“Priest Is Always Right?” A Difficult Question of Communication with Priests

A priest refused to give communion to a one-year-old baby who had drunk some milk two hours before. Both his biological mother and his godmother are devout Christians. According to the official church document titled “On Participation of the Faithful in the Eucharist” adopted in 2015, Eucharistic fast isn’t mandatory for children under 3. Unfortunately, I couldn’t bring this issue up in a conversation with that priest. It seems to me that it is sinful and inappropriate to insist on communion. It is no less inappropriate to argue with the priest or complain to his bishop about it. Moreover, any conflicts involving clergy and lay people are always slanted in favor of the clergy.

Most likely, you’ll be blamed for lack of humility (well, in fact, all people lack humility). There are few priests who are open to a discussion, and there are even fewer priests who can admit that they are wrong. In short, a priest is always right, and if he’s not, see above. How should I deal with it? How can I think right if I disagree with my priest on a range of issues? I know I could take my baby for communion elsewhere but the question still holds.

– Natallia Chernenko

Archpriest Igor Fomin, the rector of St. Alexander Nevsky Church at MGIMO University:

Sometimes it happens that a priest turns out to be wrong. It doesn’t happen often but it does happen nevertheless. In this case, I believe there’s a lot for both the parents and the priest to consider. When the Lord speaks to people, He doesn’t always uses plain language that they understand. This situation may be a sign for the parents. It often happens that parents bring their kids to communion because they believe that it will make their children healthy and bring God’s blessing down on them but they don’t partake of the Chalice themselves. They think they don’t need the Eucharist!

Spiritual life isn’t as easy as it seems. [T]he kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force (Matthew 11:12). It refers to the person and not to her child. Spiritual life isn’t a manual on crossing the street. Spiritual life is a life we can get into only after we learn some lessons, only after we have enough experience in denying ourselves and changing ourselves based on the Gospel. The Gospel as a whole speaks of the humility of the God-man.

I don’t know the exact situation. Maybe people just didn’t understand or misrepresented something. Maybe the priest saw something that made him act like that. As a priest myself, I can speculate that if I were that priest, I’d be wrong because the explanation he gave for his decision was really inadequate. Seraphim of Sarov used to say, “When I say something from my own mind, I am wrong quite often. When I say something from God, according to the Holy Scripture, you’d better listen to me.” I feel ashamed for my fellow priest who didn’t give communion to a baby. Being a priest myself, I feel really sorry.

The issue here is fairly complicated, indeed. You don’t get along with your parish priest? A priest cannot be a service shop. We come to the church to be changed, not to change others. The priest has to comfort the ailing and support his parishioners but he must not condone them.

If you really cannot get along with the priest, you can choose another parish. Look for a priest who can be your spiritual guide. You can always come to your nearest parish to pray during a service, while receiving spiritual advice from a different priest. All people are different, and all priests are different, too. That’s how God made it. Look for someone who will understand you and most importantly, someone whom you’re going to listen to and obey. God has a plan for every person. There are priests who don’t give any advice, while there are also priests who state clearly what you should do and how you should live. They can help you even to choose wallpaper of a specific color, and so forth. Someone may find a strict starets who will beat the tar out of him or her. Another person may find a soft-spoken priest who will console him or her and praise him or her for doing right. In any case, you may be inspired and make great spiritual advances. The Lord will lead every person where he or she has to be and where he or she will benefit the most.

We have the Gospel; it is the book that leads us to theosis and mutual joy – the condition that we were meant to have from the outset. The first sign that you’re on the right track is joy, as opposed to gaiety. Joy and gaiety are two different things. At the same time, a priest is an arbiter between you and the Gospel. Regardless of his personal qualities, we check up whether we are on track by bringing our actions, thoughts, and intentions to a confession in front of the spiritual father. Should our whole spiritual life boil down to our relationship with the priest? Should we care if the priest praises us or not?

Of course, you can contact the spiritual adviser of the diocese. You don’t need to tell him the name of the priest. The spiritual adviser will explain everything to you and possibly even provide a written notice. You can then show that paper to the priest and demand compliance. How would you partake of the Eucharist after that? Communion isn’t the end in itself. We take communion not because we have to.

Priests are entrusted with the authority to shepherd their flock, direct, instruct, and console them. We come to the Church and have to change, which isn’t always pleasant and painless.

You can easily prove that you’re right – and it is often the case. What will you do next? How will your relationship with that priest change? I’m not here to condone that priest, no way. I’m just thinking why that situation even happened, why it occurred in the first place.

I believe that the most terrible sin of our age isn’t pride or alcoholism or fornication or murder. It is self-justification at all times and at all costs. It basically means thinking that I deserve the whole world and I am entitled to whatever it has in store for me because the world turns around me.

I think that you should figure out why you need to be right, after all. There are as many opinions as there are people in the world. Each person thinks that his or her opinion is right. Here is a common situation: a husband and his wife walk into the church quarreling. You listen to the husband: he’s right! You listen to the wife: she’s right, too! Are they both right? I suppose not. What do we do? Where is the truth? The truth can only be in Christ, in the humble Christ who pours his blood and lets soldiers crucify him; who didn’t call an army of angels to subdue and conquer everyone; who healed the high priest servant’s ear in the Gethsemane Garden. He cured the servant who had come there to arrest him! The Lord does not resist this secular logic. He goes out and subjects himself to crucifixion so that his children would have the hope of salvation.

Come to think of it: perhaps, the Lord has sent you these obstacles to help you get into the Heavenly Kingdom? Perhaps, it’s a sign for us to stop and think: why God stops me and not others?

We were created in order to become gods, to acquire divinity. When God planted the first human in the Garden of Eden, He commanded him to cultivate the Garden and to be diligent. It is through this labor that human beings can enter the joy of the Lord and become like God. The evil one comes and says, “You don’t need anything. You don’t need any diet: I’ll give you a pill and as soon as you eat it, you’ll lose weight and learn English instantly. You needn’t work: in fact, you needn’t do anything at all.” Just look at human history: Everything that comes from the devil is a lie! God shows a road of humility and hard work to people but they reject it. They want to prove that the priest is wrong. Well, the priest will humble himself in front of you and say that he’s sorry, what’s next? Will your relationship be better at once? Fat chance. You’ll be cast away from the paradise.

You have to choose between loving yourself or the family-like life of the congregation. I like family life more. The door between people who live in one family is always pulled, not pushed. You must always squash yourself down. Come on, prove to the mirror that it’s wrong. Try and do it! You can prove to a humble person that he is wrong, though. But you’ll regret it three hundred times. You can win this battle. You’ll burn down Moscow like Napoleon did but your retreat will be extremely difficult. You have to be able to surrender Moscow to win the actual war.

Prepared by The Catalog of Good Deeds

Editor

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The Editor of the Catalog of Good Deeds.

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