ROC Issues Stricter Rules for Celibate Clergy

Source: Interfax

3 February 2011

The MP Archpastoral Council, at its present session in Moscow, found it necessary to limit the practise of ordaining young celibate men to the clerical state.

In a special resolution published on Thursday, the bishops resolved, “We regard the practise of ordaining celibate men not in monastic orders, especially those not previously married, as not being according to the usual norms”.

Having considered the matter, and taking into account the decisions made by the all-Russian Council of 1918 and the MP Holy Synod in January 1931, the bishops decreed that the ordination of celibate men not in monastic orders shouldn’t occur before the candidate reaches the age of 30, and “only after the ordaining bishop conducts a thorough examination of him”.

A celibate candidate for ordination not in the monastic state must first complete their seminary, academic, or other higher theological education. If he takes external courses not in residence, he must pass at least three years internship in a diocesan cathedral, a Patriarchal or diocesan metochion, or a large urban parish or monastery with the blessing of the ruling bishop and under the general supervision and guidance of an experienced priest.

Google translation:

Unmarried men, if they are not monks, will be harder to become priests of the Russian Church

Moscow. February 3. Interfax – The Bishops’ Council, which takes place in these days in Moscow, found it necessary to limit the practice of the ordination of young, unmarried men in the sacred dignity.

In a special resolution of the council, published Thursday, the bishops acknowledge that “the practice of ordination of celibate persons who are not a monk, especially those not previously married, must be regarded as exceptional.”

Having considered the matter and taking into account the decision of All-Russian Council of 1918 and the Synod, held in January 1931, the bishops decided that the ordination of celibate persons who are not a monk, should be done no earlier than they reach the age of 30, and “Especially for the trial of the ordained Bishop. ”

In this case, a candidate for ordination in the single state without taking monastic ordination must first obtain a complete seminary, academic, or other higher theological education. If this education turns them in absentia, he must pass at least three years practice of clergymen in the Cathedral, the Patriarch or bishop’s courtyard, mnogoshtatnom urban parish or monastery with the blessing of the ruling bishop and under his general supervision and under the guidance of an experienced priest.


  1. Geo Michalopulos :

    I hate to beat Harry to the punch, but this ruling is something that could only come out of a mature, evangelical church. Contrast this with the good ole boys club found in Istanbul and its dependencies. Contrast it especially with the worldview of the Rev Lambrianides who two years ago complained that the lack of spiritual maturity in the parishes does not allow for the formation of spiritual men who wish to be celibate. Though what he said was largely true, he completely missed the point, which is that celibate priests should live in and serve in monasteries. Only married men (or widowers) should serve in parishes.

    If I may go out on a limb here, let me ask: why has Istanbul bought on to the RC view of things, namely that celibates are to be preferred? Is this part of the incipient neo-papalism that has been on the rise in that patriarchate since the time of Meletios IV? Or is there another reason?

  2. Does ‘monastic orders’ mean ‘lives in a monastery with several monks and an abbott for a decade or more’, or does it mean ‘tonsured a monk by a special friend the day before his ordination at 21 and lives for example in a ‘two person monastery”?

    It’s a tiny step, but until we cope with the 4x increase in lifespan that happened last century and the end of the working age widower we’re dancing on the Titanic.

    • Harry, I find you observations and arguments for a married argument to be grounded in reality. Here is another reality: there is money in clerical celibacy especially in the USA where our 90% of our celibate clergy live upper middle class suburban lives with lifetime salaries, housing, healthcare etc and are far away from monasteries. Celibate clergy and the episcopacy are collecting millions of stewardship dollars over their lifetimes and have little grasp of the challenges of modern living. If we want reform and a return to leadership and tradition then the idea of celibate priest or bishop living an upper middle class suburban lifestyle has to come to an end. We have to put an end to the idea that you can get rich by ascending the ranks of leadership in the Church.

      So who are the real ascetics in American Orthodoxy today? I would argue that today’s married clergy who work hard every day to live the vocation of marriage and who struggle hard to raise their families in the Church live far more ascetic lives than the clergy who are celibate in the USA. Anyone who lives a healthy married life can tell you the vocation of marriage and of being a parent is asceticism plain and simple. Isn’t it time to elevate the asceticism of marriage in the life of the Church and the clergy?

      • Well past time. Monasticism has, unfortunately, become a kind of idol. The vocation of marriage and pastorship has suffered as a result. Until we reclaim the marriage vocation, we will have few genuine monastics.

      • Andrew, the matter you outline in shows in high contrast the ease with which the hopping back and forth between ‘the church way of looking at things’ and the much scorned and frowned upon corporate/business manager ‘way of looking at things’ happens– when it suits.

        The key fact about a contradiction is there are two ‘basic ideas’ that when taken in isolation ‘everyone assumes to be just a given’. When two of these are totally incompatible, then the people in power can pick whichever one suits their purpose for the moment, reason and admonish from there, to get what they want. Just pick the outcome you want, reason back to the side of the contradiction that supports it, and viola ‘it all makes sense’.

        Half an hour when its time to want something else, if you need an argument for it then you’ll be able to ‘connect the logic dots’ to one of the two ‘basics’ that are in opposition, one of them will suit the moment, announce it, and go from there.

        Anyhow with all the sexual shenanigans in leadership with underage folk, usually the same sex, a great whole lot of money will be going away from the church. The question is will we allow the leadership to hold the hearts and emotions of the people for the parishes they and their parents built hostage to get them to pay for it, lest they close and sell property to pay for it. Or actually with all the ‘new charters’ close the properties and sell them for one time bonanzas of cash amid the tears of the locals— or step up and pay for it themselves owing to their own personal oversight and poor decision making led to the problem to begin with?

        Once again there is no solution to be found on paper and in emphasizing this or that moral neglected moral precept. All the guidance about what to do is there and all the old and new rules on parchment, old and new paper are already there. If more printing and more people giving them attention was going to help the situation it would have done it by now.

        We are facing a systemic sea change in the world, the rule restricting bishops to ‘not presently married’ folk made sense when there were 3 to 1 men to women above 30 and most of them that old were widowers. Now there are no working age widowers for the first time in human history starting in the 1900’s and ending late. The more developed the country, the fewer working age widowers. That’s why Russia where smoking and other life-shortening habits among the people are common still have more widowers than other places. (They have all the technology, all the skills, all the facilities, and very smart people but among the populace they still have the bad habits more than elsewhere). Until we make the married men who are senior and proven to once again have decision making voices we can write lots more papers and hold many meetings and have grand banquets and publish plenty of books and enact legislations. It won’t matter because it if could have, it would have by now. These people can’t help themselves when they get overwhelmed by whatever it is on occasions. Most of the time they do great, but sometimes, oh lordy.

      • Geo Michalopulos :

        Brilliant analysis Andrew!

        • Thanks George. I was thinking last night about another problem we need to confront in addition to those that we see among today’s celibate clergy. The Church needs to confront the ever increasing problem of clergy divorce. Divorce among married clergy is as much a problem as lack of virtue among celibate clergy. I think its safe to say that divorce among Orthodox clergy is on the rise and is a problem very few are talking about.

  3. Scott Pennington :

    Once, a year and a half or so ago, I briefly considered the priesthood. I spoke with a ROCOR priest about this. I believe that it is the current practice of ROCOR, and apparently the emerging practice of of the ROC, not to ordain unmarried men to the priesthood with an eye toward letting them serve on the outside (i.e., not in a monastery). I was told that I either had to marry before ordination or become a (true) monastic. The reason given was that the temptations in the world are just too great to risk letting unmarried clergy serve as regular parish priests. There may be some exceptions to that for different exigencies, but I believe that is already the practice in ROCOR.

  4. Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

    It’s not only temptations (they face all people), but also maturity. It is just hard for a man to grow up when his only responsibility is himself. I know of very few single men who understand much of anything about marriage and family. The few I know (maybe two) understand it because of professional obligations and because they have had to make a sacrifice for another person in ways that replicate the denial of one’s self that marriage requires. These examples are very rare however.

    I know single men who understand that they don’t really know much about marriage and family but they are rare too. It is easy to have a peer-to-peer relationship with them. The others I tolerate because you can’t really say much more to a person who doesn’t understand something beyond “You don’t really understand”. If they think they understand, well, you just let them talk. This, I would guess, informs some of the ROC’s decision not to ordain single men under the age of 30 to the priesthood.

    Remaining unmarried allows men to delay maturity for as long as they wish. This is true of married men too of course, but caring for a sick child or putting food on the table after losing a job sobers the mind real quick. If a married man chooses immaturity over responsibility, the suffering of others is immediately apparent and he subjects himself to the scorn of others in ways that don’t exist in the social world of the unmarrieds.

    A woman who had extensive experience with the American monastic movement told me once that she noticed that very often the emotional maturity of men in monasteries seemed to stop the day they entered the monastery. I don’t know how accurate this is, but I know enough about human nature that I would not be surprised if there is a good measure of truth to it. The denial of the world requires a certain discipline to maintain. If the discipline remains undeveloped or is slow in coming, the married man who embraces his responsibility as husband and father will have a deeper understanding of human life than the monastic will.

    In our Church the “rankings” imply the exact opposite. Archimandrites have a higher honor, but in many cases the virtues gained through concrete life experience just don’t match the wisdom, sobriety, patience, etc. of a faithful senior priest. This is obvious to almost everyone. Exceptions exist of course, but usually the exceptions are head and shoulders above the unmarried class too.

  5. There is some wisdom in the canon that prohibits a bishop to be consecrated before the age of thirty. I’ve only known one below that age. But, there is wisdom in general in the proscription.

    • Geo Michalopulos :

      Nick, I always thought that the canons were no priests ordained before 30, no bishops ordained before 40. Am I wrong?

      • I believe it is 30 for Bishops as well. St. Athanasius’ consecration was opposed by many in Alexandria because it was thought he was younger than 30 although it is really unclear how old he was.

  6. Nick – makes you wonder about the age we allow politicians become politicians in the US as well! 🙂 I think there is something to this and the connection is astounding.

    Having said this, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the discussion. As somone who is purusing the “cloth” – and I am still purusing since no one has said, “please stop” YET – I would like to convey my agreement with the maturity argument. I’m still a farily immature dude at 36. I “started life” very late. But now that I find myself a married man of close to ten years with a newborn, and out of work, I can tell you that the feeling of utter fear that hits once in a while makes me work on my faith as there is really no other avenue for help. Wondering where the formula is going to come from if I don’t get a job soon, or what will happen to the kid and wife If I get run over by a truck or get sick makes a man 1) Finally start to ponder about his death, which is actually good for a deacon/priest and everyone 2.) Rely on God even more and impliment this in your life, which is also good for while you’re implimenting you’re actually being an example to your family. In essence, you’re learning to become a pastor.

    No offense to our learned institutions, but you will never learn this at St. Vladimir’s or the St. Stephen’s Course.

    • Macedonia74: You need to be aware that the “feeling of utter fear that hits you once in a while” does not come from your own mind; it is the arrow of the enemy meant to undermine and discourage you. Years back I had to fight similar persistent feelings. I spoke as if I were talking to an invisible enemy: “Why do you care? You are not going to provide for me, or take care of me; just go away, depart from me!”. We are children of the living God and if hardship comes our way we should have the mind of the righteous Job “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” I have some friends who are struggling to provide for their one year old child. They had to borrow from several people in the last four months in order to pay their bills and the rent. His wife got angry with him, and became easily irritable. It wasn’t easy… I was impressed by the fact that throughout the whole ordeal he said: “the Lord is good, He will take care of us”. He has recently found a better job and hopefully they will be able to pay back what they owe.

  7. Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

    Macedonia74, you are very close to the heart of the Christian life. You also are going to learn, if you haven’t already, how powerful prayer really is. That knowledge will, in due course, aid in the healing of others as well.

    Here’s how to handle the fear. You can stand at the edge of a pool in the dark of night filled with roiling black water, hear the swishing of the waves, feel the damp cold vapor lifting off it — but you don’t have to jump in. It’s called practicing dispassion. Fear does not have to overtake you. Faith is the antidote to fear, but faith comes by hearing the word of God. Pray, read the scripture. God will speak to you, and that spoken word will become your assurance. Heed it by not jumping into the pool, by refusing to be overtaken by the fear even as feel its dark, clammy vapor.

    Heeding is your job. The Lord, because He is merciful, will take care of the rest.

    And yes, the only place you learn this is in the school of real life.

  8. Thank yiu both for the spiritual advice. The enemy does work against the family, and by all means, lifting up the World of God was one thing that carried me through other moments of stress. I’m open to whatever God needs me to do.

    Glad tidings.

  9. Speaking of vocations, I thought I would share the trailer for this lovely short film on vocations called “Fishers of Men”. Its Catholic but in all honesty I don’t see anything that is anti-Orthodox in it. I love how the one priest says “The priest is tough….you have to be a real man if you want to be priest”


    You can also watch the entire short film in two parts on youtube: Part 1, Part 2.

  10. Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

    I watched the two movies. Very good. I put it on my FB page.

  11. The young folks who run GRASSROOTS FILMS are a special bunch. I encourage you to check them out. I was especially touched by their award winning Documentary THE HUMAN EXPERIENCE.

    Here is the trailer:

    I loved the trailer so much I sent away for the DVD. I received it this week and was not disappointed. I think this film would be great to show in an Orthodox parish during Lent. It raises the big questions that kids need to hear.

    The $20 spent buying the DVD from these guys is money well spent. I encourage you to support them in their work

    • Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

      The creativity is breathtaking. We, the Church, could be speaking to this. We will too.

      • Father, Grassroots films is run by two kids living the ascetic life in a halfway house in Brooklyn. This is their vocation. Its amazing stuff. Fr. Neuhaus is in the Human Experience and his quote about being human and being able to question gave me shutters.

        $20 Supporting these young men living the ascetic life is real stewardship.

        If you ask me the some Orthodox Philanthropist should fund these kids to travel the country and do a documentary on the faces of American Orthodoxy. Now imagine if you took all that money wasted on that bogus EP Riverboat cruise and instead funded these guys to get the message out.

        Heck, sends these kids to Constantinople and give them total freedom to do a documentary. I bet the result would be amazing

  12. The Priest – the Orthodox version :
    On the Priesthood

    “What does the priesthood mean? It means to be an enduring witness to human suffering and to take it upon your own shoulders. To be the one who warms the leper at his own breast, the one who gives life to the miserable through the breath from his own mouth. To be a strong comfort to every unfortunate one, even when you yourself are overwhelmed with weakness. To be a ray of shining light to unhappy hearts when your own eyes long ago ceased to see any light. To carry mountains of others’ sufferings on your shoulders, while your own being screams out with the weight of its own suffering. Your flesh will rebel and say, ‘This heroism is absurd, impossible! Where is such a man, where is the priest you describe so that I may put my own suffering on his shoulders?’ Yes, nevertheless, he does exist! From time to time there awakens within us the priest of Christ who, like the Good Samaritan, will kneel down by the side of the man fallen among thieves and, putting him upon his own donkey, will bring him to the Church of Christ for healing. And he will forget himself and comfort you, O man of suffering!”
    Father George Calciu

    Here is the supernatural part of it.
    Confessing before Father Paisie Olaru

    The power of his inner prayer was crushing the stone of my hardened heart.

    What a bitter taste caused by his refusal and my wounded ego alike. I decided to give it one more try. This time, he justified his refusal by saying: “I am a terrible person, so stubborn, and very proud.”

    I understood that he kept showing me the mirror of my inner life. I decided to give up. This thought came to my mind which said: “Stop troubling this man of God. Stop wasting his prayer time. Kiss his hand, ask for his blessing, and go.” No sooner had I finished thinking it, that Father Paisie surprised me again, by saying: “Now, my dear son, now I can hear your confession.”
    At one point, he stopped, as if irritated, upset by my silence but also in order to discreetly hide the gifts that were dwelling in him, and told me: “First you troubled me for one hour to listen to your confession – now say what you have to say.” I replied: “Father, you told me everything. I have nothing more to say.”

    Then he called me like my mother used to call me as a child; then he told me the names of my parents, colleagues, relatives, friends, teachers; their names, ages, professions, significant details about them and many other details regarding everyone’s life. Hundreds and hundreds of names. Which made me think that the most terrible institutions, whose specific job was to record the smallest detail in one’s personal file were mere jokes compared to the overwhelming amount of information that Fr. Paisie gave me that day.

    The Priest’s Life: Between Gethsemane and Golgotha
    Enjoy …not much of a show though.

  13. Hello, I am sure you have all seen it, but this is a trailer to a nice video about the work of a certain married Russian Orthodox priest & his matyushka in Russia:


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