How A Bishop Must Be Chosen – A Laymans Perspective

Written By: on Dec 26th, 2009 and filed under Columns, Episcopal Election, Opinions.

The answer to the question “Who chooses a new bishop?” is “The Holy Spirit.” Christ has not abandoned His church, and continues to guide and govern her through the Holy Spirit. However, the Holy Spirit uses human beings to accomplish this. The process consists of two parts: identifying priests with the necessary qualities, and selecting the one who best fills a specific vacancy. We have to try to find the best candidate who fits the niche.

Identifying the Right Priests

The process of identifying priests with the qualities desired in a bishop is an ongoing process, even if there are no vacancies. The bishop of a diocese in the Indian Orthodox Church should give the Catholicos the names of priests they think would make good bishops. The candidates passed on by a bishop should usually be from his diocese or with whom he has served, since these are the priests he knows best. In my opinion, the process of 30 people having to sign a form and then getting the consent of the person to become a bishop is uncanonical. From when have we become a worldly and secular institution?

The Qualities of a Bishop

The church is very explicit about the qualities that must be present in a candidate to the episcopacy. He must be “a good pastor of souls and teacher of the Faith.” The church examines whether the candidates “enjoy a good reputation; whether they are of irreproachable morality; whether they are endowed with right judgment and prudence; whether they are even-tempered and of stable character; whether they firmly hold the Orthodox Faith; whether they are devoted to the Apostolic See and faithful to the Church; whether they have a thorough knowledge of dogmatic and moral theology and canon law; whether they are outstanding for their piety, their spirit of sacrifice and their pastoral zeal; whether they have an aptitude for governing.”

Consideration is also be given to “intellectual qualities, studies completed, social sense, spirit of dialogue and cooperation, openness to the signs of the times, praise-worthy impartiality, family background, health, age (40-50) and inherited characteristics.” By the way, celibacy is by no way the only criterion for episcopacy. There was a time when men ran away from wanting to become a bishop, nowadays, we have many running for it and setting their eyes on higher offices. We sing in Syriac: tow b’shlomo aboon d’rabyath rooho d’qudsho: w’ablaishoneh t’een laqleedai d’baith aloho – (Hail Bishop, whom the Holy Spirit did raise up, and, with his tongue, bears the keys to God’s house).

The List

Periodically, the bishops must meet under the chairmanship of the Catholicos to consider the names of priests who are possible candidates for the episcopacy. At such meetings, a list of candidates for the episcopacy must be assembled, voted on and forwarded to the Managing committee. While the Managing committee can nominate a priest for bishop not from this pool of candidates, most appointments must come from these lists. When the church needs bishops, the second part of the process must get underway i.e. the thorough screening for the best persons who will fill specific vacancies. Why should we wait till the next association to have a pool of good and able candidates? Why wait, start early!

During the investigation the Church must send out a confidential questionnaire on the candidate to people who know him. The questions must address the physical, intellectual, moral, spiritual, social, and priestly characteristics that one would hope for in a bishop. Those from whom a report is requested must include clergy and laity and also from secular and religious institutions…these must include the priest’s diocesan bishop, others should be diocesan officials the person has gotten to know personally and also people who have worked with him on secular and academic levels too.

The laity consulted should be officers in diocesan lay organizations or on diocesan advisory committees. Each must be told to answer the questions without consulting others. They cannot tell anyone, especially the candidate, that they have received the questionnaire. If we already have a pool of able candidates, then these reports makes the selection of the best among the list much easier.

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3 Responses for “How A Bishop Must Be Chosen – A Laymans Perspective”

  1. This article is a very good resource for a change in how governance takes place in our church. I completely agree with Tenny with the fact the so-called “Democratic” way of choosing the future leaders of the church lacks the spiritual presence of God. When the leaders of Israel in the Old Testament were chosen by GOD, the divinty of the action was evident. When the first Kings of Israel were chosen by GOd their nature immediately changed and were filled by the Holy Spirit. This will happen only when the leader is GOD’s chosen person and not chosen by mans thinking alone.

    All said, I sincerely pray that whoever is chosen enjoy GOD’s blessings and leads the church the way GOD wants his church to be.

    Mathews Ninan, Dubai

  2. V.Varghese Mathew, Auckland says:

    In the present circumstances, it is very difficult to change the system our church follows. The reason is ‘the rabbit I caught, has got 3 horns’. Look at the enthusiasm of our Bishops after they become one.

    Out of the 26 Bishops we have today, only ten are members of monastery like Bethany Ashramam, Mt.Tabor Dayara, St.Pauls Mission etc. The rest are not attached to any and we can expect some private monasteries in the making!

    In the next batch due for election, six out of the eleven are from established monasteries. So if more numbers who are not from a monastery are elected, we can expect an increase in the number of private monasteries, but not its members. At the rate of the decline in growth of the Christian population especially in Kerala such private monasteries will probably last until the time of its founder. The reason for established monasteries like Bethany Ashramam, Mt.Tabor Dayara, St.Pauls Mission etc. has not become extinct is because, these were founded with the blessing of the Church for its growth.

    Every candidate attended into the seminary is representing a Diocese or an organization. We see a trend of Priests shifting dioceses after they are ordained. Unfortunately our Bishops are responsible for this happening. Fortunately, our Angamally Diocese has not been affected much inspite of its problems. There is nothing wrong in sending a Priest for higher studies or for a short period abroad. But what normally happens is once they are airborne they don’t feel like returning and some resort to unethical things to continue. I understand from my daughter who is in U.S, that there are US born seminary educated deacons hanging around in search of a parish, while there is no stop in import of priest from Kerala.

    In the southern dioceses we see stiff competition to get into the Seminary. I met a boy who is now studying in a College here. He is a Priest aspirant from South and couldn’t get through this time. Unfortunately the Bishop who took him passed away and he is at the mercy of the new Bishop. I asked him why don’t you join the Angamally Diocese. He said No. I wanted to become a Priest of my diocese. Hope he maintains the same enthusiasm for his diocese throughout his life.

    There are more number of Priests from Southern dioceses working abroad as compared to Northern dioceses. As a result Priests, who are basically from south, but got admission through the quota of northern dioceses like Kunnamkulum, Malabar, Sultan Battery etc. return to their original diocese to fill the gap. There are one or two exceptions. Due to this, there are churches without regular service in the Northern dioceses and people go to churches where they find a priest. Atleast I know personally more than a dozen families from the diocese of Malabar and Sultan Battery who have joined other churches because they have regular service. This number is on the increase. There will always be excuses for the clergy. The reason why we see more professionalism and less spiritualism in this career is because, most of the Priests have not come through a monastery.

    With regard to a celibate Priest, as a matter of discipline, the church should ensure to, when he decides to become a celibate Priest, get him enrolled as member of one of the established monasteries. Let him spend atleast a year there and then only ordain him as a Priest. We have atleast a dozen monasteries in our church. The reason why most of them don’t want to become is because of their aspiration to be a future bishop candidate. If you are part of a monastery, then as per the present rule, only one can contest the Bishop election at one time. The senior most gets the nod in most cases unless he is not interested, whereas if you are on your own you can contest any number of times with the help of a few laymen.

    I have noticed in the Diocese of Kandanad East, two young celibate Priests were made Rambans. I find this as an encouraging sign. Atleast one can differentiate them as Celibate Priests. Moreover they will have a feeling as celibates. Otherwise, what is the difference? Today many of our Priests are not particular in wearing their vestments in public outside Kerala. For most of them it is just a duty dress. The beard they have is also trimmed to suit their convenience. I have seen the photos of all the bishop aspirants, out of which a few had well trimmed beards. Recently I met two of them on different occasions. It took a few minutes for me to recognize them because they have stopped trimming their beard.

    Meanwhile, in the Exit polls for Bishop Candidates, the status of a Priest from the most known monastery of our Church is almost at the bottom, inspite of his qualifications, teaching experience at the Seminary, administrative skills and transparency. The reason being, as he was part of the monastery, he has to follow the rules and regulations in it and couldn’t venture into the world to market himself. As a result, people say, we do not know him and in all probability will end up with fewer votes.

    About 4000 people assemble for the election on behalf of 2.5 million members of our church to elect 7 candidates. After the election all the elected will be in seven different ways and will hardly join together for the interest of the Church.

    Whom should we blame for this? If you sit back and analyze the reason for our church still lagging behind in many a field is because of in not identifying and putting to use the available talents. We have heard the screening committee utilizing the latest techniques including mental test for selecting the 14 Bishop Candidates. Infact this sort of tests should be carried to every Seminary aspirant as part of the entrance Exam. Catch them young if you can!

    V. Varghese Mathew, Angamally

  3. SamThomas says:

    The article by Tenny Thomas deserves great appreciation.May Almighty God open the eyes of MOSC hierarchy to conduct Bishop Election in Godlyway rather than boasting democracy in church by imposing new rules and spending lot of money in conducting MSC Association and other formalities every year for Bishop Election .

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