I asked a Russian priest-friend:
Would you like a system such as the one found in the USA, where priests act as agents for the state in legal marriage?
Absolutely not! The Church gets nothing but trouble when it interferes in politics. Our bishop forbids us to engage in any form of politicking or public displays. Our present system is right. The state regulates the contract… we regulate the sacrament. If we stay out of the contract… the state should stay out of the sacrament. Are you telling me that priests act as agents for the state in the USA? Isn’t that wrong from a Church standpoint? I’ll remind you what the Scripture says, “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s”. That way, Caesar won’t interfere in what is God’s. Priests should stay away from public outbursts that could hurt the Church, though. We learned that in the Soviet years. I won’t comment on any specifics as I don’t know the situation. I’d be uncomfortable acting as the state’s agent, though. The Church suffered for that in both the tsarist and Soviet times. I’m the priest for everyone, not just a faction.
I asked several others for comment… but it was much the same, personal differences in wording, but essentially the same:
- I don’t want to comment on something that I don’t know much about
- The Church and state should be separate
- I don’t want to act as the state’s agent
- Priests should be there for everyone, regardless of faction
- I shouldn’t make a spectacle of myself and the Church
Is it perfect in the Rodina? NO WAY! However, most of the bishops have policies in place that restrict clergy’s public utterances and what they write in their correspondence (and how they should act in online venues). Yes… lessons were learnt in the Soviet years. Also, most clergy are chary of expressing opinion in private venues… that’s as it should be, too. Note well that my correspondent gave no sign on where he stood privately on gay marriage. That’s how most Russian clergy are… they’re very careful in how they express themselves, even in private correspondence. If you ask them something directly, most often, you’ll get a link to this-or-that diocesan policy statement. That’s why Bishop Mel’s recent letter was helpful. Clergy should point to that and not give ANY private opinion (I’d like to point up that I’ve NEVER received private opinion from a Russian priest on any matter that’s even close to controversial… all have steered me to their bishop’s statements or to something in the ZhMP or patriarchia.ru). We’re a hierarchical Church… the bishops set the policy, for good or for ill. That’s why Bishop Mel’s letter and the letter of the ROCOR Diocese of the Midwest are helpful. Do note that Bishop Mel’s PDF had the diocesan seal affixed… that’s a hint that it’s binding, priests!
I’ll confide that most priests will follow the lead of their bishops and show prudence. Thankfully, Reardon and Jacobses aren’t representative of most of our priests. It’s a time to be as wise as serpents, as the Apostle bade us… I can see that most of our priests are doing so of their own accord.