Priests Leave Church. Archpriest Konstantin Ostrovsky Speaks on How to Live Through It

One can find faith even through a sinful person

Priests, who were spiritual leaders for many, submit their resignations and leave the Church. It seems that church life has shaken, but nothing new has happened in fact, believes Archpriest Konstantin Ostrovsky. He told Pravmir why priests leave their ministry, why one should have compassion towards them instead of condemning them, and how to find the strength to not be disappointed and to get through this, if it seems that everything around you is crumbling, and the one who brought you to God left the Church.

“People should not think that church life has been shaken. Certain people have been shaken, that is the very priests who are leaving. I think that you cannot talk about everyone together and generalize. People are all different.

I will give you a positive example: the Venerable John the Silent. He was a bishop in Armenia. In order to deepen his prayer, he left the cathedra and pretended to be an ordinary man. He came to a monastery to the Venerable Sava the Sanctified and there he led an ascetic life like an ordinary monk. Only later it was revealed that he was a bishop. It would seem he left his ministry, but you cannot reproach him for this.

On Sins and Mistakes

Sometimes mortal sins, for example fornication, unbearable alcoholism and others that are completely incompatible with priesthood, lead someone away from the ministry. Sometimes priests leave the ministry on their own, sometimes the church authorities decide to dismiss someone from his priestly ministry.

Sometimes a person is ordained and completely does not realize what kind of ministry it is and why he needs it. In such cases questions arise towards those who recommended him for ordination and who ordained him. I knew a young priest. I can’t say how he is doing now. But once his mother literally pushed him for ordination. She deliberately took him to a remote diocese for this, and after a while that unhappy man realized that he could not and did not want to be a priest.

On Those Who Had Credibility

Sometimes among those who resign from priestly ministry are people whose names everyone heard, who are well-known educated people, such as, for example, Andreas Konanos. These priests had great credibility.

But let the people, who respected these priests, think: “What was I looking for in the Church, if I am getting so confused by these priests’ resignations?” Here is a common example: a man went to the market, played a shell game there and lost all of his money. Obviously, it does not mean that one should not go to the market. One simply should not play a gambling game.

If a person is looking for God and a spiritual path in the Church, he/she will definitely find it. More precisely, God will find this person. We may make mistakes in our search. A person who seeks God can fall, but he needs to rise, and God, seeing his efforts, will help him.

On Pastoral Burnout

Sometimes, burnout happens, which many people talk about. This happens with doctors and teachers. The main reason for pastoral burnout, it seems to me, is that a person tries to squeeze the good out of himself and spends his spiritual energy, but it is limited in all of us.

If I do not turn on my laptop, it will never run out of power, but it will just lie uselessly. But if I turn it on and work without recharging the battery, after a while the battery will run out of power and the laptop will stop working. The laptop will work when you’ll plug it in, until its due time. It is the same for a person, if he, figuratively speaking, is plugged-in to the Divine power, if grace acts through him, he can serve people without burning out. We know examples of saints, for example, the Righteous John, Wonderworker of Kronstadt, who served people from morning to night, day after day, and he had enough strength until he died.

But when a person tries to do the work of God by his own strength, when his zeal is not spiritually reasonable, then he can become completely spiritually empty. I mean zealous priests. Lazy people do not suffer from burnout, like a turned off computer. First of all, we need to seek God, seek God’s grace so that it can act through us.

On Sinners Who Repented

Nothing special, something that has not happened before, takes place in our time. Let me give you a standard example: the Church is a spiritual hospital. Only in our hospital the Doctor is omnipotent, omniscient. If the patient is honestly treated, he will be cured without fail. But patients sometimes violate the regime. If the patient starts jumping out of the window to use drugs, if the patient refuses to be treated, no doctor can help him.

A vivid example that nothing new is happening today is the fact that among the 12 apostles, every sixth turned out to be a traitor, that is Judas and Peter. The only difference is Peter repented, and Judas did not.

Sometimes God wants to give His grace to us through a great saint, sometimes through an ordinary priest, and sometimes through a sinful person. Let us not give up the truth, even if the Lord proclaims it through an unworthy person.

You don’t need to condemn anyone. It happens that a person falls and then rises. I myself know such examples. Perhaps, a person in fact left the priesthood, but after a while he can repent, and God will accept his repentance, let’s hope …

We should feel honest compassion towards those who have experienced this. I repeat, do not condemn. But there’s nothing to praise them for either, of course.

On Trust in a Priest

What if the priest was giving a sincere sermon just a while ago, and then he burns out and leaves?

It is strange to start distrusting all priests and spiritual fathers now. But we should look for support in God, and not in people.

I myself have the following experience: when I came to the Church, I talked a lot with the now deceased Father Georgy Breev. He was my spiritual father. But I did not rely on the opinion that he was a great saint. I hoped in God that He would guide me through my spiritual father, and I prayed: “Lord, don’t let my spiritual father and I get lost!”

First of all, we should seek God. It is good to honor your spiritual father, but you still have to rely on God. Every person is weak. Even great saints could make a mistake. While a person is here on earth, he is weak.

You never have to lose your head. But this does not mean that we should be suspicious of every word. It is necessary to trust, but it is also necessary to compare what we are taught with the teaching of the Church, with the Holy Scriptures, with the instructions of the Holy Fathers. Moreover, the necessary books can be purchased in almost any church.

On Calls for Joy

Sometimes a person falls into delusion, either self-delusion or demonic seduction. When I hear that someone talks a lot about joy, joyfully encourages everyone to rejoice, I treat this with caution and distrust.

One thing is the joy about which the Apostle Paul wrote: “Always rejoice, continually pray, give thanks for everything” (1 Thess. 5: 16-18). May God grant us all to acquire such joy, but I think most of us are very, very far from this.

And when a person starts to squeeze out of himself: “I must be joyful,” I look at him with disbelief. In one of his stories, Chesterton wrote: “When I see a person who is constantly in a cheerful, happy state, I expect that he will soon commit suicide.”

In addition, the desire to receive only what is pleasant from the Church and so that there are only good people around, the relationship is entirely sincere: this in itself is a delusion, a seduction. By the way, all this is given in some sectarian communities; an even shorter and more dangerous path is drugs, which provide comfort for a short time. But this is not the way to God. And you need to seek God, who is useful and saving for our soul. An adult should be wary of being treated too kindly.

Yes, the Venerable Seraphim of Sarov addressed everyone who came “my joy!” His soul was filled with grace as a result of many years of great deeds of selflessness, silence, when he lived and prayed in the forest alone. He sought God, not consolations, and with God he found both grace and joy. Later he poured out this real, divine joy on those who communicated with him. But such joy is rare.

It is clear that in the church you need to treat people carefully and attentively. The clergy and staff of the church should remember that people should be greeted with kindness. We should all be good to each other. This is natural. We should encourage, comfort, and not embarrass those who come to church. This is the concern of the servants of the Church and we sin if we do otherwise.

But a person who goes to church should, I repeat once again, seek precisely the spiritual path. And this path is always taking up the cross.

Quite often, the parishioners, who complain to God in sorrowful circumstances, should be told that we were not promised any benefits on earth, but in the Kingdom of Heaven. Christ Himself was crucified and died on the cross on earth, and calls us to walk the way of the cross.

On Those Who Lead Us to God

Sometimes speeches or books of those who subsequently took off their rank or left the Church altogether, brought someone to the Church. There is nothing special about this. For example, I was greatly influenced by the book of the famous occultist Peter Uspensky “In Search of the Miraculous.” As I read this book, I abandoned my moralistic delusions, decided to seek a spiritual path, and found it in the Church. But this does not mean that the book is good, and that Uspensky suddenly ceased to be an occultist.

Sometimes a person can come to faith through a priest, even if he is a sinner. Vera Verkhovtseva, spiritual daughter of St. John of Kronstadt, once led a dissolute life, then she repented and decided to bring her first confession to the priest, Father Sergius, who baptized her sometime in childhood. She came to confession, sincerely told her whole life, and then discovered that the priest was completely drunk.

But the path of repentance then led her to Father John of Kronstadt, who later invited Father Sergius, and the latter eventually corrected his life. That is, it would seem that a drunken priest, who performs the sacraments in this state, could embarrass, alienate from the Church, but God helped Verkhovtseva even through such a priest, because she was looking for God. However, this does not justify our sins.

As for books, a person, even being in a state of delusion, could write the right words. “I believe that there is a God” – this is enough to lead someone to faith. And let this person be grateful to the priest who wrote these words, to this book and let him pray for the author.

On Expectations that Are Too High

In general, you do not need to be afraid of what is happening. Here, as in a war, someone can be killed nearby. The main thing is to try to hold on, to feel sorry for the dead comrades, to try to help the wounded. This is not a joke fight, spiritual life is dangerous.

Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh said that starting to pray is like entering a cage with a tiger. You see, it is a tiger, not an affectionate deer. But if a person is looking for God, God will certainly help him.

The priests, who many are talking about, who of their own free will openly resigned from priesthood, certainly, tempted the weak by their act. But if a person is too tempted by the shortcomings that he saw in church life, it means that he had wrong attitudes before and too high expectations that were not justified.

I did just the opposite, because when I came to the Church, and I was baptized at the age of 27, I did not expect anything good from the Church. I had an idea that there is something to look for in the Church, but in advance I treated church people with great prejudice. But gradually it was revealed to me that these prejudices are far from being true, that there are many good, spiritual people in the Church.

It is more difficult for a person who starts out with delight. He immediately met with wonderful church people and suddenly then he learns that among them there is someone who is not so wonderful. This is a temptation that one needs to overcome.

On the Feat of Spiritual Life

It may seem to a person that he is weak, that he cannot do anything. But in war there are no weak people, since they called you, they gave you a gun, so go sit in the trench. Of course, there are generals, officers, there are elite forces with special talents. But an ordinary soldier is a spiritual warrior, he is entrusted with God’s work and must fight to the victory. Cowardice is bad, it is a sin.

God saves us. Maybe through a good priest, maybe through a bad one, maybe without a priest at all. God sent a worthy and experienced spiritual father – this is a great blessing. We must go and hold on to the handle of such a father. This is salvational, although it can be very difficult. If God did not send such a spiritual father, He will lead you Himself somehow differently. The main thing is to look for Him.

Spiritual life is a heroic deed, it presupposes labor and patience from us. But God will help the one walking on it and lift the one who is falling, unless the person refuses to follow this path.

It is bad, when things are different. If we continue the metaphor of being at war, the soldier who will fulfill his military duty will not be abandoned, even if he is wounded. But if he becomes a deserter, woe to him.

Faith is not given to us in theological seminaries and theological institutes, faith is a matter of our will.

Therefore, there is no reason to be surprised that there are many educated people among those who have fallen away.

But you don’t need to condemn anyone; if we condemn, we can fall there too. If falling away from faith happened to a loved one whom I trusted, it is necessary to pray all the more for such a person. If he spoke words that now, after all, seem correct, one should be grateful to them. If they turned out to be wrong, take a closer look at why your soul responded to them, and repent.

This is what improving ourselves is about, when we solve the tasks given to us by God with His help.

Translated by

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