenches.
And, as an embedded footnote, if you don’t know, he’ll inform you, the hierarch was selected to attend the 2106 Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church. After the council, we priests, at the subsequent diocesan clergy convocation, heard of the guffaws and hilarity of the attendees, not the reverence and the decisions made.
I must admit that I was not fully attentive to the Council’s motives and potential consequences—until October 15, 2018, when a priest colleague, Archpriest Mark Tyson, was accepted into the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad. To say my eyes were opened is an understatement. The Gospel of Mark (18:8) was meant for me, “Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear?”
After October 15th I spoke to other (non-ACROD) hierarchs and priests, Church historians (PhDs), and Orthodox Christian canon law lawyers. I researched. I read. I prayed. The greater my probing, questioning, and seeking of the truth, the iller I became. Sleep faded. Tension rose. I became physically ill. I erupted with shingles across my head – top, forehead, and surrounding my right eye. The literal matched the spiritual pain.
The question became: was I willing to sacrifice my integrity to men who were ignoring the apostolic priesthood—men telling me by their deeds that the apostolic priesthood was of no consequence.
That I and all my colleagues in the Ecumenical Patriarch were being used was evident. One only needed to look at a photo or read an article and note that the US Secretary of State, a US Ambassador or the latter’s representative, or a member of the Greek government was in proximity—in time and space.
My former hierarch had never communicated anything to his clergy. Silence abounded.
I concluded the following, albeit the following words are of better articulation.
Instead, the authority of the Scriptures [and] tradition laid down over the centuries to which [Orthodox Christian hierarchs] supposedly pledged their fidelity, is the sole source of their authority….Bishops are not supposed to just make things up as they go along, however smart and sensitive they imagine themselves to be. They serve a higher authority.v
The totality of the diocese’s leadership quietude combined with the uninhibited and complete excoriation—the hiding of knives in words—of Fr. Mark Tyson meant those who remained were expected to ignore centuries of tradition and Holy Tradition. Ultimately, I was expected to ignore the apostolic lineage of truth. I was expected to become ignorant and a pawn. The Bible and books by the Apostolic and Church Fathers were be burned. I was expected to yield without question. I could not.
Local dialogue was evidently futile given the unilateral and non-apostolic acts originated in Constantinople. And the treatment of Fr. Mark was uncivil, secular, and un-Christian. Furthermore, local dialogue was further impossible given the character of the hierarchy, his spiritual pliancy to the times, and the traps laid within the diocese. I knew I had no one to turn to within the diocese—no one whom I could trust. Fear reigned then and reigns/rains within the diocese to this day. Fear is not leadership.
As a retired military officer, I have been well trained not to obey illegal orders, explicit and implicit. And I have done such—not obeyed illegal orders—before in peacetime and combat. And now I would have to act again.
I would not abandon my apostolic priesthood, God’s priesthood. I would not be accountable to God for leading my parishioners into an earthly purgatory and eternal hell. That is not what a military officer does for his troops. It is not what an apostolic priest does to his parishioners knowing he is engaging in a cosmic war.vi
“Where, gentlemen, did you get the idea that these churches “belong” to you? Probably the same place you got the idea that the Church “belongs” to you. This may come as a shock, but they don’t, and it doesn’t.”vii
I long ago learned that “there are two ways to be fooled: one is to believe what isn’t true and the other is to refuse to believe what is true.”viii And I refused to be a part of the foolery.
The great marketing trick of political Progressives and progressive Orthodox Christians is pretending—often starting with themselves—that they have unimpeachable authority on their side. The latter pretense holds that some expert in the Hellenic Orthodox Christian worldview is smarter than the non-Hellenic Orthodox Christian world. Both sell this idea by drowning opponents with social jargon aided by international politics and intrigue. Moreover, the capacity for the former experts to delude themselves into thinking their agenda isn’t shot through with political or ideological biases is profound.
In other words, they start with the object of their desire and reason backward from it engaging in ex post facto reasoning, the very basis of Gnosticism and Protestantism. Being led toward a Protestant form of Orthodox Christianity is wholly contrary to a priori apostolicity.
I, too, was excoriated. Truth and tradition were irrelevant—my former hierarch would address neither when he finally visited my former parish three months later. But he, knowing of my military background, did state that I “should be shot for abandoning my post.”
As for many parishioners, they were nationalistic, attached to the facility, rabidly anti-Russian, or emotional.
I was troubled by the malicious and deeply wounding knives from the former hierarch to former parishioners. I gained a whole new appreciation and understanding of the words “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat” (Luke 22:31).
I found solace in many places, one of them being the following.ix
Time and time again, we hear the Stoics tell us to say what is right, to do what is right, to be comfortable swimming upstream or rejecting the choices of the mob. Marcus Aurelius said this.x Seneca said it.xi Cato said it.xii Nassim Taleb says it still today.xiii
What usually goes unsaid alongside these inspiring calls—whether it’s “If you see fraud, say fraud” or “If it’s not right do not do it, if it’s not true do not say it”—is anything about the consequences. Because while history admires whistleblowers and men and women of principles, their contemporaries often have the opposite reaction. Because speaking the truth and standing up for what’s right is an implicit rebuke of the status quo. It challenges people’s identities. It indicts them for not doing the same. (Emphasis added.)
This is important to know and to constantly remind oneself of. It’s almost like you need to do a premeditatio malorumxiv for what happens when you commit to being a good and honest and courageous person. Because it’s not going to be easy. People are not going to throw you a parade. They’re much more likely to throw brickbats. Or insults.
But you have to do what you think is right, and, as Marcus Aurelius said, treat the rest like it doesn’t matter.xv Who cares if they unsubscribe from your emails? Who cares if they report you? Or leave nasty comments? Or try to bully you?
Because the truth is that none of these things matter. Or at least, they don’t matter more than your duty.
I can tell you that “treating the rest like it doesn’t matter” is a challenge. While the above is quoting from Stoics—and is inherently logical—I needed strength beyond logic.
The single greatest source of relief and comfort came from His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion, First-Hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad. He provided me with safe harbor during the storm—“I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren” (Luke 22:32). Because of His Eminence’s courage and love, I am still within God’s apostolic priesthood. To His Eminence, I will be forever indebted.
The second greatest source of comfort came, unexpectedly, from other holy hierarchs in the Holy Orthodox Church; the hierarchs are not within the Church Abroad.
Thirdly, I received emails from prominent American Orthodox Christian priests as well as local priests.
Lastly, extraordinary support came during the Holy Mystery of Repentance when the priest told me to man up.xvi After pouring out my heart in confession, there was a pause and the priest said, “So, what’s the matter? Can’t you live up to the name saint’s name your ordaining bishop gave you?”
iRay Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451
iiRay Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451
iiiI have written proof of the “impostor priests” statement. It became a joke wherein those of us who were ordained to the priesthood via the diaconate program would sign our email as “imposter priest N” or “ip N.”
viiIbid. Comment: The leadership of the Hellenic Holy Orthodox Church’s problem mirrors that of Rome.
ixDaily Stoic newsletter, November 14, 2019
xivPrepare for the best possible scenario.
xvSummum Bonum is an expression from Cicero, Rome’s greatest orator. In Latin, it means “the highest good.”
xviDefinition: “be brave or tough enough to deal with an unpleasant situation”
Originally published https://orthochristian.com/125982.html