Interviewed by Alexander Vygovskyy
For obvious reasons, we do not use real names and places, so as not to repeatedly “rub salt in the wound” in the soul of a man who has lost the honor of being a priest and serving the altar. So, our source — Alexander, is now just Alexander … Let us need the wisdom of his experience.
– Alexander, tell us your story. How is it that you were defrocked?
— To clarify the situation, it is necessary to start with some background information. After high school, I set out to study at the seminary. I lived wholeheartedly in Orthodoxy and dreamed of the priestly ministry. I couldn’t even imagine anything else.
One day, the Bishop told me that it was time to begin serving. Come on, he said. Get married, ordained, take a parish, and serve. I answered:
“How can I marry? I am only 17 and barley acquainted with my girlfriend.”
— “It’s okay,” — urged Vladika — “get acquainted.”
Then everyone tried to dissuade me — relatives, friends, acquaintances, even the seminary superiors. I did not listen, though, and yielded to the Bishop’s exhortations. So I became a priest, a “precocious” priest …
Reference: Priesthood is a sacrament in which, through Holy Ordination, the Holy Spirit descends on the properly elected and equips him to administer sacraments and shepherd the flock of Christ (Orthodox Catechism).
They assigned us to a parish in Belaya Tserkov. The home was a leaning and dilapidated “Shevchenko hut” (shack). There were also financial difficulties that soon provoked family quarrels, misunderstandings, and dissatisfaction. In addition, I couldn’t get along well with the child. Years passed, but it didn’t get any better.
One day, my wife bursts out: “Let’s go to the bishop to discuss a divorce.” I grabbed my head and in my review here: “How? Why? ” It appears, that in those circumstances, she began to be jealous for me over everyone, even my parents. Then it became even worse. Well, I went to the Diocesan Bishop, but he didn’t particularly interdict. In this case, he said to divorce and become a monk. I told him, I still wasn’t ready. Maybe return to a parish and remain celibate? Vladika wouldn’t allow it. “Have a celibate parish priest in the diocese? Absolutely not. ”
Besides, I still desired to have a family and children, and to bring them up as true Orthodox Christians. To this, Vladika said that I would have to stop serving as a priest. Then, without waiting for the ecclesiastical court, I wrote a statement and returned the priestly cross and cassock to the diocese.
— Was it a tragedy for you?
– Not even the fact that it “was” — this is my personal tragedy.
Since childhood, I haven’t known anything else than the desire to be a priest and to serve God with all my strength. On the other hand, I didn’t see myself as a monk, and didn’t feel or accept this path.
That’s the dilemma that I faced before turning 24. Of course, I consulted with loved ones, but they didn’t understand the true depth of my misery. They said: keep your chin up; you will be like everyone else — no better and no worse.
Now, many years have passed, I have a new family and am raising two wonderful children, but still find no peace and feel the incorrigibility of the situation, and guilt and shame before God. After all, he trusted me and I fell short, stepped away, and was afraid of difficulties …
Reference: prohibition from serving as a priest stops the action of grace through the priest that has been disciplined. The action of grace is only resumed after legally removing the prohibition. St. John Chrysostom gives the following explanation: “If it happened that an arm was separated from the body, the spirit, (flowing) from the brain, searching for continuance and not finding him there, does not separate from the body and does not move to the amputated arm, but if it is not found there, the spirit does not communicate with it “(Homily on Ephesians, XI, 3). Defrocking reduces a priestly servant down to the category of the laity and makes performance of the Divine Service impossible, forever.
— Now, though, you have another life — wife, children, other duties and concerns. Isn’t there more to life after the priesthood? Are you really stagnating now?
— I didn’t say that. Of course, I have these things, and this life, perhaps, is even, in a sense, happy. In my case, though, none the less, it is flawed and discontented. I still continue to measure by that standard and I continue to regret and repent of my cowardice.
Often I ask myself: “Could it have been different – not to destroy, not to leave, and not to change spiritual priorities?” It probably could have been, but there was no such person who would show this path. I was still quite young, inexperienced, and wasn’t independent. I could have endured and I could have even suffered, but remained faithful to the end. Surely, I will carry this sin through life until death.
—Tell me, Alexander, did this drama change your fundamental views of the universe. Have you lost faith? Did you suddenly become embittered ?
— Of course not! What’s with you? Now, I am an ordinary parishioner, who, truly knows the external manifestation and the inner content of the service. I am presently a father raising two young Christians. I hope that in this new hypostasis, I prove to be worthy so that there are no more compromises with conscience and faith. Perhaps a merciful God will notice, appreciate it, and bless me with forgiveness and spiritual peace…
I will say more: in my situation, the Church holds a truly colossal importance. Only thanks to this do I live in faith and hope. If not for the Church — then I simply have embraced despair and hopelessness.
— What now? With the benefit of hindsight and experience, do you advise young seminarians, who are rushing to fulfill their childhood dream of the priesthood?
— Unequivocally, don’t rush. A very serious step stands before them, after which it will be, if not impossible, then certainly, at least, very difficult and painful to change their mind or go back on their word.
Undoubtedly, the canonical rules for ordination have sound reason and a clear logic. Having “green” youths before the alter is risky indeed. The guys don’t have enough experience and direct knowledge, to be one hundred percent role models for emulation. Although, I don’t hold to this completely. My example, also, failed. Unfortunately…
Reference: The 15th Ordinance of the IV Ecumenical Council, the 14th and 15th Ordinance of the VI Ecumenical Council, and the 16th (22th) Ordinance of the Council of Carthage set the age for ordination of presbyters at 30 , deacons at 25, deaconesses at 40, and subdeacons at 20.
We thanked Alexander for the “difficult” candor and sincerely wished him happiness, spiritual salvation, and to find the spiritual core that will provide peace and return confidence is his strengths. He deserves it, given everything that has happened. As you know, the righteous is not the one who does not fall, but the one who rises in spite of their circumstances.
Very Helpful and realistic article!
Isabel Stone says
Thank you for posting this. God have mercy on “Alexander” and us all. May the Lord give our Bishops wisdom and steadfast loyalty to Orthodoxy. May the Lord grant us compassion and humility with each other.
Realistic, yes. As I read this, though, I could not help but look to the Bishop for his irresponsibility in pushing the young man into something he was not ready for – and for which he had the wisdom (and courage) to say!
This is a very complicated situation. Yet all is to the good of our salvation.
May God grant this blessed man, Alexander, peace and mercy to forgive himself.
Benjamin Slayton says
Things like this terrify me. I’m in seminary and single. I would love to have a family, but I don’t want to see something like this happen. I don’t care who would be at fault, I just don’t want anything like this to happen.
I don’t know how frequently it happens in the Orthodox church, as opposed to other religious groups. My other choice would be monastic life, which I have thought about, but I’m not certain that I am ready for. I wish I could be a celibate parish priest.
I have a friend (who is not Orthodox) who got married and had three children. They are great! He bought a beautiful historic house in a small town. He had a decent job and go to spend time with the family. Then out of the sky like a bomb, his wife took the kids and hit the road. He doesn’t have to worry about priesthood or ministry, but he still is fighting for what’s left of his family. Imagine having to also lose your priestly vocation also.
I do think a lot of people get into serious relationships way too early and sometimes, things like this happen. I do think the person in this story should have taken things more slowly. Even if he was under a lot of pressure. If they needed priests that bad, he didn’t need to rush things like marriage. People shouldn’t pressure others to get married or make major life-altering decisions without necessary preparation.
I really hope this doesn’t happen too often in the Orthodox Church.
Fr. John A. Peck says
It doesn’t happen often – not this particular circumstance. Defrocking for other reasons, yes, but this – not so much.
This should be considered more of a discretionary tale about irresponsible bishops. This poor kid…
Christine Salzman says
wisdom would have granted this young priest a sabbatical to strengthen his home life and return to the church after a period of time. Obviously his love for God and to serve as a priest are sincere.