Implications of trust

Homily 414 – 7th Sunday of Pascha (First Ecumenical Council)
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
May 31, 2020
Epistle: (44) – Acts 20:16-18, 28-36
Gospel: (56) – John 17:1-13

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God.

I am frequently asked about the trust we have in our Bishops. How much obedience do we owe to them? Can we question the pronouncements of a bishop?

It is a fair question. Today, remembering the Holy Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council seems like an appropriate occasion to understand the relationship more deeply.

The Bishop’s relationship with us is an icon of our relationship with God. To be sure, that relationship isn’t perfect, as the relationship with the Father. But in the most important way, it is identical – that is the relationship of love for us, and the desire for our salvation.

The image we see in the First Ecumenical Council are the fathers – our fathers – struggling to raise their families. We remember first that the First Ecumenical Council had 318 bishops. In the Vespers reading from Genesis, when Abram led a contingent to rescue his nephew Lot, there were 318 of them.

And not just any 318 – those that were specifically as the scripture says “home-born” servants. In other words – part of the family. Part of the household.

The Bishops who gathered in Nicaea were also of the family. Of our family. And even today, the Bishops are of our family – not strangers, or conquerors, or hired overseers.

Moses, in the second Old Testament reading from last evening, set judges over the children of Israel as they entered the promised land. Those men were wise and understanding and prudent men, to judge without respect to persons. As we would say today, to judge all, both foreign and domestic, without regard to status, or wealth, or power.

The third reading elaborates on this theme further – Moses tells the people that God shows no partiality, who takes no bribe. He executes judgment for the stranger, the orphan, and the widow, and loves the stranger, the foreigner, giving him food and clothing.

In other words, God cares for all equally, unconditionally. And that is the same for our Bishops.

Like our own parents, though, bishops are not perfect in and of themselves. Yet it is, as I mentioned earlier, based on love.

That is the root of the way we treat our bishops – as one’s who love us and want what is best for us. That want for us the Kingdom of God.

It is important to recognize also that our relationship with our Bishop will and should change over time, just as the relationships with our earthly parents changes over time. When we are babes in the new life, we can expect them to be more directive.

My grandkids are 4 and 2 – their mom and dad direct pretty much everything they do, from the clothes they put on to the food they eat to the time they go to bed. But as they grow, the relationship will change. And so will the parent’s authority.

No longer directive, the parent becomes advisory. As we mature, we gain the ability to take their advice or refuse it. We can do this because with maturity comes the understanding of the consequences of our actions.

We exhibit freedom, tentative at first, and we make mistakes, and we suffer the consequences of those mistakes. Yet our parents – our Father – still embraces us and loves us. Over time, we learn what it means to trust. We learn how to ask questions. We learn to be open and honest.

During this pandemic, our Bishops – our Fathers – have made decisions that have been criticized for going too far, and also for not going far enough. Every parent likely understands this challenge. No one is happy.

Our first reaction should not be a critique, however, but understanding. At least, seeking to understand. And obedience while we seek understanding. They have earned that trust. But what if they haven’t?

We have recently, perhaps in the past 10 years or so, gone through a time in the Orthodox Church in America when Bishops were not trusted, on the whole. Some were – Archbishop Job of blessed memory was one. Archbishop Dmitri of Dallas of blessed memory was another. But others weren’t trusted. And weren’t even respected.

Why? Because they didn’t manifest love. They didn’t manifest impartiality.

In some very few cases, they were abusive – as are some earthly parents. Thankfully, the other bishops dealt with it, and we learned from it, and by and large, we are through that period.

That accountability, though, also engenders trust. Children emerging from that relationship can find comfort and peace that others did care, and did what they could in their love for us.

So, where does that leave us? I think it leaves us in the place where we are obedient to the bishop, but we don’t hesitate to seek to understand the decisions and advice.

The first Ecumenical Council defined the Truth of the person of Christ but didn’t solve all the relationship issues of the time. Arianism continued for several hundred years, and in small part, continues to this day.

Largely, this is the result of not seeking to understand, but rather seeking to continue in the – quote – “sincerely held beliefs” – unquote – which are unfortunately not true.

Bishops aren’t perfect. Humanity isn’t perfect. But through and in our imperfection, God’s truth, and love, is manifest perfectly.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God.