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).
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.