Since Father Michael’s arrival, most of us have heard him on more than one occasion refer to the canons that his service to more than one altar is antithetical to the canons of our Holy Orthodox Church. We’ve heard him quote from the scriptures and canons saying, “no man can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will cling to the one, and despise the other” (Matt. 6:24). This obviously refers to his ability or lack thereof to minister properly and equally to all the members of Holy Trinity and Prophet Elias Church’s. In fact, he has aptly inferred that one church would have preeminence over the other hence; he doesn’t want to slight one over the other. Unfortunately, Father Michael nor Metropolitan Isaiah have ever publicly quoted the specific canon with which we are not complying with so I have taken it upon myself to search for the closest rendering of that canon they appear to be quoting and, to publish it along with its interpretation by the individuals who compiled these sacred canons, Saints Nikodemos and Agapios of the Holy Mountain.
The following text is the canon and its interpretation. Please note that the bold, underlined italics are mine and not the work of the Saints. The reason for emphasizing the text is to point out where their [Father Michael and His Eminence] arguments are in conflict with the ethos of the canon. Please read it very carefully since this is one of our Holy Canons and my explanation of this sad, desperate situation which our clerics have fashioned. Also, keep in mind that this position has been wholly adopted and promulgated by those same “concerned” parishioners from the Prophet Elias Church whom are desirous of splitting our community for reasons that are NOT completely in accord with the canons of our Holy Orthodox Church.
Canon XV of the 7th Ecumenical Council:
From now on let no Clergyman be attached to two churches. For this is a mark of commerciality and of greediness for profits, and is alien to ecclesiastical usage. For we have been told by the voice of the Lord Himself that “no one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will cling to the one, and despise the other” (Matt. 6:24). Each person, therefore, in accordance with the Apostolical utterance, wherever he happens to be, ought to stay there and serve in one church. For things done on account of greediness for profits in connection with ecclesiastical matters are alien to God’s institutes. To supply the needs of this life there are various occupations. Let anyone, therefore, who so wishes gain the needs of the body from them. For the Apostle has said, “these hands have ministered unto my needs, and unto those of them who were with me” (Acts 20:34). Accordingly, what is said here is to be applied in this God-guarded city; but in small towns outside of it, for want of men, let there be concessions.
Interpretation of the Canon by Saints Nikodemos and Agapios:
The present Canon prohibits the enrolling of any clergyman in the clergy of two churches situated either in the same city or in two cities, because this is being done for the sake of shameful profits, in order, that is to say, that the clergyman so enrolled may gain the emoluments of both churches; but what is done for the sake of shameful profits is foreign both to God and to ecclesiastics. For the Lord says that nobody can serve two masters; for either he will hate and despise one of them, or he will love and embrace the other. And St. Paul commands that everybody stay in the place whither he has been called by God. If these clergymen allege as an excuse that they cannot get along with the emoluments of the one church, why, behold, there are many kinds of manual work in the world that are more decent; accordingly, let them work with their hands to obtain the needs of the body. For even St. Paul obtained his needs and the needs of those with him by the work of his own hands, as he himself says. So for a clergyman to be attached to two churches, in this imperial city at any rate, is not to be tolerated because of the great number of clerics already in it; but as for the villages and towns outside of it, let it be allowed to be done on account of the scarcity of priests and clerics.
There are two fallacies with Father Michael’s and Metropolitan Isaiah’s argument which are disconcerting. I would like to respond to these in a thoughtful and efficient manner. There is another complex concern which has comes up regarding our Greek Orthodox Community of Greater Salt Lake City. The concern is that it was not canonically structured when Archbishop Iakovos of memory consecrated it. I would like to offer another perspective on this matter. The following is my response to these concerns.
Fallacy Number 1 – It is categorically un-canonical for a priest to serve more than one altar.
First and foremost, it is critical to read the complete canon and look at its context. This canon was composed at a time when there was an excess of priests in the holy city and they were attempting to advance themselves financially through corrupt and misdirected motivation. Clearly it is shown from the canon and its interpretation, it is NOT un-canonical for a priest to serve more than one altar as long as his heart and motivations are godly-centered that is; he is not trying to draw attention to bring glory to himself nor is he motivated by “greediness of profits” as stated in the canon. Take a close look at the rendering of this canon and you will see that it is not composed of one sentence. The motivation of the priest is integral to the decision of assigning him to serve one or more altars as it can also deter him from serving entirely.
Fallacy Number 2 – Father Michael’s meaning of “serving two masters”.
Father Michael’s application of the above quote implies that he will only be able to devote his attention to one group of parishioners and doesn’t want to favor one over the other. Unfortunately, it is too late since he already shows favoritism towards the parishioners of Prophet Elias over those of Holy Trinity. His lack of participation at Holy Trinity speaks louder than the words he has already articulated by his own default.
Now regarding the canon, when it was drafted, the composers quoted Matthew 6:24. Apparently, clerics were becoming entangled in worldly concerns specifically; their motive to serve God in the priesthood (first master) was coming in direct conflict with the motivations of serving in the world (other master). Hence, the meaning is: serve God or serve Satan, maintain your “calling” to the priesthood or accept another profession in the world (which is aptly expressed in its interpretation of the canon from the Saints). I don’t understand the analogy which Father Michael draws upon and how it relates to the spiritual meaning from the gospel text. What is crystal clear about the analogy of serving two masters is that it has nothing to do with favoring one church body over the other but rather, whom they chose to serve.
Additionally, the composers refer to the Apostle Paul’s example of when he needed to earn additional money for personal needs; he would depend on his profession of tent-making. And the writers allude to this point stating that if there are personal needs that need to be fulfilled “there are many kinds of manual work in the world that are more decent; accordingly, let them work with their hands to obtain the needs of the body” thus, following the Apostle’s example. In today’s world, our priests can typically rely on the community they serve to sustain them although some communities are not able to support their clergy. This canon gives them the liberty to find additional employment to fulfill their personal needs.
Fallacy #3 – Archbishop Iakovos didn’t follow the Canons.
As astounding as it may seem that I would have the boldness to write such a letter challenging our clergy, I think it is equally inconceivable to imply that the former Archbishop Iakovos of memory structured some sordid situation contrary to the canons. From what I have ascertained, it appears that his formation of our community was appropriate and in accord with the canons if we follow the thought process of the composers of this canon and its interpretation.
First, Canon XV of the 7th Ecumenical Council definitively demonstrates that priests did serve and can serve more than one altar due to “concessions” (i.e. a shortage of priests). Second, did it occur to anyone that there is currently a shortage of priests for assignment in the country today? For as long as I can remember this has been a problem and was that the case when Archbishop Iakovos consecrated Prophet Elias? I personally cannot retort since I didn’t reside here but it has been a never-ending issue. Third, factor in the quandary of large communities with greater resources whom were recruiting the “better” priests by enticing them with corpulent compensation packages and while edging out rural communities (I would think this could certainly be in conflict with the canon). Last but not least, factor in the difficulty of relocating a priest’s family to Utah, the land of “milk and honey” where Orthodox Christians are exceedingly outnumbered and then you’ll understand the method to His Blessedness’ madness. And by the way, it appears there was little evidence then that the community wanted to be divided as there is little evidence today. So we can assume that the same problem of a shortage of priests existed then but even if it didn’t, it was His Blessedness’ prerogative to structure the community as he deemed appropriate and what was in the best interests of the Greek Orthodox Church in America, the Canons and the Greek Orthodox Community of Greater Salt Lake City. It seems that Archbishop Iakovos did indeed follow the canons.
In closing, our community deserves to be treated honestly in all matters especially when it concerns our spiritual well-being. Why are we being treated in a manner that is inconsistent with Orthodox Christian values? Why is information being manipulated to achieve a private objective that is not necessarily in the best interest of the whole community? These methods undoubtedly are not in harmony with the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Church Fathers nor the Canons of our Holy Orthodox Church. The only question which remains is: Why?