My Heart Is Heavy


I received official notice this afternoon that the Holy Synod of Bishops of the Orthodox Church in America officially accepted the retirement request of Archbishop Dmitri of Dallas and the South, my diocesan bishop. The heaviness of my heart is made lighter by the fact that His Beatitude Jonah, Metropolitan of the OCA will become Locum Tenens, taking care of the needs of our diocese as we look for a new bishop.

It is hard to express to the non-Orthodox (and even some Orthodox) the relationship between a priest and his bishop. Imagine someone who teaches the faith in all its fullness, holds you accountable to do the same, and is merciful to all as God has taught us to be merciful. This, of course, describes my Archbishop.

But it had long been the hunger of my heart to serve such a Bishop, and a deep pain, forgive me, during my Anglican years, that such was not the case. To be told by your Bishop (Anglican) that the Virgin Birth, “was not a necessary doctrine,” is simply to remain speechless. It’s like your father telling you that faithfulness in marriage is not necessary.

I suppose that to some degree such pain increased my joy in becoming Orthodox, that my conversion was not to leave something but to gain something – I gained everything. The Orthodox Church is not made up of perfect people (they let me be a priest) – but remains the true Church, faithful to Christ who founded her. This is not a triumphalist statement for me, but a confession of what I believe to be true. I also find it to be particularly painful when Orthodox Christians or hierarchs act as though this were less than the truth of our calling. It increases, as well, the intensity of my own confession, for I am truly an unworthy priest.

My joy is that God heard my prayer and gave me a time in my life in which I have known what it is to serve under a man of holiness. I know, as well, that I will serve under another such man in the person of Vladyka Jonah. Part of the mystery of the Church is that it is founded upon “the Apostles and Prophets,” that is, it has always been a matter of the persons to whom Christ entrusted the care of His Church.

I have known a true Bishop. I have served an Apostle. I have been loved and nurtured in the faith. I can ask for little else in this life. Christ is in our midst!

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a retired Archpriest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe, and Face to Face: Knowing God Beyond Our Shame, as well as the Glory to God podcast series on Ancient Faith Radio.





12 responses to “My Heart Is Heavy”

  1. handmaidleah Avatar

    being able to chat, even for a few moments with
    Bishop Dmitry was a deep, deep honor for me. When I was introduced to his grace, he said, “Don’t I know you?” When I told him that we had never met, he acted as if that was of no consequence, his heart was open to being with me for a few minutes of space & time and I suspect that he indeed knows me and even so, was willing to share himself with me. He was kind, easy to talk to, and indulgent with my request for a photo. Such simple and yet loving things, things we all can do- an example of loving ones neighbor. Thank you Vladika for the lesson…

  2. Fr Mark in Baton Rouge Avatar
    Fr Mark in Baton Rouge

    He is and shall be!

    His Eminence was the first Orthodox bishop I ever met – years ago, in SC, a decade before my family’s chrismation.

    With his blessing and encouragement, our mission here in Baton Rouge was established – and just over a month after he graciously ordained me, he has retired!

    It’s certainly strange seeing the news story that the see in Dallas is vacant – a bit like having the rug pulled out from under foot…

  3. Ioannis Freeman Avatar
    Ioannis Freeman

    The longing of a spiritual son for his father in Christ carries in all that you say, Father Stephen. Without pretense or apology, you speak from your heart. Such authentic reflection honors all of us in Christ. May Pascha comfort, console, and embolden the Church to confess one Lord, one Faith, and one Baptism with His Eminence throughout ages to come.

  4. elizabeth Avatar

    He is and ever shall be!

    My small prayers for you tonight Father Stephen. This is a very big change for you, esp. as a priest and bishop is indeed like Father and Son. I have seen it with my spiritual father and his Bishop as well. I am learning (or learning again) that what a certian person can give us is from Christ … that all goodness we received is in God, so we never truley lose what we feel like we are losing. That said, it is still hard. May God comfort us all when we are faced with such changes.

  5. davidbryan Avatar

    He is, and ever shall be.

    We commemorated him for the last time last night at Presanctified, as the Synod had not yet officially received his retirement.

    I will always remember the day he tonsured me a reader; all he was told was that a young man would be tonsured who spoke Spanish, and so he handed me my Spanish New Testament to read from that day. After I read, he began to give a few words of exhortation to me and the other two men being tonsured along with me. After a few phrases, he turned to me and began to repeat what he had said in English, in Spanish. It was then that I realized something, to my amusement: He isn’t aware that I also speak English. He not only was and is an apostle, but one who is joyfully pentecostal in His desire to reach out to those of different tongues. May God grant him many more years with us.

  6. Collator Avatar

    Indeed, Vladyka Jonah will step up to the plate! Showing that his enthusiasm for Orthodox Christian Fellowship (the college ministry of the Orthodox Churches in America) goes beyond just his election speech, he invited himself to my school’s OCF last weekend for a day-long retreat. Both in listening to him speak to the group (addressing topics such varied topics as noetic prayer and the position of the Church on contemporary moral issues) and in speaking to him individually for a few minutes at lunch, I was greatly edified. Eis polla eti — and many years to you too, Fr. Stephen! May God grant you and your diocese a new bishop who is worthy of Archbp. Dimitri.

  7. regrettably anonymous Avatar
    regrettably anonymous

    Father Stephen,

    This is slightly off-topic, and really just a request for prayer, although I found what you write about your bishop profoundly moving. But it was your account of what your Anglican bishop said about the Virgin Birth not being a necessary doctrine that really hit me and caused me to burst into tears. I was told virtually the same thing this morning by someone who is not my bishop but who stands in a very similar relationship to me. As you know from experience the tension that this causes and the questions that it raises is very difficult. Please pray for me.

  8. Margaret Avatar

    Thank you for sharing this, Fr. Stephen. I am happy to hear that you have had the experience you have had with your Bishop. The Bishop-priest relationship is beyond words important to not only these two people but to all the flocks of the church! The difficulties the Anglican and Episcopal Church Bishops have had with the Christian faith and the unfortunate mean-ness that has been passed between these two positions was really the major reason our family left and became Orthodox Christians. I still pray for our Anglican priest and his family, and the bishops, as I pray for all, but it is infuriating and heartbreaking to ask a priest (or anyone) to lead a spiritual life without any mature spiritual support. I am so happy you have been blessed with Archbishop Dmitri and pray that you will continue to be blessed, as you bless so many. God be praised!

  9. Moses Avatar

    Thank you for giving us a little insight into the relationship between a priest and his bishop! 🙂

  10. Ian Avatar

    Thank you for sharing Father.

    I have benefited from Archbishop Dmitri’s wisdom indirectly via his books on the Parables, Miracles and his commentary on Romans. For this, and for those like you who have had the privilege and blessing of knowing him, I give thanks and praise to God.

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