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Question 206

In a recent post you said priests in England are uneducated. If this is the case then how are they allowed to become priests? What do you have to do to become a priest? 

 

Answer to Question 206

 

The problem with uneducated priests not only in England, but also in Cyprus goes back to the Ottoman Occupation of the Greek lands where the Church suffered for four centuries a spiritual decadence. For the first two hundred years of the occupation learning Greek was outlawed in the Ottoman Empire. Very few people had the benefits of a good education and even the majority of the clergy had just a basic and rudimentary education. An educated person was someone who could read and write, but very few priests had the opportunity to go on to have theological training. 

 

By 1821 and the Greek independence the Church had lost much of its spirituality and the only thing she offered the people was the Divine Liturgy. Priests did not have the knowledge to teach what they preached, they simply performed the services. Their knowledge of spiritual matters was no different from the average man; in fact they were the average men. If a village needed a priest they would select someone from their community who was of good report and could read. His knowledge of spiritual matters was very limited and mixed with the superstitious beliefs he was brought up with. During the week he would continue to work in his fields like every other villager, but on Sundays he would serve the Liturgy. 

 

In time the Church organized Seminary schools for priests, but the education offered in these schools was still very basic and was concentrated more on the correct reading of the services than anything theological. This continued into our times and itís only in the last 20-30 years that priests are now going to university for a theological degree. The majority of men eligible for the priesthood in Cyprus today strive to get a good education because the basic wages are based on what education you have, but there are still some who are ordained in villages that have no idea what the Orthodox church teaches. This can sound irresponsible of the church, but the truth is there are not enough people entering the priesthood and if these uneducated priests were not ordained then many villages would not be able to have a Liturgy every Sunday. In fact there are some remote villages that only have a Liturgy once every month. 

 

In England the situation with finding people to enter the priesthood was and is worse. There simply wasnít an interest from men to devote themselves to the church especially as the wages for priests in England were fairly poor and many were not offered full time employment, but only a job for the weekend. As more churches were being opened throughout the country, the situation with finding priests to serve them was getting worse and anyone who showed any interest was quickly snapped up. The only requirement was again that he could read Greek so that he could perform the services. But there were still many posts that needed filling and for years they were filled by temporarily employing priests from Greece and Cyprus, but this was not ideal especially as they couldnít speak English.

 

Ideally the Church would love to have only educated priests who are also spiritually experienced and who could offer the people not only services, but also an Orthodox education and spiritual advice, but when these people are not available, out of necessity of offering at least the services, the church has been forced to accept whoever she can find.