I am revisiting the issue of priests’ salaries and appointments because of the article we published recently titled Clergy Salary Scale. It made me think how many in the congregations small and poor parishes especially made those kinds of salaries.
I also thought about some very basic facts, which are summarized as follows:
First of all, the priesthood, is the most divine and sacred ministration on the face of the Earth. It is the greatest grace and blessing that a person can receive because it enables him to be “the steward of the mysteries of God.” (οικονόμος των μυστηρίων του Θεού).
By its nature, therefore, the ministry of the priesthood can’t be identified with or assume any kind of professionalism because then it will cease to be the par excellence divine ministry, or if you prefer ‘the art of arts’ and the ‘science of sciences’ (η τέχνη των τεχνών και η επιστήμη των επιστημών) according to the wise Patristic description.
We should not forget that the priests are also human beings with everything that goes along with human life, the needs and necessities for which money is required, as is the case with every other human being. There is, though, a very basic difference between a priest and an ordinary human being. The priest, because of his charismatic priesthood, is “the presider at the Eucharist.” In other words, he is the one who leads the local church, meaning the parish, to the bloodless sacrificial worship, the Divine Liturgy.
Of course not the priest alone, but all of us liturgize, as the etymology of the word Liturgy indicates. It comes from the Greek words leitos, which means common, and ergon, which means work. Therefore, the Liturgy is the common work of all of us.
It is correct and fitting for the priests to receive a respectable salary to provide a decent living for themselves and their families. I don’t think there is any Greek Orthodox faithful in our communities who wants to see our priests in situations of poverty. Between that view, however, and the point where they scandalize their faithful with lofty salaries, huge benefit packages, and lavish life styles, there is a vast difference. Of course this doesn’t apply to every priest, but the above is a fair description of a phenomenon which exists.
I think it is unfair and scandalous for a newly ordained priest who graduated just two years ago from the School of Theology to receive $90,000 per year, and for another man who is a mediocrity in every respect and was transferred from a parish where he was making $100,000 to another parish to demand that he be paid $140,000 plus benefits which amount to $35,000, for a total annual package of $175,000.
But there are worse situations, as I have been informed. Specifically, there are priests whose base salary is $170, 000 to $200,000, even up to $300,000 including benefits, as was the case with the priests at the Archdiocesan Cathedral of the Holy Trinity in New York before the current priest. For God’s sake, these salaries are not appropriate for priests but rather for executives of large corporations.
On the other hand, there are priests who are able and hardworking, with excellent liturgical and ecclesiastical skills, fully bilingual with many years of experience, yet they receive one third of the salary of such mediocrities.
Midsized and smaller parishes that cannot afford such high salaries thus remain without priests and when the retired priests who minister to them on Sundays and during Holy Week die, those parishes will eventually close.
The appointments of the priests in the Direct Archdiocesan District are done by the Chancellor, with the consent, of course, of the Archbishop.
The same thing applies in the Metropolises where the Metropolitans have chancellors to take care of the haggling – yes unfortunately they have degraded the holy priesthood into bazar work – with the parish councils. We remind here that the parish provides the priest’s salary from the monetary contributions of the congregation, the sale of candles, the collection trays, and of course, the income from the Greek festivals, without which the parishes cannot survive – it is as simple as that.
The Metropolitans and the chancellors assign their friends and cronies to good parishes and those priests who are serious and dignified persons are thrown into small and distant communities.
In New England, where I live and follow the situation closely, priest appointments are a tragicomedy because they have collected a pantheon of unfit and problematic individuals. We are talking about real ecclesiastical wreckage.
There was a case until two weeks ago where a priest lived an hour and fifteen minutes away from his parish under normal driving conditions and if there was traffic or bad weather two or more hours away, and of course most of the time he was absent. Thank God he departed from the parish, although he left behind many problems. After all, he was never an integral part of the parish, but some kind of a religious clerk with a tourist mentality.