Privy Purse Of Diocesan Bishops In The Orthodox Church

Written By: on Nov 3rd, 2010 and filed under Editorial, Features.


Privy Purse literally means allowance of money allocated from the public revenue for the private expenses of a Sovereign or monarch. Our bishops are generally considered kings of their dioceses (a bishop is a king of his people, priest of his people and a prophet of his people). And on this reason they are buried in sitting positions like kings, a tradition maintained by Byzantine royalty, which was later copied by Byzantine bishops, but later discontinued. Currently, only the Syrian Orthodox Church in the Middle East and the Orthodox Syrian Church in Malankara keep that tradition, which has no meaning now when all the monarchies on earth have become functionally defunct. This writer believes that our bishops generally do not get complete rest during their life time on earth due to the number of Holy Liturgies they celebrate, the number of marriages and houses they bless every day, the baptisms they perform, and the public functions they attend every day (fasting ordeals are also part of their daily agenda recently!), and they should start their eternal rest not being seated on a chair, but being flatly laid in a most royal priestly coffin! Jesus, the King of kings did not get a throne of burial; after all, He was wrapped in linen and laid in somebody’s tomb. This is not our topic. Our discussion is on the Purse of our diocesan bishops.

Our diocesan bishops are professed monks. As monks they should not have any earnings or possessions. Strictly speaking, they cannot own anything except their habit and other items for day-to-day use. The Church they serve should take care of their needs, such as residence, food, cloths, transportation, and domestic and office help. Does the Church take care of them adequately? Some bishops in the past had complained that they had been nearly at the point of starvation. If we cannot adequately support a bishop, I urge the Church not to consecrate a bishop, unless he is willing to go to the mission field where he may have only the basics.

Canonically speaking, The Syrian Church does not have a stipulation of maintaining a monastic episcopate like the Byzantine Orthodox Church that has a canonical requirement that only a monk could be made a bishop. In the Oriental Orthodox Churches, to the best of our knowledge there was no canonical and conciliar injunction against a married person becoming a bishop in any of the first three ecumenical councils. Most of our holy fathers during the early centuries of Christianity were married bishops with children, and some of their children also eventually became bishops. However, at least since the eighth century monastics began to monopolize the episcopate due to various reasons, most of which are irrelevant now. The only overriding justification for a monastic episcopate is just convention.

We would love to see our bishops living in strict obedience to their monastic vows, and we venerate their sanctity as monks. This writer was secretary to Metropolitan Mar Thoma Dionysius of Niranam for four years. There is a dictum in English: “Familiarity breeds contempt”. After living with this great hierarch of blessed memory, this writer became convinced that familiarity does not breed contempt; on the other hand, if the person under consideration possesses radiant virtues, it breeds not only appreciation, but also veneration. This great hierarch did not possess practically anything. When we went to perform sacramental rites, it was a custom among our people to give a gift (kaimuth) to him. During those days the amounts were not large; but he never saved a penny in any banks from these gifts (kaimuth). He never had a bank account of his own, except when he had to have such an account in connection with his position as the Manager of Mount Tabor Educational Institutions. Whatever he received as gifts were distributed among the poor without even counting what he had received or what he was about to donate. How many prelates are there like him in the Church now!

There are a lot of rumors spreading in our Orthodox Churches that our bishops are unreasonably attached to money and that their bank deposits are fatter than what the bank even can hold. To the best of our knowledge there are only very few bishops who could be considered ascetically poor. Bishops are supposed to observe poverty as one of their vows and as a virtue. Some of them have accounts with the worth of hundreds of thousands and even millions. Many of these bishops were humble ideal priests when they were elected to the episcopate. But after receiving their episcopal cassocks, they felt more regal and began to think of possessing more material wealth.

We believe the Holy Synods and other supervisory bodies have to think about protecting the integrity and character of our traditional episcopate. We suggest the following:

The Diocese or the Church has to meet all the expenses of a bishop and his staff and maintain his residence unsparingly, but with the simplicity required for monks.

The Church should provide adequate transportation for the bishop and his staff. No car should be registered in the name of a particular bishop. All vehicles are to be bought and registered in the name of the Church.

Every bishop should be provided with discretionary funds with limits of spending. On unusual occasions, the bishop may take from this fund to provide for his personal charities.

The Church should meet all the incidental expenses of the bishop with accountability. This does not mean that he should get permission from the Diocesan Council or Assembly to spend the money he needs for various purposes. He should be treated like the head of a household with respect and dignity. But as a father in the family, he is responsible to the entire Church. The Church should know the amount that is expended.

All substantial charities should be administered through the office of the bishop as a disbursement item covered by the Diocesan budget.

All receipts (for example, gifts received as donations, gifts, stipends, allowances, etc.) taken by the bishop should go to the treasury of the Church or Diocese.

If anyone requires a bishop to perform his sacraments, the Diocese should charge him for the transportation of the bishop and his staff, and an additional tax to help the poor of the Church (education, marriage, house construction for the homeless, etc.).
All the monies donated to the bishop as gift (kaimuth) should be turned over to the Diocese/ Church. However, he may earmark what he received as gift (kaimuth) for his favorite charities or other benevolent purposes.

No monies generated by the ministerial service of a bishop should be deposited in the personal account of the bishop, but may be deposited in his name as the head of a Diocese.

There may be more suggestions. The purpose is to establish a strict monastic discipline within the episcopate. This writer visited the Coptic Church of Egypt a few years ago, and personally observed how their bishops lived. Almost all bishops live in monastic environments. They are well taken care of by their communities. All their receipts are turned over to the monastery or institution they are part of. For example, this writer stayed with Bishop Picenti for about two weeks. He lives in a large monastery (St. BarSoum), which is like an Industrial Estate. He has a bank account in his name, but not in his personal name; the account is in the name of Bishop Picenti of Helwan (Helwan is the name of his diocese). This man does not even see the balances of that account. The account is operated by his diocesan officers (including priests and nuns). The community takes care of him. He never worries about any of his needs. This is the life an ideal monk-bishop.

Can our episcopate imitate this kind of reform to establish a simple monastic life without attachment to money and material possessions? If our bishops cannot live as monks, we do not need the monastic episcopate. Let us start thinking about consecrating virtuous and holy married priests to the order of bishops in our Church, and it is not a violation of the Word of God.

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11 Responses for “Privy Purse Of Diocesan Bishops In The Orthodox Church”

  1. john says:

    The reasons above is the root cause of church fight.. wealth and power for so called bishops and priests.. if they can bring church to other side they are welcome?? for bishops and priest?. Who the leader would oppose it? breaking hearts of many innocent parishners who worked and payed to that church?? Where is the moral compass for this bishops and priests?? No Jesus in them.. just like high priests sent asked to crucify Christ?? How many churches destroyed by this policy of accepting others churches if they defect???

  2. I would like one of the 30 Metropolitans we have today to give a clarification to Achen’s letter since this is a sincere opinion by majority of the members of the Church.
    According to me, while there need to be lot of self-control and decorum by the Bishops, there need to be a change in attitude of “Syrian Christians” who are responsible for unnecessarily inviting Bishops for Sacramental duties for pomp and show, extending disproportionate kaimuthu, arranging “16 kuttu Oonu”and for complacently not pointing out the mistakes(ofcourse constructively) to help them perform better.
    Lets pray for a definite change from both ends.

  3. George says:

    Once I noticed two bishops cars parked before the Sophia Centre of the Orthodox Seminary in Kottayam. The registration numbers of both the cars were fancy numbers. Who might have paid for these numbers; the church or the “Faithful” (Mafia) who supports the church/bishops?

    Indeed our bishops lead “Monastic” lives! What a great witness!!

  4. Dn. Yeldo says:

    Very Rev. Achen has told the truth. But what comes into my mind is: “Who shall Bell the Cat?”

    The Bishops are princes of the Church only if we compare them to their Roman counterparts: the Cardinals. But do we not consider their robes as iterations of the “purple” and “elegant” robes that Jesus was made to wear by the Herod Antipas and Romans in mockery? Are not the Sleebas in the Bishops’ hands a constant reminder of the burden of the Cross? Or are they symbols of authority like scepters or staffs?

    Further, may I add something more, please? I belong to the Patriarchal faction, and here, the going rate (as on 2010, that’s the latest I know) is Rs. 35 lacs for a Bishop’s post! Don’t blame any ‘foreign hands”, the amount is fully payable here in India. And when this figure came up for discussion, one Bishop who defected to Kottayam and defected back to Puthencruz said it was no big deal: a bishop can easily “break even and turn a profit” (his words, not mine) in 6 to 8 months! 35L for “Kaimuthu”, $5,000- 10,000 as gift at Damascus, 5L for the ceremony and publicity expenses, 10L for an Innova, 5L for miscellaneous & incidental expenses- total 60 or 65L is the break- up.

    And Very Rev. Thottupuram is concerned about propriety and transparency! What do you people think of what I say?

    Please, I’m married, and is not some disgruntled candidate who had not enough moolah to buy a ticket on the gravy train!

  5. J. T. Mathew says:

    “Our bishops are generally considered kings of their dioceses (a bishop is a king of his people, priest of his people and a prophet of his people).” – could you explain the source this view? Democracy has replaced monarchy in the past centuries. Why would the church hold on to an archaic, unbiblical tradition? Is it a borrowed model from the Roman Catholics where papacy is a relic of the Roman empire?

  6. Let me quote ‘ Fr. George, Ireland who worte in SOCM form in response to one of my posting ‘ It is not flush and blood but Holy Spirit revealed it to you’.You are a priest relies totally on GOD Almighty otherwise you would not have dared to say this. I completely agree with you Fr. Joy, Metropolitans shouldn’t be let FREE once oxios is called, there should be a system to make them accountable to Church.Now they are accountable only to GOD, It must change.To me, most of the metropolitans serve no purpose other than that of newly rich class.Once Church decides to cut off all luxuries and pomp along with Kaimuthu ( which comes automatically with RED ROBE), there won’t be any competition or election to Bishophoric.All unmarried priest will have sound and peacefull sleep .

    Church should allocate yearly and monthly tasks to Metropolitans and there shall be a system to monitor their perfomance. Undr performers should be send back to Dayaras, so that their prayers and meditation can be of help to Church.It will stop our metropolitans from wandering around.

  7. Thank you Thottupuram Achen for bringing a relevant issue to discussion. In deed , it is time for us to revise and review our code of conduct for our clergy including bishops. Some bishops, once consecrated, have a feeling that they are the epitome of knowledge-secular and sacred. They act like monarchs in a democratic society. Our laity and clergy also fall for this bogus attitude. We need change and that change has to come immediately.

    Bishops, like parish preists must get a salary or allowance and should be transferred every five years. A bishop for a diocese is what a priest is for a parish.

    Diocesan accounts shall be in the name of the diocese and operated by two or more people not a sole operator . There are several reasons for it. For example, the chaurch was exploring the diocesan funds or whatever, after the demise of the first Metropolitan of America diocese with no avail. (Remember, our constitution was developed before India got indpendnece. No parish was registered unde sosiety’s act in Kerala).

    Kaimuth smbrathayam must be abolished, if not all kaimuth should go to the diocesan account to avoid greed and ensure financial accountability. If that system is itroduced, all bishops will focus on their administrative duties and avoid stepping into the sacrametal (marriage, baptism, etc) duties of the parish priests. Sacramental activities are for priests and superviory/administrative duties are for the bishops.

    If the diocese take “total care” of the diocesan bishop then why should they try to get personal savings? It is also a “mystery” .

    Let me stop here, we have a lot to discuss on this issue.

  8. Baboi George says:

    Bishops are kings in the community; but these kings are elected by the people.
    There is no point in compalining if the account is not open to public scrutiny as there
    are laws governing public money; the transparency can be pursued through different mediums. Eventhough the Queen of England is not elected, she does not carry a purse ! There is certain aspects of this model of admin. we can be learnt from them. As we all know, money comes and goes, why worry about it ? My main concern is the heirarch not able to communicate with the youngsters growing outside Malankara. God is in the community where they suppose to serve …

  9. Fr. Joshua says:

    “The main reason for those Bishops to kill Jesus was, HE questioned their authority and questioned the money laundering practices in Jerusalem Church.”….This is the exact reason why Chor-Episcopos Thottupuram had to and continue to suffer so much from the hierarchy.

    Venerable Father – Sadly, Our Holy Church has failed to acknowledge your service, dedication, and love to its prelates and flock. You are truly a Malpan!

    I humbly request you to continue writing about our church and the hidden truth which we all fail to realize. Truth shall prevail.

  10. Mathew Koshy says:

    Achen,

    I understand the pain in your words. But you also have to realize that priests need to live this way also. At least this is what the malankara orthodox people want.

  11. Jiju says:

    Atchen , I appreciate you bring this up. Our Church is now more into same hierarchical structure that exists during the days of Jesus.

    The main reason for those Bishops to kill Jesus was, HE questioned their authority and questioned the money laundering practices in Jerusalem Church.

    Our Church now back to the same age. Bishops consider money as everything. Charity and Love has gone from Church.

    We are interested in building big Churches, though our GOD never resides on man made virtues. We are forgetting the meaning of Christianity, we forget our neighbors who are in pain and need help.

    Its time for us to stand up and say “no” else we will be punished for destroying the Body of Christ whom He had paid HIS life

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