August 9, 2013

The Election of Bishops

By His Eminence Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou

The Bishop in each Local Church is the visible sign of the presence of the Head of the Church, namely Christ. The Bishop is a type and place of the presence of Christ in a particular ecclesiastical district. His placement in a particular Diocese is the result of his election, consecration and enthronement, and then the congregated flock receives their spiritual father. The Church gave great importance to the existence of the Bishop.

At this point I want to highlight the importance of the election/voting of the Bishop, because it is usually viewed as a secondary element in connection to his consecration which has a particular solemnity and great value. And of course at the consecration, the Grace of the Holy Spirit is received to shepherd a people. But still the election has an important place, since through the election the Clergyman is offered to be ordained.

The interpreter of the Holy Canons, Zonaras, interprets the First Canon of the Holy Apostles, saying "this vote in ancient times was also called consecration (χειροτονία)", and he explains that in ancient times they voted by a show of hands, which explains the use of the word χειροτονία (χείρα-τείνω; to extend the hand). Saint Nikodemos the Hagiorite says that consecration is also called voting, since even in ancient Greece the people assumed public office by the people showing their hands, as Demosthenes says, "in this way you shall consecrate generals".

It is used in this way in Canon 5 of the Synod of Laodicea: "Consecrations are not to be held in the presence of hearers," that is, voting should not be done in the presence of laymen who are in the stage of being hearers, or the repentant. Like Zonaras, Balsamon says: "The canon calls voting a consecration." And as these interpreters explain, during the voting "unworthy things are often said with regard to those who are elected", therefore the hearers should not be there lest they be scandalized by what they hear. The non-presence of hearers occurs for the votes, while the ordinations must be in the open, in the presence of the people, who all will be witnesses.

From this it is clear that the election of Hierarchs is an important event and there must be a dialogue and examination, which is why the voting of a Bishop fits into the process of consecration. When voting each Bishop should not be influenced by various agendas, nor allow themselves to be pressured or blackmailed, nor should his vote be a clearing procedure. This also means that the vote of a Bishop is not a formality, but it should be discussed between the Hierarchs during the elections of the candidates. Any objections must be heard and there should be a discussion. At the end when the Hierarch is heading toward the polls to vote, he must do it with solemnity, fear of God, and above all to think that he is launching a consecration, that is, with his vote he is showing that he is consecrating a Bishop.

Occasionally suggestions are made to revise the way a Bishop is elected. But if we do not hold on to the process provided by the Holy Canons, then the most perfect system will be weakened. The ecclesiology and theology behind the Holy Canons enables the electors to distinguish candidates by Orthodox criteria and the necessary ecclesiological conditions, and it also allows for a discussion among the Synod of Hierarchs which meets to elect certain Bishops for specific Dioceses. Such big issues should be taken seriously and responsibly and not with considerations that undermine the way a Bishop is elected and consecrated, and the most perfect system should be used, as much as humanly possible, to present a Bishop.

I think that the best presence of the Church, from the human side, and the best organization of the synodical system, will come through the way in which a Bishop is presented, through the specifications of the Holy Canons. And in this regard all acting Bishops have a responsibility.

Source: From the newspaper To Vema, "Η εκλογή των Επισκόπων", 22 July 2001. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.