How A Bishop Must Be Chosen – A Laymans Perspective

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

Later Father Mina conducted a campaign against himself like St Ephraim.

On April 17, 1959 the nominees were narrowed down to three monks, Fr. Demian, Fr Angelos, and Fr. Mina.

On Sunday, April 19, 1959 the Deputy Patriarch offered the Papal Election Liturgy, which was attended by high dignitaries of the country, including the late President Anwar Sadat, ambassadors and high-ranking delegates of other churches in the world. At the end of the Liturgy, a young deacon was appointed to draw one of the nominations from their container placed on the altar. He pulled out the nomination that has the name of Father Mina, a humble monk of St Demiana Monastery.

While this was going on Fr. Mina was celebrating his Sunday Liturgy at St. Mina’s Monastery in Cairo. The news of his divine election was broadcast all over the radio stations in Egypt, and it came to the attention of the participants of Fr. Mina’s Liturgy. Bells of all the Churches rang all over Egypt, but Fr. Mina refused to allow his beloved people to ring the bell of St. Mina’s Monastery Church. You should know what Fr. Mina did when he heard about it. He went up to the sanctuary and cried. The people forced him out of the sanctuary. He came out and addressed his people: “Glory be to God. The Lord has chosen to demonstrate His power and glory through my weakness. I tremble with fear in the glory of Your power. … From You we receive power and help, O our Lord and Redeemer.”

Here are some things that I believe Indian Orthodox Christians need to be asking as they choose their leaders.

1. It is now so much how this individual “came over” in a short exposure to the people, but whether this person’s record is of someone who not only is able to lead, but is able to lead through perillous waters in difficult times. What has been their record as a pastor, evangelist, missionary, leader? Whatever the future configuration of the church, these years ahead are going to be extraordinarily difficult, and will require a leader who is firm but flexible when it comes to guiding a group of congregations through rough seas.

2. We need to be asking whether any of these individuals understand what is going on in the culture, where the culture is leading us, and what the impact will be upon the churches. The 21st Century is profoundly different in almost every way from the 20th, and the church that does not understand this is in deep trouble. If we are looking for someone who will try to maintain the institution in its present form then we are already digging the grave into which most of just about any diocese will very quickly be dropped.

3. Choosing a bishop is a theological act, so we want to know what a person believes, what their relationship to God is through Jesus Christ, whether they are able to be the chief missionary of the diocese. When you are part of a church like ours that tends to defer to the culture rather than Scriptures and Christian tradition in shaping its values, this is a major, major set of questions that need to be asked. Failing to do so is a great danger.

4. Furthermore, we need to be asking if this individual has a vision for the future. Vision is a key component to leadership, for as Scripture says, without a vision the people perish. We have been prone in the church to elect managers and administrators, who at times make compromises, and the result is that we have not had the kind of leadership that will take us to the places where God might want us to go.

5. While a person’s charm, wit, and social abilities are important, they ought not to be at the top of the list. Some of the greatest bishops in history would not have been the life and soul of a cocktail party — indeed, a good number of those who do have such skills have been disasters. The election of bishops must not be a popularity contest.

6. While managerial and administrative skills ought not at the top of the list, it helps if someone knows themselves well enough that in leading they are able to guide an entity forward and fill the gaps in their own skill mix. We have to elect people who have a mix of administrative skills, management and above all the humility to serve.

7. A bishop should be someone with staying power. The stress of the office is so great these days. A bishop is someone who is involved in the leadership of a spiritual conflict, and therefore needs to be spiritually, physically, emotionally, up to the task.

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Disclaimer: Indian Orthodox Herald does not moderate or edit the comments posted in this column. All opinions are solely of the writers and IOH holds no responsibility what so ever for the views written here below.

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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