By Paul Goble
Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, who was fired from his post as head of the synod’s department for church relations with society, has launched a campaign for the wholesale reform of the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate with a fall for the election of priests and bishops.
Chaplin’s appeal which challenges the power verticals of both Patriarch Kirill and Vladimir Putin is unlikely to be accepted, but it is important because it is certain to trigger a discussion about the relations between the clergy and the laity and the ways in which the Church might recover from Kirill’s corrupt and heavy-handed rule.
In a December 31st post on his website, Chaplin is extremely specific in laying out his ideas about “how to restore the links between local communities and the process of the selection of priests and bishops.” But perhaps most intriguingly, he urges Orthodox believers to use Internet petitions to press for these changes (http://pravoslav-pol.livejournal.com/35567.html).
Specifically, he says that only members of a parish can propose candidates for priests and other clergy. If they don’t have one, they can turn to neighboring parishes or “in an extreme case, to others in the bishopric.” But they cannot have candidates who are parachuted in from far away as is often the case now.
Moreover, Chaplin argues, while “the educational level should be considered, that should be done flexibly because a mature man having sufficiently broad knowledge is much better than a 23-year-old graduate of a seminary.” At present, the former almost always would be preferred by Kirill’s patriarchate.
The selection of a clergyman “should proceed at a parish assembly, one open to all Orthodox Christians. The ruling bishop should have the right to remove a candidate exclusively on the basis of canon law, which he must present to the parish assembly. Moreover, he must do this personally, without delegating it even to the vicar.”
Candidates for bishops or others in the hierarchy should be proposed only by people from the bishopric involved. “If there are no candidates, the bishopric cannot be considered vital as a local church. The selection of a bishop must take place at a bishopric assembly with the participation of the entire clergy and also two lay members from each parish.”
No change can be made except on the basis of canon law. And Chaplin says, no one can be removed as a priest or a bishop except on the basis of a similar process.
“Such ideas about an elected clergy were periodically raised” in church meetings, “but they were blocked without sufficient discussion.” Chaplin says he is absolutely convinced that church law must establish that no priest or bishop can be appointed from outside a community or a bishopric without the consent of that community or bishopric.
As to how this can be achieved, Chaplin acknowledges that it won’t be easy given that it will require changing the statue of the Russian Orthodox Church. As a first step, he urges an online petition drive, possibly on change.org, as a way to force the hierarchy to take note.
If even 20 or 30 priests sign it, he says, the current system won’t stand despite the repressions it will bring against them. He adds that “authoritative and well-known” members of the laity should also sign. And he promises to give more advice in the future on what should be done next.